First Drive: BMW M3 & M4

If the eye-widening, hair-raising, sphincter-clenching all-new M3 (sedan) and M4 (coupe) are anything to go by, BMW’s revered M division is back! And it’s an all-turbo affair – yours for $156,900 for the four-door M3 or $166,900 for the two-door M4.

No, the model names don’t make sense but people will get used to it. Ditto the abandonment of 28 years of M3 natural aspiration for a pair of single-scroll turbochargers. While the M3/M4’s new 317kW 3.0-litre twin-turbo six might not please the purists, it’s a fantastic engine.

Not only is it great to hear a straight-six soundtrack return to an M3 (or M4), the S55 boosted six is blessed with multiple personalities. Between 2000 and 4000rpm, there’s no escaping the engine’s boosted nature. It whooshes and whistles like no turbo-six Beemer we’ve ever driven, yet there’s an edgy straight-six howl lurking in the shadows, waiting to be unleashed.

Nail the right pedal and it hauls you to ‘very frigging illegal’ faster than you can say “I’ve forgotten all about the atmo V8”. With 550Nm of torque smeared across such a vast rev band (1850-5500rpm), the old V8 doesn’t have a hope of keeping up.

BMW claims 4.1sec to 100km/h for the seven-speed dual-clutch (with launch control), and 4.3sec for the six-speed manual. Yes, unlike many modern sports cars, you can still change gears yourself if you choose to, which is bloody terrific.

Backing up the M3/M4’s supersonic six is a chassis to pine for. The parameters between the adaptive dampers’ Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings have been tightened, to the point where even with the cushiest suspension and steering selected, the new M3/M4 feels like a proper sports car.

Damping is tighter, steering is meatier and the overall impression is one of being ‘manned-up’, yet these new-generations Ms still manage to achieve a marvellous balance between refinement, ride comfort and body control. And that’s on the 19-inch wheels fitted to the Aussie M3/M4, clad with Michelin Pilot Super Sports – 255/35ZR19 front, 275/35ZR19 rear. And for another $500, you can have them in black. Swoon.

In the mid Sport setting, you can tackle rough-ish roads in the M3/M4 without flinching, yet there’s a distinct elevation of the chassis’ cornering poise and a level of steering weighting and response that’s close to perfect. Rare is a level of chassis balance as delicious as this.

Not surprisingly, BMW’s high-performance twins are just about identical. The two-door is marginally lighter (by 23kg) and 41mm lower than the sedan. But the four-door’s body is fractionally stiffer, and it gets the same CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Polymer) roof that was exclusive to the coupe in the old-generation V8.

The M3 is also roomier inside, though both cabins have plenty of personality – glossy carbonfibre trim, loads of stitched leather and the world’s coolest-looking front seats – making this supreme pair feel as premium and up-to-the-minute as their price tags suggest.

So, while the twin-turbo M3/M4 may not sound quite as arousing as the V8 version did when revving to oblivion, they’re incredible cars – category-defining superstars even. AMG’s next-generation C63 (also twin-turbo, though a 4.0-litre V8, due next year) would want to be good.

Model: BMW M3 sedan
Engine: 2979cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
Max power: 317kW @ 5500-7300rpm
Max torque: 550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1520kg
0-100km/h: 4.3sec (claimed)
Price: $156,900
On sale: Now

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