The homologation icon, the first straight six, the one you should have bought, the V8, the turbo... And now this one. Boiled down to perhaps its most basic, that's 35 years of BMW M3 history, which makes it sound easy. But we all know, of course, that explaining the enduring appeal of an M3 would take an awful lot longer - like its 5 Series equivalent, the M Division 3 Series has become the benchmark by which all others were judged. And that doesn't happen just with a great engine, or brilliant dynamics, or good looks on their own. Therefore, the arrival of a new M3 and M4, more so even than an M5, is a very big moment. It isn't the oldest, perhaps - but it is the archetypal M car.
This feels like a significant debut, too; not only are rivals like the AMG C63 and Giulia Quadrifogliobetter than they've ever been, many have already dismissed the new pairing because of you know what. Add into that an engine derived from the humble B58 straight six and the looming presence of xDrive for the first time in an M3 and some of that concern can be well understood.
However, one of those worries can be allayed straight away: the M3 and M4 Competition will launch with two-wheel drive, all 510hp and 480lb ft going to the rear tyres through an eight-speed Steptronic auto - a notable switch away from the seven-speed M DCT, and following the move made by the M5. The option of M xDrive will follow next summer, after a launch in March, and will perform in exactly the same way as it does in the bigger saloon: 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD modes will be available, with "signature M rear-biased power transmission" promised in the standard mode.
Even with just the two driven wheels, BMW is claiming a 3.9-second sprint for both cars to 62mph, with a 155mph limited top speed that can optionally be raised to 180mph. Peak torque is made from 2,700-5,500rpm; peak power from 5,500rpm to the limited at 7,200rpm, which sits 400rpm lower than the old S55 as found in the previous F80 and F82. Notably BMW has equipped the new M3 and M4 with a bespoke cooling system and a special sump (with two chambers, allowing a smaller one to supply the other when required) to ensure consistent track performance. There's no word yet on a manual gearbox, though it's expected to follow.
As for the chassis, it's fair to say that BMW has overhauled the standard (and impressive) G20 3 Series, promising "excellent driving dynamics" thanks to increases in chassis and body stiffness, wider tracks, a lower centre of gravity and adaptive dampers controlled by electromagnetic valves. That's in addition to 380mm front brakes at front, clasped by six-piston calipers, and 370mm rotors at the rear; an Active M Differential is again standard.
So the hardware is encouraging, but the software remains notable as well. It was more than 15 years ago that an 'M' button was in an M5 (with equivalents now in many rivals), and previous M Dynamic Modes have provided a nice half-way house for drivers to explore the limits with a traction control safety net still in place. Now the M3 and M4 receive, in addition things like M specific ABS, Cornering Brake Control and Brake Assist, new technology like Automatic Differential Brake and M Traction Control. The latter is said to offer the possibility of finding "the perfect balance of racing car performance and directional stability', with 10 settings. Which is notable as the AMG C63 offers nine settings for its traction control.
Oh yes, and one more thing, if that wasn't concerning enough about M3s and M4s going off into hedges: 'M Drive Professional' is a track driving assist feature you'll likely hear plenty about. Not only is the new traction control part of the software suite, so is a virtual coach to encourage "consistent progress" in a lap time, which can also be recorded. Also included is something called the 'M Drift Analyser'. Proving that a sense of humour is still intact at BMW (and that it knows what M cars do so well), the MDA will record "the driver's ability to pilot the car through corners with plenty of oversteer and opposite lock." Like all the technology included in the M Drive Professional armoury, the Drift Analyser is intended for track use; just don't be surprised if some exploratory testing happens on the road. And makes it to YouTube...
As is the modern M car way, that's just the start for the configurable tech available on the M3 and M4. Borrowing the 'Setup' button from the M5 and M8, the new cars can have up to seven powertrain and chassis parameters adjusted: steering, suspension, powertrain, traction control, brakes (using the integrated braking system tech from the M8), M xDrive and gearshift speed. Favourite presets can be stored in the two M mode red lozenges on the steering wheel. Don't forget, also, about the 'Road', 'Sport' and 'Track' settings for the driver assistance, each gradually toning down interference until Track deactivates all of them and switches the infotainment off for maximum helmsmith concentration.
Speaking of assistance, it would be remiss not to mention the additional technology that's now included in the most connected M3 and M4 ever. With lane departure warning, front collision warning and an Attentiveness Assistant as standard, the BMW includes most of what you'd expect. On the options list, though, are features like a Steering and Lane Control Assistant, Emergency Lane Assistant and the Driving Assistant Professional; nothing there helps improve your drift score, either.
While we're on options, the active safety features really are the tip of the iceberg as far as personalisation goes. For the first time in the M3 and M4 BMW has split the optional equipment into six packages: M Carbon (including the new CFRP seats), M Pro, Comfort, Visibility, Technology Plus and Ultimate. That's in addition to specific optional extras like the brake caliper colour and carbon exterior trinkets. Notable extras for PHey types include the ceramic brakes (part of the M Pro package), 19- or 20-inch forged wheels and the option to choose from any of the BMW Individual Paints. The colours seen in the pictures are new ones - Sao Paulo Yellow, Isle of Man Green, Skyscraper Grey, Brooklyn Grey - alongside Toronto Red seen elsewhere in the line-up.
Which is pretty much it on the M3 and M4, right? Only joking, we just saved the looks bit until last. Because while you will likely have decided long before now whether you like the look of this pair or not, it's only fair to share what BMW has to say. The specifics are irrefutable: the new cars are 122mm longer than their F8x equivalents, the M3 somehow another 26mm wider again and the M4 adding 17mm. As for style, the cars are described as possessing "aerodynamically optimised exterior" that "perfectly convey their motorsport-inspired character. Grille of the Year 2020 features horizontal M bars now (instead of vertical ones), with cooling intakes either side; additional highlights across the cars include extended sills (creating a black band around the whole car), the chunky 100mm exhaust tips, a standard carbon roof and darkened rear light lenses.
Finally, the inside. BMW says the cabins of both take their respective interiors to the "sporting extreme" with M logos and colour, plus unique sports seats and perhaps the biggest gearshift paddles ever seen. The aforementioned CFRP buckets are notable for saving 10kg in total over the standard ones.
And that really is it for the new BMW M3 and M4, cars that we're told will deliver "searing performance with everyday usability". Which has pretty much always been the M3 appeal, and why it has succeeded in the market for so long. While a big ask, if the G80 and G82 can combine the very best bits of the past five - attributes like the motorsport focus, the straight-six excitement, the hooligan nature and the sense of occasion - then BMW will be onto something special. Not long now until we find out...
1 / 28