BMWBLOG went to Portimao, Portugal to sample the all-new 2015 BMW M3 Sedan and BMW M4 Coupe. After two days of driving, 8 track laps and 300 miles of curvy roads, we can tell you if BMW has a winner on their hands.
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With an odd naming convention, the 2015 BMW M3 and M4 are not only a part of a new generation of M cars, but also the first to offer the sedan and coupe with two monikers. The new BMW M4 coupe is successor to the iconic M3 coupe and sister car to the four-door BMW M3.
In specifications, the two cars are identical, and M engineers were quick to point out, in performance too. The M3’s center of gravity is slightly higher than the lower M4, thanks to its taller roofline, but when driving them, apparently the slight difference won’t be noticed. After four years in development, the new M3 and M4 graduated with BMW’s latest turbocharged engine, a 3.0 liter six-cylinder unit that has replaced the fans’ darling, V8 naturally aspirated powerplant.
Even though it offers less cylinders and a smaller displacement, 4.0L V8 vs 3.0L straight-six, the new engine and its two turbochargers give it even more oomph than before, while reducing emissions and increasing fuel economy. The torque also sees a significant hike, 110lb ft to 405lb ft between 1850rpm and 5500rpm.
Use of lightweight materials slashes the kerb weight by 83kg to 1497k (3300 lbs) for the manual transmission. The M-DCT gearbox adds 40 kg over the six-speed manual.
So, lower weight, more power, race-tuned chassis and the super grippy Michelin Super Sport…this should be a fun day, right?
Built with race track in mind, perfect for the road.
When BMW staff told us we’re in the road test group for the first day, our first instinct was to object and ask for the more fun track time in Group 2. But, shortly overcoming this unfounded disappointing feeling, we realized that getting to know the cars better on the road in the first day, will make the second day of track much more enjoyable and most likely more fun.
Since the choice was ours on what we would like to drive first, we quickly jumped aboard the M3 Sedan, a car that yours truly had in mind for a while, to complement the 1M in the garage. Yas Marina Blue, M-DCT, cold water in the cup holders (yes, large enough for our Starbucks), and off we go on an eclectic drive route that linked tiny Portuguese villages in a twisting line-up with 343 corners, plenty to see how the M3 Sedan handles on the road.
The bumpy rural roads with fun and narrow corners gave us the first chance to see how advanced the highly touted new platform is, and of course “one of the best electromechanical variable ratio power steering wheel on the market”, as BMW M once told us. Using BMW’s latest Drive Performance Control which allows the driver to tailor the properties of this new M3/M4 over a significantly wider range than its predecessor, we quickly toggled through the choices: ECO, Sport and Sport+. As the names suggest, the three driving modes can change the character of the car with a simple button touch. Furthermore, the three buttons on the center console also give yo the option to alter the suspension damping and the response in the electro-mechanical steering.
Since the M Division wanted to make it a bit more interesting than the regular series cars, the driver can mix and match each one, so you’re adjust different properties for the engine, damping and steering. The option to save the configuration is placed at the touch of your finger on the steering wheel.
First, we started off in Comfort mode, one that caters to drivers looking for a more relaxed ride without many challenges. And Comfort mode does exactly what it’s supposed to do: offering a calm and enjoyable ride. But as soon as you move up to Sport, you can feel the ride becoming tight, a sign that the chassis, suspensions and steering have been adjusted for a spirited drive. One will noticed a more urgent action to the steering and added aggressiveness within the throttle mapping, and with that comes a freedom to drift one of the easiest driftable Ms on the market. More on that later.
Listen to the engine of the new BMW M3 and BMW M4
But since we love challenges and that’s why we came to Portugal, we moved up soon to the Sport+ mode which even though it has a track-focused mind of its own, it has served us well on the road. With not much traffic on the road, the new M3 was put through its paces, lots of downshifting along the way and a good use of the ceramic brakes, which btw, are fantastic.
