The heart of a hooligan beats within BMW's classy new M3, writes Damien O'Carroll
Despite all attempts to be impartial as a motoring journalist, there is one car that targets my weak spot.
It is a car I love unapologetically: the BMW M3.
This admission may indicate I am going to say only good things about the new M3. The opposite is true. My weight of expectation for the new M3 was so heavy that any small disappointment would have crushed me.
I am far from alone in my love for the M3. In all honesty, if you don't have even a flicker of passion deep in your soul for the M3 and other race-bred road rockets, you probably don't have a soul.
There was no small amount of pressure on BMW to get the new M3 right, especially after news that it was going back to a six-cylinder after a single, blisteringly good V8 model. A turbo six-cylinder at that ...
By now you will almost certainly have read international reports, and Driven editor Matt Greenop's experience at the international launch, that show BMW did manage to get the new M3 very right indeed.
But it is one thing being good on the roads and racetracks of Europe, where it was conceived and born, and quite another on the roads and racetracks of New Zealand. That is what BMW NZ gave us the chance to do at the launch of the M3 sedan and M4 coupe.
Because the M3/4 was born on the track and many get back there regularly, the local launch featured two North Island tracks, Taupo and Hampton Downs, with plenty of real New Zealand roads between the two.
The M3 and M4 are lighter, more powerful and faster than the car they jointly replace, with the M4 following the 4 Series coupe naming convention for two-door cars on the 3 Series platform.
Yet New Zealand price rises less than 1 per cent (or $1000) for the sedan.
Here's the part that will make it even easier to justify to your accountant: BMW has jammed in nearly $20,000 worth of additional equipment as standard.
Whether you choose two or four doors, you get a carbon-fibre roof, 19-inch alloy wheels, seven-speed dual clutch transmission, heads-up display and M adaptive suspension. The M3 drops in at $159,900, with the M4 costing $169,900.
Both pack the M division's new and very impressive twin-turbo 3-litre inline six-cylinder engine -- based on the 435i's engine but significantly modified by the M men -- that punches out 317kW of power and 550Nm of torque.
For your extra $10,000 you get the sexy coupe look, a carbon-fibre boot lid and a slightly lower, lighter M4 -- but the weight difference between the two (about 23kg) doesn't make much real-world difference and both are claimed by BMW to hammer the zero to 100km/h sprint in a seriously quick 4.1 seconds.
BMW also claim the M3 and M4 sip fuel at a combined rate of 8.3 litres/100km, which is extremely impressive for such a powerful car. But start climbing up the clicks and that figure soon starts heading up.
My first time behind the M4's wheel is heading on to the Taupo race track. As I should have expected, the M4 feels disappointingly civil and refined at low speeds, as did its accomplished V8-powered predecessor.
Push the throttle gently halfway, however, and it belts forward, bellowing belligerently and trying to throw itself sideways on the very wet, very slippery track. Nail it to the carpet and it does the same thing, only faster and more violently.
Like the 435i, the traction and stability control systems are amazing, keeping things pointing the right way but never stopping the fun. But the 3/4 Series is a remarkably well-balanced car to begin with, and the M version even more so.
As the day progresses, the track dries and confidence increases. By the time I am in the M3 I have complete confidence in the car's abilities but have experienced enough of the ferocious power to still pay it a decent amount of respect. This thing is violently fast.
The road drive covers a series of backroads from Taupo to Hampton Downs, and is more than enough to convince of the M twins' credentials on the average Kiwi road.
The suspension is always firm, even in comfort mode, but the ride is never brittle or intrusive, even over the worst surfaces. The sheer power of the engine still commands respect but the aggression with which the M3/M4 can be thrown into a corner is simply remarkable.
It's not all perfect, though. Steering feels better left in comfort mode, where it feels light but accurate, as opposed to sport mode where it feels artificially heavy and slightly distant. That's a typical recent BMW weak point.
On the skid pan at Hampton Downs it is a different story. Here, it is supposed to be wet and we are encouraged to turn off the stability control and get things sideways. The M3 and M4 show their true balance and poise. Plus power -- never forget power.
The cars are incredibly easy to get sideways and stay completely relaxed once there -- meaning it is stupidly easy to forget you are drifting a $150,000-plus high-tech German sedan (or coupe) as if it's your mum's Datsun. And that is the beauty of the M3 and M4. They might be sophisticated but the heart of the true hooligan beats underneath.