When I landed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the launch of the 2015 BMW M3 and M4, I assumed I’d be able to open my first drive report with a harrowing tale of track day terror. It was a safe bet, too, as BMW was sticking us journalists unencumbered, without drive instructors in the passenger seat or a pace car, behind the wheel on the legendary Road America racetrack. And why did I anticipate a day of white knuckled driving? A quick YouTube search for “Road America Kink”, the most infamous corner on the circuit, will return many distressing videos of car after car spinning off and crashing. To my surprise, though, I found Road America an absolute cinch to navigate – even at speeds in excess of 140 mph. While I’d like to give myself credit for the track mastery, I’d be safer crediting the car. That’s because the car that carried me through the corners, the 2015 BMW M4, is a true motoring masterpiece.
Not the same underneath
Although the M3 and M4 might look like the 3 Series and 4 Series respectively, they’re very different beasts indeed. In the transformation from Series car to M car, hundreds of parts were reinforced and lightened. Recounting all the bits and changes might very well put you to sleep. But for kicks, I’ll give an example: the carbon fiber drive shaft is five kilos lighter in the M4 than the steel unit in the 4 Series. See? You’re already yawning. All told, the M3 and M4 are just shy of 180 pounds lighter than the previous M3 Sedan and M3 Coupe, which is astonishing, as every generation before had been heavier than the last. The biggest change is found under the hood: the all-new S55 3.0-liter twin turbocharged inline six cylinder. If you’re wondering: no, it’s not just the 335i’s 3.0-liter inline six with two 18 psi turbos bolted to it; it’s a different engine. All told, the S55 produces 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. The last M3 lacked in torque. This one doesn’t. In fact, this engine has 40 percent more torque than the outgoing V8-powered M3, giving it more torque than Rūaumoko, Māori god of earthquakes. Not only does it have force-of-nature-like torque, but it also achieves 25 percent better fuel economy. If that weren’t impressive enough, peak torque hits at around 1,800 rpm and carries flat through to just shy of 6,000 rpm. That means, with the traction control off, you can quite literally steer the M4 with the throttle pedal. Bolted to the S55 engine is either a seven-speed DKG 7 dual-clutch transmission or a six-speed manual taken from the 1M Coupe, but with a few modifications. The DKG 7 is slightly faster 0 to 60 (3.9 seconds versus 4.1) but the six-speed not only enhances the feel of connection between driver and car but also gets better fuel economy.
Road or track
Standing in the pits at Road America, the first thing I noticed as the journalists fired the engines of the M3 and M4s was the exhaust note. The outgoing M3’s V8 sounded dark, grumbly, and mean. The new S55 engine, though, at first ignition and idle, sounded more like an industrial fridge. Climbing behind the wheel, I hoped it would sound better at full throttle. Delightfully it does – but just. The new inline six is just not as evocative or enlivening as the V8, but the acceleration is astonishing. The first car I took ‘round Road America was an M3 with the DKG 7. Paddle shifting the transmission from first to second gear resulted in a big, neck jerking smack. It wasn’t a kick indicative of a lag-y or late shift but rather of forceful immediacy. Just like the F1 transmission in the Ferrari 458, the M3 and M4’s DKG 7 shifts without delay and with much ardor. I don’t mean to be corny here, but the DKG is a real kick (sorry, not sorry). The 2015 M3 and M4 now have electromechanical steering, which finally sends the old hydraulic unit to the scrap heap. Knowing how much automotive journalists detest electric power steering, BMW was keen to create the best one on the market. And I dare say it has. The numbness of other systems has been all but nullified. It’s not as twitchy as hydraulic units, sure, but you still know what the wheels are doing. The steering ratio is quick but not so quick that a driver will have to fear sneezing. Braking, just like steering, and throttle response, was quick and responsive and never left me worried. Driving on the track is an exciting and impressive adventure for sure. But out on a closed circuit, you don’t get a feel of what it’s like to really drive the car. So many cars stand tall on the track but fall flat on the open road. The M4 didn’t. I only had a few moments on the street with the M4 but I was nonetheless impressed. The M4 was noticeably quieter and more refined than both the outgoing M3 and the 4 Series. In Sport I did find the suspension a bit too jittery for a comfortable drive to work. Delightfully, in Comfort mode, the M4 rides smoothly and irons out roadway imperfections without compromising the car’s quick turn in and downright flat cornering. Let me put it this way: If most carmakers’ Sports settings were as good as the M4’s Comfort setting, they would be throwing parties.
Clearly, the 2015 BMW M3 and M4 are brilliant. But let’s be frank; we expected that. After all, so are its competitors. The real question, then, remains: How do the mid-size M twins hold up against the Audi RS 5, the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 507, or even the Porsche Boxster S for German luxury sports car dominance? The short answer: very well. The Audi is quieter and more refined inside but doesn’t feel quite as raw. The AMG sounds better but is far more difficult to drive, as 507 hp at the rear wheels makes it a bucking bronco looking to throw you off. And the Porsche is a bit livelier on its feet but is so much smaller and less usable as a daily driver. The M3 and M4 aren’t without their drawbacks, though. Even in Sport mode, the traction control feels too big brother-y. The engine and exhaust notes aren’t very evocative. The interior still lacks the refinement of its competitors. And the base prices, at $62,925 for the M3 and $65,125 M4, are jaw dropping. That said, the M3 and M4 take on the task of taking on both circuit and street with a level of composure and confidence that its predecessors lacked. The M3 and M4 aren’t perfect cars, but they’re the best M cars I’ve ever driven – and it doesn’t get much better than BMW M.