I’m in the heart of Kohler country to test drive the new 2015 BMW M3 (F80) and M4 (F82). The village of Kohler, Wisconsin has been chosen to launch these fraternal Bavarian beauties not because of its great deals on bathroom faucets or kitchen sinks, but because everywhere you look you’d swear you’re smack dab in the middle of Bavaria, Germany. At least that’s what Ludwig Willisch, President and CEO of BMW North America, says to his guests during dinner at the Irish Barn at Whistling Straits.
Willisch is the former head of BMW’s global motorsports and performance arm, M. Across the table from me is its head of engineering, Albert Biermann. Seated next to me is John Edwards, BMW Team RLL driver, and, in between him and the former, is his teammate, veteran road and endurance racing champion, Bill Auberlen. They all know a thing or two about what M really means, and by the time the main course comes out, I’m completely glutted.
“Unless you got out of the wrong side of the bed, how could anyone not be happy to be here, spending a day on this historic track with the new M3 sedan and M4 coupe?!”
Willisch hits the nail on the head with that opening in his media address the next morning in the paddock at Road America. Notwithstanding the Nürburgring and/or perhaps Ignition’s home track (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), there may not be a better place anywhere to get behind the wheel of M’s latest stalwarts. Sure, there are perfectly suitable race tracks in North America, Europe and elsewhere, but there is just something about this particular stretch of blacktop that makes it the perfect place.
I haven’t driven a 3 Series since the E90 version came out, but I have driven the new 4 Series a ton since its launch, starting with the 435i xDrive coupe at AJAC’s annual TestFest event last fall. I drove it again – along with the rear-wheel-drive version – at Circuit iCar for my BMW Winter Driver Training in February. And, I got to drive a really sweet 435i xDrive M Performance Edition in greater Toronto traffic the week before going to Road America for my graduation.
Each and every experience was better than the previous one; so, naturally, my first move upon completing the mandatory orientation laps, was to make a B-line straight for this Austin Yellow metallic M4, and have at it on the legendary 6.515-kilometre (4.084-mile) road course!
Returning to the inline-six and with twin turbos for the first time, the F8X boasts two percent more power and 38 percent more torque that goes through either a six-speed manual gearbox or optional automatic seven-speed M double-clutch transmission (DCT) with Drivelogic. Its boosted 3.0L inline-six making 425 “upper Bavarian horses” and 406 lb-ft of torque from 1,850 to 5,500 rpm, the new M-tuned S55 engine is ready, willing and able to obey my right foot.
I was only able to test the DCT though, which isn’t a bad thing as it comes by way of the amazing 1M Coupe and the final drive is based on the M5 and M6 models. It also features downshift rev-matching (the slick manual does too) that’s so well-tuned it’s practically imperceptible. The S55 must throw a punch above its class too because it delivers a nice kick in the pants every time I click the right paddle to upshift exiting the corners.
Note the M1 and M2 buttons on the left side of the steering wheel – the M settings stored in M2 have throttle response, electronic damper control (EDC) and steering set to sport plus mode. DSC is in M dynamic mode (MDM), the transmission in S3 and the heads-up display in M-specific mode to provide the full M Performance effect. The M1 button is pre-programmed with settings for less experienced drivers. I really love this feature – an easy way to switch between dry and wet setups, or track and street setups, for example.
The DCT is 12 kg (26.4 lbs) lighter than the outgoing (E92) gearbox, and is enhanced with a twin-plate clutch (third-gen) and improved synchronization. I’m only using the paddle shifters because, heck, this is Road America and I much prefer testing the brakes than missing a braking point and flying off the track at the end of one of its three long straightaways.
BMW is wise to have equipped these cars with the optional (and pricey) 400/380 mm carbon ceramic M Performance brakes with six-piston front and four-piston rear fixed calipers. They’re seven kg (15.5 lbs) lighter, more quiet (at low speeds too), have great initial bite with nice pedal feel (a bit grabby on the street until you get used to them) and are more than capable of withstanding my humble track skills.
