Sorry Commodore and Falcon fans, the most successful Touring Car racer of all-time is the BMW M3. And the M3, a car – like the Ford Sierra Cosworth - born in 1985 from a series production run of 5,000 road cars to meet Group A motorsport homologation, has just launched model generation number five along with an all-new coupe brother – the M4.
This time BMW has equipped the M3 (and M4 Coupe) with a twin-turbocharged straight six-cylinder engine. And it is remarkable.
Just as remarkable is the driving experience.
But that shouldn’t surprise. Like their predecessors, BMW’s M division logged thousands of laps of Nurburgring’s Nordschleife circuit honing the M3/M4 with BMW DTM (German Touring Car Championship) drivers Bruno Spengler and Timo Glock leading the driving duties.
The success of the M operation – one in every seven BMW’s sold globally is fitted with some sort of ‘M Sport’ package – underscores why a slick motorsport/high-performance division can still pay dividends for automotive companies. BMW’s M Division now employs some 5,000 people and, together with Mercedes-Benz AMG, represents the benchmark for high-performance German sedans.
And here’s one for the historians – with this generation, production has returned to the model’s birthplace with the M4 Coupe coming out of the plant in Munich and the M3 coming from Regensburg. This means both will be built alongside their ‘donor’ models however the M versions share little with the 3-Series sedan and 4-Series Coupe – on the outside only the glass and lights and under the bonnet only the plastic windscreen washer bottle
BMW M3 & M4 Overview
Apart from the return to a six-cylinder engine, the headlines for this generation M3/M4 BMW are ramped-up technology and performance (the latter highlighted by improved race circuit dynamics thanks to a specific ‘Sport +’setting for the drive setting and Adaptive M suspension).
A big part of the story is how that ramped-up technology has delivered in terms of weight reduction. The M3 has shed around 60kgs over its predecessors thanks to increased use of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and aluminium – both M3 and M4 run a carbon roof.
So we have an all-new M3/M4 which is more powerful, more fuel-efficient and more dynamic to drive. Sounds expensive you think?
Well, no actually. While both the M3 sedan and M4 Coupe are slightly more expensive that the cars they replace, BMW Australia reckons the new models provide around $8,500 worth of extra standard specifications over their predecessors.
BMW M3 & M4 Engine
Magnificent engines have always been at the heart of BMW vehicles and the all-new M3/M4 have continued that trend with a new, high-revving twin-turbocharged in-line six-cylinder powerplant. It’s a sensational engine featuring a magnesium sump with baffles to ensure oil supply when high G-forces are encountered and a flap system in the exhaust to deliver an appropriate sound track when pressing-on hard.
Maximum power is 317kW between 5500rpm – 7300rpm and the massive peak torque of 550Nm (40 per-cent up on the previous V8 M3) is delivered over a wide range from 1850rpm – 5500rpm. Zero to 100km/h takes 4.1 seconds – around half a second quicker than the outgoing models.
Fuel consumption and emissions are both down by around 25 per-cent over the previous generation. Combined-cycle fuel consumption is 8.3l/100kms and exhaust emissions rate 194g/km.
Changes too in the driveline with the latest BMW M3/M4 scoring the Active M Differential which uses an electronically-controlled multi-plate system to vary the degree of lock from zero to 100 per-cent in a fraction of a second. It’s all about preventing wheelspin and optimizing traction in slippery going. As we discovered…read-on.
Both M3 and M4 use the latest M seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission with superb steering wheel paddle-shifters and integrated launch control. A six-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option but with the seven-speed dual clutch so good we can’t imagine why any dinosaur would bother (unless you’re screwing a roll-cage inside and slapping numbers on the doors).
BMW M3 & M4 The Interior
BMW M fans will immediately pick the new three-spoke steering wheel. The design comes from the M6 (not a bad starting point!), it features varying thickness around the leather-wrapped rim and it is…well…beautiful to use (manual adjustment for rake/reach).
There’s also a lot more beautiful twin-stitched ‘Merino’ leather inside (most noticeably on top of the dashboard), a BMW Individual roof liner and carbon fibre/black chrome accents.
