Getting ever closer to GT2/GT4 stardom in the best M
I’ve been here before. I’ve been lucky enough in this job to do the launch of the E90 M3 in Spain’s Deep South back in July 2007, the 414-horsepower-@-8300rpm S65B40 naturally aspirated V8 teaching me the best burnouts ever in a little M.
I also know southernmost Portugal’s 2.9-mile, 15-curve Autódromo Internacional Algarve from a few drive events. This younger circuit is made for cars like the F80 M3 and F82 M4 that start North American customer deliveries by late June.
This was bound to be top-notch driving; the new M3 may not have a mess more power (up just 11 hp), but it gets 185 fewer pounds to haul around (a 5.2% drop) while the S55B30 Variant TwinPower Turbo inline-6 brings 111 more pound-feet of torque (a 37.6% jump) to the tarmac between 1850 and 5500 rpm. And the miles-per-gallon ratings go up, too. I was salivating.
My initial F80/F82 exposure was at the BMW Driving Experience site at the old airfield near Maisach in Germany. It’s flat as a board with an old porous driving surface – an experience made stressful because I couldn’t actually drive the cars. This was a TecDay with rides given by BMW DTM drivers. I’m not complaining, but you know what I mean. I felt what these extraordinary new Ms were engineered to do, but there’s no substitute for having that steering device in my grips. And these were all equipped, too, with the newer ZF six-speed manual pulled and adapted from the E82 1M coupe, a gearbox about which one and all raves.
Now I can finally have at it on what they call the Portimão circuit for short, while I also have road time in the cars. Portimão tests everything in a short distance because it is riddled with tricky ups and downs, a couple off-camber situations with diminishing radii, and it is very smooth surfacing that is better for hooking onto the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires – 255/35 ZR19 92Y front, 275/35 ZR19 100Y rear – on optional 437M twin-spoke 19-inch wheels. Every car had optional $8,150 carbon ceramic brake discs with their gold pincers peeking out from behind the twin-spokes.
MANUAL OR M-DCT TESTING?
I was suddenly “forced” to adapt my preconceived plans at the event when BMW representatives revealed to me that they had also brought along four cars with the ZF manual six. As twenty percent of M3 owners worldwide have passionately chosen the manual over the automated dual-clutch, I had to drive one of these four horsemen. They were all black and they were all M4 coupes, so it perforce ate into my planned time with the new M3. After all, I told myself, the biggest news car here is indeed the M4, and it is also the coupe that reigns as the sexiest.
ON THE TRACK
The first day at the Portimão track was all about the Austin Yellow Metallic M4 and Yas Marina Blue Metallic M3, both with the $2,900 Getrag M-DCT paddle-flapper (which in North America is essentially considered a “standard option” until you de-content it out by checking the manual tranny box. This also brings the car’s price pleasantly downward.) All metallic paint jobs cost $550 extra, by the by, the only no-cost tint being Alpine White non-metallic which looks pretty dang fine, too.
After some ten laps in the M4 coupe and then six laps in the M3, I can categorically tell you all that this is by far the best M3 (/M4) ever built. You and I, we all have our preferences for our absolute faves (M3 CSL for me), sure, but as a stock package the F80/F82 is simply sensational, combining all that we love from the previous five generations and then going much further. Where on Earth the M geniuses will take it during its seven-year lifespan, I cannot wait to see. This pair of drive days pretty much cancelled out my significant disappointment with the chunky fat M5 and M6 part of the clan, the M6 coupe being the least sloppy.
While I had a natural tendency to laud the much greater torque, the high-revving bi-turbo motor, and the lost weight, BMW M VP of engineering Albert Biermann redirected my glee to the parts that deserve it more. For the M division, all the things I just mentioned are very nice, but it is the added rigidity to rotational masses et al. and consequent quick responses that account for the inspiring dynamics. This takes us to the rolled lighter and stiffer carbon fiber driveshaft, the axles’ carbon fiber drive arms, the axle carriers bolted right to the chassis without bushings, the gorgeous CFRP brace over the engine and CFRP roof panel, and the rear final-drive unit and its pronounced cooling vanes pulled from the M5/M6 and mounted this time horizontally instead of vertically so as to act also as a structural member. And of course, where would we be without the utterly robust stunning M Differential Lock?
