2015 BMW M3 and M4 Drive Review – AutoWeek
What is it?
By the end of the month, the new fifth-generation BMW M3 will be at dealerships in sedan form only. Following BMW’s model name changes (odd numbers for sedans and even number for coupes/coupe-like profile vehicles) the two-door version of the high-performance machine will now wear the M4 badge.
No surprise that the M3 and M4 mechanically mirror each other. The biggest change comes under the hood, where an inline six-cylinder engine returns, replacing the 4.0-liter naturally aspirated unit in the previous M3. With the help of twin-turbochargers producing the maximum boost of 18 psi, the 3.0-liter I6 is rated at 425 hp between 5,000-7,300 rpm and 406 lb-ft of torque available from 1,850 to 5,500 rpm. That represents a small 11-hp increase, but a healthy 111 lb-ft bump in torque over the old V8. Better still is that the V8’s peak outputs weren’t there until the way up at 8,300 rpm for horsepower and 3,900 rpm in the case of torque, meaning the powerband in the new engine is wider and easier to take advantage of.
Three-pedal fans will be happy that the standard transmission continues to be a six-speed manual, which is more compact and 26.4 pounds lighter than the previous one. Rev-matching for downshifts gets added, but can be deactivated, and slicker shifts come by way of new synchronizer rings with carbon friction linings. Customers can alternately opt to plunk down an additional $2,900 for a seven-speed dual-clutch sequential manual with launch control.
Helping efficiently deliver power to the ground is an active M differential with its electronically controlled multiplate differential that works in unison with the stability control system, taking readings from throttle position, wheel rotation speed and yaw rate and adjusting torque accordingly between 0-100 percent.
Whacking weight on the new M3 and M4 was another significant mission for engineers. BMW lauds the new models as the first BMW M car to be lighter than its predecessor. With the standard six-speed manual, the M3 carries a curb weight of 3,540 pounds, and the M4 tips the scales at 3,530 pounds, which is lighter than the old M3 sedan at 3,726 pounds and M3 coupe at 3,704 pounds.
All the weight reduction was achieved in details such as the lighter engine, transmission, extensive use of carbon fiber for the roof, trunk lid and driveshaft. The latter is a single component without a center bearing that BMW says is 40 percent lighter than the previous steel driveshaft.
Other savings come from aluminum suspension components, aluminum hood, aluminum front fenders, forged wheels and reduced cabin sound insulation materials.
The suspension remains the familiar MacPherson strut front and multilink rear setup that’s been reworked with the aforementioned aluminum bits, carbon fiber front strut bar and the rear subframe now getting bolted directly to the body without the use of rubber bushings for improved stability. Standard wheel size is 18-inch wrapped with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires that can be upgraded to optional 19s. Steering is electromechanical, offering comfort, sport and sport plus modes.
Also available is an adaptive M suspension for $1,200 that lets drivers also select between comfort, sport and sport plus settings like the steering system. Brakes can be upgraded to carbon ceramics for $8,150.
Design changes are most prominent up front with specific fascia sporting larger air intakes to better cool the engine and brakes. The power dome hood remains to give the M3 and M4 its distinctive look, but also provides the additional clearance needed for the engine. Larger side sills, side gills in the front fender, twin-stalk side mirrors, flared wheel arches, double-spoke wheels and a rear lip spoiler complete the more menacing look outside.
The interior gets special M sport seats, a thicker leather steering wheel and other small details like an M driver’s footrest, gauges and door sills.
For the track junkies who like to record their weekend driving antics and share them with friends on YouTube, BMW and GoPro have teamed up to integrate GoPro’s Apple iPhone and Android app into the BMW Apps system. Through the i-Drive controller, you can control Wi-Fi-equipped GoPro cameras to start and stop recording. When the car is stationary, the image from the GoPro camera is displayed on the car’s center infotainment screen to make aiming and framing shots easier; it also shows other important data like battery life, Wi-Fi signal strength and recording elapse time. Six pre-set camera modes are available: leisure drive facing out, night driving, sport drive facing out, drive camera facing in, winding road time-lapse and straight road time-lapse.
How does it drive?
