FIRST DRIVE | New BMW M3 and M4 Competition mark major progress

24 March 2021 - 11:41
By Waldo Swiegers
The new BMW M4, left, and M3 Competition.
Image: Supplied The new BMW M4, left, and M3 Competition.

The new BMW M3 and M4 have landed in SA. We drove the pair in the Western Cape last week.

Our market is only getting the Competition specification, which means more power and a more focused approach to performance driving than the standard non-Competition version.

It also means the option of a manual is completely non-existent, but few selected that option with the predecessor when it was offered anyway.

While the first batch of models is of the rear-wheel drive variety, the all-wheel drive (xDrive) variant is due to land on our shores at the end of the year.

The arrival of the duo is an occasion worth celebrating, especially in this day and age when the internal combustion engine is slowly but surely being phased out in favour of more efficient and greener hybrid setups or fully electric transitions.

Twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine produces 375kW and 650Nm.
Image: Supplied Twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine produces 375kW and 650Nm.

Those with an unashamed commitment to petrol and pistons will be happy to hear the G80 M3 and G82 M4 Competition boasts a traditional, 3.0-litre, in-line, six-cylinder with two turbochargers. This produces 375kW and 650Nm. That is incredible power – 13kW more than a Lamborghini Diablo SV 5.7l V12 from 25 years ago, for some perspective as to how things have changed!

Amazing to think that a medium-sized saloon car, still comfortable enough to drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town or to pop to the shops for groceries, hides this many rampaging horses under the bonnet.

Both models are easy to pilot in normal conditions – no more intimidating than a regular 320i in traffic, which is partly thanks to the new eight-speed ZF automatic transmission that replaces the M-DCT gearbox from the previous M3 and M4. The M-DCT could be quite jerky and uncomfortable to live with in day-to-day driving, especially at slow speed.

Prod the accelerator a bit with your big toe, though, and the animal lurking beneath is unleashed.

Power delivery is instant, especially with the engine setting on Sport Plus mode. Lag is virtually non-existent. When overtaking a slower car on a normal double lane road, one has to be aware the rear has the potential to snake under hard acceleration. Luckily the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) keeps you in a straight line. Occupants are slingshot to illegal speeds in no time whatsoever.

The M Servotronic steering can be adjusted to either Comfort or Sport mode to suit your driving. Sport mode adds a bit of heft to the wheel, and steering inputs are extremely direct. Threading your way through a twisty mountain pass is an extremely satisfying affair, and setting the brakes to Sport mode means your brake pedal feel is also changed to be a fair bit stiffer than in Comfort mode.

While DSC by default keeps the rear from breaking away from an overzealous right foot, the optional 10-stage traction control can also be programmed to allow for just the right amount of wheel slip to suit your particular driving style. I would add that the four-door M3 is a fair bit more stable to drive hard than the two-door M4.

M Servotronic steering can be adjusted to either Comfort or Sport mode to suit your driving.
Image: Supplied M Servotronic steering can be adjusted to either Comfort or Sport mode to suit your driving.

The ride comfort in Sport Plus mode, even on an undulating backroad, is firm but ar from uncomfortable. The handling balance is incredibly well managed and BMW says the staggered rim sizes (a first for the breed) add to it – 18-inch rims for the front with 19-inchers at the rear.

The car loves to be driven hard. The engine runs to the redline of 7,000rpm in each gear without much hassle. The sprint from 0-100km/h is settled in 3.9 seconds and you can keep going all the way to 290km/h (if you were to find yourself on the German Autobahn).

Once you are happy with your adrenaline spike, it becomes a lamb again when switching everything back to Comfort mode. As a package, the BMW M3, whether in two- or four-door guise, has been regarded as the benchmark for decades in its field.

The G80 and G82 raises the bar for the competition even higher. Despite the controversial frontal styling, the crucial, under-the-skin aspects are exactly as they need to be. It remains the breed to beat.