On this track with so many dynamic variations and weight shifts, these Ms just knocked me out. The Michelin Pilot Super Sports did a bloody bang-up job as well, even smoking when I wanted them to in long controlled drifts, but here it is the chassis and suspension and tech that are the stars all day. Regarding the separated out Drivelogic functions, I, like a few others as well as engineer Biermann, felt best on this perfect track day with the suspension in Sport and not Sport Plus, and the steering in either Comfort or Sport. Don’t look down your snoot at me for this; you need to experience this track’s major ups and downs before you accuse us testers of being wimps. The story would probably be all Sport Plus on a relatively flat circuit. Felt much closer, too, in my setup to the conservative promised 3.9-second acceleration.
How do I feel about the seven-speed M-DCT? Well, sure, I like it a lot, even though for these particular cars I would order the six-speed manual all day. Regardless, the hardware and software interface of the Getrag unit is right at its apex of goodness and the gears up and down in Sport and with the paddles are right there as you want them. Thank goodness this is a high-revving bi-turbo is all I can say here.
ON THE ROAD
Because on the second day when we were all to take a time-burning scenic route in the Portuguese hills, I got “lost” on an alternative little winding two-lane called N397. N397 and I and the M4 coupe with the manual – the lightest of the bunch at 3,300 pounds versus an M3 M-DCT at a quoted 3,439 – became fast friends. This was hill road sports car driving at its best. All the cars also came with the optional EDS multi-mode suspension, effectively neutralizing all of the many imperfections on this magnificent road, and not being half bad actually in Sport Plus over same. The impressive rigidity and responsiveness between the chassis and the throttle simply make the whole setup sing. Even the steering felt Old World hydraulic for me out here.
WHICH ONE SHOULD I BUY?
Which would I take? While I want to have sex with the M4 coupe equipped with manual, the M3 is a fabulous looking machine. Part of the badass proportions of the M3 come from the fact that the car is overall narrower than the M4 coupe, thus forcing the front aluminum quarter panels and rear steel panels to bulge out further at the wheel wells to accommodate the axle widths. So nasty looking. Yeah, I have a feeling I would go for the M3 with manual, even though the lighter and more sensual M4 coupe with manual would be a strong temptress.
Would I get the adaptive EDS dampers or stay with the standard fixed setup? I don’t know since no cars were available to test without EDS, but engineer Biermann tells me his personal M4 manual is sans EDS and that he loves it. The calibration for the standard dampers and springs falls somewhere between the Sport and Sport Plus settings of the EDS, so it is perhaps ideal all day every day. The ceramic brakes are required equipment, too, kids, sorry. If you skimp on these at this all-new level of performance, you’re a fool. V-max on all testers was seemingly set at 267 km/h, or 166 mph. I hit it and held it several times, the brakes jumping in effortlessly with their enhanced initial bite whenever needed.
WHAT ABOUT THE ENGINE SOUND?
Finally, to the soundtrack. The standard exhaust is right on the money and a boomier sport exhaust is not needed, trust me. The entire car revs with the throttle blips and not just the exhaust system. The effect is tremendous. Snapping to off-throttle, the popping and crackling do happen, but are more noticeable from outside the car. Set the powertrain/throttle to Sport Plus and that’s when the thunder happens throughout the wide rev range. There will be an accessory exhaust available as a dealer add-on, if you must, available later on in the year.
There will definitely be Track Packs and Competition Packs and all manner of switch-outs you can do. The M people wanted to strip things down even further – i.e. Why stop at the CFRP trunk lid on the M4 coupe? – but pressure from the markets forced the choice of a relatively hefty electro multi-adjust sport seat as standard kit. The seat is excellent in thigh support and side support even in the most demanding 1.2-g lateral moments, so I’m not complaining. But a more skeletal sport bucket seat, at least for the driver, would be a great upgrade.
So, get on the list for one of either if you have the hankering. You will be so happy.
Engine: S55B30 Variant 3.0L inline 6cyl TPT (2xMHI w/18.1-psi boost each)
Power: 425 HP / 406 LB-FT
Transmission: 6-speed ZF manual std. ; optional 7-speed Getrag M-DCT w/Drivelogic
0-60 mph: 4.1 Seconds w/manual, 3.9 Seconds w/M-DCT (est.)
Top Speed: 155 mph; 174 mph w/M Driver’s Pkg.
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight (w/manual): 3,351 LBS (M3), 3,300 LBS (M4 coupe) (est.) [M-DCT adds 88 LBS]
Seating: 2+3 (M3), 2+2 (M4 coupe)
Cargo: 17.0 cu ft (M3), 15.7 cu ft (M4 coupe)
MPG: TBD; 15.9-gallon tank
Base Price: $62,000 (M3), $64,200 (M4 coupe), $73,425 (F83 M4 convertible)