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In case the 'badging' has you fooled, this is not a 1970s-era BMW 2002 tii, out on a tour with fellow classic cars. Instead, it's an interloper, a 2018 M240i.Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

We were always a BMW family. Dad brought home his first 5 Series when I was still in grade school, and I grew up in the back right seat of a string of them, watching my father at the wheel. I have that same view today, folded into the rear of this tiny coupe while my young daughter plays co-driver. For the briefest instant, she reaches out and touches the gearshift with her small hand. The memories come flooding back like a film played at high speed.

In case the “badging” has you fooled, this is most emphatically not a 1970s 2002 tii, out on a tour with fellow classic cars. Instead, it’s an interloper, a brand-new 2018 v. If the inelegant M badges on the fenders weren’t a dead giveaway, the car number on the rally decal is: 96B. B for backup plan, as we were supposed to be accompanying my Dad’s MGB, not flying solo.

Still, here we are on the Spring Thaw, a budget-minded, long-distance co-operative rally that welcomes all manner of vintage cars, winding through B.C.’s interior in a convoy of classics. This year, there’s a DeLorean DMC-12, a pair of Mini Mokes, two Lancias, a genuine 427 Cobra, a Dino 246, a squadron of Datsuns, a handful of Porsches, a smattering of Lotuses, and a transporter truck’s worth of assorted British machinery. Also, one shiny new Bavarian coupe trying to prove that it’s still true to the driving experience that built BMW.

Once, BMW meant something discrete. These days, a burgeoning race to fit any possible customer need has resulted in a blurring of the lines among all marques. Porsche sells mostly crossovers. Mercedes-Benz fields a turnkey GT4 racing machine. The last BMW I was full self-piloted (on a closed course), a distinctly non-enthusiast twist on that old BMW tagline, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

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The Spring Thaw is a long-distance co-operative rally that welcomes all manner of vintage cars, winding through B.C.’s interior.Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Even so, among the jumble of so-called sport-activity vehicles and coupe-styled crossovers of questionable practicality, BMW still hasn’t lost the plot completely. This car is straight from the Bavarian’s best-loved, well-thumbed recipe book: compact, a big straight-six, a manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive.

Nostalgia is the trickiest yardstick for any manufacturer to measure up to. Modern cars have to meet collision and pedestrian safety standards. Consumers demand ever more technology and comfort. Replicating the feel of a back catalogue’s greatest hits gets harder every day in a world where drivers are increasingly isolated from the driving experience.

To sort out whether it’s still possible to have a frisson of old school thrills in your modern car, I managed to convince Dave Hord, co-founder of Classic Car Adventures, to let the Bimmer stick its LED-headlight-equipped nose in where it didn’t really belong.

Hord and fellow classic enthusiast Warwick Patterson created The Spring Thaw a decade ago; this is their flagship event’s 10th anniversary. Each year follows a different route, with this iteration heading east from Kamloops towards the Rockies, then curving south from Revelstoke along the small lakeside towns of the Kootenays.

The Thaw is the CCA’s largest event, and its success has spawned others. The Maple Mille, held Sept. 21-23 this year, continues to grow. It’s all well and good to stand around at a car show and just look at classic cars, but getting them out there in a pack on some twisting tarmac is automotive nirvana. And, should something break (it generally does), there’s the camaraderie of all hands pitching in to make sure everyone makes it safely to the end of the journey.

This is the third Spring Thaw for my dad and I, and we generally run a 1967 MGB that’s been in the family since I was eight months old. The initial plan this year was to have the BMW traipse after the Brit, carrying a few extra spares and my daughter and I by way of pit crew. Instead, the replacement overdrive gearbox that Dad had installed over the winter began eating its front bearing in the first 500 kilometres.

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Replacing a half-century-old British Leyland four-cylinder engine, in the form of 1967 MGB, with a modern turbo six BMW 240i for the Spring Thaw meant more than triple the horsepower and torque.Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Discretion being the better part of valour, particularly where old British cars are concerned, we nursed the screaming ’B down from Merritt to Chilliwack, stashed it still-warm in the garage, shuffled the cargo load around, and broke north with no delay. Doing so felt like entering the cheat codes into a video game.

The MGB smells like an old car, all oil and metal and occasional worrisome whiffs of eau de coolant. The M240i smells like an efficient German accountant’s office; even if you pop the bonnet to have a rummage around, everything greasy is tucked away behind plastic covers.

However, replacing a half-century old British Leyland four-cylinder engine with a modern turbo’d six has its advantages. As in more than triple the horsepower and torque. The BMWs of my memory had the same liquid smoothness as the 240i’s well-balanced inline-six, but they didn’t have the wallop of forced induction low-end grunt.

The M240i’s single-turbo 3.0L six makes a reported 335hp at 5500 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque from just 1520 revs. Further, BMW tends to underrate its engine outputs. This little car makes power like a tuned Mk IV Toyota Supra Turbo, the one that set Vin Diesel’s pants on fire in the original Fast and Furious movie. But big power isn’t much of a story these days.

Further, the 2′s six-speed manual gearbox doesn’t like to be hurried through changes, and it possesses a maddening automatic rev-matching system. You can’t turn it off unless you completely defeat traction control, which is a bit like your father saying he’ll only take the training wheels off the bike if you’re willing to ride in traffic without a helmet.

Then there’s the steering, which has improved gradually ever since BMW moved to electric power assist, but still gives less feedback than you get in even a lowly E36-chassis 318i. Have I mentioned the near-1600kg curb weight yet? That’s only a passenger less than the much roomier 4 Series.

At first, the M240i is hard to love. It feels heavy rather than delicate. The driving position seems high, like the difference between sitting on top of a kayak or down in it. The power’s phenomenal, but the gearbox lacks finesse. Also, automated rev-matching is to driving a manual as a microwave oven is to cooking dinner.

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The M240i's tiny cabin adds an intimacy to the driving experience.Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Then the road changes. Over the years, Hord and Warwick have ferreted out every serpentine and lonely piece of road in this province, and the route book they’ve stitched together this time is a beauty. The mountain passes of the Kootenays drop into river valleys, the tarmac lolloping over hills, slithering quickly beside the water, then winding out into the open ranch land of the Thompson-Nicola district. Gradually the little Bimmer sets into a rhythm to match its way, the confines of its tiny cabin adding an intimacy to three generations out on an adventure together.

Obviously, we’re a sight more comfortable than the loons in the Mokes, especially when it begins to rain, but the M240i isn’t a complete isolation chamber. The tail end of its short wheelbase wriggles in the ruts when you jump on the power, and if the steering doesn’t have the subtlety to match past efforts, the chassis feels far livelier than its weight would suggest. It’s devastatingly quick and cushy, but also involving and a bit demanding. What more could you wish from a BMW?

Perhaps the BMWs of my youth weren’t as perfect as I remember them. Perhaps their shortcomings were masked by the golden glow you get from looking back over your shoulder.

So I look forward instead. This is 5A, one of our favourite roads. When the road crests, it’s like you can see forever. I contemplate my father and daughter watching the path unfurl before them. Last leg of the trip, the rain holding off for now. A moment so perfect, you could forgive a car anything. We always were a BMW family. I guess that’s still true.

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