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Monstrous

First things first, we need to talk about the monstrous front end on this latest incarnation of the M3 and M4. And no, I’m not talking about those oversized kidney grilles, we’ll get to those later, I’m talking about the astonishingly competent chassis which this G8X series car has underneath it.

I’ll readily admit that starting a review of such an in important M car by immediately talking about its chassis goes against the editorial grain, but what BMW’s M division have achieved with this latest G series M car deserves a standing ovation, and it’s how they have achieved this when you take in to account the physics at play that is even more remarkable.


This G8X series M Car is the sixth generation of M3 released and much has evolved since the very first E30 M3 that hit our roads in the mid 1980’s. Back then, BMW decided to take what was a race car and make the necessary tweaks to allow it to be used on our public highways. With it’s screaming 2.3 litre normally aspirated 4 pot engine producing just shy of 200 hp, a dog leg gearbox and a gross weight of under 1,200kg, it was, and still is, an intoxicating and analogue driving experience, one which encourages you to ring out every ounce of its capability.

In the very same decade, it’s worth noting that BMW launched the luxurious E32 7 series to critical acclaim, unsurprisingly it was a quite a bit larger and heavier than the E30 M3, coming in at 4.9 meters in length and weighing in at a rather substantial 1,720Kg. But it was quite in line with its large executive saloon design brief and similar to its luxury saloon peers.


Why mention this? Well to put all of this into perspective, and I guess you may see where this is going, the latest M3 in Competition weighs in at 1,705Kg and is 4.8 meters long. So, there you have it, the latest M3 (and M4) is the same size and weight as a mid-1980’s 7 series! Fortunately, and with the exception of both cars wearing the same design of roundel badges front and rear, this is where the comparison ends, because this latest M3 and M4 goes down the road like the Eurofighter Typhoon with its afterburners turned up to a 11, it’s an absolute rocket ship.

Like all recent M3 and M4’s, the G8X version has a number of aggressive bodywork tweaks over its non-M built relations to ensure it stands out from the crowd. With pumped up arches, more aggressive front-end scoops, rear diffuser, carbon fibre roof section (on both models), this car is definitely making a strong visual statement. And on the more powerful Competition model, the only model available in the UK, the exhaust tips are so big, it wouldn’t surprise me, if I see owners making a few quid as a side hustle by advertising them on Airbnb as Japanese Capsules Hotel rooms; yes, they’re as large as you’ll find on the current Nissan GTR.


Body colour wise, BMW M have really stepped up on this latest M Car release with a number of new colours all available at no additional cost. At launch BMW promoted the M3 Competition in stunning Isle of Man Green and the M4 in Sao Paolo Yellow, although as you can see from the accompanying photos, I refer to it as Baby Poo Green, that seems far more apt. Although not a launch colour, Toronto Red as featured on the M3 you see on these pages, is another brand-new M colour and one which to my eyes really suits the design and shape of this M3.

Inside the cabin, there is a clear uplift in quality and anyone familiar with the interiors of the current generation 5, 6, 7 and 8 series will immediately feel at home. In fact, I’d be as bold to say, that with the exception of one piece of awkwardly designed and cheap feeling piece of plastic at the base of the A pillar, the overall quality is the best I’ve seen executed yet over the past couple of years, it really is a pleasant and upmarket place to be.

One of the options fitted to the M4 we’re borrowing from BMW UK are the M Carbon bucket seats. Now, at a £6,750 option these are not for those of feint heart in the wallet department, or it must be said, those of us not as flexible as an Olympic gymnast. I can confirm that I never managed once to exit the seats with even a modicum of grace or style. However, when you’re in them, they are absolutely awesome and some of the best seats I’ve sat in for fast road driving clinging to you in all of the right places as they do, you’re really held in well. And even after completing a couple of 3 hour plus motorway slogs, I exited the car, ungracefully of course, without any aches or pains. How many cars will be ordered with these seats at nearly seven grand remains to be seen, but I suspect as the cars roll through the BMW Approved Used process in the coming years it will be the “must have” option.

