BMW M car showdown – M3 v M4

The BMW M3. To me this is at the heart of the M legend. Small, light, understated and (relatively) affordable with an eager-beaver of a motor to make that tail wag. And the four doors, to my mind, makes it even more special. A two-door coupe has an obvious sporting intent. A four-door car that billows smoke from its rear tyres? There’s something very cool about that, isn’t it?
The BMW M3 is also better looking than the M4, at least to my eye. All M3s (and M3 Coupes) have been very closely related to the standard 3 Series but this generation boasts of the most extensive suite of performance upgrades. The subframe assembly, for instance, is entirely new and is bolted rigidly to the bodyshell – and to accommodate it, the body of the M3 is 80mm wider than your diesel 3 Series. It gives the M3 a more purposeful stance, muscular and insanely sexy, allied to the most aggressively styled body kit ever thrown at a BMW (Batmobile excluded). And have you seen a better shade of blue?

The tail-wagging BMW M3

None of which matters on a runway so we click everything into Sport+ mode, DSC in full off, gearbox in the most aggressive shift mode and set fire to the back end. I’ve driven my fair share of M3s and I can tell you this – the F80 feels nothing like the M3s of the past. Those old BMW M3s loved to be caned, and they revved to the moon. This F80 closes that chapter and ushers in a new one; a turbocharged one.
Fed by two turbos the straight-six pulls like a locomotive from just 2000rpm. There’s such a swell of torque that you step on it and the torque overwhelms the rear tyres to pull off an insanely long and completely unintended burnout. There’s a level of instantly accessible performance that leaves you slack-jawed; you power down the slip road, turn on to the start of the runway in third gear, step on it and the torque-rush will kick the tail out and keep the tyres spinning to hold a deeply satisfying third gear slide. M3s are not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to wring the neck of the M3 to squeeze every last drop of juice from it. BMW M3s are supposed to make you work hard. Not in the F80.


And the thing is, the chassis is so well balanced, the electric steering so sharp and transparent and the turn-in so positive that it feels like a proper sports car. The sharp bump half way down the slip road doesn’t throw the M3 off-line. The chassis has got balance. Even though the tail wants to break free with even a half-hearted prod of the loud pedal, you can gather it all up easily; the turbo-motor has such crisp throttle responses you can hold and maintain the slide with precision. The BMW M3 also has a conventional handbrake but 550Nm of torque completely eliminates the need to yank that handbrake to get the rear to break traction. Any gear, step on it, and that’s it – you’ve got your smoky drift. Helping hold on to those drifts is the electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential that uses a lot of tricks from rally cars. Turn in and the diff stays open making it tuck towards the apex easily, step on it and the LSD locks letting you unload all 550Nm. It makes you look like a better driver than you really are.

Carbon strut brace is a work of art, curving around the straight-six turbo motor and adding stiffness and rigidity

I can’t understand how someone can have a problem with a car that’s so easy to exploit, so easy to indulge your shenanigans, but apparently there’s a big and very vocal chunk of them. And they might have a point. It has to do with the weight. Not actual weight, for the M3 is 80kg lighter than the old V8, rather it is the perception of weight. The M3 does not feel light on its feet. If anything the blunt character of the turbo-charged motor makes it feel heavier than it is. What it means is the M3 takes a tiny fraction longer to react to situations, an extra fraction that gives the game away to bespoke sportscars like the 911. But then again you’ve got four doors, four seats and a boot where a boot is supposed to be. Add instantly accessible performance to that mix and you have a winner.
Question is, does the M4 feel any different?
It is lighter by 23kg, the F82 M4. It has a marginally lower centre of gravity. It has a revised boot lid to match the M3’s aerodynamic numbers. But that’s that. It has the same bonnet bulge and quad pipe. The same artificial noise piped in through the speakers, which lacks emotion. Pop the bonnet and it has the same carbonfibre brace that isn’t so much a strut brace as a work of art snaking around the bonnet and plugging holes in the stiffness of every component. There’s a carbonfibre torque tube. An aluminium boot lid and bonnet. And an engine that can rev to 7600rpm. You never need to get it there though, as peak torque is developed from 1850 to 5500rpm. And it has anti-lag. Yes, like a rally car. Anti-lag!

M3 and M4 cabin, identical and immediately likeable. Stubby gear lever is an M trademark

The turbos never drop below 120,000rpm, the ECU keeping it spinning by injecting extra fuel into the cylinders. So, much like in a rally car, when you get back on the throttle, the torque is always there. There’s no lag. It’s always on. The turbos, feeding three cylinders each, spin up to a max of 190,000rpm and make this turbo-six, one of the most instantly responsive turbo motors around. If only it could spit flames like a rally car, it would be epic.
Speaking of epic there’s the smoky burnout mode. Instead of holding revs against the brakes you stomp the right pedal, the revs swing up to 3500rpm, the clutch engages with a bang and the rear tyres light up. But before we destroy the M4’s tyres we have somebody we want it to meet.

BMW M3 (F80) specifications
Engine In-line 6-cyl, 2979cc, twin-turbo
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Power 425bhp @ 5500-7300rpm
Torque 550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm
Weight 1635kg
0-100kmph 4.1sec
Top speed 250kmph (limited)
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi) RS. 1.19 crore

BMW M4 (F82) specifications
Engine In-line 6-cyl, 2979cc, twin-turbo
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Power 425bhp @ 5500-7300rpm
Torque 550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm
Weight 1612kg
0-100kmph 4.1sec
Top speed 250kmph (limited)
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi) Rs. 1.22 crore

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