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      06-12-2014, 07:47 PM   #1
Sam@Bimmerpost
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Arrow BIMMERPOST M3/M4 Review From Road America!

Intro

We recently traveled to Road America in Wisconsin to sample the new M4 and M3 for the North American press launch. As a previous owner of a Silverstone II 6 speed E90 M3, I was excited to drive the new Ms to find out how they compare!

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A fleet of BMW's finest, a perfect sunny day and an open track. Driving events don't get any better than this!

Manual Purists Rejoice

The first piece of great news about the new M4 and M3 is that BMW offers the three pedal manual transmission as standard.

Some members have asked whether the new manual transmission retains the same rubbery shift feel and high clutch engagement point of the E9x M3s. I spent some time driving the manual-equipped M4 and I am happy to report that the new manual gearbox is of significant improvement. The clutch engagement point is no longer overly high and is now close to the center of the pedal travel. The shift action is characterized by shorter, more precise throws and a more certain engagement as you enter each gear. No, it is still not as mechanical feeling as the best manual transmissions (e.g. Honda S2000) and it does retain a slight rubberiness typical of a BMW. However, as far as contemporary manual transmissions go, this is one of the most effortless out there! Rowing through its six ratios is an absolute delight.

Similar to the system first seen on the Nissan 370Z, the auto-rev matching feature drops the revs and holds them for you on upshifts and blips the throttle on downshifts so that the engine is always at the right speed for your next intended gear. To complete a perfect shift, all you have to do is push in the clutch, slot the gear lever into the next ratio and release the clutch as quickly as you dare. The system functions eerily well and almost completely removes the challenge of driving a stick shift swiftly. In fact, this system makes the hard earned heel-and-toe downshift obsolete! Thankfully, if you would still like to do it yourself, selecting the most aggressive ‘sport plus’ throttle mode will disengage the feature. However, it is mandatory in both the ‘efficient’ and ‘sport’ throttle maps. I do wish that the rev-matching could be engaged independently of the throttle map but it’s a small gripe.

I was also told that the manual gearbox is derived from the one in the 1M. In addition to strengthened synchronizers and other updated parts, it is also lighter than the manual gearbox in the outgoing E9x M3s, increasing the weight difference between the DCT and the manual M4/3s to around 36 kgs. This is around 80 lbs of weight savings! Given the improved shift feel, the weight savings, decreased complexity, cost savings and the inclusion of the auto-rev match feature, I think there are now many good reasons to go 3 pedal on the M4 and M3.

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Nothing makes me happier than seeing a manual transmission still being offered on the new Ms. That it functions so well is just the icing on top.

Great Brakes, Zero Fade

Given that we spent most of our test day on Road America’s full circuit layout, BMW equipped all of the track bound test vehicles with DCT and carbon ceramic brakes, a configuration which proved perfect for pure track duty. While the new manual with rev-matching makes shifting extremely easy, having the DCT in my corner freed up additional mental resources for me to focus on managing traction, finding my lines and learning the tricky circuit.

Exploring Road America’s 4 mile, 14 turn road course in the M4 and M3 was an absolute delight. Braking hard into turn 1 from about 140 miles an hour provided a great opportunity to exercise the new optional ceramic brakes. Stopping distances felt short, brake force was easy to modulate and the firm pedal offered an endless stream of feedback information to the tips of my toes. Even more amazingly, the system offered this same consistent performance and feedback lap after lap with absolutely no hint of fade. This was especially impressive when you consider that nearly all of the hard braking I did at Road America was downhill! The system encouraged me to brake later, harder and deeper into each corner and inspired a tremendous amount of confidence. I was absolutely addicted to the stopping experience and quite certain that without the ceramics, we would have had far more downtime that day because Road America is a tortuous track.

Furthermore, a BMW instructor told me that prior to the availability of ceramic brakes, the various M cars used at the BMW Performance Driving School at Spartanburg, SC would require conventional rotor replacements daily. With the adoption of ceramic brakes, their rotor replacement cycle is now monthly!