The new 3.0 liter six-cylinder impresses us with its delivery and the massive torque at low RPMs. Compared to the naturally-aspirated V8, the new power unit is more flexible across a much wider range of revs, but might not be as sharp on long straights when you floor the gas pedal. If in Comfort mode you might feel a slight turbo lag, in Sport+ the M3 is a beast, especially when you get in the 3500 and 5500rpm range.
“How does it sound?” This is one of the most frequently asked question these days and we’re here to answer it. Despite the inclusion of Active Sound inside the cabin, the exhaust sound is impressive and BMW even says it’s 98% real. It has an unique growl and deep tone which will definitely turn heads around.
The body control on the M3 and the M4, as proven later, is excellent and chassis is extremely well balanced. To test that, we pretty much pushed hard the M3 through all the 343 corners, some were a close a call. To see if the M3 retains its DNA, simply drive into a corner hard, brake hard, floor the throttle and look at that tail wiggle a bit before the electronic safety systems kick in. YES, this is still an M3 and so much fun to drive!
Interesting enough that after a few hours of intense driving, our backs were fine, thanks to the newly designed sport seats offering plenty of lateral support and a more than you’ll ever need adjustments.
Day 1 ended quickly and it left us wanting more, so we headed to bed for well-deserve rest before the massive track day ahead of us at the Algarve International Circuit.
If I could only stay on the track….one more lap.
Day 2 started with an hour drive to the beautiful and challenging Algarve race track, home of many Formula 1 teams testing ahead of their racing season. The track briefing we took part in was also one of the most intensive we have seen. Words like safety, caution and don’t drive beyond your means were thrown around quick a bit. The overall message from the rally drive Claudiu David and ex-F1 racer Pedro Lamy was that one should respect this track, and boy were they right.
Algarve is a hell of a track, fast corners, blind apexes and on top of all, huge elevation changes leading into blind corners. So we were prepared to be humble, to learn the track and if possible, to have some fun in the safest way possible.
The aluminum double joint spring strut and the five-link alloy rear with the whole rear axle subframe bolted to the body (a tech imported from race cars) provide exceptional rigidity on a track like Portimao. Add to these the sticky 19″ Michelin Super Sports and you have a fun car for the track. Speaking of those Michelin tires, BMW M3/M4 Engineer Florian Steiger says that tire company and BMW conducted joint testing at 5 tracks and 3884 prototype tires were product for the M3 and M4 in 19 months.
The huge carbon ceramic brakes on the test cars were strong and firm and allowed us to stop the car quickly at 150 mph, a boost of confidence when you’re on a unfamiliar track that requires A LOT of braking.
With MDM engaged, which essentially says “it’s okay and safe to drift”, we put the M3 and M4 through some tight corners which allowed us to kick the tail around. The M3/M4 has so much lateral grip, especially in tight corners. There is also no hint of understeer, validating the previously made point by the M Professional Drivers: “The new M3/M4 is the easiest ever M car to track.”
SEE ALSO: DRIFTING THE BMW M3 ON THE RACE TRACK
The body control and weight transfer from side-to-side and front-to-rear is so tidy and predictable, allowing a good driver to get better and better with each lap.
Unfortunately, eight laps later we had to come off the track leaving us wanting just a bit more of the M3/M4 taste. But we pulled back into the garage with a grin on our face which confirmed that BMW M has not left its customers disappointed and its most vocal fans.
Which one to choose?
A tough question to answer and fortunately the track is not a major differentiator. Both cars excel on it and the decision would come down to practicality and for some, looks. But if it were my money, the M3, with identical performance and added practicality, will make a great addition to the 1M in my garage.
Regardless of your choice, one thing you can be assured of: BMW M has delivered on their promises and with more lightweight technology on the way and advanced electronics, the future looks bright for the new M3 and M4 family.
The M3 and M4 hits showrooms this June, while the M4 Convertible comes in September.