- Coupes available for under £23,000, saloons from £25,000
- 3.0-litre, 'S55' petrol inline six, twin-turbo, revs to 7,600rpm
- Saloon, coupe or cabrio versions
- 431hp, 406lb ft with 6-speed manual or 7-speed M DCT dual-clutch
- Watch out for crank hub issue on early cars
- Otherwise strong, reliable and exciting to drive fast
The development of forced induction has brought big changes to motoring over the last ten years. Today, turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engines produce more power and wider torque bands than normally aspirated engines with twice the capacity and more cylinders of not long ago, at no cost to fuel consumption.
Advances in the performance world have been just as marked, even for cars that were already turbocharged. Our last buyer's guide was on the Audi RS6, a car that evolved from a 5.0 V10 to a 4.0 V8. The old ten-pot beat the newer, smaller motor on outright power, but by every other yardstick the little 'un kicked the V10's big metal butt.
And that's exactly what happened with the 2014 BMW F80, which was the first abnormally aspirated M3. Turbocharging allowed BMW to revert to an inline six - the engine format that really established the German company's performance credentials - from the old E90's S65 V8.
Before we get stuck into the main course let's have a quick word about model naming. Although the F80 saloon is popularly grouped with the F82 coupe and the F83 cabrio and convertible under the collective term 'F8X', the non-saloon F82/83 versions were of course absorbed into the then-new M4 series, so technically speaking these altered-body M3s stopped being M3s at that point.
Right, now that's out of the way we can talk about the heart of the matter - the engine. Some said that the F8X's S55 six was a twin-turbo, single-scroll version of the all-aluminium N55 single-turbo, twin-scroll Valvetronic unit that first appeared in the 2010 F10 5 Series. Others said there was no real connection between the two engines.
Whatever line you take, in the 3 Series the S55 pretty much rewrote the M book. The switch from the E90 M3's NA eight to the F80's turbo six brought a massive torque hike from 295lb ft at 3,900rpm to a new figure of 406lb ft across a 3,650rpm-wide plateau starting at 1,850rpm. Peak horsepower was up too, only by a little over 10hp, but the critical difference was that you no longer had to wait for the tacho needle to hit 8,300rpm before maximum power turned up. On the turbo six, the 431hp peak came in at 5,500rpm and remained on tap for the next 1,800rpm.
The upshot of it all was that the new 3.0 didn't just accelerate harder than the old 4.0 (the F80's 0-62 times were 4.3sec for the manual and 4.1sec for the auto, versus the E90 V8's 4.9sec), it was also easier to drive quickly more of the time.
Of course, not everybody wanted driving ease in their performance car. Anyone testing the two cars back to back might easily come to the conclusion that reaching the last 1,000rpm of an E90's powerband was worth the price of admission on its own. But if you didn't mind a relatively easy life and saw nothing wrong with the idea of piped-in engine sounds, the F80 was ready to seduce you with its enticing blend of daft speed, zero understeer, biting front-end grip and torque-fuelled tailslides at the squeeze of a metatarsal.
The S55 was considerably more fuel-efficient than the V8 too, at 32mpg for the six-speed manual compared to the E90 equivalent's 22.8mpg. Like the E9X, an F8X could be had with either a 6-speed manual or a lightning-fast 7-speed twin-clutch M DCT automatic, which in the F8X was even more frugal than the manual at 34mpg. Better still, it was quicker than the manual on the 0-62mph run because no human could hope to match the F80's combination of power/torque-optimised shift timings and ultra-fast gear engagement speeds. BMW claimed a 0-100mph time for the auto of less than nine seconds, which is going some.
On top of all that the F80 looked great as a four-door in any of the colours, even the one saddled with the less than dynamic name of Austin Yellow. An F8X is one of those cars you won't be able to resist looking back at when your journey is done.
Although the F8X cars have only been around for six years - or less in the case of the F80 M3 - there have been two significant revisions in that time. The first, which was the usual LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) model, came out in 2016 and brought a few nifty upgrades including a spruced-up interior, a new iDrive system, and LED taillamps (although the M4 models didn't get those until 2017). The second refresh in 2018 included new adaptive LED headlamps, some more trim changes, and a new touchscreen interface for the iDrive.
