BMW M3 and M4 on track: what's the speed limit in M Town again?
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BMW M3 Competition
- Incredibly involving
- Rear-wheel drive
- Great traction control
- ‘That’ front end
- Intrusive carbon seats
- Drift Analyser may lead to excessive tyre wear
Passing through customs, getting your passport stamped and waiting in a flight lounge are a few simple pleasures that Covid-19 has put a stop to.
When launching the new M3 and M4, BMW New Zealand made special arrangements to get us to M Town. Managed isolation was avoided, and a trip from Auckland over the Bombays was the only travel necessary as Hampton Downs Motorsport Park was turned into M Town for the week.
As you might’ve guessed, M Town is where BMW shows off everything M, which it says is “the most powerful letter in the alphabet.” Everything from pure M cars to M Performance SUVs are there to be driven, and the event even featured an appearance from the M heritage collection. But as cool as these old M3s are, we were at M Town to drive the latest iterations.
We first came face-to-face with the new M3 sedan and M4 coupe back in March, where the two cars raced a Black Hawk helicopter down a runway in something that looked like it was taken straight out of a Forza game.
So we got to see that front end in person, a nose that has been the topic of fierce internet debate ever since it first broke cover. I’m not going to say that I like it just to be different, because it’s still growing on me. But I will say how much I appreciate BMW pushing the styling envelope in a segment where brands have historically played it safe. As for the rest of the exterior, I think that this M3 could be the best-looking model of the last couple of decades, especially those rear guards.
From the outset, it’s obvious that this new M3/M4 pairing is right at home on a racetrack, with massive brakes and wide wheels. This is reinforced on the inside, as both cars we drove were optioned with the carbon pack, adding a pair of carbon fibre seats that look like they belong in a GT3 car.
BMW has decided to stick with the trusty 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine in this new pairing. As both cars are only offered in NZ in Competition guise, this engine makes a hefty 375kW/650Nm, which is sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission. Despite the rear wheels doing all the work, drivers will be thrust to 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, which is just one tenth of a second behind Audi’s all-wheel drive RS4.
BMW has already revealed plans to bring the xDrive all-wheel drive variants to NZ next year, which will appease those looking for peace of mind in an all-paw system.
We didn’t get behind the wheel of this M pairing at the launch back in March, so “excited” was an understatement as we strolled towards the cars lined up in pit lane. Tapping the M button on the steering wheel stiffens the suspension, the exhaust gets louder; and it becomes clear that this is an uncompromising machine.
On the track, the responsiveness of the twin-turbo engine is the first thing you notice. The rear of the car squats as the torque plants you firmly back into the carbon fibre bucket seat. Turbo lag is non-existent through the turns and the Steptronic transmission does an impeccable job of keeping the engine within the power band. Obviously, we’d love to have a go in a manual-equipped M3, but considering the Competition is exclusively offered with the auto, we’ll make do with just the two pedals.
On paper, it’s easy to see the appeal of an all-wheel drive system, but the traction control system is more than capable of handling all 650Nm without breaking a sweat. It also allows for a little bit of slip at the limit, but won’t let the rear get too out of shape at any point. The system is so well integrated, that without the traction light flashing on the dash, the driver wouldn’t know power is being cut from the rears.
All this goes out the window once the system is turned off completely, and we had the pleasure of experiencing some sideways action from the back seat of the M3. This is where the M Drift Analyser comes into play: it will rate a drift out of five stars based on duration, line and angle. Despite an extremely impressive slide around the bottom corner at Hampton Downs, our BMW driver only managed a four-and-a-half-star performance.
Compared with the other M cars in BMW’s line-up, this M3/M4 pairing feels like the most connected drive on track. Both cars tip the scales at over 1700kg, but the dynamic M suspension and extremely responsive engine makes it feel closer to the one-tonne mark.
The driving feel between the two is almost identical, meaning that purchasing choice would come down to practicality and looks. Personally, I’d be going for the 3, but in a perfect world I’d have that M3 estate that BMW has finally promised to build.
BMW M3/M4 Competition
ENGINE: 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, RWD