While I did not get to sample the steel rotors, I was told that their braking performance is similar to the ceramics. The main difference with the conventional rotors is simply consistency and durability during repeated hard use (e.g. track). If your usage does not involve either of those scenarios, then the standard brakes will be more than adequate. However, if you have any intention of using your new M3 or M4 on the track, even if it’s for one or two track days a year, I would highly recommend opting for the ceramics. You can thank me later!

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These are some seriously impressive brakes.

Mad Motor, Interesting Sounds

While some M purists maintain that an M car should remain naturally aspirated, there’s no denying the performance advancements made in the new inline-6 turbo motor. There is significantly more torque and it’s accessible from much earlier in the rev range. Its powerband is wider and feels more flexible with a transmission geared to take advantage of this flexibility. As such, I found myself shifting early and riding the wave of torque from gear to gear on the straights of Road America. While the new S55 was happy to rev out with me, in the higher gears this practice did not feel necessary to maintain maximum acceleration nor was it especially rewarding. Short shifting felt just as accelerative and I soon adjusted to the dance steps of this new motor. Straight lines were dispatched with an effortless ease accompanied by a burly, deep chested soundtrack. The new M3/4s were devastatingly torquey and felt meaningfully faster than the outgoing model!

Speaking of sound, I struggled initially with the idea of having any kind of ‘Active Sound’ in an M car. Through first hand conversation with Albert Biermann, head of BMW M, I confirmed that active sound operates on an algorithm with multiple parameters including: throttle position, engine speed and engine load. From these values, the system calculates synthetic engine sounds to be projected into the cabin to accompany the mechanical soundtrack. Albert said that the intention was to provide greater engine speed feedback to the driver to compensate for the more muffled sound of the turbo engine. While the system cannot be switched off, he told me that if it were deactivated, its absence would be quite obvious to the driver.

While philosophically, I am still not fully enamored with the inauthenticity of fake engine sounds piped from the speakers, in practice I can report that the experience was seamless and unobtrusive. More interestingly, while accelerating on the street with the windows rolled down, I was treated to a cacophony of whistling and whooshing noises overlaid on top of the deep, bassy, big-engined rumble of the exhaust. The M4 actually sounded like a hairy-chested rally car! I had to remind myself that I was, indeed, driving an M4. Also, I’ve been told by BMW M that the upcoming BMW M Performance Parts will include a sport exhaust for the M4/3 which will be so loud as to render the Active Sound completely redundant!

As a previous owner of an E90 M3, I have to admit that I do miss the character of the S65 engine. It sang a glorious, musical wail and made all kinds of subtle mechanical noises as you worked your way through its siren’s song. It was rewarding to hammer under load, its throttle response was electrifying and the S65 motor completely dominated the outgoing M3’s experience for me. While admittedly very thirsty, the S65 engine remains one of my all time favorites.

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The S65 in the E90 M3 remains a legend and one of my all time favorites.

The new turbocharged 6 is a different animal. Technically improved over the V8 in every performance aspect, it adheres to the current M philosophy of maximizing performance and efficiency. It’s relevant to remember that M3 purists were bemoaning the switch to V8 power with the introduction of the E9x M3 and this generation switch is no different. While I, too, feel reminiscent of great BMW M powerplants of the past (including the S54 in the E46 M3), I have also come to find much satisfaction in the new forced induction BMW motors. The new S55 is epically torquey and effortless in its power delivery. While not as delicately responsive as a high-revving naturally aspirated motor, this engine remains -- in M Power fashion -- very feelsome, involving and downright exuberant. With its whoosing turbo noises and distinctly bassy soundtrack, it is never without drama, even if a fraction of that is synthetized via Active Sound. Its prodigious torque output makes it explosive off the line and its all round flexibility, efficiency and performance cannot be understated. It is fun, fast, responsive and a powerplant worthy of the hallowed M badge.

