Fast and ferocious BMW M3 and M4 wow us on street and track

Classy, high-performance sedan and coupe can run with purebred sports cars

Published: July 23, 2014 03:15 PM

Over the last few days we've been driving the new 2015 BMW M3 and M4, the high-performance sedan and two-door coupe versions of the laudable 3 Series line. You can think of BMW's M cars as niche products aimed at a select few—serious, well-heeled sports-car enthusiasts who appreciate a fine-tuned performance car and can truly experience its thrills.

The new M3 and M4 are ferociously fast, track-ready machines that are more than ready to take part in competition-driving events. But guess what? They're also a bit more livable as daily drivers than just about any previous Ms have ever been.

But they aren't cheap. The 2015 M3 starts at $62,000 and the M4 begins at $64,200. The examples we drove had stickers of $84,300 and $86,200, respectively. The high tariff was partly due to the optional ceramic brakes. At $8,000-plus, they might stop your heart before they slow the car.

A new 425-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six powertrain replaces the old 4.0-liter V8. We really don't think the six-cylinder engine is a demotion. While it's rated at a mere 10 hp more than the V8, it has significantly more torque that is available lower in the rev range. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual, but about 90 percent of these Ms will come, as ours did, with a seven-speed automated manual.

Power delivery is abundant, and in most situations this six-cylinder feels and sounds more like a V8 than the actual eight-cylinder engine did. Whether the roar is natural or synthetic (hard to tell these days, with active noise canceling or noise enhancement piped in), the M's voice is loud and unapologetic.

Driving impressions: This new M can easily keep up with a purebred sports cars, such as the Chevrolet Corvette or a Porsche 911, and it is more livable.  

We clocked our borrowed M3 at 4.1 seconds, running from 0 to 60 mph. That's a fantastic time, but learning how to key in the correct sequence of driving modes to reach the optimal launch setting meant ascending a steep learning curve. Four separate buttons, each with three settings, control the multiple adjustments for steering weight, throttle response, damping, and how aggressive the shifts are. It turned out that the car was faster in automatic mode than it was in manual using the steering-wheel paddles.

Driven with gusto on the track in automatic mode, gear changes proved quick and direct. But on an ordinary drive at low speeds, the automatic mode can make the car buck noticeably. Most likely you'll end up with a more graceful launch letting out an old fashioned clutch. But alas, even sports car drivers don't buy many real manuals anymore, especially in high-end cars.

Handling is extremely agile, but the steering is not as communicative as it could be, regardless of mode, and the Ms feel rather large for a sports car. It makes some of us long for the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. To be clear, the M corners with amazing capability and grip, but real crispness and tactility is rather elusive here. On the track, the M proves very balanced and enjoyable. It's also a drift machine par excellence, dancing sideways with balletic grace.

For a high-strung Euro muscle car, the ride turns out to be fairly composed—taut for sure but not brutal. And unlike in most high-performance sports cars, you sit upright and get a good view out.

The cabin is impeccably furnished and the deep-pocket seats are very comfortable. Infotainment and other functions are managed by BMW's familiar iDrive central controller. Once you live with it awhile, the system's logic becomes clear. We very much liked the head-up windshield display, but we'd like it even better if it showed the current gear. The shifter is a mystery at first. For instance, there is no Park position. Instead, Park engages automatically when you shut off the engine. Intuitive? Absolutely not.

The M3 and M4 deliver lofty performance at a somewhat lower price than showboat alternatives such as the Corvette and 911, and they don't beat you up for the thrill. But in a true M car, we'd like more of BMW's old-fashioned steering feedback and authenticity—qualities better realized in the much less costly BMW M235i, we think.

Gabe Shenhar

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