2014 BMW M4 AND M3 REVIEW
What’s hot: Astonishing twin-turbo in-line six, race-car balance and handling, beautiful interior.
What’s not: Nanny road laws, tyre noise can be intrusive.
X-FACTOR: Sledgehammer power, and sublime poise - these M twins are the benchmark in race car/road car engineering.
Vehicle style: High performance luxury sedan and coupe
Price: M3 Sedan: $156,900 | M4 Coupe: $166,900 (plus on-roads for both)
Engine/trans: Twin turbo in-line six, 317kW/550Nm/7-spd twin-clutch (6-spd manual a no-cost option)
Fuel consumption listed: 8.8 l/100km | tested (track and road test combined): 16.0 l/100km
There are some cars - the very special ones - that speak for themselves.
Like BMW’s new M3 Sedan and M4 Coupe. The competence of that ‘M’ badge is well-known; to anyone who ‘knows cars’ it needs no introduction. For nearly thirty years it has hallmarked the race-bred and race-engineered BMW.
Now, after two days and two racetracks with the latest of BMW’s ‘M’ models, each has spoken and emphatically made its case: these are simply sensational drivers’ cars.
They don’t merely whisper their capability, they bellow it with a gravel-voiced bark from the quad-pipe rear on each rapid-fire upshift through the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
They howl it on full-noise on a long straight, and then again on the crackle on overrun as you line up a corner and spear the nose in.
Take your pick, M3 Sedan or M4 Coupe, few cars combine such hammering performance and racetrack poise with such day-to-day driveability.
These are not merely fast cars; it’s ‘the way’ they are fast - the way they can dance at a knife edge, the way they can be hounded into a corner and steered so easily on the throttle on the way out.
With cars like these, you just want to take the wheel and drive. And drive some more, and keep driving.
And on a racetrack, either of them, the more planted M3 Sedan and the slightly looser-tailed M4 Coupe, will make you drive better, and faster.
And you’ll think it’s you, but it’s the car.
That’s what it’s like. To experience it, you simply have to take the wheel.
But of course, too few of us will have that experience. Starting at $156,900 for the M3 Sedan, and at $166,900 for the M4 Coupe, these cars sit in exclusive buying territory.
If they were cheap, everyone would have one. Because, M3 or M4, they are seriously brilliant.
BMW took us to New Zealand to put them through their paces on road and on two racetracks - first at Hampton Downs and then, a three-hour drive later, at Lake Taupo on the second day.
- ‘M’ leather steering wheel with shift paddles
- Carbon-fibre and black-chrome highlights
- ‘Merino’ leather upholstery, heated and powered M sports seats up front
- Keyless entry and start (and auto stop/start)
- Dual-zone climate control
- Parking sensors front and rear
- Cruise control
- 8.8-inch LCD display, with standard sat-nav
- Reversing camera and surround view cameras
- Intelligent eCall, USB/Bluetooth connectivity
- 16-speaker 600W Harman/Kardon audio with digital radio, and 20gb music drive
- Active bi-xenon headlights and LED tail-lights
- Glass electric sunroof (can be added as a no-cost option)
- Electric rear window blind, manual rear side-blinds (M3 Sedan only)
Comfortable, beautifully trimmed and superbly finished, few could find fault in here.
The supple leather seats look a little ‘thin’ but they are nicely scalloped. They proved very comfortable on-road and with the right hip-hugging support (with adjustable bolsters) for the racetrack.
With an infinitely adjustable electric driver’s seat, a reach and rake adjustable wheel and perfectly positioned pedals, getting set for action on a slippery track is a breeze.
Stitched leather abounds on the dash surfaces, doors and console, and each, both M3 and M4, can be specified with contrasting tones and colour combinations.
The lustrous polished surfaces add to a premium interior impression, and the standard feature-list (see above) is long and comprehensive.
At the wheel, there is a snug cockpit feel and the sports wheel is a beauty - it’s chunky, really nice to hold and is beautifully weighted.
It’s light at lower speeds but becomes heavier and with more sharpened responses as speed rises (or if you choose a more sporty setting).
The shift paddles at the fingertips are placed just right.
The sports chronograph-style dials are clear and crisp, as is the digital readout. Our testers came with the optional ‘head-up’ display. With cars of this performance, given the nanny rules of the road (with nonsense speed limits on our open highways), that’s a box I’d be ticking.
The rotary controller and menu systems are easily navigated (I had no trouble finding my way around), and the sports settings are activated by a simple button press - on the wheel and at the centre console.
Safety features: driver and front passenger airbags, head airbags front and rear, side air-bags for driver and passenger. Dynamic safety systems include stability control, cornering brake control, ABS with dynamic brake control, stability interaction DSC, active M differential, and cruise control with braking function, among a suite of premium safety systems.
