Every so often, I get an e-mail from a reader that inspires me to stand up, put on some pants, and actually go outside. I received such an e-mail about two weeks ago, from a guy who wanted to see if I'd go with him to the Tail of the Dragon in a rented BMW M5.
That's right: a random Internet stranger asked me to meet up with him, borrow someone else's 550-horsepower luxury car, and drive it to one of the most heavily policed areas in the United States. So I said yes, and we did it. You'd know this if you followed me on Twitter, where I posted a really cool picture of the M5 next to some large, scary-looking silver thing, and also a metal dragon.
I met up with this reader, who I'll call "John" because that's his name, one morning last week at the Atlanta airport. Even though we both drove to the meeting, and we were both planning to drive away from the meeting, we had to meet at the airport for one simple reason: that's the only place where Hertz is crazy enough to rent you a BMW M5. They also have a C63 AMG, a couple of M3s, and at least one SLS, all coming to a used luxury car dealer near you, where they'll be advertised as "well-kept lease returns."
So we picked up the M5, and John headed up towards the Tail of the Dragon, while I followed closely behind in my own vehicle: a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS. If you're curious how I ended up with a Camaro, it went something like this: I called the press car people, I informed them of my plan to drive to the Tail of the Dragon, and I asked for a light, tossable, fun sports car. And a few days later, they showed up with a Camaro.
Not that I'm complaining. In fact, I happen to like the Camaro, as I've explained in the video above. Oh, sure, at one point I use the phrase "cheapest materials that currently exist in the known universe." And there's that part where I say it has "more blind spots than a panel van." But that's just good-natured ribbing, sort of like when rival athletes meet up on the field and tell each other to drop dead.
And anyway, I've got more to discuss here than just the Camaro. I'll start with the Tail of the Dragon. For those of you who don't know what the Tail of the Dragon is, here's the deal: it's an incredibly tight, curvy, exciting road located in a part of the country I once referred to as the "marry-your-cousin hills of eastern Tennessee." In fact, I've said a lot of things about the Tail of the Dragon – and I pissed off a lot of Tennessee residents in doing so, if I recall correctly.
Unfortunately, everything I said last time about the Tail of the Dragon is true: it's really not all that much fun.
The simple truth about the Tail of the Dragon is that there are roughly 4 million curves crammed into an area approximately the size of a Burger King. So what happens is, you're always locked in some tight hand-over-hand turn, you're always focused on staying perfectly in your lane, and you never end up going above 25 miles per hour – not that you would, anyway, because of Tail of the Dragon's other issue: motorcyclists.
Motorcyclists from all over the country flock to the Tail of the Dragon just to experience its wonder, its beauty, and its excitement. The problem: only about 20 percent of them actually experience any of these things. The rest ride around in huge groups going about 10 miles per hour under the speed limit, primarily so they can avoid any scary interactions with law enforcement, or danger, or fun. Also: about half of the motorcyclists are on touring bikes that have now gotten so big they could double as a hearse.
The good news is that there are other roads near the Tail of the Dragon that are far more fun than the Tail itself– and far less crowded. And that brings me to a short review of the M5.
A few weeks back, I posted a video where I made fun of the new M5 for being too heavy, too big, and too ostentatious. This video really pissed off the people on the M5 forums, probably because people have been calling them heavy, big, and ostentatious for years. And now this criticism was being leveled at their cars?! They refused to stand for it, and many of them replied to call me a "complete asshole."
Well, I'm here today to apologize, because the latest M5 actually is an excellent car. It accelerates like a monster, it handles like a Lotus (a Lotus with cooled seats!) and it feels so tossable that it's hard to believe it weighs in at 10 million pounds. After a little while behind the wheel on some non-Tail of the Dragon roads, I came away thinking that it's one of the few cars I've driven in the last few years that truly managed to impress me. And I'm not saying this as someone who gets free cars and then writes nice things about them. Just the opposite, in fact: I paid money to drive this car.
So much money, in fact, that I think John had a little heart attack when we arrived back in Atlanta with the car. It turns out that the cost to rent a BMW M5 in Atlanta and drive it 450 miles in a single day is more than $500. Being a press car, the Camaro was free.
Yeah, I'd take the BMW too.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.