Our time with the new M3 and M4 began with track time on Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. Unfortunately, our day began with buckets of water falling from the sky. With the less-than-ideal conditions, we weren’t able to really open things up in the various M3s and M4s we cycled through during the morning. All were outfitted with the dual-clutch gearbox. Our instructors begged us to keep stability controls on and keep engine settings in sport since maximum power wasn’t going to do us any favors. We obliged.
The main takeaway from the very wet sessions was that the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires were extremely good in the conditions. On the front straight, second straight and through thunder valley, we still approached 110 mph, and the car felt shockingly composed sloshing through the puddles.
Turning in for corners had the front end washing out, causing us to slow even more drastically for turns. Moderate acceleration out of corners caused the rear to kick out; stability control cut in to get things pointed in the right direction.
Lucky for us, the skies cleared for a couple of hours and the track dried out in some spots, giving us the window to go out and push the M3 and M4 a little harder. And thank the weather gods for that, because the cars are amazing. The twin-turbo I6 is eager, and pushed the car out of corners with ease with strong punch in all areas of the rev band. Throttle response is quick, and the car felt at home buzzing down drying straights at 140 mph. Shifts from the dual-clutch happened instantly, though there were a few shifts that seemed unusually rough. However, most up and downshifts were fluid.
Stopping muscle from the carbon ceramics easily slow things from triple digits to speeds where you can make it around Canada Corner without throwing yourself off into the gravel trap, with the pedal staying firm throughout the day and allowing us confidently dive deep into braking zones.
Where the M3 and M4 amaze are in the turns, with the optional adaptive suspension and steering in sport-plus. Turn-in is really quick and crisp, with a satisfying amount of feedback through the wheel for an electromechanical system. Body roll is hardly noticeable. Combine the snappy steering, tied-down body and the Michelin tires, and you have a sport sedan and coupe with impressive reflexes that will serve owners well during open track days.
On the flip side, with the adaptive suspension, the M3 and M4 are equally at home normal streets and expressways. With everything set in comfort mode, ride quality is compliant and doesn’t beat you up. You won’t confuse the M3 or M4 for a Lexus, but considering how well it does behave and absorb impacts from small bumps, it is impressive, considering how well it goes about its business on a racetrack.
Even after covering about 320 miles in the M3, we drove back to Detroit from Elkhart Lake and felt fine. The sport seats have support in all the right places. The side bolsters that aren’t too big; they’re just about right to keep you in place as you take bends. There’s a little tire noise that does get into the cabin from the Super Sport rubber, but it’s not even close to early-generation, runflat-tire loud. In fact, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are not runflats. Hooray!
Do I want it?
If you’re looking for what is probably the best dual-purpose sport sedan or coupe then, yes, you’ll want to get your hands on a new BMW M3 or M4. We were big fans of the previous M3 with its high-revving V8, but there is no denying that the new twin-turbo I6 is a way more flexible engine with the fatter peak powerbands. The only thing that the V8 has over the turbo I6 is that it sounded better at full song.
You will be downright quick on a track, and it will feel good, because the M3 and M4 are so well balanced and forgiving at the limit. They are communicative cars from behind the wheel, where you know exactly what’s going on, be it the front tires losing grip in a corner or the back starting to step out on you, giving you time to make the necessary adjustments and continue on.
It’s pleasant on road when you need it to be, like when you’re not pushing hard and just want to have a semi-relaxed drive. The dual-clutch operates well in full-automatic mode, and you’ll be fairly comfortable.
We enjoyed the M3 and M4 so much that we’ve added a M3 to the Autoweek long-term fleet. We’ll have a year to try to find something wrong with it, which might be difficult.
2015 BMW M3 and M4
On Sale: Late June
Base Price: $62,925/$65,125
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged I6; RWD, six-speed manual
Output: 425 hp @ 5,500-7,300 rpm, 406 lb-ft @ 1,850-5,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,540/3,530 lb
0-60 mph: 4.1/4.1 seconds (mfr)
Quarter-Mile: 12.0 seconds @ 119.6 mph (AW with a M3 equipped with optional dual-clutch transmission)
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Hwy/Combined): 17/26/20 mpg
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