Loudness characterised the local unveiling of the new M3 and M4 in Mpumalanga last week. From the whirring helicopter blades that marked our arrival in the otherwise serene settings of Dullstroom. To the loud colours that adorned the test units. And of course, the glorious concert that emerged from their tailpipes.
But it was understandable. BMW has good reason to make a noise about their hot new duo; the latest additions to the rowdy Motorsport repertoire that has captured the hearts and wallets of performance enthusiasts around the world for decades. Now in its fifth generation, the potent M-fettled pair seems the same as its forebears in many respects. And quite different in others.
Winds of change
While the iconic sportster goes back to using a straight-six engine, forced induction has been thrown into the mix. It’s a point the purists could find upsetting. Rest easy though: the boffins at BMW worked their magic to create something that mimics all those classic M3 hallmarks despite the different execution.
Even though the engine under its bulging hood is essentially that you’d find in a 335i; its character for this purpose is totally different. The sound is more thunderous rather than throaty. And the power delivery defies belief. You feel the efforts of the turbocharger, but none of the lag usually associated with one.
Mash the right pedal down from standstill and you’ll be doing 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. Give or take some if you opt for the manual transmission model. Seeing that 180km/h on the speedometer is placed in the middle, where 130km/h would be on a normal car, is a good enough indication of the pace you can expect.
Keeping tabs on the speed is imperative should you want to keep those traffic fines to a minimum. And on the daily drive, having this much power at your disposal and being unable to fully use it could be frustrating. That said, there’s little doubt about the cars’ pleasantness on a daily basis: the rippled roads of Dullstroom were handled smoothly despite the chunky wheels and firm suspension.
But practicality aside, the real reason for owning an M3 or M4 is the thrill of being able to exploit its credentials in an unbridled environment. It’s going to make many weekend track revelers happy, as we learned during a session at the famous Kyalami circuit. Given the tumult surrounding its future, the experience was a bittersweet one.
Before being given free reign with the duo, we were treated to hot laps with BMW Team Schnitzer DTM driver Bruno Spengler. He blitzed the circuit, putting the demonstrator models through more use in a couple of laps than they are likely to see in a lifetime. One of the best-known virtues of M-badged Beemers is their ability to take repeated abuse without protest, or being frazzled into limp mode. These cars took heavy-handedness in their stride.
With a multitude of suspension, steering and transmission settings on-hand, you can set the machine up to any type of spirited driving condition. Two preset modes (M1 and M2 engaged via buttons on the wheels) are available too. For my stint, it was set to the latter: which offers a healthy amount of leeway for sliding theatrics, but without leaving the driver totally ace without a safety net.
And boy does it go! From the distinctive muscle car-like roar, to the pace that turns everything outside into an impressionist blur, the M3 is a surfeit of exhilarating sensations. I’ll admit, I’m no racing driver: but the poise, controllability and overall sharpness of this car made it rather easy to feel like one.
We may as well have published the lyrics to an R. Kelly song on this page (Ignition perhaps?) because no matter what any motoring scribe says about this car, it will be a hit. In fact, we heard at the launch that almost all the units brought in for 2014 are already spoken for.
But rest assured if you’ve put your name down for the next batch, that there is substance to the hype. The new M-badged pair does justice to the rich history of its progenitors even though the recipe has been tweaked slightly. For those in want of supercar-rivalling performance, daily versatility and the cachet inherent of the BMW brand, the M3 or its two-door sibling will not disappoint.
Grab the print edition of Ignition Live this Thursday to see a different take on the mighty Motorsport pair by Lerato Matebese.
The Facts: BMW M3 and M4
Engine: 2979cc, six-cylinder, turbocharged
Power and Torque: 317kW and 550Nm
0-100km/h: 4.1 seconds (Claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 8.8l/100km (Claimed) 11.7l/100km (Achieved)
Pricing: R958 300 (M3 Sedan Manual), R1 007 800 (M4 Coupe Manual), R1 006 800 (M3 DCT), R1 056 300 (M4 Coupe DCT)
What’s good: As thrilling to drive as it looks, turbocharged engine offers best of both worlds, still the archetypical all-round performance sedan.
What’s not: Costly options in typical BMW fashion.