By: IOL Motoring Staff
Kyalami, Midrand - In what may very well be the last model launch to be held at this circuit, BMW's M3 sedan and M4 coupé have been unleashed on the South African motoring public, to the accompaniment of appropriately high-revving straight-six music.
For despite comments that the biturbo three-litre six is a retrograde step from the gruff voice and big-inch torque of the V8 found in the previous incarnation of the M3, it's actually truer to the Blue Propeller heritage; let's not forget that the Bavarian Motor Works was founded in 1916 to build (straight six) aircraft engines for the Imperial Air Service.
Jesse Adams of our sister print publication Star Motoring was at Kyalami for the launch.
“I was in two minds about the return to a straight six,” he reported. “Having lived with the previous V8-powered M3 for an extended test, and knowing what turbos can do to exhaust noise, I was a little apprehensive about aural emotion.
“The new M3 and M4 certainly sound worlds apart from the previous version, but there is still a raucousness happening here. However, the new engine seems to make more noise via its induction system, with a hollow howl emanating from the front, rather than the back,” he wrote.
“Turbo lag is a non issue and there's always punch when you need it, but it's a smoother and more gradual power delivery than the immediate shove I remember so well from the E92 - but BMW has again created a huge rev range, and it's possible to scream right up to the insanely high limiter - even if it's often best to short shift and take advantage of the new turbo's low-down torque when looking for extra tenths in lap times.”
According to BMW the new 2979cc six delivers 317kW from 5390 to 7000 revs and 550Nm (almost 40 percent up on the V8!) from 1800-5390rpm through either a six-speed manual or (optional) seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to the rear wheels via an electrically-operated, multiplate limited-slip differential, which is actually capable of locking solid under extreme situations, unlike the more civilised units in less extreme 3 and 4 Series models.
And we use the word 'extreme' judiciously here; BMW has put a lot of development work into weight-shedding - both models have carbon-fibre roofs and aluminium-alloy suspension components - with the result that the fifth-generation M3 is 80kg lighter than its predecessor despite the extra weight of a racing-spec cooling system that includes a dedicated oil-cooler for the transmission oil on dual-clutch versions.
“They feel light and wieldy,” commented Adams.
“The new M cars are near perfectly balanced over Kyalami's wide assortment of curves. I had huge confidence in the front end grip barrelling into fast sweeps at the famous Sunset and Pennzoil turns, while it's possible to steer the cars via the throttle with the rear end in the circuit's tighter sections.
“The trick electronic diff works a charm,” he wrote, “and if you're aggressive with inputs in mid-corner it's easily possible to get the driven wheels to work in tandem, transmitting power efficiently into forward momentum. Of course it's also possible to force huge power slides as well, when lunacy prevails.”
The car's electric power steering setting is tuneable between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes, while dynamic stability control keeps all four wheels points in the same direction - unless you select M Dynamic mode, which will let the car get sufficiently sideways to turbocharge your heart-rate before gently intervening, or switch it off altogether, in which case you're on your own, buddy.
A line from the owner's manual is worth quoting here: “Whichever setting the driver chooses, he or she remains responsible for the car's stability.”
Adams played it safe: “I'll reserve full judgement of the new electronic power steering system until we get a proper road test under our belts, but there are certainly no major feedback issues here and I actually enjoyed the speed-sensitive ratios around Kyalami.
“Turns such as Nashua 1 and 2 involve major speed reduction from start to finish, so if you're precise on the brakes it's possible to hold the wheel steady and let the car carve a tighter line for itself, as you go round.”
The chassis set-up was perfected by works DTM drivers Timo Glock and Bruno Spengler on the infamous Nordschleife; Spengler, who was at the Kyalami launch, said his input resulted in bespoke tyres with stiffer sidewalls. He said the car had a slight tendency to "swim" with the first versions fitted to prototype cars...
Opting for the extra-cost Adaptive M suspension gives you a further choice between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes.
The two new M cars' striking body kits are as much a function of the wind tunnel as the stylists' studio; BMW has gone beyond the obvious splitters and spoilers to add unexpected tweaks such as a smooth underbody, and channelling the airflow through the engine oil cooler at an upwards angle to provide extra downforce directly on to the front axle.
NOT SPECIAL ENOUGH
Interior architecture is as per the current 3 and 4 Series, but with M sill-plates, an M driver's footrest, M gearshift lever, M-design circular instruments with white graphics, M leather steering wheel with chrome trim, colour contrast stitching and electroplated-look shift paddles with the double-clutch option.
The bucket front seats have a racing style one-piece back panel - which also increases rear knee-room - and width-adjustable side bolsters; electrically powered adjustment and seat heating can be specified as an option.
It's easy to complain about BMW's cookie-cutter interiors today, according to Adams.
“Some will moan about the M3's visual similarities from behind the wheel,” he wrote.
“It's all high-quality in there,” he added, “but for the most part it looks like your average 320d from the driver's seat.”
“Nevertheless, there's that trademark power bulge in the bonnet positioned right in your line of sight, and if that's not enough to remind you what you're driving, the aforementioned induction noise certainly will...
M3 Sedan - R966 918
M3 Sedan DCT - R1 014 392
M4 Coupé - R1 016 418
M4 Coupé DCT - R1 063 892
These include VAT and CO2 levy.
Read Adams’ full launch story in Star Motoring on Thursday.