CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – The launch of a new BMW M3 is always a big deal. Although the E30 M3 was never officially imported into South Africa, local enthusiasts are big fans of the E36, E46, E90 and F80 generations of this renowned performance model. That brings us neatly to the local launch of the new G80 M3 and G82 M4, which entailed driving the latest two cars over 300 km through the Boland and Cape Winelands region.
Exterior and interior
Let’s first discuss the elephant in the room: the front-end design, particularly that kidney grille. Truth be told, I’m simply not a fan, but I guess over time we’ll all get used to it. Remember how everyone shrieked when BMW made it public the F80 M3 and F82 M4 would feature turbo power? In addition, we should bear in mind the Chinese market has a massive influence on how cars are designed these days…
Still, apart from that controversial grille, the newcomers both look purposeful, each benefitting from a pleasingly planted stance. Make no mistake, these are not compact cars, and you notice this once you climb in and peer back at the available space for the rear passengers. In terms of practicality, the four-door M3 is obviously the one to pick; it doesn’t look any less menacing than its coupé sibling. It’s interesting to note that (on both cars) the rear axle now features 20-inch wheels and the front 19-inch items, each with a different tyre profile. At the rear, you’ll find a diffuser and four large diameter (100 mm each) exhaust pipes.
The cabin is a mix of traditional BMW facia layout and modern digital displays, including the configurable item sited behind the steering wheel. The standard seats are relatively supportive and comfortable. However, a few of the cars on the launch were specified with the optional carbon-fibre sport seats. These are gorgeous to look at, but more importantly, they hug you from your upper leg all the way to your shoulders. That central carbon-fibre cover on the squab can be removed to fit a buckle for a five-point harness.
Having driven an M8 recently, I noted many of the buttons and driving options are similar to those of the new M3 and M4. In addition, the steering wheel features carbon-fibre trim, as do the two gearshift paddles. Apart from the suspension setup, you can set (as before) the traction control to on, off or “MDM”. There is also a further 10-stage traction control setting to play around with.
On the road
There is a fitting exhaust burble from the rear the moment you start the car, which is encouraging. I left the exhaust button on for most of the trip, but it’s difficult to judge how much is “real” sound and how much is pumped into the cabin through the speakers. Still, at low speeds it sounds just as expected.
During our annual Performance Shootout a couple of years, we spent a few days with the X3 M Competition. Back then, we were impressed with this S58 engine. Here, in a sports sedan/coupé, it feels even burlier. One big change is that the dual-clutch transmission (M DCT) has been ditched in favour of the (very competent) ZF eight-speed torque converter. The benefit comes at low speeds, where the previous dual-clutch unit displayed some marginally cumbersome antics.
However, once you’re really going for it, the torque converter is simply not as quick to react as the M DCT. I missed that, because the M DCT shifts were lightning fast and contributed a great deal to the driving experience. The new ‘box is more user friendly, but there’s certainly a part of me that longs for the near-race-car-quick double-clutch item. Thing is, if you haven’t driven or owned the previous generation model, you likely wouldn’t miss it too much.
On the open stretches through the Boland, the newcomer gathers speed in a linear fashion that would embarrass some serious performance cars from just a few short years ago. The redline starts just after 7 000 r/min, but even in what would otherwise be an inappropriately high gear at 3 000 r/min, there’s such a tremendous amount of torque (650 N.m) on offer you needn’t drop a cog (though the S58 is quite happy to chase the redline, should you prefer). As much as there is a push from the rear with all the power (375 kW) on hand, it’s the tremendous torque that stands out. The steering is very quick and minimal input is needed to dart from one corner to the next, and the nose bites the moment you turn it in.
We also spend a little time on a track, where we could further probe the dynamics of the cars. After several left-right-left-right corner sequences, I was immediately impressed by just how well these cars handle their near 1,8-tonne (fully fuelled) weight. The carbon-fibre seats help to keep you in place and deliver a higher level of feedback, but at the same time you can sense this is no lightweight sports car, but rather a serious, powerful sports sedan that offers a great amount of fun behind the wheel.
Back on the road, the firm suspension setup continued to impress as we headed to Cape Town. Oh, and if you were wondering whether you could detect any differences in the experience from behind the wheel of the M3 versus the M4? Nope, none whatsoever.
M xDrive (with the all-wheel-drive system) models will arrive later in 2021, so for the first few months only rear-driven derivatives will be on offer locally. However, the base (non-Competition) models will not be available in South Africa, which also means no manual transmissions.
Pricing starts at R1 860 000 for the M3 Competition and R1 940 000 for the M4 Competition coupé. BMW SA says these cars are pre-loaded with nearly all the important options. One of the main remaining extras is the M Race Track Package, which includes the M Carbon ceramic brakes, different M light-alloy wheels and those M Carbon bucket seats.
All things considered, as a daily sports sedan/coupé, the latest full-fat versions of the 3 Series and 4 Series are just as impressive as one might expect. Sure, they’re a little less hardcore than the previous generation models, but that will likely see them appeal to a broader audience. Regardless, these newcomers undoubtedly continue the legacy of BMW’s iconic M3 lineage.