2016 was also marked by the debut of the Competition Packagewhich tweaked the exhaust, added new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars front and back, and reconfigured the driving modes. Power went up to 450hp and the diff was revised. Black exterior trim pieces and the freaky-looking but amazing 'ventilated' sports seats with M-stitched seatbelts were also part of this CP offering.
As we know, the new G20 3 Series went on sale last summer (2019), but the M3 and M4 versions of that (powered by the X3M/X4M S58 inline six which has between 480hp and 510hp) are unlikely to arrive on our roads before the early part of 2021.
BMW stopped production of the F80 M3 in May 2018, citing the difficulty of retrofitting the Otto particle filter than would have got it through the WLTP for emissions. Having said that, the M3 saloon still appears on BMW UK's website as a new car in either standard or Comp Package specs, albeit with no price mentioned on the header page. It's the only car on that page not to have a price. Maybe there are rules on pricing for 'new' cars that aren't actually 'new', what do we know, but it looks like there's a showroom discussion to be had at the very least if you like the idea of buying a new (sort of) M3.
Production of the F82 and F83 M4 coupe and cabrio, on the other hand, was only temporarily halted, the car rehomologated with the requisite filter to continue on sale with the WLTP legislation in place. As the 4 Series in all its variants had longer to live than the 3 equivalent, it was deemed worth the cost and effort for its additional time on sale.
If you're wondering where the F81 is, that would have been the M3 estate, but as far as we're aware there were never any plans for such a thing. Shame. You can however hunt down one of the twenty M3 Tourings that were put together by M Conversions of Nottingham. There's one for sale in PH Classifieds, as it happens, but it'll cost you the thick end of eighty grand.
SPECIFICATION - BMW M3/M4 (F80/F82-3, 2014-20)
Engine: 2,979cc, twin-turbo straight six (single-scroll)
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 431@5,500-7,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406@1,850-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.3sec (manual M3 + M4 coupe), 4.1sec (DCT M3 + M4 coupe), 4.6sec (M4 Cabrio manual)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,595kg (M3), 1,635kg (M3 auto), 1,572kg (M4 coupe), 1,612kg (M4 coupe auto), 1,825kg (M4 Cabrio manual)
MPG (official combined): 32.1 (manual M3 + M4 coupe), 34.0 (auto M3 + M4 coupe), 31.0 (M4 Cabrio manual)
CO2: 204g/km (manual M3 + M4 coupe), 194g/km (auto M3 + M4 coupe)
Wheels: 9x18 (f), 10x18 (r)
Tyres: 255/40 (f), 275/40 (r)
On sale: 2014-2018 (M3), 2014-2020 (M4)
Price new: £56,635 (M3)
Price now: £23,000 upwards
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Once you get used to the unusual offbeat noise of the S55 engine you'll quickly start to appreciate its finer qualities, of which there are many. Like throttle response, which is brilliant by any standards, let alone those of a twin-turbo. There's a choice of three throttle settings: Efficiency, Sport and Sport Plus. Sport sharpens up the pedal throw quite nicely and will be the preferred position for many.
When your choice is made, you'll relish the grip-loosening thrust that's available between 4,000 and 6,000rpm and the cheek-puffing torque that's there from much lower revs than that. On the right road and in the right hands - though actually, they don't even necessarily need to be the right hands - it will leave an E9X floundering.
From a mechanical reliability standpoint the F8X has an excellent record so far, but one glitch reared its head on early (pre-December 2015) cars and that is the spinning crank hub issue which affected BMW's N54 and N55 engines as well as the F8X's S55.
What's a crank hub? Well, it's something that holds the engine's crankshaft and timing gear together, typically with some sort of Woodruff key to prevent slippage. In these BMW engines, however, a single bolt is expected to do the job. In a performance car like the M3, where aggressive up- or downshifts can force the engine to step abruptly up or down, the results of bolt breakage and consequent slippage don't bear thinking about.
