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Powerful, pricey German perfection: The thrill of BMW’s M3 and M4 Competition

Powerful, pricey German perfection: The thrill of BMW’s M3 and M4 Competition
The new BMW M3 and M4 Competition. (Photo: The BMW Group)

If you have about two million lying around, you might be tempted to splurge on the wheels of your dreams. After all, these days, fulfilling your passion might just be one of the most valuable commodities left on the planet.

In a country that has been thrown into even deeper hardship due to the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, it may seem insensitive, even crude, to rev it up in the new BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupé, which cost just under R2-million apiece. But dreams are dreams and the show must go on, or as they say in the motoring enterprise: “Beemer my revs up, Scottie.”

So if you’re a speed freak like me, a recent invitation to experience the pure exhilaration of driving two German masterpieces, exuding design and drive genius, that rev from 0-100km in just 3.9 seconds, was simply too hard to resist.  

So put foot I did earlier in the week when I was afforded the coveted opportunity to take the new BMW M3 and M4 Competition out on sublime Cape passes, ending on a challenging racetrack for some seriously unadulterated speed. (I was the only woman at the launch so forgive me if I sound like a testosteroned yobbo.)

m3 sedan and m4 coupé

The evolution of the M3 and M4 in South Africa. (Photo: The BMW Group)

M3 legacy 

The legacy of the M3 (and more recently the M4) has been celebrated for more than three decades by velocity raptors across the globe. The first-generation M3/E30 hit the local streets in 1986. Six years later the M3/E36 was launched. Then, as we entered a new millennium in 2000, the third-generation M3/E46 – the racer many Beemer fans consider “the best M3 to date” – made its appearance on local soil.

Celebrated for its superior exhaust system, the E46 drew rapturous reviews, like the one in the US publication Motoring Trend: “What’s the new M3 like to drive? A tach-pegging, tyre-abusing, power-sliding, apex-hitting, ear-pleasing, ultra-precise, high-speed thrill ride would be one way to describe it.” 

The fourth-generation M3/E9x followed in 2007 and, in 2014, for the first time under the F8x tag, an M4 coupé joined its M3 sedan brother. 

But as excited as I was by the idea of attending the national launch of the 2021 sixth-generation G8x M3 and M4, nothing prepared me for the after-effects of experiencing the fiery monsters in the actual metal flesh on both road and track. The heart was beating, the eyes were shining, the mouth could not stop grinning. It’s rare that everything comes together in such revving perfection.

m4 coupé

BMW’s controversial new kidney grille. (Photo: The BMW Group)

Let’s start with how the two petrol demons look. And probably the best place to kick off is at the centre-front, which means we have to talk about BMW’s controversial kidney grille, first revealed to me in 2020 in the 4-series coupé.  

The kidneys are a lot bigger than any grille the Bavarians have produced and, as expected from all the armchair car “experts”, that snout was dissed by many, giving birth to thousands of memes, many of which compared it to cleavage or a “butt crack”. 

“A grille to snort white lines off the road,” said one Coleman Molnar of Driving.

“It will have a fine set of gnashers when the braces come off,” said Ray Leathern of Car Magazine.

I was like: “Don’t you have anything better to do with your lives, bozos?” 

Design is an ongoing and ever-changing requirement in the cutthroat world of motoring and like all premium manufacturers, BMW needs to stay abreast of its competitors. The new grille definitely makes a statement and has elicited enormous emotional responses. 

The heated debates, flung far and wide across the web, reminded me a bit of the furore when Land Rover decided to kill the old Defender back in 2016. And look how fab the new Defender turned out. 

Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice-president of BMW Group Design, described some of the negative responses as brutal, but thankfully that didn’t mean the company was going to listen to the armchair critics. 

From my humble couch, I find the grille to be a stroke of design genius. So I was thrilled to see those huge kidneys on both the new M3 and M4 Competition.

m3 sedan

The M3’s exterior. (Photo: The BMW Group)

The grille encompasses a ferocious statement, meeting with the chiselled indented bonnet lines, complemented by extended flared front and rear wheel arches, to create a massively wide and edgy stance. The tailpipes are huge – 100mm each in diameter – all aggressive and muscular, offset by the carbon spoiler and an eye-catching rear diffuser. 

