Having focused earlier this year on the changing face of BMW, Iain Robertson believed that familiarity with the Munich firm’s much-altered grille outline and the slow but clear abandonment of the ‘Double-Kidney’ signature might curb his concerns.
How wrong could I be? While I have failed to comprehend the need to change the company’s model naming policy (saloons are odd numbers; coupes are evens), which seems only to have ‘doubled’ its number of available models, thereby leading to mild consumer confusion, a recent visit to the beautician has clearly been misdirected. What has emerged as the enticing new M-car, well, actually both M3 saloon and M4 coupe, looks more like a visit to the Lego factory in Denmark took place.
Severely blocky (not blokey) and lacking in the dynamic style expected from BMW, it appears that Lego’s much-vaunted, technical automotive kits, which bear only a passing resemblance to the hypercars they represent, have provided the inspiration to Munich’s design team. Perhaps BMW wants to short-circuit potential complaints that its cars do not look anything like Lego’s very expensive toys?
However, it is the snouts of these seriously hot models that jar an enthusiast’s expectations and rock them to their foundations. The former ‘kidneys’ have been afflicted by exposure to something questionably nuclear (or neurotic) that has resulted in seven horizontal bars that delve deeply into the aero-space normally the remit of the lower front bumper. They are flanked by sharply creased ‘cheese graters’, while the slightly angled headlamp units carry incomplete but semi-octagonal LED daytime running lamp signatures. If the intention is to shock, BMW has succeeded and I reckon it might cost them dearly but, if the new ‘schnozzle’ upsets your eye, just wait until you see what BMW has in store for its optional sports exhaust outlets, because they are real passion-killers!
For the past 35 years, the wondrous M3 has been through a series of mild restyles, none of which has been more radical than bolstering the profile and performance of the 3-Series (E30) of the day. The original and very compact two-door saloon model was exceedingly pretty but underscored the go-faster potential of BMW’s unique Motorsport division. It was 1985. Equipping new cars with catalysers was a novelty. Initially a 200bhp 2.3-litre 4-cylinder model, its more raked rear windscreen (for homologation purposes) demanded an ugly trim addition to the rear parcel shelf but, built in sufficient numbers, complete with hooped rear wing and neatly flared arches, the hugely competent M3 road cars allowed BMW to contest the world’s various touring car race and rally competitions. As regulations dictated, the engine grew to 2.5-litres capacity and the car’s giant-killing and winning ways lifted trophies everywhere. In its own way, it became the in-demand Mark Two Escort of its era.
The second and subsequent generations, while markedly different to the original, were all logical and organic developments of a somewhat larger 3-Series. The engine grew to 3.0-litres (later 3.2) and 6-cylinders (E36), then 4.0-litres (later 4.4) filling 8-cylinders (E46, then E90/92/93), prior to a return to 3.0-litres and 6-cylinders boosted by twin turbochargers (F80). Interestingly, the M3 saloon variant remained in production, even though the coupe was discontinued in 2018. The latest ‘internal’ model designation is G80.
Powering the grossly ugly newcomers (inc. the new M4 coupe) is a Motorsport developed 510bhp six-pot displacing 3.0-litres as before but capable of revving to the 7,200rpm redline with the alacrity of a scalded polecat. It is supported by a moderate 479lbs ft of torque that weighs-in between 2,700 to 5,500rpm for the customary thump in the back expected of a M-car. The bi-turbo unit enables a blistering 0-60mph to be attained in just 3.6s, before hitting the standard speed limiter of 155mph, or should the M Pro Package be specified a loftier 180mph that is guaranteed to raise the hackles of some politicians.
Yet, thanks to BMW’s perpetual pursuit of precise efficiency, the WLTP stated fuel economy figure is said to be an achievable 27.7mpg, while emitting 234g/km CO2. Okay. It is a high tax machine but its price tag of £74,755 (M3 Competition saloon), or £76,055 (M4 Competition coupe), would ensure a high BIK rate in any case (for UK business taxpayers, naturally). Bear in mind that the £1,300 premium for the M4 also means the loss of one passenger, not that slotting two adults into the rear is going to be so easy in the first place, thanks to the dimensions of the heavily bolstered front seats, with their choice of quite lairy hide colours.
It is suggested that the overbaked frontal aspect of the models is necessary to provide the maximum of cooling air to the engine. However, BMW has always been inventive, when it comes to cooling its hottest motors, something that it has managed most successfully for the past 35 years at least, as a result, I shall suspend belief in its engineers’/stylists’ assertions. At the opposite end of the car, the standard four-pipe exhaust system emits a crackling and burbling soundtrack that is eminently beguiling and almost compensates for the malformed nasal zone.
Yet, if I have one final issue that I feel BMW ought to address, it lies in its expedient use of an 8-speed automatic transmission, although you have to decide whether that expediency is to satisfy emissions requirements, or to make ‘on-track’ driving any easier. BMW loves to promote (far from subtly) its M-cars’ affinity for indulging in track time…although such derring-do will invalidate assuredly the manufacturer’s warranty and, if you think that BMW does not operate its own ‘track and trace’ system, think again. Oops!
While both M3 and M4 are rear-wheel drive, for the first time ever, a 4×4 option will be on the cards from next year. Boasting chassis dynamics that have always been enviably excellent, it will be fascinating to see what all-wheel drive will do for the psyches of M-car customers.
Conclusion: As a former M3 owner, I am delighted that BMW continues to produce a sporting variant (or two) that offers such immense appeal. It is not going to redesign its new nosecone but it might be too bitter a pill for some M-car owners to swallow.