In reality, relatively few owners will have experienced this. It's thought to be only one in every 200, but the seriousness of the consequences if you were that one understandably set BMW message boards on fire for quite a while. More than one expert in the field claimed to have 'the fix' for it, but many of those claims were discredited. There was speculation that BMW didn't key up the crank hub on purpose, so that it would act as some kind of 'fuse' to protect tuned/hard-used motors from even more widespread damage. A new bedplate brought in by BMW is said to have fixed the problem on 2016-on cars but it's something to be aware of on earlier M3s and M4s.
If the idea of light tuning appeals, an aftermarket intake system will typically add 15-20hp and 15-25lb ft. M Performance Exhausts (MPEs) on 2018 and older cars can develop cracks around where the tailpipes exit the backbox.
All F8X cars started off with single-piece carbon fibre propshafts which reputedly knocked around 5kg off the weight, but these were binned on all cars built from November 2017 (apart from special models like the CS and M4 GTS) when it was found that the CF shaft was too thick to provide sufficient clearance for that new particle filter.
Good things about the F80 manual besides its rev-matching programme that activates in Efficiency and Sport modes? Well, it has longer ratios than the E90's 'box, and maybe a little extra crispness in the shift quality.
F8X steering wasn't the last word in feel, but most considered it to be superior to the artificiality and (some thought) over-zealousness of the E9X helm. Like the M5 and M6 of the era, it had three settings: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus, which demands a fair bit of physical input. You had the same three choices for the damping. Sport was sort of OK on the public roads. Sport Plus wasn't. For most, Comfort for both will do the job nicely.
The F8X is superbly balanced and turns in really well, helped by a front axle that's unburdened by drive componentry. The standard setting for the traction control is what you might call 'helpful', keeping things friendly on a soaking UK road in winter time, but the 'M Dynamic Mode' between that and 'everything off' is very liberal and will allow a full spin to be executed, should that be your wont. Electronic adaptive dampers were optional and worth having.
The base wheel was the 18-inch 513M or you could go for the 19-inch 437M that came in black or silver. When the Competition Pack car came out in 2016, you could option it with 20-inch 666 wheels in black or silver, which increased the rear wheel tyre sizes from 275 to 285 and the fronts from 255 to 265. Michelin Pilot Super Sports were the launch tyre and are still highly rated for these cars.
Carbon ceramic brakes that were an option on cars with 19in wheels or bigger were very squeaky, but on the track they will happily take a pasting. Calipers for these CC brakes had two extra pistons front and rear, making six at the front and four at the back. Even the regular non-ceramic brakes can be quite noisy, and stones do get trapped in the brake guards, creating a horrendous noise. Handbrake operation can become sticky.
Interestingly the saloon is thought to be more aerodynamically efficient than the swoopier coupe, and the widebody design looks amazing, but the downside of flared rear wheelarch/quarter panels is that they can easily pick up damage from stones thrown back from the front tyres. Gravel rash can also scar the door bottoms and sills. Custom mudflaps for the front wheels are a sensible purchase and look a lot better than they sound.
What are the best F8X colours? Well, that's down to you, and new buyers had literally hundreds of 'Individual' alternatives to choose from, but the Yas Marina light blue that some of the launch cars came in always looks special, and eye-poppers like Sakhir Orange will always cut a dash. For what it's worth BMW's own designers rated Silverstone and Alpine White, with a secret love for Black Sapphire despite the fact that this colour hid most of the car's lines. Maybe they liked it precisely because of that stealthiness.
For weight saving and a lower centre of gravity, the F8X's roof was made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic. You could specify a sunroof if you wanted, but then the roof would be made of steel rather than CFRP.
Boot lids can get a bit lazy, either not opening fully or not closing without a good slam. Cabrio boots should click open on the fob but they aren't meant to fly up. Condensation can affect both head- and taillights.
The engine sounds you hear in an F80 are synthesised. Depending on your ears, the constant boom can become annoying on longer trips, and headaches were reported by back seat passengers. Some sufferers have found switching to an MPE or an aftermarket pipe to be less wearying. We think the syntho-sound can be disabled on cars that are equipped with the Harman Kardon system where you can access the active module that's next to the amplifier in the boot, but it's a fiddly job to say the least.