ON THE ROAD
- Twin turbo in-line six: 317kW @ 5500-7300rpm and 550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm
- 7-spd twin-clutch transmission (6-spd manual a no-cost option)
- Suspension: aluminium double-joint spring strut (front); five-link lightweight rear
- Variable M-Sport electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering
- Active M differential and M Dynamic Mode traction control system
- Brakes: front four-piston fixed calliper vented disc, twin-piston rear
- Wheels: 9.0J x 19 light-alloy front, 10.0J x 19 light-alloy rear
- Carbon-fibre reinforced plastic roof (CFRP) and boot (Coupe)
The big fat boots down below - 255mm up front, 275mm at the rear - sang a bit of a chorus on the coarse-chip bitumen of New Zealand’s North Island roads.
On smoother surfaces it drops markedly; but a level of on-road noise comes with the territory when wide rubber and big wheels meets performance like this.
We gave each as good a run on-road as it’s possible to do in exploring the strengths, the limits, and the limitations of these cars.
This involved a looping three-hour drive on slippery wet roads down the guts of New Zealand’s North Island.
These are thunderously powerful cars should you prod those 317kW and 550Nm into life.
Floor the accelerator on road, and the twin-turbo six simply unleashes. With two turbos in parallel, each feeding three cylinders, the response between 3500rpm and 5500rpm is urgent, instantaneous and blistering.
Only if noodling along with few revs on board is there ‘a heartbeat’ of turbo lag - but then it comes on song in a fence-flattening bellow and rifles through the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.
You’ll see 100km/h in a little over four seconds - 4.1 to be precise - and 160km/h and beyond in a withering rush in bare seconds after that.
For poking around town, it’s best left in ‘Drive’ and with the ‘Comfort’ suspension setting. But tap the lever into manual, punch in M2 for Sport+, and everything changes.
The suspension stiffens, the steering sharpens, the engine mapping becomes more alert and the baffles in the exhaust open.
The deep growl then becomes a gravelly bark, and there is no mistaking the intent.
We began on the racetrack at Hampton Downs, then headed south to Lake Taupo for a second day of testing on a second, and quite different, circuit there.
On track, these M warriors are simply sublime.
I’m no race-driver, but I simply can’t think of any car that can be balanced so easily on the throttle in power-on oversteer as these M-twins.
We played with each on the skid-pan, then played with each on the track. In ‘Sport+’ mode, the responsiveness of the nose when tucking into a turn is electric.
Provided you’re not too early and ham-fisted on the gas, both M3 and M4 go exactly where you want them.
They will tuck in flat, slice through the apex and then can be steered with a squeeze of the accelerator as you line up the next. And fast? These are rocketships.
The slightly heavier M3 Sedan (just 23kg more) is perhaps marginally more settled at the rear on the track, but there are bare margins in it.
Day two at Taupo was just three degrees and blowing with a fine soaking rain - the track went from merely wet, to greasy, to a skating rink over the course of the morning.
If there was trepidation when getting behind the wheel in these worsening conditions, it disappeared once we nosed out of the pits and opened the taps.
On track, whichever you are driving, there is room for only one thought, "Damn this thing is good; damn it is fast, and damn it easy to balance on the throttle."
HOW IT COMPARES
For competitors, like real competitors, it is an all-German field: the M3 and M4 go up against the C63 AMGs and Audi’s RS4.
The stunning V8-engined RS4 Avant is a little cheaper at $149,400, and the AMG - as brutal and as poised - is also marginally less at $154,545 for the comparable V8 sedan. The AMG C63 Coupe is $157,545 - a $12k saving on the M4).
Then, if you want to extend the paddock, you’d maybe consider the $96,990 HSV GTS Gen-F and the $99,950 Volvo Polestar.
VERDICT | TMR OVERALL
There is no question as to the capability and quality of BMW’s sledgehammer M3 Sedan and M4 Coupe. Each is masterful, engineered to perfection and very desirable.
The only question is whether you’re prepared to pay the price.
They are so quick, so balanced, such race-cars at the wheel and so beautifully built, that much of the commentary is little more than a bit of jawboning about things at the margins.
Yeah, they’re a bit noisy, but take a look at the tyres, and yes, it’s a twin-turbo six up against V8 competitors - but what an engine and what a sound.
And yes, that M badge does not come cheap (but if only my wallet could be stretched that far, I would have one in a heartbeat).
These high-performance twins from BMW’s M Division are fastidiously engineered with one single-minded objective: to be simply sensational drivers’ cars.
They are that, absolutely.
Disclosure: Tim O’Brien travelled to New Zealand as a guest of BMW Australia for this launch.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
The BMW M4 and M3 are available now. The M4 Convertible is also bound for Australia, although exact price and timing is still to be confirmed.
- BMW M3 Sedan - $156,900
- BMW M4 Coupe - $166,900