Mother Nature might be a Mercedes-Benz fan, or at least that’s what was going through my mind as the 2015 BMW M3 sedan slithered its way around the treacherously wet Road America racetrack, roughly one hour’s drive north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Completely updated and controversially renamed, the 2015 M3 sedan and mechanically-identical M4 coupe hold the reputation of BMW at stake. Since the 1980s, the M3 has been the German sports sedan to beat, the moving performance target for every other luxury automaker. Previously sold in 2 and 4-door format, BMW has opted to separate the sedan and coupe with a new naming scheme.
Don’t worry about the marketing tactics because, once you’re behind the wheel of either the M3 or M4, all that matters is the steering, braking, and outright speed that’s available whenever you want it.
And believe me, feeling the M3 dancing through enormous puddles at the notoriously tricky Road America circuit, every one of those performance attributes was being put to the test.
At the heart of the M3 and M4 is a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-6 cylinder engine, coupled to a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters. The previous M3’s rev-happy V-8 has gotten the heave-ho and, I have to admit it, the new M3/M4 are much better thanks to the heart transplant.
Pressure is part of the reason. More precisely, 18 psi of turbo pressure that help deliver 425-horsepower from 5,000-7,300 rpm, along with 406 lb.-ft. of torque at an incredibly flat 1,850-5,500 rpm. While you had to push the V-8 deep into redline to tap into all the power, this inline-6 is infinitely more tractable – that’s what an increase of 111 lb.-ft. of torque can do, ladies and gentlemen.
Both the M3 and M4 have an estimated 0 to 60 mph time of 4.1 seconds. The crummy weather, and the occasional peeved-off turtle in the middle of the road, made verifying these numbers a little difficult. It sure didn’t feel slow, and the sound of that 6-cylinder is intoxicating once you press deep into the gas pedal.
Carbon ceramic brakes are available, though they’ll cost you more than $8-grand. Unless you’re planning on a very serious schedule of track days, the standard brakes are more than up to the task. Having successfully stopped in time to save the aforementioned turtle, along with several suicidal groundhogs, I can attest that the brakes work really well.
With Road America soaked, I opted to spend the majority of the day on public roads, in a variety of M3 and M4s fitted with the manual and automatic gearboxes. Frankly, it’s a total toss-up between the two. The automatic is incredibly quick and fires through the gears crisply. Then again, the 6-speed manual gives you that extra bit of control over this amazing powertrain. The clutch is nicely weighted and the gearlever has an extremely well-defined gate to work with. My vote goes to the manual, but only barely.
Like many features of the M3 and M4, the gearboxes are lighter than before. BMW is proud to point out that the new models actually weigh less than their predecessors, a first for the M3 family tree. The savings are roughly 200 lbs., whether it’s an automatic M3 or manual M4.
Trick technology like a carbon-fiber roof panel and trunk lid, aluminum hood and fenders, and carbon-fiber driveshaft help lower the center of gravity, and trim excess pounds. BMW has also removed some sound deadening material to further lighten the cars.
BMW’s active M differential also deserves a lot of credit for keeping things controllable no matter the speed, or driving conditions. Working in tandem with the stability control system, the M diff monitors a variety of factors (including yaw rate) to keep the power manageable and directed towards the rear wheel that needs it most.
From the driver’s seat, the end result is a highly responsive German sports car that rewards you with plenty of feel from the electromechanical steering, along with suspension tuning that doesn’t batter you into submission. With the optional adaptive M suspension, the driver can select between three settings: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. These same settings are available as standard equipment with the adjustable steering.
Comfort mode is fine, though I was happier with the firmer, edgier feel of Sport or Sport Plus. Even while bombing it to a cheese factory – yes, BMW scheduled a visit to a cheese factory, bless ‘em – these higher settings didn’t upset the flexibility and usability of either the M3 or M4.
The identical driving feel between the coupe and sedan carries over to the exterior design and cabin trim. Understated and also aggressive, the M3 and M4 ride on 18-inch alloys, with 19-inch rims optional. Bigger front air intakes, beefier side sills, larger vents in the front fenders, flared fenders and a domed hood are some of the more obvious external changes. Inside, you’ll find heavily bolstered leather seats, a thick steering wheel, and M-badged gauges and door sills.
With a starting price of $64,200 for the M4 Coupe and $62,000 for the M3 sedan, this Bavarian power duo squares off against a wide cast of characters, including the Audi S4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, along with outright sports cars like the Porsche 911 and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
Choosing between the two BMWs could be the hardest choice, and it pretty much boils down to whether or not you care about having an extra set of doors. During the test drive in Wisconsin, the M3’s extra portals seemed to make it the ideal choice. In retrospect, the sleeker lines of the M4 keep drawing me in. If I’m going to drive a car with this much power, I want the looks to match the engineering excitement. This might also explain why I fell in love with the “Austin Yellow Metallic” paint color – a hue some detractors might refer to simply as ‘God Awful Gold.’
Give me the M4, paint it yellow, and let me shift for myself. That, and a Green Bay Packers victory every weekend (whoops, did I forget to mention I’m a born-in-Wisconsin Cheesehead?) and consider me a happy man.