BMW South Africa has taken the covers off of its all-new M3 and coupe twin, the M4. Gone are the days when the BMW M3 was in both a sedan and a coupe model and 2014 sees the brand differentiate between the sedan and coupe models by using odd and even numbers respectively.
With the formalities out the way, let's take a look at the new turbo twins. The last BMW M3 (V8-powered E92) is the only one I've driven and I did enjoy how it gave you that great sports car feeling without any compromises. It could (and was) thrashed on tracks over the weekend, and then driven to work on Monday morning. This was the perfect combination and the BMW M3 made for a superb daily driver.
Engine specificationsThe all-new car does away with naturally-aspirated engines and this is the first BMW M3 that features turbocharging. Loosely based on the 3.0-litre straight six which is used in many BMW products with 35i designation, this powerplant features not one, but two turbos. While engine size has gone down from a 4.0-litre V8 to a 3.0-litre straight six, power has gone up. Eight kilowatts isn't much, but the real change comes from the extra 150 Nm of torque.
On paper, 317 kW and 550 Nm is enough to offer blistering performance, yet still keep the emissions and economy people at bay. Consumption is rated at 8.3l/100km, but who cares? This is an M3.
BMW went all out to ensure the M3/M4 launch was a memorable one and it certainly was. We met at Kyalami circuit as the sun rose and were split into groups. One group would be driving the duo on track, while the others would be taking a helicopter to the road test route in Dullstroom. I did the road test first and selected the visually-explosive Austin Yellow M3 sedan.
Even at idle and at low speeds, the new BMW M3 sounds menacing. There's a sharp induction noise as you poke the throttle and the turbo-caused noises out the exhausts will make you smile. Check out the video at the bottom of this story to hear what I'm talking about.
Once clear of bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can gently squeeze the gas and feel the power come on. The engine is smooth and the sound increases dramatically as the revs climb. Let the revs climb to about 6 500 and pull the perfectly-positioned gearshift paddle with your right hand. There's a harsh, yet satisfying clunk as the next gear is engaged.
BMW M3 & M4 PerformanceSpeed picks up very quickly and I was blown away by how quick the BMW M3 is between the gears. Thanks to the turbos, there's no lag either and you'll start accelerating from as slow as 70 km/h in 6th gear. You can play with the throttle response, suspension, steering feedback and even how severe you want the gear changes to be. Expect 100 kph to arrive in 4.1 seconds (4.3 for the manual) and it won't be long at all before you hit the 250 kph limiter.
Options vary from Comfort, Sport to Sport Plus. With everything set to comfort, the car is still quite severe but manageable. On the other end of the scale, Sport Plus sharpens everything and the four-door sedan becomes a roaring, l0w-flying missile.
The real test would be on a racetrack, which is what awaited us after lunch. BMW bought out its German Touring Car (DTM) ace Bruno Spengler who had a hand in the vehicle's development. Spengler is well decorated - 2012 DTM champion, runner up twice and three-time third place. After being driven around Kyalami at breakneck speeds mostly sideways, I can tell you the man clearly knows how to drive and knows what's needed to make a car perform well.
Track pedigreeI'm not a track specialist, but under the expert guidance of BMW's Advanced Driving instructors I found the BMW M3 and M4 fair and responsive when driven gently. Up the speed a little, and you've got a well-balanced, sharp driving tool in your hands. If you're after lap times and want to go really fast, this could be the car for you. It can reward the skilled driver and flatter the novice, thanks to its clever electronic stability programs.
That said, the laws of physics still apply and with all the safety systems off, the vehicle can become an animal which will bite. Be gentle with the throttle and perfect sideways drifting is possible. Personally, I felt more comfortable and faster behind the wheel of the sleeker BMW M4 with the systems remaining on.
For the performance fanatics, you'll be delighted to know that Akrapovic exhausts have been confirmed and fade-resistant ceramic brakes are both available as options. If you're serious about performance driving, you'll love these. Specification levels are generous and you've got a fair amount of options to choose from.
BMW M3 and M4 SummaryFor the competition, BMW the M3 and M4 annoyingly move the goalposts yet again. Both cars are superb drives, offer exhilarating performance and offer a fascinating look at how racing technology is applied to a road car. It really is an easy car to drive and once you learn how to tame it, will offer one of the finest driving experiences.
Some may wince at the R1-million price tag, but it is completely justified given the performance. That's how good the new BMW M3 and M4 are, and the benchmark for this segment has very definitely become even better.