New BMW M3 and M4 Competition do justice to their iconic predecessors
Engineering integrity meets soul-stirring character in these new arrivals, writes Waldo Swiegers
Emotion makes the world go round, even in the clinical environment of automotive production. Italian brands rely heavily on the emotional buyer — the cars they make aren’t always the best in certain objective measures. But with a combination of gorgeous styling, captivating performance and that all important, difficult-to-pin down, soulful element that forces the heart to rule the mind, their owners are seen as passionate people.
BMW is German, engineering perfection is the goal —I don’t think emotion is as hot a topic in the Munich office as it is over at Alfa Romeo’s. Yet, since the introduction of the M3 in 1986, BMW has managed to capture head and heart in one brilliant package, one that has, over generations, adorned many a bedroom poster, with a base of fans who will defend the sportster to the death if needs be.
From the E36 M3 of the 1990s, to the coveted two-door-only E46 of the new millennium and the V8-engined brute that succeeded it, there are many important milestones to be referenced on the M3 timeline.
The new G80 M3 sedan (and G82 coupé M4) Competition are both available in SA now, and I set out to discover if the newest German still tugs on the heartstrings in addition to chasing perfection from an engineering integrity point of view.
The Competition specification is the only model South Africans will get — forgoing the regular, non-Competition flavour offered abroad. Currently, it only sends power to the rear wheels, with the xDrive all-wheel drive version coming at the end of the year.
The twin turbocharged 3.0-litre in line six-cylinder engine produces 375kW and 650Nm and is coupled with a traditional torque converter eight-speed automatic gearbox by ZF. A mechanical limited-slip differential puts the power down onto the tarmac. That is immense power.
Good enough for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.9 seconds, topping out at 290km/h. The original E30 “box shape” M3 produced only 147kW back in 1986. It’s still the most successful DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) race car of all time. It was a barebones racer for the road. But today’s M3 is anything but basic.
Weighing in at over 1,800kg, the new car is more than 600kg heavier than the E30 — these are the consequences of being laden with every conceivable technology and amenity a discerning performance-car buyer wants in 2021.
To keep the essence of the M3’s handling prowess in good standing, BMW engineers have installed various electronic control systems to help make the new car every bit as sharp as its iconic predecessors. And less prone to crashing.
The electronically-controlled dampers, along with a quick steering rack, provide extreme confidence on bumpy mountain passes, even in sport-plus mode where it stiffens everything up considerably. The brake pedal feel can be changed between comfort and sport modes — sport mode providing a stiffer pedal for more feel. The dynamic stability control (DSC) is best left on when throwing the car through the twisty bits.
The staggered front and rear rim sizes are new — 18-inch in the front and 19-inch at the rear. This provides impeccable balance when driving hard. It really loves a corner.
The new eight-speed automatic gearbox is much better for daily driving than the F80’s M-DCT gearbox. It’s smooth as silk at low speeds and just as fast as the dual clutch predecessor, but definitely not as aggressive on the drivetrain. Turning the DSC off and playing with the optional 10-stage traction-control settings should best be done in a controlled environment.
The power delivery from the inline six is instant and all 650Nm of torque screams through the rubber with eagerness to break traction. And break traction it will. It takes a skilled driver to fully exploit the limits of this car’s power and handling.
Many people snort at the redesigned kidney-grille nose of the G80/G82. And even though it looks better in the metal than it does in images, this is the aspect of the car that misses the mark in my book. The rest of the car, though, is outstanding .
In its latest guise, the M3 and M4 are successful in tiptoeing the balance between engineering integrity and soul-stirring character. It is safe to say that the new model does justice to the storied legacy of its forebears.
• Prices: M3 Competition from R1.86m; M4 Competition from R1.94m