Reviewing the reviews: New BMW M3 and M4 Competition

No matter what your thoughts may be of those outrageous ‘nostrils’, the arrival of a new BMW M3, and by extension the M4, is always an occasion. No thanks to Covid, the global media drive of the sixth generation M3 and M4 were conducted in selected regions only, and the verdicts of the latest M cars are out.

The context

When the all-new M3 and M4 made its digital premiere in September last year, fans weren’t merely up in arms with the polarising grille; the G80 generation cars grew in size and were notably heavier. To humour, the kerb weight of the new M3 Competition is specified as 1730kg by BMW while the last generation M3 (equipped with dual-clutch transmission) tipped the scales at 1560kg – a gain of 170kg, monumental for BMW standards. The pitchforks were out.

New M3 has grown in size and weight, comes across like a junior M5.

And then there’s the switch from the 7-speed dual clutch transmission to an 8-speed automatic, which not only added more kilogrammes to the M3’s portly presence but raised fears that a torque converter would adversely impact the driving dynamics of the M3. So how did the likes of Chris Harris and some of his UK counterparts find the new M3 and M4, in rear-wheel drive Competition trim?

Chris Harris, Top Gear UK

Way before Harris became a TV personality, his contemplative views on cars (in written form) made for great reading. He had lost none of that and still thinks and presents like he how used to write. Harris begins his video not so much as in hating the grille (which he doesn’t) but expresses “unease” about the rest of the M3’s fussy styling.

Despite the weight gain, Harris is impressed by the chassis, the engine…but not so much the switch to the ZF eight-speed automatic, noting that the M3 has “lost something” and that there is a “little lag” when seeking an instant response, describing it as a “big difference” to him and that the new M3 lacks that “specialness” he expected from M car.

Here’s what Harris thinks of the M3’s vertical grille (screenshot from Top Gear Youtube video)

It’s not all gloom however, Harris praises the steering, calling it “flipping exceptional”, lauds the traction, even mistaking it for an all-wheel drive (which will arrive in summer) but cautions on the ride, advising that one should leave it in “Comfort” unless driving on a billiard table. He then shuts up and pulls off lots of skids before calling the M3 a more competent car than ever before, but one that’s less angry and lairy. Harris also calls the new M Drift Analyser a “brilliantly pointless” thing, and you get the feeling he’s not quite the happy camper this initial encounter with the M3.

Surely the box on the carbon-fibre seat option has to be ticked.
Matt Prior, Autocar UK

While Matt Prior may be a less flamboyant presenter next to Harris (who also started off at Autocar UK), he is sharp when it comes to sussing out cars. Prior points out that despite the weird carbon fibre receptacle on the optional bucket seats, the seating and driving environment of the new M3 is spot-on.

He likes the M3’s light steering response and precision, and remarks that the M3 doesn’t feel like a 1730kg car and that it is as “agile” and “chuckable” as an M2, at least in the greasy conditions he was driving in. Like Harris, Prior also trials the new M Drift Analyser which rates attempts in getting the M3 sideways. He scores four stars.

Prior concludes that the new M3 is fun and a proper M car but doesn’t feel like a sports car (which the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio does) but more like a super saloon, and that the M3 is a better track car and the Alfa the better road car, even if both are road cars, if that makes sense.

Henry Catchpole, Carfection

Catchpole starts off by addressing the elephant in the room, calling the M4 Competition “fantastic” and that it doesn’t feel its weight. Like Harris and Prior, Catchpole finds the steering accuracy to be “phenomenal” and the 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six’s power delivery to be “linear and creamy smooth”.

On the torny subject of having a torque converter instead of the DCT, Catchpole still has some misgivings and is of the view that an improved DCT would have made the car even better but would still have picked the 8-speed auto over the previous DCT for its smooth gear changes and usability. In terms of ride quality, Catchpole finds that while you can feel the bumps, the M4 is never harsh nor uncomfortable.

Did BMW make the right call in giving the new M3/M4 a torque converter auto?

Catchpole does make an interesting observation in that the M3 sedan looks better than the M4 in that its wheel arch blister is more pronounced given its narrower saloon body, but with the same track width as the coupe. He then cycles through the catalogue of drive settings on the M4 (and there are too many combinations to mention) and compliments the M4 on its breadth of abilities and polish behind the wheel. And despite all the initial scepticism, Catchpole loves it.

No more carbon-fibre engine brace, but those chassis reinforcements look pretty beefy.

What to make of it then?

The voice of enthusiasts tends to dominate the narrative whenever time comes for BMW to renew iconic models such as the M3 or the M5. Change is generally viewed with scepticism; the E92 M3 was accused of not being as visceral nor as pure as the brilliant E46, the F80/F82 was censured for not retaining the brilliant V8 (and being a bit lairy), and now the G80/G82 for looking unattractive and being overweight. And if the reviews above are of any indication, the new M3 and M4 have gravitated towards the direction of the M5 rather than going back to basics like the M2. Evidently, change is the only constant here, even for M cars. So like it or loathe it, fans will have to learn to live with the new normal at BMW M.

BMW M3 & M4 Competition
: RM691,040 (M3), RM711,040 (M4)  Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl inline, twin turbo, RWD  Output: 510hp / 650Nm  Transmission: 8-speed auto  Performance: 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds; top speed 250km/h (limited)  Wheels/tyres: 275/40 R18 (F), 285/35 R19 (R) Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 5-year/Unlimited mileage