As you might imagine, there is more Technology crammed behind the dashboard than ever before; Apple CarPlay, multiple dashboard views and gesture control are all present. But personally, I’m still not feeling the love for gesture control. The number of times I changed station or Spotify track, or changed the volume, just because I was gesticulating with my hands when speaking started to become an irritation. However, I do love the heads-up display, especially in Sport mode, it makes driving totally effortless as your eyes are looking forward which must improve safety, and that has to be a good thing, and yes, I’ll readily admit having a hand off the steering wheel whilst gesticulating probably doesn’t.


Like all recent M Cars, the M3 and M4 both have two programmable anodised red M buttons atop of the steering wheel, the SETUP button allowing you to configure the steering feel, brake pedal feel, chassis and powertrain. In addition, there are a number of direct short cut buttons on the centre console; especially handy if you don’t want to annoy the neighbours with a noisy exhaust on those early morning pre-breakfast drives. You can also use the M Mode button which lets you swap between Road, Sport and Track settings.


Now let’s come back to those Kidney Grilles. I have to say that when I first saw pictures of the G8X M Cars published online, there was quite a bit of involuntary retching going on. But seeing the car in the flesh and spending a couple of weeks with both new models, I’m kind of getting it (a little bit). Certainly, on the Sao Paolo yellow M4 with its contrasting black & carbon fibre touches, I’d say they actually suit the car. However, I still think the front-end design is so fussy with lines going this way and that. It almost feels like every designer in the team was asked to submit their ideas, and then the design manager in a fit of laziness and madness, decided to incorporate the whole lot on to a single vehicle.

But between the saloon and coupe, it’s the M4 I find particular awkward design wise. When you look at it from a distance it looks OK if a little slab-sided, sort of like an ugly relative of the current 8 series. But up close, there are horizontal crease lines along it’s flanks that make no sense at all. For example, there is one starting above the front wheel arch which wonderfully accentuates the swollen arch but then vanishes in to the door rather carry down the length of the car (just look at the F8X series M3 & M4 to see how it should be done). Another crease appears halfway down the door but goes nowhere and connects nothing to nothing. Then another crease line that appear from nowhere over the rear wheel arch, and fades in to the rear light cluster, but this only seems to draw attention to the inordinate amount of metal between wheel and the C-Pillar / rear screen. Then there’s the wing mirror design. Whilst they are great to see things out of, due to their immense size, they look like they were borrowed off a Ford Transit. And as much as I like a Ford Transit, that is not a compliment.

Fortunately, the M3 actually has a completely different design approach on it sides. Although it has the mid door crease line like the M4, on the saloon it is longer and from wheel arch to wheel arch, plus it has a further crease line across the very top of the door, just below the glass, that starts from the front wing and goes nearly the whole length of the car. In fact, from the rear three quarter view, and no doubt helped by its boot and steeper angled rear window compared to the M4, it’s quite a handsome design, if never pretty.

Driving

So, we’ve established that this new M3 and M4 has a monstrous front end, but what does that really translate to when sat behind that fabulous steering wheel and out on the road? Driving on my favourite stretches of the A272 near Petworth in the early evening, with the roads quiet and the temperatures relatively barmy, there’s plenty of room for the M3 to be pushed towards its limits. The front end is so planted that it breeds a level of confidence quickly, and combined with the wide 275 19” OEM Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’s (at last BMW!!) that this car is fitted with, some serious speed can be carried as the road switches this way and that through consecutive S bends. In fact, that front end is so predictable that I can push the tyres over their limits at will, but doing so all the while with a confidence that there won’t be any surprises, in the dry at least.


And whilst the front is breeding confidence and playfulness, I am feeling slightly sorry for the rear tyres. The poor 285 wide 20” rubber out back is being brutally tortured, scrabbling for traction out of every corner and under the stresses of full-bore gear changes. This Competition model is fitted with the brilliant S58 Straight Six twin-power turbo engine, with VALVETRONIC variable valve timing and Double-VANOS variable camshaft timing in place, which produces 510 hp and a staggering 650 Nm of Torque. I love this engine, and what BMW M are able to do with each new iteration of these forced induction units is hugely impressive.