Forged M light-alloy wheels are arranged in a staggered set-up – 19 inches in front and 20 on the rear axle – ensuring better balance and performance. 

Borrowing the LEDs from the 4-series, the lighting is beautiful on both the M3 and M4. Exterior colour-wise, there’s an array to choose from – my pick of the palette is Kyalami Green, a rich shade of metallic emerald. 

Chris Harris from Top Gear recently called the exterior “fussy in its details” and I was like: “What white lines are you snorting?”

The optional M Carbon race seats. (Photo: The BMW Group)

Keeping in line with the sculpted sporty outsides, the first things that grabbed my attention were the optional M Carbon bolstered bucket racer seats, which are super comfy and come at a hefty extra R82,500 a pair, but if you’re going to buy these wheels, you might as well go all the way. 

They’re electrically adjustable in sections that allow the front passengers to find the perfect ergonomic set-up. The standard M sport seats, in fine-grain Merino leather trim, also work just fine.

The premium cabin. (Photo: The BMW Group)

The cabin is laden with carbon fibre, leather and metal finishes, also found on the thick and lovely-to-grip steering wheel. Petrolheads will love the stand-out red carbon M paddle shifters for extra race appeal.

There’s a lot you can play with via the drive set-up button to customise the drive mode DNA, and to keep safe without the fear of losing control the M Dynamic mode offers 10 stages of traction control so you can add or remove TC, depending on the grip levels.

A small gripe is the oversensitive gesture control, which I find annoying in any car, and I’d love a bigger fuel tank because if you’re going to “drive it like you stole it”, you’ll probably be making regular visits to the fuel station. BMW claims consumption of 10.2l/100km. I’ll bet my butt it’s significantly more if you are revving it up. 

Which gets to the meat of the matter.

m4 coupé

The M4 on the road. (Photo: Rob Cilliers)

On launch day I got to play on the road in both the M3 sedan and M4 coupé. Both have a 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder twin-turbo engine, producing 375kW and 650Nm torque to achieve 0-100km in just 3.9 seconds. They’re both underpinned by a brilliant ZF eight-speed gearbox with rear-wheel drive. (Expect the xDrive all-wheel-drive version towards the end of 2021.)

The M3 is more solid and decidedly more practical if you want to share the thrill with your rear passengers who’ll enjoy plenty of comfort with generous head and legroom. The M4, sportier and more angular in design, is a two-door coupé and a tad cumbersome for passengers to get into the back, but methinks people who are going to go for this one are probably not too bothered with sharing the rear. 

They are both massively brilliant rides with an outrageously good chassis, suspension and razor-sharp brakes. Even in Comfort Mode, without a hint of turbo lag, you’ve got a devil on your hands. 

m3 sedan

The M3 on the track. (Photo: Rob Cilliers)

But of course, without the fear of fines and jail cells that are almost inevitable in your M3 or M4 on normal roads because it’s virtually impossible to be law abiding in these beasts, it’s on the track where they really excel. (All M models are tested and tuned at BMW’s private facility at the Nürburgring racing circuit in Germany.)

I did a few laps in the M3 at an exclusive private track in Franschhoek, and the Sport Plus setting really came to the fore. One immediately feels the ride stiffen as the chassis adjusts and speed is unleashed. Steering is brilliantly accurate – I was thrilled by the way the M3 responds and turns on tight corners. The grip and traction are sublime. 

I got out of my M carbon bucket seats feeling on a total adrenalin high, like a proper race-car aficionado.

Sound-wise it’s not an overly noisy or angry car. There are no pops or screams, but with its electrically operated flaps, one revels in its authentic roar and confident growl.

For all the drifters there’s an M Drift Analyser that gauges the drift, as well as the M Laptimer and M Traction Control, which intensify performance experience on the race track.

BMW recently went all out on revealing its latest electric “i” line-up, timed to compensate for unleashing the M3 and M4. As the race to electrify vehicles intensifies, in years to come these M demons may be relegated to the carbon-criminal cemetery, relics of a fossil-fuel era long gone.

But for now, if you have the dosh, you couldn’t spend it on a better petrol thrill. DM

Pricing:

BMW M3 Competition sedan, R 1,860,000

BMW M4 Competition coupé, R1,940,000

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