We opined in our review of the 4 Series not too long ago that when BMW sticks to what they know, the result is always superb. The new M3 (and M4) breaks the mould in some ways but stays true to the traditional template in others.
For starters, that name: M4 relieves the M3 Coupe moniker of its duties. Then there’s the power source, returning to the sextet setup from days of yore, albeit with the aid of forced induction. This might cause mixed feelings for the purists. But the feeling after you drive it will be unequivocal: despite doing things a little differently the mighty new M duo does justice to the illustrious heritage of its forebears. We experienced the latest instalment of the iconic performance car over 200 kilometers through Dullstroom and on a quick stint at Kyalami racetrack last week.
Let’s get the technical stuff out the way. Power from the force-fed six-cylinder engine is rated at 317kW and 550Nm. BMW claims a standstill to 100km/h time of 4.1 seconds when equipped with the seven-speed M double-clutch transmission. And thanks to an increase in the use of lightweight materials, they’ve managed to shed roughly the weight of one passenger (80 kilograms) as compared to the outgoing models.
On firing up our M4 test unit we were pleased to hear that the menacing acoustics that defined the previous V8-powered model have not been muzzled. It might employ the same fundamental mill from a 335i; yet it does not sound as sedate when you hit the Start button. You know you are in something special.
Engage D – or stick it into first – a manual transmission is still offered, and the M-badged warrior moves forth with a promising rumble. Stop. One does not simply head out in a car like this before playing with the multitude of settings on offer. From the suspension, to the steering and the transmission’s behavior, you can set it up just so. For the first leg of our journey we kept things in Comfort mode.
The M4 proved comfortable and easy to drive over pocked surfaces around Dullstroom. And as expected, it cruises effortlessly: maybe a bit too effortlessly. In fact you need to be pedantic about watching that speedometer to avert any hassles with the law. Thankfully our model’s optional head-up display made the job a tad easier.
Then you tip the shifter into Manual mode and engage the M1 button on the steering wheel, which readies the car for more exuberant driving. There is an M2 setting as well for those who seek to play a little harder. The entire character of the car changes: it’s tangibly more ferocious, the upward shifts are more noticeable and the suspension is firmer. The way it rockets up to speeds well over the national limit (as we learned on our track session) induces butterflies.
Bittersweet with Bruno
With the uncertainty of Kyalami’s future in mind, our session on the famed circuit with BMW Team Schnitzer DTM driver Bruno Spengler was a little poignant. The 30-year-old racer, who played a role in the development of the M3 and M4, was on-hand to give us hot laps at full pace. With his shades on and the car’s electronic aids off, it was amazing to witness how nonchalantly and quickly he carved up the iconic track. Of course, we weren’t just there to sample the cars vicariously. But I decided that things would be kept in M2 mode on my turn, which offers leeway for thrills, albeit with the electronic safety net still there.
The circuit is most certainly the M cars’ habitat. You simply need to budget for weekend track days if you buy one, to not experience some degree of the M3 and M4’s capability would be tragic. It’s an automotive scalpel, maintaining the right lines with precision is easy, thanks to its sharp steering and suspension. Stopping power is fierce, but you can up the ante with a set of optional carbon ceramic brakes. The pace, accompanied by the rumbling engine note, makes for giggles and serious thrills.
Pricing and conclusion
The M3 has always served as the first choice when after a multi-talented performance car. One that can give brawnier machines a fight, in addition to offering honed dynamics and a degree of practicality and easy daily usability. There’s no doubt that the M3 and M4 fulfills the role. And that it will be lapped up as past generations have.
Pricing starts at R958 300 for the M3 Sedan. If you want the DCT model, that’ll be R1 006 800. The M4 Coupe costs R1 007 800 and goes to R1 056 300 equipped with the DCT. Remember to keep some change for the optional extras.