The M3 and M4 have identical 0-100 km/h times – 4.1 seconds for the DCT and 4.3 seconds for the 6MT – and BMW claims the F8X is 15 seconds faster on Nürburgring than the E92 M3. While I can’t verify either claim, I can tell you these cars beg to be driven fast at a venue like this.
They’re fast into corners and they’re fast coming out of corners, even going uphill under the Corvette bridge right before the 112-degree blind left-hander. And thanks to the electronically-controlled multi-plate LSD active M differential that can go from open to closed in 150 ms, and sensors that monitor driving conditions and style, wheel speed, engine torque and other parameters, the car replies with balanced handling and virtually no understeer.
BMW’s holistic lightweight approach to design sees the use of carbon fibre on the M3 roof for the first time, an aluminum suspension, front fenders, hood and lightweight front and rear seats. At 1,601 kg (3,530 lbs), the M4 is five kg (11 lbs) lighter than the four-door – roughly the weight of the one-piece CFRP driveshaft. It’s also worth noting the M4 coupe is the first M car that is lighter than its predecessor – by ~81.65 kg (plus/minus 180 lbs) I’m told.
The lightweight, rigid chassis further benefits from the one of the better electric steering racks out there (as far as performance cars go), and the 15:1 ratio provides a good balance of performance and comfort. Steering response is incredibly direct and precise for an electric assist, with good weight and solid feedback. Combined with meaty Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires shod with 255/40 and 255/40 ZR18 tires in the front and rear, these cars just eat Road America up – with or without the optional electronically-controlled dampers. The tires are very quiet and don’t wail in protest at every turn.
You get all the bells and whistles inside the driver focused cockpit, and the seats are really comfy and supportive. Adjustable thigh support is missing, along with a cooling function for the seats, but everything else seems to be in order.
One really cool new feature on these cars is the integration of the GoPro App into BMW’s ConnectedDrive system. Connect a Hero 3, control it through the iDrive system, choose from several preset shooing and camera modes, and use the live preview to make sure you’ve got it pointed in the right place to capture stunning video. For track days at places like this, it’s very handy.
Both the M3 and M4 are truly enjoyable, well-balanced and predictable at the limit. And getting to drive them at Road America really allowed me to explore their potential in an environment many BMW M owners could call their second home.
In the end, my fastest lap turned out to be a respectable 2:39.26 according to the GPS data our Aim Smartycam HD captured on one of my six, four-lap stints with the car. I didn’t have a separate datalogger connected so I don’t have any further numbers to crunch or theoretical fastest lap times to report, but shaving another four of five seconds doesn’t seem unrealistic. I reckon Auberlen would knock another five to 10 seconds off that, and that would put the F8X in with some impressive company.
Are the F80 BMW M3 and M4 the best M Performance cars BMW has ever sold? Perhaps. If I had to pick one, even as a family man, it would most definitely be the M4. Its look better, and feels slightly better balanced and quicker than the sedan. The M5 and M6 seem like overkill after driving these, but if you really must have the V8... go for it! And for a lot less money, you can get many of the same technologies on these M3 and M4. That said, start putting check marks into boxes next to the more expensive options and it isn’t long before the sticker starts pushing $100 grand.
That said, the M Performance Edition 435i xDrive I tested would seem to be a perfectly suitable every day car with enough M panache to impress. Not saying the M3 or M4 aren’t impressive. That’s obviously not the case, but if track days aren’t things you think about when you’re not out at the track, then perhaps M Performance Edition is enough M for you. If you’re anything like us over here at Ignition though, then you’ll probably want the genuine article. It is pretty close to perfect.
2015 BMW M3 Sedan (F80) & M4 Coupe (F82)
Base Price: $74,000 / $75,000
Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo inline-6
Horsepower / Torque: 425 hp / 406 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 7-speed DCT
Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy. / comb.): 13.7 / 9.0 / 11.6 (manual), 13.9 / 9.7 / 12.0 (auto) L/100 km
Warranty (mos / km): 48 / 80,000
Notable options: M Double Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic ($3,900), M Carbon Ceramic Brakes ($8,500), adaptive M suspension ($900), metallic paint ($895), active LED headlights ($2,000)