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The new powerplant is torquey, exuberant and involving.

A Classic Chassis

Like the previous M3, the new cars are available in both conventional suspension as well as an optional, active-damper system called EDC. I had opportunity to flog both setups at Road America and I also sampled an EDC car for a quick street route on bumpy nearby roads.

According to BMW M, the conventional suspension’s firmness falls somewhere between ‘sport’ and ‘sport-plus’ modes on the EDC setup (the base setting is ‘comfort’). Driving the two cars back to back on Road America, this assessment felt accurate. I also discovered that the conventional set up gave up little, if anything, to the EDC in terms of body control and responsiveness at max attack. Both were equally capable of remaining perfectly composed and stable in even the bumpiest of downhill and off-cambered pavement in Road America’s most torturous braking zones. Combined with the ceramic brakes, the M4 and 3 felt nearly invincible on these punishing torture sessions. If there is anything that the magicians at BMW M are masters of, it is body control and these new cars are the best of their breed.

On the street, I played with all three suspension settings. Each mode functioned as advertised, with an increasing degree of sharpness and cabin intrusion felt on surface irregularities. Furthermore, while moving along at street pace, I felt little sacrifice to the car’s handling while set to ‘comfort’ mode, but did gain meaningful improvement in ride quality and reduced road noise. That said, when optioning my own M4/3, I would save the money and forgo the extra complexity by retaining the conventional suspension. It functioned equally well at maximum pressure and the slightly harsher ride did not upset me enough to make EDC mandatory.

As for wheel selection, my preferred set up on the E9x M3 was actually the smaller 18” standard wheels. This was the configuration on my own personal E90 M3, and I preferred it for the slightly taller sidewall which made for more progressive breakaway and better compliance. I also thought that it looked ‘more racecar’ with its fatter, more rounded sidewalls and smaller multi-spoke rims. At this product launch, BMW M confirmed similar dynamic advantages for the 18” set up on the F8x M4/3 but were also quick to point out that the 19s were necessary to clear the optional ceramic discs. Looks like it’ll have to be the 19s this time around!

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Handling and body control are classic BMW.

Lighter Car & Better Steering

BMW M went to great lengths to ensure that the new car would not only weigh less than the outgoing model (approx. 180lbs less claims BMW), but be stiffer as well. They also claim to have centered their entire engineering of the chassis around the goal of improved steering response. I am happy to report that the steering of the new M4/3 felt exceptionally sharp and responsive. In fact, the entire front end felt much lighter and more effortless than the E9x M3. The new steering system felt pointier, responded more quickly to direction changes and felt more confident in all of its interactions with me compared to the outgoing M3.

Like the M235i I tested recently in Las Vegas, the new M4/3’s steering assist is provided by electric motors. Once again, purists will bemoan the death of hydraulic steering in yet another of their enthusiast staples, but it’s only fair to remind those enthusiasts that the previous E9x M3 was not particularly known for its steering feedback either, even though that car was hydraulically assisted. To my fingertips, the truly organic, sinewy, and old school steering feel had departed with the E46 M3.

But let’s not dwell on the past. As with the new motor, what we have now is a modern interpretation of what a BMW should feel like, and the new F8x M4/3’s steering is at the very sharpest end of this spectrum. Except where loaded up mid-corner on ‘Carousel’, a long, right hand 180 degree sweeper, there was scarcely a time when I complained about its absence of granular feedback at Road America. At the limits of adhesion, it was communicative enough to help me balance the car and never once did I feel truly disconnected from the messages I needed to keep the tires on the intended course. It may not approach the level of ultimate feedback found in the best hydraulic systems of yesteryear, but it is sharper, more direct and more consistent than those earlier BMW systems. At the very least, it is better in almost every respect compared to the steering in the E9x M3 and that’s absolutely good enough for me.