Sports seats are superb – with adjustable side bolsters, lumbar support and M badges. In the rear, like others in this class legroom is comfortable but not massive. BMW M3 comes with roller sunblinds for the rear side windows and an electric roller sunblind for the rear windscreen.
Instrumentation gets the M touch with an excellent optional head-up display which is possibly the best we’ve seen – with M-specific functions like a tachometer, gear display and shift light amongst its colourful readouts. To the left is an 8.8-inch colour display for the iDrive system, navigation and 16-speaker, 600-watt Harman/Kardon audio system (with DAB+ digital radio).
BMW M3 & M4 Exterior & Styling
Let’s start with paint. If you ask us, you simply must buy the latest BMW M3/M4 in the new ‘Yas Marina’ blue – it’s simply magnificent. Oh, you could consider the new ‘Austin’ Yellow (all M3/M4 models use paint colours named after F1 circuits) or one of the six other colours…but trust us that ‘Yas Marina’ blue really, really stands-out when you view it in the metal.
Also standing out is the complex front-end aero design with massive intakes cleverly combining cooling air for the engine oil cooler and a venturi effect to reduce lift. There’s also the BMW front-end ‘Air Curtains’ with M side gills, very stylish aero exterior mirror housings and a bootlid gurney flap for the M3 or integrated bootlid spoiler for the M4.
Both sit on 19-inch alloy wheels with different size Michelin tyres front and rear. They’re lightweight M alloy wheels – keeping the unsprung weight at a minimum.
BMW M3 & M4 On The Road
It will take something very special to top these two days – flat-out in BMW M3 and M4s on New Zealand’s Hampton Downs (Auckland) and Taupo race circuits and the magnificent sweeping, curving rural roads between. Not even the persistent drizzle and single-digit ambient temperatures wiped the smiles from our faces.
A flooded skidpan exercise at Hampton Downs got things underway, allowing us to experience in low-speed going the different driver settings which adjust throttle response, steering and suspension as well as the sensational chassis balance. Here we certainly appreciated the instant throttle response thanks to the small twin turbochargers (which are kept constantly spinning in ‘Sport+’ setting).
Then it was onto the full race circuit which actually delivered its most slippery surface at the high-speed right-hand turn onto the main straight. In the wet going in ‘Sport+’ mode we discovered the limit with the Active M differential proving its worth in cutting wheelspin/oversteer.
It was also wet down at the Taupo circuit but both showed the benefits of all that Nurburgring testing with both M3 and M4 delivering outstanding pointiness into corners, a balanced mid-turn ‘set’ and astonishing grip on the way out. Acceleration and braking were neck-stretching.
Bottom-line: it’s unlikely we’ll spend a better day at a race circuit this year.
BMW M3 & M4 Issues
Straight from Hampton Downs race circuit we turned onto the main road to Taupo and immediately onto the coarse chip rural roads common in New Zealand which delivered a surprising amount of tyre noise. It was better on smoother road surfaces.
BMW M3 & M4 Verdict
Can you name any previous-generation BMW M3 which didn’t contend to be the best-of-the-best in its era? Nope. That’s right, each one was a world-beater.
So it is with the fifth-generation M3 and its coupe brother the M4. In a four car garage with the Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG coupe and sedan you have the ‘quaddy’ – the four best cars of their type money can buy.
Quite simply there is no weak point with the fifth-generation BMW M3/M4. Prodigious performance – and noise - from that twin-turbo six-cylinder, a ridiculously good chassis, astonishing driving technology for enthusiasts and to-die-for looks inside and out – the team in Munich has missed nothing.
After two days on the roads and racetracks of New Zealand’s North Island we slightly favour the driving dynamics of the M4 Coupe but only by a minute margin and, to be honest, family logistics would mean we’d have to buy the M3 sedan and that’s really not the slightest of compromises.
BMW M3 & M4 The Competition
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan ($154,545) and coupe ($157,900) deliver the 336kW/600Nm 6.2-litre V8, the armada of AMG styling and performance tweaks and undercut the BMW duo on price. What to buy? For us it’s a coin toss - Benz and BMW have nailed this genre of cars