If you’re a fan of cars and bikes, like me, choosing between a four-wheeler and a two-wheeler is a bit like choosing between your children – painfully difficult. Back in 2012, I pitted a BMW M5 against its motorbike sibling, the K1300S, and came away none the wiser. Both vehicles appealed to me differently – the car astonished with its physics-bending ability, while the bike thrilled with its sheer speed and excitement.
This story, then, is round two of this age-old rivalry. And it took place in the Land of Smiles. This time, the tools in question would be the BMW 640i Gran Coupe (GC) and the BMW R1200 GS, and the route would take us from the heart of Bangkok to Khai Yai National Park and back, covering a distance of some 500 kilometres.
As much as I relished the idea of a ride-and-drive road trip, Bangkok’s reputation for serious traffic congestion, unforgiving roads and motorists’ devil-may-care attitude, plus the fact I was a virgin driver there, was enough to quell my excitement ever so slightly.
I was assigned the bike for the first stint – luckily. Piloting the 5m long, almost 2m wide Gran Coupe through Bangkok’s notorious gridlock was the last thing I wanted to do. That unenviable task would fall on another Singaporean journo and our “local guide”, Thai native Seth from BMW Asia.
With the GC and the GS forced to stick together (only the car has a navigation system), the traffic crawl was surprisingly pleasant. Sure, it was slow-moving, but at least other drivers were considerate enough to give way when we needed them to (unlike in Singapore where every gap is quickly closed at the sight of a blinking turn signal). Admittedly, this could be due to the two rare machines that made up our little “Siamese” convoy.
Unlike most of the BMW passenger car range in Thailand, the 640i GC isn’t assembled there, which means it commands a substantial “import” premium. While the GC is handsome, it’s no match for the sheer magnetism of the GS. The annoyance of constantly yelling “Me no speak Thai!” to motorists who drove/rode alongside with questions about the bike was only matched by the endless photo requests during stops. Seeing a big motorcycle, let alone one with BMW badges, was an occasion in these parts, with curious locals taking to the two-wheeler like they take to tom yum soup.
The latest version of BMW’s best-selling adventure bike boasts liquid cooling, a first in the model’s history. Not only is the R1200 GS significantly slicker and livelier than before, its improved ergonomics and new features (including semi-active suspension) mean greater refinement and more comfort than ever, whether on-road or off-road. Think of it as a two-wheeled, German Range Rover.
As we left the city behind, the view gradually changed from concrete to organic. I activated the cruise control and settled in for the ride, but the stifling heat (36 degrees, according to the bike’s gauge) meant it wasn’t long before I started looking at the GC in my mirrors with a tinge of envy. At our next stop, I switched over to the comforts of the car, and just in time, too, as we approached the entrance to Khao Yai soon after.
Covering 2168 sq km, Khao Yai is Thailand’s third largest National Park and home to some exquisite driving roads. The park’s tree-lined switchbacks, accompanied by perfectly surfaced tarmac, were like gold at the end of a very straight, tar-coloured rainbow. Naturally, my right foot got feisty and I turned the setting for the GC’s suspension, steering, and throttle response up to Sport+ for the task ahead.
What this grand tourer lacked in delicateness and agility, it made up with stability and composure, despite its size and weight. The familiar 3-litre, twin-scroll turbo inline-6 was a real peach, delivering creamy, instant torque alongside a throaty purr that warmed my heart like hot cocoa on a rainy day. I adopted a smooth, flowing driving style, and the GC rewarded with equally smooth poise and unwavering momentum.
What halted our journey abruptly at the next turn was of epic proportions – quite literally. When a fully grown wild elephant stands in front of you, blocking your path, you have two options: Scream and pray he doesn’t flip your car over, or scream and pray he doesn’t flip you over, then you poop your pants. Being dignified people, Seth and I chose the first option as the massive mammal sniffed our vehicle, then nonchalantly walked away, unaware it’d almost made two grown men cry.
After that near “skid mark” experience, the roads straightened again on the way to our overnight stop, giving the car a chance to stretch its legs. The GC wafted along silently, pampering both driver and co-driver with its effortless performance and sophistication. It might not be as versatile in a national park as the GS, but it absolutely shone on the motorways.
After a good night’s rest, we made our way back to the capital without much fanfare. I swopped between car and bike to decide for sure which tool was best for a road trip like this – a trip that was memorable for an elephant, beautiful countryside, friendly people and mouth-watering cuisine.
Being cocooned inside a 1.8-tonne steel cage, however luxurious, meant I was inevitably isolated from the scenic surroundings. On a bike, however, the bond I forged with the environment, from being exposed to the elements, intensified my sense of adventure.
Therefore, even with the 640i Gran Coupe’s dynamism and undeniable strengths as a grand tourer, the fun factor and functional qualities of the R1200 GS meant that on this road trip at least, I preferred to ride.