F9X seat leather is good quality moo that doesn't wear easily but the pronounced bolsters are obviously going to be vulnerable if you favour Dukes Of Hazzard entry styles. M seat emblems on 2015-17 cars were prone to cracking. These emblems were replaced by illuminated black items on 2018 cars, but they still occasionally cracked. Tyre pressure monitoring systems fail, and some owners feel that the air-con doesn't work that well on the Auto setting.
Although toys like the head-up display and 360 camera functions were nice, the usefulness of some of the stuff you got with the Driver Assist package was more debatable, given the car's likely usage. Things like lane-departure warning are frowned on by some track day organisers on account of their intrusiveness. A leather dash was available as an option, but you might consider this to be a luxury too far as well, from the point of view of keeping it looking smart.
Sometimes driver seatbelts might not fully retract or the passenger side belt might jam. Rear or passenger doors can squeak annoyingly, as can passenger seats, the centre trim and glovebox, and the trim piece around the HUD display. Squeaks and rattles are pretty common on these cars actually, but owners seem to enjoy tracking them down and resolving them. Einszett Gummi Pflege Rubber Care is preferred to silicon lubrication or cleaners.
For many in the market for a late M3, the key question to ask yourself is probably 'do I want a normally aspirated V8 or do I want a turbo six?'. Expressed in such simple terms, you might think the V8 was the obvious choice, and the E9X is undoubtedly a superb thing with the potential to offer more driving variety than the six if you're prepared to put in the work.
The F8X might not have V8 glamour on its side but it does have its own special appeal. One YouTube wit called it the sports car for mathematicians, which sounds like a back-handed compliment but it does kind of reflect the fact that not everyone is a driving god, and there's certainly no shame in that. For the average driver these turbo Ms can be driven and enjoyed in a wide range of scenarios and weather conditions - maybe a wider range than that of the E90. Comfy, compact, and beautifully built with a strong drivetrain, the F8X is a richly talented, accessible and exciting car that will give and keep on giving, hopefully until you reluctantly reach the point of selling it.
You've got to own one first though. Finding an F8X won't difficult, but if you're fussy about the spec and want to get as close as possible to the car you would have bought new if only you'd been more powerfully built, it then becomes a case of how hard you want to look and how long you want to spend doing it. You can dodge your way round some of the spec issues. If you like the idea of the carbon roof, for example, but you also want a sunroof, you could get both - or the effect of both at least - by going for a steel-sunroofed car and putting a black wrap on it. It's not as cheesy as you might think.
What will you have to pay for the privilege of F8X ownership? As ever, it depends which model you fancy. 2016 was an amazing year for special editions like the carbon-stuffed, Comp Pack-engined M3 '30 Jahre', just 30 of which came to the UK from a global allocation of 500 (with an M4 cabrio version in 2018); the stripped-back M4 GTS, which used water injection to amp power up to 500hp, drop the 0-62 time to 3.8sec, lift top speed to 190mph, and give it a Rohrl-in-a-Carrera GT-matching 'ring time of 7min 28sec; and the 200-off M4 DTM Champion Edition, which was essentially a white GTS with blue and red M-stripes.
For the purposes of this guide however we'll restrict ourselves to the less exotic examples. In PH Classifieds we found this early (2014) 48,000-mile M3 in black with red leather. It's a repaired Cat S car, which is the second lightest accident damage rating, and is up for £23,990. For a little more money and a little more peace of mind, how about this 2014 41,000-miler in Yas Marina light blue at £27,500?
At the dear end of the PH Classifieds M3 range we have this rather scrummy 2018 CS model - another worthwhile addition to the range - in Lime Rock Grey with a stack of carbon and Alcantara, staggered 20in alloys and just 3,000 miles covered. It's yours for £67,990
If you'd prefer an F82 M4 coupe, your choice is wider. The most affordable example in PH Classifieds is this white with black 79,000-miler at £22,950, but there are plenty of other M4 coupes in the sub-£30k bracket, including (glory be!) this Austin Yellow 41,000 mile car at £27,995. For some wind in your barnet try this black on black 33,000-mile 2015 F83 cabrio at £26,000.
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