New 2020 BMW M3 & M4
A ll BMW departments are not created equal. Those house rules and corporate policies that shackle most? One Munich enclave can take them or leave them. It’s a renegade outfit with a selfish streak of the kind that’s lauded in professional sport and big business just as it’s derided in most other walks of life. With its faster company cars, higher grade of branded polo shirts and ready access to racetracks for ‘work’ purposes, M division is surely one of the best BMW berths into which to manoeuvre yourself. And that’s before you even get into the free-wheeling, cash-hosing, hang-the-economies-of-scale dedication with which it develops its cars, particularly these cars – the all-new 2021 G20 M3 and G22 M4.
While non-M engineers slave over their series-production projects, sleeplessly worrying about everything from ergonomics for elderly bodies to Euro NCAP crash structures, while also chipping every last conceivable gram per kilometre of CO2 from the emissions figure, their inbox pings on an hourly basis with requests from M. The gist is always the same. ‘Can you just make that lower? And lighter? And stiffer? And wider? And…’ ‘
We are always in contact with our colleagues on the normal production cars with a catalogue of things that we would like them to do for us, to make our lives easier,’ grins Carsten Wolf, the M engineer in charge of vehicle characteristics on the new M3/M4. ‘Of course, it is not always possible to have all of this in the normal model, but we do what we can.’
And having cajoled as much stiffness into (and weight out of) the non-M bodyshells as possible, Wolf and his M division colleagues then set about expensively reinforcing it further. I mean, why hold back?
Choosing between them is simple! How many doors do you need?
2020 BMW M3
2020 BMW M4
‘We got a strong basis from those standard cars but, rather than think “Okay, now we don’t need to do much”, we thought “Okay, this is our chance to be much better than our predecessor”. To the improved base we added the right elements in key places to get it even better.’
He’s not kidding. In order to meet a couple of the new cars’ key objectives – driver feel and feedback, a strong sense of connection between the two axles, and a competitive basis for 2022’s M4 GT3 racecar – the new M3 and M4 bristle with reinforcements to the part-steel, part-aluminium G20/G22 CLAR platform: braces to lock the front shock towers firmly to each other and to the front bulkhead; elements to tie the lighter, stiffer front subframe to the reinforced engine bay; underfloor shear panels… It’s the kind of stubborn resistance to twist beloved of racecar engineers, because there’s nothing they hate more than a variable.
For further evidence of M division’s gleeful autonomy, consider this. BMW CEO Oliver Zipse’s efficiency programme – which is so important it’s always written all upper-case, thus: NEXT – is targeting savings in excess of €12 billion by the end of 2022. One of its key strategies? The elimination of up to 50 per cent of BMW’s traditional drivetrain variants from 2021 onwards in favour of more electrification. He’s pretty clear on the matter – fewer powertrain options, more electric power. Got it, M? Not so much…
2020 BMW M4 interior
First off, the new M3 and M4 are more than just two cars – they’re a range. They’ll go on sale in the UK in March as the M3 saloon and M4 coupe, with a convertible arriving in the second half of the year and the estate, the M3 Touring, a couple of years later. That’s four body styles. And in most markets that’s just the beginning. Want a manual gearbox? You can have one (though not in the UK – more on that later), nestled between a 473bhp version of the straight-six engine and a driven rear axle. Or you can go for an M3 or M4 Competition – 503bhp and a performance-tuned version of BMW’s eight-speed auto (yep, not a twin-clutcher). And then, for the first time in M3 history, you can also tick the box for four-wheel drive (due in the UK summer 2021). So, two powertrains, two power outputs and four body styles – and not a hybrid in sight…
‘Hybridisation is not at the level we needed it to be at right now,’ explains product management man Hagen Franke. ‘We have gone with a more conventional approach. And when you drive the new car you will get an idea of what we are talking about. Just imagine the car having another 100kg in weight that you must pull through the corners – it’s not worth it yet.’ So, there it is – no electrification and a tonne of powertrain combinations. Poor Mr Zipse. He used all upper-case letters and everything…
2020 BMW M3 interior
Wait, an all-wheel-drive M3? It takes a moment to wrap your head around the concept, but only a moment – truth is the M5 Competition already sold us the idea of an all-wheel-drive M car pretty convincingly. ‘This new generation [of M3/M4] will reinvent itself by virtue of the widest range of drivetrain layouts we’ve yet offered in an M3, so that you can fully exploit the vehicle’s potential in all circumstances,’ explains Franke.
‘This was the plan from start,’ affirms engineer Wolf. ‘The M5 is in a torque and horsepower range where you can hardly find any advantages for a rear-wheel-drive version. In the case of the M3 and M4 we are not quite in that range. We see some situations where you might be better off with rearwheel drive. This means the M3/M4 customer now has a perfect choice.’
Borrowing heavily from the M5/M8 system, the M3’s take on xDrive powers the rear axle alone until traction is compromised. At that point an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch in the transfer box steps in to optimise the front/rear power split, with the Active M Differential juggling the power left/right on the rear axle. The default mode, 4WD, is fast, grippy and more neutral than Audi’s quattro, on the M5 Competition at least. 4WD Sport is more rear-biased and the pick of the bunch for real-world use, combining any-weather traction with a degree of playfulness, while 2WD opens the door to, as Franke puts it, ‘a lot of fun and a lot of smoke’.
