Track Review: E90 M3 vs. BMW M4 – Which one is the better M?

Test Drives | September 21st, 2015 by 6
E90 M3 BMW M4 track review 750x475

Sam Posey once said, “You can only truly know a car when you’ve driven it at its limit…” He said this about a 1970’s Ferrari …

Sam Posey once said, “You can only truly know a car when you’ve driven it at its limit…” He said this about a 1970’s Ferrari Le Mans racer, but the expression is also applicable to the new BMW M4. Certainly the statement is more relevant to the M4 than at any time previous in U.S. spec ///M history.

M4 reviews have been mixed thus far, but we were left with a resoundingly favorable impression after some track time. Here’s our take…

Has the M4 gone soft?

2016 bmw m4 track 750x484

@MininumTread.com

Like hell it has. The M4 is the most hardcore product from ///M division since the E30 M3, and it’s the most factory track-ready product that they’ve ever released (save special edition Euro CSL and GTS variants). Don’t be fooled by the luxury interior and lane assist, the M4 is a driver’s weapon. Any experienced driver who has driven previous generation stock M3’s on track will know within 2 corners that the M4 is more immediately capable.

Is the M4 boring on the street?

No, it’s bored on the street. Think Clay Matthews in a Pop Warner game.

In a twist of irony, everyday E9X M3 test drivers were often underwhelmed with the engine. It “didn’t feel fast,” however, many of those same test drivers fell for the “power” of the E90 335i. The reason? They revved both cars up to about 4,000 rpm, and if you know anything about the E9X M3 you understand that the fireworks don’t arrive until north of 5,000 rpm.

So the engine worked against the E9X M3 on the street and in some ways the high strung, high limitation chassis now works against the F82 M4. It’s possible to get the sense that you’re not particularly connected to the F82 cruising around, much the same as during fleeting test drives people lacked a connection to, and understanding of the outrageous S65 engine.

Nothing that can be responsibly, legally done on the street even gets the M4’s attention. From time to time it feels somewhat dormant and detached, but rest assured it’s just waiting for the opportunity to unload.

Chassis & Suspension

Puttering around town with the dampers in comfort you might have little impression of the underlying competence. Start to push and lean on the chassis though, and it just exudes brilliance.

For starters, the front end/axle grip is stunning. That bears repeating — the front end/axle grip is stunning. Coming out of almost any other vehicle and into the M4 in a performance context will require some recalibration when it comes to corner turn in. The sensation from behind the wheel is that it jumps toward the apex. It’s an awesome characteristic.

YouTube drift and curb jumping videos might have you believing that the back end of the M4 is wayward and difficult to control. We found the opposite. Just good, old fashioned ///M differential grip, grip, and more grip. Of course with the newfound torque and low rpm power you have to be a little bit more judicious with throttle inputs than with previous generations. But honestly, that’s an easier thing to adjust to than the front axle.

At both ends of the car there’s no shortage of communication, including through the steering wheel, and the chassis conveys an overall sense of integration and cohesiveness that we’ve not experienced in past ///M cars. If you lose track of either end then you didn’t heed the warnings, or were too hasty with the throttle.

Overall, the chassis and dampers are brilliant. Easily the high point of the M4. And the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires help matters all the more.

How is it, and how fast is it on track?

We had some seat time in the M4 at the midwest’s most underrated track, Gingerman Raceway, and fittingly we had an uber modified E90 M3 there as well. So an excellent reference point for the establishment of generational improvement (or lack thereof).

The E90 M3 is outfitted with KW Clubsport coilovers, sticky Nitto NT01 tires, Stoptech big brake kit with race pads front and rear, and a full Akrapovic exhaust. The sum total of the modifications net about 5-7 seconds around Gingerman. A fully stock E9X M3 is good for about a 1:47-1:49 driven to its near limit. (Provided the stock pads will accommodate for a full lap. Not guaranteed.) The modified iteration pictured and detailed above runs mid 1:42’s when conditions are right.

We hopped out of the E90 and into the M4, and first session out ran a 1:45.7. There are caveats though… The M4 belongs to a private owner, and out of respect for that fact it was driven well short of its limit. (The time was achieved with said owner on board as well.) And while the stock brakes are a vast improvement over the stock E90 system, the pads do give way after a couple of hot laps. Therefore brake zones were lengthened significantly to allow for the uncertainty.

For reference, here are some official (magazine) Gingerman lap times.

  • ’15 Challenger Hellcat 1:45.8
  • ’15 Ford Mustang GT 1:44.8
  • ’15 Camaro Z/28: 1:41.7
  • ’12 Camaro ZL1 1:44.53
  • ’13 Mustang Shelby GT500 1:45.21

With some aftermarket race pads and therefore the confidence to dive into brake zones as with the E90, and a bit less caution from behind the wheel in all sectors, we have no doubt that the M4 could match the modified E90 M3 lap time, or possibly best it.

The increased power certainly plays a role here. On the back straight at Gingerman, the M4 is up some 7-8 mph on the modified E90. That’s a significant improvement considering the reported 11 hp gain from stock E9X to F82 (good one, ///M).

But believe it or not it’s through the corners where the M4 shines most of all. The stock M4 dampers are a match for one of KW’s best products for the E9X M3. The M4 corners flat and always feels composed. And the turn in characteristics… did we mention those already?

M4 power and throttle response

bmw m4 engine images 02 750x500

The M4 throttle response is excellent, but not quite as sharp as the E90. However, coming out of corners the M4’s increased grunt makes up for that very slight response disadvantage.

The E90 responds immediately to throttle inputs, but the engine isn’t always on boil. In that sense there’s a delay until maximum attack. Here and there it could use a boost in power in the lower RPMs, and that’s what the M4 delivers.

The M4’s power is immediate, and it can deliver power up to and beyond the limits of traction at virtually any time. Provided you can walk that line, having more than enough power is the more advantageous corner exit option.

Both models are fundamentally rewarding, but there’s no doubt that the M4 is the more effective, quicker tool on corner exit because of its ability to put down as much power as can be accommodated by the 275 section Michelins.

Ergonomics

bmw-m4-interior-image

The other notable positive about the M4 on track are the seats. While still well short of a race seat, they are more track worthy, and hold you in place far better than the stock E9X M3 seats.

The driving position is typical ///M; that is to say, just slightly higher than you’d like for performance driving. But the perception is that the M4 offers a slightly lower seating position than the E9X M3.

bmw-m4-interior-image-5

The steering wheel is well sized and offers excellent 9&3 engagement points that are just slightly farther down either side of the rim than in the E9X M3.

Technology and aesthetics aside, the M4 ergonomics are more favorable for performance driving.

The Verdict

E90-M3-BMW-M4-track-review

@MininumTread.com

As the proud owner of the E90 pictured above and one who is frequently guilty of ///M nostalgia, this author really has nothing to gain from capitulation, but resistance is futile. The M4 is so clearly superior to the E9X generation M3 in every performance area. And not only that, the M4 is just as playful and fun as the E9X or any past generation. In fact the increased power just ups the hooligan factor, and when it comes to M3’s/M4’s that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

We’re officially sold. It’s the best ///M chassis ever by a landslide, combined with an AMG meets ///M character under the hood.

The BMW M4 is a true achievement, and an unquestionable generational advancement. You might have to work a bit harder and put it into a performance environment to find that old ///M magic, but oh man, it’s all there.

Luke writes for MinimumTread, a site dedicated to performance cars

BMWBLOG

NEWSLETTER