I also have to give credit to the additional stiffening that BMW M has bestowed upon the car's structure. The extremely rigid chassis moves 'of-a-piece' and adds to the feeling of front end responsiveness and sharpness. The car feels as though it has lost even more than the 180 lbs of weight reported by BMW when compared to the outgoing chassis.

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Albert Biermann, head of BMW M, describes their holistic approach towards weight reduction on the new M4 and M3.

Driving Dynamics Package

Aside from the aforementioned selections of ‘comfort’, ‘sport’ and ‘sport plus’ for the EDC dampers and ‘efficient’, ‘sport’ and ‘sport plus’ for the throttle maps, the driver is given an additional three selections for the steering weight: ‘comfort’, ‘sport’ and ‘sport plus’.

While initially I spent most of my track time muscling the steering around in ‘sport plus’, I soon discovered that ‘comfort’ actually worked better on the track. With lighter steering my arms became more relaxed and I made smoother inputs and found better feel for the car. On the road, the opposite was true. I preferred the heaviest setting of ‘sport plus’ to mimic the old school BMW weighting while I puttered around with authority. While the E9x M3 also had two steering weights, I found the new car’s weight differences to be more dramatic between the three different maps. There was no difference in feedback or response between the three modes so it remains a question of mood and preference.

Finally, traction control can be adjusted between three settings. In fully enabled mode I found that the DSC light flickered constantly on both braking and corner exits at Road America. While the intervention was quite smooth and subtle, I found it disconcerting that my seemingly smooth driving was met with such frequent electronic intervention. Soon, I graduated to MDM mode where intervention lessened but was still ever present. I had started to wonder about the car’s stability – and my own driving ability – before taking a leap of faith and turning all the systems off. I drove around tentatively for several laps before slowly realizing that I could push just as hard as I did before. To my pleasant surprise, the car was equally stable with all systems unchained and the mechanical stability of the M3 remained intact. Better still, I was now able to rotate the car on the throttle and even found a bit of oversteer in some of the slower corners. The S55’s endless torque – and sophisticated active rear diff – present in the new car allowed me to steer quite easily with the throttle. Only my lack of driving skill and the fear of throwing the M3 into one of Road America’s many close concrete barriers dampened my enthusiasm for attempting hero slides. Sorry, boys!

While the E9x M3’s steering wheel had one solitary ‘M button’ to instantly summon your preferred sport driving settings for steering, suspension, throttle and traction intervention, the new car rewards the driver with two: M1 and M2.

I only realized this after I departed, but I did not attempt any shift speeds on the DCT other than S3. At max attack, the gearbox was a willing partner with fast and hard shifts. However, while very swift and mechanical feeling, upshifts did produce a slight jerk and were not as technically flawless as say, Porsche’s latest PDK. But it’s certainly no less exciting and for me, the ideal transmission choice for track duty. But did I mention the greatness of the manual?

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Increased driving dynamics customization from the cockpit.

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Yes, the M4 loves to be steered on the throttle!

Four Versus Three

Having driven each model back to back, my observation was that I preferred the driving dynamics of the M4 over the M3. While they are indeed very similar, the slightly lower center of gravity of the M4 could be felt at Road America. The coupe felt lower, gave a slightly better driving position and the handling balance was more responsive to throttle rotation. The M3 felt slightly more hesitant to oversteer by comparison and was overall less frisky than the coupe. Because the differences were subtle, I brought this up to M Head Albert Biermann and he confirmed that my observations were consistent. However, if the object of this vehicle is practicality, I would get the M3 without worrying about this again. By the way, Albert’s personal car is a manual transmission M3! How’s that for an endorsement for the 3 pedal?

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How can you go wrong with either?

