By: Denis Droppa
Portimao, Portugal - Before driving them on their world launch in Portugal last week I knew that the new BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupé would be faster and nimbler than their forerunners – this much was pretty obvious.
No, pronouncement on the success or failure of Munich’s new M car would be mostly about the emotion stirred by the engine. That contentious engine. The one that is no longer a normally-aspirated 4-litre V8 but now a straight-six 3-litre with its breathing assisted by twin turbochargers. A tweaked version of the unit that powers the fast but emotionally deficient BMW 335i.
The fear was that turbochargers, as they so often do, would mute the sound and the fury of a car that has lived by a certain acoustic code in its previous four incarnations.
The M3’s always had a hard-rock noise to go with the handling poise, and a boy-band voice in such a high-performance icon would be unforgivable.
But the first time I fired ‘er up in the parking lot and listened to that throaty burble it was clear that Bavaria’s engineers had understood the need for a soulful sound. And as I drove onto an open road and reached into the high peaks of its considerable rev range (it redlines at 7 600rpm), its hearty holler had me hooked like a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo.
After two days spent driving on both road and racetrack, it was clear this is no “335i-plus” but a proper M car with all the sound and fury and touch of hooliganism (well, maybe more than a touch) that goes with the badge.
As well as delivering acoustic charisma that twin-turbo engine puts down the power like a racehorse, with lively accelerative thrust through all the gears. At sea level I couldn’t feel any lag, and throttle response was instant. Although there’s a fairly medium power jump from the old M3 (309 to 317kW), torque’s taken a hefty leap from 400 to 550Nm and it’s in high speed overtaking acceleration that the difference between old and new is most keenly felt.
As fast as the old M3 was in the roll-ons, it’s been made to feel like it was dragging its heels by the way its replacement just piles on the overtaking pace with endorphins raging. That, and it gets off the mark quicker too. Official figures for the new M3 and M4 – which are mechanically identical – are a 0-100km/h sprint in 4.1 seconds with the seven-speed dual clutch M-DCT transmission with launch control, and 0.2 secs slower with the six-speed manual.
The usual governed 250km/h top speed applies (280 with the optional M Driver’s Package).
M-DCT additionally features the smokey burnout function, which allows the driver to indulge in a bit of rear-wheel spin while the car’s moving at low speeds (I did mention the hooligan word).
The new-generation M4 coupé and M3 sedan, which are being launched simultaneously in South Africa in two months time, are bigger but lighter than their predecessors in BMW’s ongoing quest for improved power-to-weight ratios. Lightweight body materials like aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastics (including the roof which is unpainted carbonfibre) have made the cars around 80kg lighter than the old M3 (the new M4 weighs 1 497kg and the M3 is 1 520kg)
The fleet-footedness this inspires was felt when I took the cars for a spin around the Portimao racetrack in southern Portugal. Not all high-performance cars work well on a track with the higher dynamic demands involved, but Beemer’s new M-car found its groove on the technically challenging circuit. There’s no obvious handling flaw as the rear-wheel drive car races from curve to curve with an elegant rhythm, neatly hugging the apexes, with all the feedback you want from the typically meaty BMW steering.
Specially-developed Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres provide prodigious grip, and an Active M differential allows you to stomp the accelerator earlier out of corners. But stomp it too hard and a lurid powerslide will ensue if the stability control’s switched off – the power on tap here needs to be respected and the stability control does that very effectively. For a bit of tail-happy fun with an electronic safety net, there’s an M Dynamic Mode which allows some sideways action before a computer catches your slide.
The cars I drove were equipped with optional carbon-ceramic brakes which took the racetrack beating in their stride without fading, but they cost an extra R90 500 over the standard steel brakes.
Adaptive M suspension’s also optional, and the cars come with the ability to switch between different throttle, gearshift and steering maps. A mode for every mood.
Styling M-ness is on display everywhere, from the trademark power dome in the bonnet, to the twin-stalk mirrors, the pumped-out fenders and the quartet of large-bore exhaust pipes – it’s all seething aggro. So too the interior with all its M-design elements and sports seats.
Indicative pricing for the cars when they arrive here early in July, but which may change depending on exchange rates, is as follows:
M3 sedan manual - R956 618
M3 sedan M-DCT - R1 004 092
M4 coupé manual - R1 006 118
M4 coupé M-DCT - R1 053 592