The G82/80 BMW M4/M3
Give it time to mature
Having owned several BMW’s I try to restrain my reviews and hold back any personal opinion and instead remain objective. This can make the articles a little dry, but more important to me is not writing a love letter to a car company, as a journalist, they all must be looked at with the same critical eye.
Due to this, I’m going to get some things out early doors. BMW has taken a huge risk in going with the design language for the new models and stretching it over to the M cars unapologetically. Remember these cars compete in a space that will have both a cult following and punters that jump between the halo products of different brands on the whim of their desires. It remains to be seen if either will show up to showrooms for this new one. The new direction isn’t just the grill, it’s also the lines of the car, the way the rear pillar and shoulder have departed from what used to clearly identify BMW. The front bumper and front wing are now smoothed with sharp angles, very Audi. The body seems like the Alfa Romeo Guilia and Mercedes C63 were laid atop one another and gave this as a result. It’s actually quite tough to find clear identifying markers of a BMW from the outside, that could either be a compliment or criticism depending on your stance on BMW design of old. Finally, there’s an engine that pops and bangs and has meshed closer with direct rivals than ever before. This is likely more to do with EU guidelines on noise and ever-present emissions restrictions than a deliberate act by BMW.
Let’s move on. Lots will be said about the BMW grill and so it isn’t worth taking a stance, some may like it, others may hate it, each to their own. An area where BMW deserves some credit is the available colours, a new green joins yellow on the options list. I hope dealers that spec these as showroom and demonstrator cars are brave and stray away from a black or dark grey exterior colour with carbon pack (a £4000 extra), that will likely dominate the order book. We need more colour on the road, buying a car like this can’t be then made discreet with a somber shade, its four centimeters wider of track than a standard 3 or 4 series, you could fit a fist in each exhaust, and the panels are unique with exceptions to doors and boot lids.
The interiors will have the option of a standard seat or S&M style contraption that appears ‘racy’ but in reality, would be the last choice of any racing driver for a road car. Unless you plan on doing some serious track time or don’t plan on long drivers the standard perch is smoother, easier to live with, and offers enough support for a twisty bit of road or the rare track day. The red ‘M’ buttons return to the steering wheel and the interior spaces and materials are a step above the previous generation.
BMW has opted to only bring the Competition variants of both cars to the UK, in doing so they have excluded this market from not just the standard 480ps engine (510 for the competitions) but any chance of a manual gearbox. There is no question that manuals would have been a trickle on the order book compared to the ZF auto, no dual-clutch this time. Although it is worth noting that it is that trickle of orders that would probably represent your core enthusiasts and people that sing the praises of their car from Portsmouth to Thurso. BMW may want to look at this decision again, cars like this will sell a handful to the YouTube generation. Influencers will tell the world how great every part of the car is, and then for balance say they don’t like the placement of the phone charging port as a way of avoiding being called a shill to the brand, but it’s a cold shoulder to a customer base that BMW desperately needs to keep. There will be people who don’t want a competition pack, don’t care about another thirty horsepower, and, because numbers are irrelevant to most road cars past 350 horsepower, would want a manual for driving fun. BMW has simply decided that these people will have gambled that they will have nowhere else to go, and so they will begrudgingly hand over £75,000 plus extras to own one of these new cars. Maybe they could tempt them into the new wagon/estate model instead.
to enable drift mode on any BMW M car previously you learned to modulate your right foot.
There are positives, in case everything said so far has been construed as a downer. The new engine revs higher than before and it isn’t just an extension of the redline for the sake of it, there is some joy up by there. The driving position has thankfully not changed, everything is exactly where it should be. Boot space is good but not class-leading and the addition of the estate version will allow families with two buggies and shopping to consider it. That might just nick a few Audi RS4 buyers.
Over five hundred horsepower, 28mpg, and real family space. The rear seats are too tight on the M4 past juniors, but the M3 is OK up to adolescent age, and work colleagues could easily do a stint in the back for a meeting 30 miles away.
The number of driven wheels isn’t usually a long discussion point, however, BMW has made a rather odd decision with the new generation M car. All will be four-wheel drive, but you can select rear-wheel drive whilst carrying around the weight penalty of all four as there isn’t an option to go without. We knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any less odd. A rear-wheel-drive option, but only on a four-wheel-drive car. The point of rear-wheel drive is for ‘the ultimate driving machine’ to offer up a balance, engine in the front, driver in the middle, driven wheels at the rear, but once you add in the weight of front driveshafts that balance is out the window anyway. The trickery of modern electronics may be to the rescue in making the dynamic of the car feel rear wheel all the time. If an Audi RS6 can make itself feel half its mass around a corner with rear-wheel steer I’m in no doubt BMW will make the front-driven wheels imperceptible when you don’t need them. The reason for the addition is obvious, launch times, despite almost never being used in the real world, the all-wheel drive gets off the line better. Added to this the demand from people who live in colder climates and want an all-year car, Audi were sucking up too much market and BMW were wearing it for far too long.
The real sadness comes at the addition of a drift button, like a Focus RS, to enable drift mode on any BMW M car previously you learned to modulate your right foot. That is gone, now all spontaneity of a cheeky back end slide on a deserted bit of back lane or sudden excitement pulling out of a corner has been removed. Now you get to press a button to have organized fun. Whoever thought of this probably arranges the Christmas party as a somber black-tie event at a mid-level hotel, orange juice freely available at the bar. Taxies will be here at 10 pm sharp.
Going back though, in the UK, BMW now sells an M2 (soon to be replaced) and an M3/M4 as ‘competition’ only. Odd, if you don’t offer anything but a single model, why add to the name? This leads me back, maybe this will be the turning point for BMW, with time to grow the new design language, devoid of any real markers from the past 40 years, the new engine with only one gearbox partner and insertion of four driven wheels, we may be looking at a car brand’s new identity and that may be brilliant for BMW, people are changing, buyers are changing, you can’t stay with the old way just because it’s how grandad did it, otherwise we would still be going around in steam trains.
No hybrid boost plug to attract new followers, no renegade back to basics manual rear driven model for the purists. It’s a shame, over the next 8 years of this car’s life it will stand out to me as the generation of M car that could have been.
The Mercedes C63s is more convincing as a brand halo car and seems to be made by people who would walk out on their jobs if they were asked to do anything but madness for the road. Audi’s RS team is getting better at providing utterly outlandish machines for those that buy by numbers and details. BMW used to sell to the ‘driver’. Those that prided themselves on knowing how to enjoy a drive, I wonder where they will go now. Perhaps Alfa Romeo or Jaguar. On a less cynical note. BMW still has time, with the G80’s full life ahead, we could see BMW go back on itself and ditch the front-driven wheels for a special edition, and maybe bring in a limited run of manuals for another special edition. I can see them walking this path along with a midlife facelift that attempts to reintroduce some known BMW traits besides the badge. We need companies to be daring. Whether this will pay off for BMW or make them the next Saab is yet to be seen.
BMW, if you’re listening, bring a back to basics, standard M3/M4 with manual gearbox, it won’t sell much and many will gripe about the styling, but it would show you still love the product as much as the diehard fans.