Conclusion

After a long day of hammering around Road America in BMW’s finest road going machines, I left with a thorough appreciation of M Division’s newest and most iconic driving instrument. Nothing gave me more satisfaction than bombing down each of Road America’s long straights followed by squeezing hard on the brake pedal as the M4 danced sweetly underneath me, coping effortlessly with the tremendous energy dissipation and gliding over the scarred surfaces. Better still, the cars were able to do this lap after lap, all day long without so much as a whimper of mechanical protest. The new M4 and M3 are truly masterpieces of contemporary automotive design, engineering and enthusiast input. As M-car purists, we will always find something to miss about bygone M3s. After all, they were legends! But the new F8x M machines are a contemporary look at how the best modern BMWs are supposed to be executed. Buy one, enjoy it at the track and make sure you opt for the superb carbon ceramic brakes.

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A day of driving bliss ends with this view.




GALLERIES
BMW M3/M4 North American Press Launch - Road America

BMW M3/M4 North American Press Launch - Road America


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      06-16-2014, 02:08 PM   #2
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What color is that gray!??!? I love it!
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      06-16-2014, 02:10 PM   #3
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What color is that gray!??!? I love it!
Should be Mineral Grey
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      06-16-2014, 02:11 PM   #4
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This continues the hot streak 6-MT M3/4's have been going through with these latest round of reviews coming out. If the head of the whole M group DD's a 6-MT, thats all I need to read.

Although my initial order was a 6-MT, all the initial reviews really praised the Autos. When Chris Harris said the auto was THE transmission choice for this car, my head was spinning. Now that the reviewers were actually given a 6-MT to drive, they seem very impressed. Crisis averted. DCT or 6-MT, this car is going to be fantastic.
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      06-16-2014, 02:13 PM   #5
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Awesome pics!!
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      06-16-2014, 02:13 PM   #6
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WOW! Love it!
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      06-16-2014, 02:16 PM   #7
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Very nice write up.
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      06-16-2014, 02:17 PM   #8
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Quote:
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What color is that gray!??!? I love it!
It's nice but not as nice as the Singapore Grey offered on the M5. Now THAT is a sweet ass grey.
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      06-16-2014, 02:24 PM   #9
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Very good review and fresh perspectives on the car. Thanks!
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      06-16-2014, 02:27 PM   #10
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Awesome!!!!
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      06-16-2014, 02:29 PM   #11
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Nice write up. Those rolling shots are amazing!!!

P.S. I've completely fallen in love with that Austin Yellow F80. Mind blowing.
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      06-16-2014, 02:32 PM   #12
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Can't wait to track this car!!!
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      06-16-2014, 02:33 PM   #13
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amazing pictures! I still can't figure out which color combo I like best.
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      06-16-2014, 02:43 PM   #14
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That 6MT sounds saweeeeet. Can't wait to get my hands on it! Ringing endorsement(s) for the carbon ceramic brakes too, sounds like an upgrade that was worth the $8150.
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      06-16-2014, 02:54 PM   #15
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Great review! So who were the dimwits that wrapped up the two M3s? Or if you'd rather not disclose who, what were the circumstances?
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      06-16-2014, 02:56 PM   #16
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Outstanding review Sam.

Great detail on steering and the MT and honest comments on the rest.

Thanks!
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      06-16-2014, 03:04 PM   #17
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Thx for the great reviews and photos!!!
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      06-16-2014, 03:04 PM   #18
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Great review and photography! Thanks!
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      06-16-2014, 03:14 PM   #19
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awesome review. a lot of badass pictures from what I consider to be my home track.

btw, any comments on the two cars that crashed?
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      06-16-2014, 03:15 PM   #20
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Thanks for a great review!
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      06-16-2014, 03:25 PM   #21
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Wait.. So it'll adjust engine RPMs when up shifting too?!!
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      06-16-2014, 03:57 PM   #22
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Sam, when will we have answers to the questions members provided in that previous thread? Or were the ones chosen addressed in this write-up?
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Last edited by TN_3; 06-16-2014 at 06:03 PM.
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