You know, it's a loaded question but when I think of "What is BMW's most important car," I probably don't have the answer most people would think of.
That's because there's many ways to slice that inquiry.
Important from a sales volume perspective?
Important from a technological innovation angle?
For me though, the answer is obvious: it's the M3, and now, M4. While that may seem ridiculous to some of you, keep in mind that it is an icon for the brand and serves as a halo car. Except you can actually afford it.
2015 BMW M3/M4
If you want to get to the crux of what makes a BMW so desirable, the M3/M4 is it. An M3 is a car that's a fantastic performer, yet practical with utility and it makes an impression when you pull up to a friend's house.
Personally, I think when someone buys into the BMW brand, they're looking for a vehicle that has an attractive lease price and has a piece of the M "DNA" in it.
Enough of the philosophical stuff. Let's get down to brass tacks.
The North American contingent of the Bavarian marque had me out to Road America in Wisconsin to sample the latest M3 and M4. Considering I've been thinking this will be the best M3 ever, it's a big deal — at least for me. And BMW thought this through as the company simply didn't host a track day, it also let us sample its wares on road. Obviously this makes sense as it's intended to be used in both settings though not all automakers do it this way.
Looking at the exterior of the new M3 and M4 I am quite pleased. While it's not as stealthy as the E36 that went mostly unnoticed, the all-new M3 and M4 — in my opinion — are gorgeous vehicles. There's nothing I dislike about its exterior design. Not one thing. Two issues that have been brought up though is the vehicle's "dolphin nose" from a side profile, which I bet has to do with European crash standards, and the hood's shut line that's NOT integrated into the front grilles. To me they're not bothersome though I can understand why it would irk someone else.
2015 BMW M3/M4
Getting intimate behind the three-spoke M-specific steering wheel, the interior is a nice place to be. It's a bit too glitzy and busy for my taste — I wish BMW would just keep it driver-oriented and Spartan like the E46 — but it's a spacious and comfortable place to be. BMW deserves a standing ovation for the all-new seats that are said to be a touch lighter than the outgoing pair. Though they lack adjustable thigh extenders for long-legged drivers, the seats are more comfortable and better bolstered than what I am accustomed to in the Audi S4/S5/RS5.
Being 6'8 and about 275 pounds, I fit without any qualms and had plenty of space in all directions even with a helmet on. The driver's position is spot on with the steering wheel in your lap, an adequate amount of visibility outside and the shifter — if so optioned — nearby.
2015 BMW M3/M4
Now equipped with a 3.0-liter, bi-turbo inline six-cylinder, the M3 and M4 produce 425 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque. Though we've beaten it to death with an ugly stick, that's up 11 horsepower and 111 lb.-ft. from the last-gen M3. I could care less that there wasn't a significant horsepower increase because the torque is what matters here.
It's incredibly important to note that the vehicle weighs in at just under 3,600 pounds, which is LESS than the last-gen M3 that weighed in about 3,700 pounds. This is HUGE news! And, it's something the BMW community was waiting for: When would the M3 stop getting bloated? The answer is now!
Zero to 60 comes up fast in 3.9 seconds if you have the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) and 4.1 seconds if you opt for it a do-it-yourself gearbox.
Speaking of the manual, I had some time behind the wheel of an M3 and M4 equipped with the six-speed transmission and it's, surprisingly, wonderful. There's good reason for this as it is derived from the 2011 1M's six-speed 'box. The shifts are more fluid than any other BMW I've piloted and feels closer to a Porsche standard transmission than anything else. One area that could stand for improvement is the clutch pedal that's lacking any feel. It's pretty light and you can't really feel the engagement point — peculiar in a high-performance vehicle where there's typically a bit of weighting and resistance. At least it's easy to drive, which can't be said of the E9x's shifter that was a bit of a chore to deal with.
I am sure a lot of purists will complain about the M3 and M4's steering going electric, but it doesn't phase me. Over the outgoing car it feels more direct and lighter. Less German and more Italian. This is a good thing because if this car had steering as heavy and weighted as the Audi RS5 I'd be miserable.
To me, the M3/M4's steering situation is like the 991 911's. People will complain about it if they need something to nag about but once they're behind the wheel it won't be bothersome.
Where the all-new BMW shines is on the track. It's clear that the hard work to lighten the vehicle paid off and equipped with Michelin Pilot Super Sports, the vehicle has traction for days, even around the big, fast and scary Road America. I was driving the car quite hard and I only heard the tires squeal around turn five — it's possible that was due to driver inadequacy. As an owner of Pilot Super Sports on my personal ride I'd say there's no other way to go.
What makes the M4 so fun to drive is that you can get aggressive with it and even with the traction control mode in MDM you don't feel like it will bite you back. It's predictable and planted. The suspension feels just right, even when dialed up in Sport Plus both on and off track.
Now the M3, on the other hand, feels a bit more lively and that back end moves around a bit. Though it didn't feel like it's going to wrap around me, if you work the car hard it will tug at your coattails letting you know you're at the limit. Though I am not an engineer, I would assume it has to do with the vehicle's higher center of gravity and a bit more mass. I really felt the weight's presence as the sedan leaned much more through Road America's carousel when compared to its coupe bredrin.
Powering around the four-mile track only in DCT M3s and M4s it became clear that this car is stinking fast. While turbo lag is noticeably absent on launch, you will notice there is a drop off in power at the high end of the rev range; however, if you short shift the car you get gobs more torque and off you go.
Around town I did a bit of motoring, but to be honest it wasn't enough to give definitive impressions. Given we only really had a few hours behind the wheel to split between the road and track, time was limited. What I can tell you, however, is that I netted 18.5 mpg over approximately 25 miles of travel on some of the country roads surrounding Road America. Realistically though it's not statistically significant so take it with a grain of salt.
- Its exterior is damn good looking, both in coupe and sedan form
- The driving position is perfect...literally
- The increase in torque was much needed and it feels as though the M3/M4 gets a nice kick in its ass when you short shift the car
- Its interior is busy and lacking that Spartan characteristic I loved in older M cars
- The clutch pedal on the six-speed manual could use more weighting and feel
- You really feel the sedan's weight in the corners while getting aggressive — feels more like an M5 than an M3
The Lowdown:- The E9x M3 was considered great by many but to be straightforward I hated every inch of that car, from the design to the motor. Though, I will admit it was the performance benchmark in its respective class. This all-new M3/M4 feels like the company picked up where it left off with the E46 and it just pushed the goal post really far ahead of the Audi RS5 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. They couldn't hang with the E9x and this car is so far beyond what that M was. If that wasn't enough, the all-new M3/M4 tops what I believe to be the BEST BMW the company made in a long time, the 1M. It's louder, it's faster, it's roomier, it shifts better and it's undoubtedly better looking. Honestly, run — don't walk — to your dealer and get on the list while you still can.
2015 BMW M3/M4