There is zero let up from the S58 as you chase the redline, power delivery is absolutely linear all the way to the 7,500rpm redline, the franticness so akin to a normally aspirated M engine but with just so much more of the sledgehammer effect that you only get from a powerful and torque rich turbo engine. And the noise from the S58, whilst not a patch of the sonorous delight you get from the E46 M3 CSL’s S54 with Carbon intake, it does have a gritty and mechanical noise coming out of the exhaust all of its own and which becomes an addiction that I want to hear over and over again on these great Sussex and Hampshire roads.


Deploying that wonderful engine power to the rear M Differential is a gearbox technology which for the first time finds itself in an M3 / M4, and that is not a DCT box like the two previous M Car generations, but a traditional 8-speed Torque Convertor gearbox by ZF. Now I have to say despite the nicely dimpled paddles behind the steering being a joy to touch, I wasn’t looking forward to the first paddle pull under hard accelerating. But what I found surprised me. Initially I was quite disappointed that the brutality associated with the DCT gear changes in previous M Cars was missing, that brutality which feels like a direct physical connection to the drivetrain. The ZF box is a totally different experience, being quite grown up and smooth in its gear change, more executive than sporty.


It took a few days and quite a few miles to figure out that an engine as potent as the S58 would just not have worked with a DCT gearbox. Even in the F8X generation, and to some extent the E9X before it, the DCT box in its regular setting would cause the rear tyres to be overwhelmed at maximum engine rev changes, breaking traction and ultimately breaking forward momentum. This was none more present than in an M4 GTS I drove in last year, where even on warm Michelin Cup 2’s on a dry grippy road, traction would break momentarily on that second to third gear change and halting, albeit for only a few milliseconds, forward progress; you can only imagine the fun in the cold and the rain. But the ZF gearbox in the latest M3 & M4 just doesn’t overwhelm the rear tyres in quite the same way, meaning you get more traction more of the time and no disruption in your forward momentum; it feels like it has your back.


So, going forward and going around corners is where this M3 (and M4) excel, and even though its weight is pretty considerable, the chassis control and damping are so good that whilst you are aware of the heft you are carrying, it doesn’t distract from the progress you are making as a driver. Where the heft is noticeable is in the braking. Irrespective of whether in Sport or Comfort settings, the brake pedal for my driving style doesn’t bite hard enough initially, nor were the brakes strong enough to pull the car up at the rate I would expect. There were a few times when I squeezed the brake pedal that extra bit harder as the weight came in to play and I was left wanting, and at times a little unnerved. In fact, if I didn’t know that six piston calipers with larger pads were fitted, I would have thought that M Performance grade rather than full fat M grade had been bolted on to this car.


Verdict

There are a few things about this latest generation G80 M3 / G82 M4 Competition that I don’t like; that front end and crease line design (especially on the M4), the weight, those brakes and that interfering gesture control. But there are a lot of things I love about this new M Car; the chassis, the damping, the immense amount of predictable grip in the dry and that fabulous S58 engine. But like the best of everything, you sometimes only realise how much you truly miss something once it’s gone. Whilst the M4 is not for me, especially in the “look at me” Sao Paolo yellow, the Toronto Red M3 I miss. A lot.


But there has been something lingering in the back of my mind since I drove these wonderful M Cars that I can’t shake and I think I have figured it out; these G8X M Cars have been named incorrectly. They shouldn’t be called an M3 or an M4.


They are both hugely capable cars, so capable that anyone with a modicum of driving talent could drive at 90% of the car’s capability. They are safe handling, user friendly, great daily’s and when you want them to be, luxurious and comfortable. But they are, at a touch of a button, totally utterly monstrous. Perhaps we should call them the new M5 and the M6 instead.


If you want an M3 or M4, I’d hit the classifieds for a lightly used M2 / M2 Competition, or, wait until the new M2 Coupe arrives in 2022 with a detuned version of that fabulous S58 engine if early reports are to be believed. The M2 has become the new M3. It is perfectly sized for our British roads and loves to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and having the wheels driven off it… just like that original E30 M3 still does.


A big thank you to BMW UK and James Wells at Chandlers Hailsham BMW for the loan of the cars featured in this article.


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