Also in the plan from the start was a move from a twin-clutch gearbox to a torque-converter auto. Controversial? Nope, progress. Wolf: ‘For the auto ’box the M5 was again the trailblazer. A dual-clutch system has no rea advantages any more. We have been able to achieve the shift times and manage the behaviour of the gearbox in manual mode so that hardly anybody would miss the dual-clutch gearbox. The auto has so many advantages in terms of everyday use. It was an easy decision; no disadvantages on the performance side and lots of advantages on the everyday side.’
The UK won’t get the 473bhp manual cars because UK M buyers overwhelmingly choose Competition derivatives, and the new Competition’s power output is too much for the manual gearbox. So, where the full range is offered, you’ll be able to choose ‘normal’ (manual and rear-wheel drive) or Competition (auto only; rear-wheel drive or xDrive). In the UK it’ll be Competition only, auto, and with the choice of rear-drive or xDrive. A deal-breaker? For a few, perhaps, but previously the UK manual uptake was a fraction of new M cars sold, so it’s a calculated gamble for BMW.
At least choosing between the M3 and M4 has been made simple. Which do you like the look of, and how many doors do you need? Where BMW is working to put more clear water between the two, M’s done the opposite. Obviously… Says Wolf: ‘Our goal was to make the M3 and M4 drive nearly the same, with the same feedback and performance. That’s a difference between us and our colleagues – the normal 3- and 4-series are very different to drive. That’s not the way we’ve done it. The bodywork is different but the tune of the springs and dampers are optimised to give the same result.’
The new Competition cars develop 503bhp – the first M3/M4 to break the 500bhp barrier – and 479lb ft of torque. The result is a 3.9sec 0-62mph time (this from the rear-drive cars) and the kind of in-gear accelerative urge to make you never doubt the wisdom of turbocharging ever again. In the age-old M3 versus Porsche 911 weigh-in, the BMW’s power output comfortably eclipses the Ј83k base Carrera, even if the car’s additional weight means it can’t quite beat the Ј94k Carrera S 911’s 0-62mph.
Those numbers come courtesy of a version of the twin-turbo, straightsix S58 engine already installed in the X3 M. M being M, it’s a race-bred motor that uses high-performance solutions wherever possible, from the stiffer, more tuning-friendly closed-deck block construction to the cylinder head, whose complex form requires that a foam core be 3D printed as a pattern for the sand-casting process.
Peak torque arrives at just 2750rpm on the Competition cars, but the engine spins to 7200rpm and promises an effective combination of the grunt you need to make rapid progress together with the high-rev fireworks that help you actually fall in love with an engine.
‘The engine was developed to be a part of our motorsports programme, and this has given us this very explosive power delivery, with a strong top end,’ says Franke. ‘This is what the motorsport engine needs to be like, and it gives the road-car engine a certain character. That said, there is still a lot of torque from low revs. In terms of any absolute measure this engine is much like its predecessor but with a higher capability everywhere.
‘We use torque shaping [sculpting power and torque curves using everything from valve timing to boost pressure] to give our engines their character. It’s a unit you’ll enjoy working with.’
Having ripped through their budget on structural bracing, a race-bred engine and a tonne of powertrain options, you might expect M to have counted the beans more carefully on stuff like the interior detailing and exterior metalwork. You’d be wrong. Unlike the M5, which uses the standard 5-series body, the new M3 and M4 run wider arches stretched over their caricature track widths.
‘We had to have them,’ smiles Franke. ‘They have been part of the M3 DNA for ages. The first M3, the E30, had wider arches to cover the wider stance and wider tyres. And it just looks so cool to have this differentiation.’ Glance at those new front ends and it’s impossible to imagine two front axles that look less like they’d want to understeer; huge rubber footprint, broad track widths, deep chin spoilers and a bunch of stiffer, lighter M-specific parts. Your eyes would be right: from our prototype drive opportunity (see right), front-end grip might even be the defining aspect of the new cars.
Wolf: ‘Our goal was to have the chassis react to the driver’s inputs in a very precise and un-delayed way. The fact that the front axle is now better in terms of grip and steering input is mainly because of a new tyre, both in terms of size and tyre technology. The rear axle also behaves consistently, which is a product of the measures we put in place to increase the stiffness of the car. Those measures give us the non-delay time between the front and rear axles, and mean the car reacts very quickly and cleanly to inputs.’
But if a rear end that faithfully follows the front doesn’t sound very M3 to you, know that you’ll have options. So many options. To let you play in safety, there’s the three-mode xDrive drivetrain (if you’ve optioned it), the adjustable auto gearbox mapping and the 10-stage M Traction Control. And there’s the scope to set up everything, from the response of the brakeby- wire left pedal to the weight of the speed-sensitive, variable-weight steering. And if all that sounds too much like work, know that you can group your favourites to the M1 and M2 buttons.
Clearly, then, from their carbonfibre roofs to their track-developed chassis, the new M3 and M4 are true halo cars – cars developed by obsessives for obsessives, and apparently without much concern for cross-portfolio efficiencies or fleet-wide CO2 reduction. As such their timing could not be better. Like the wretched seeking salvation, right now we’re hungry for reasons to be cheerful. BMW just gave us two.