I’ve always thought the smaller M cars represented the attainable dream when it came to proper high-performance fare from Europe, but never has the offering been so tempting as now.
Mind, the whole name-change thing still causes me some angst, from M3 Coupe and Sedan – to M3 Sedan and M4 Coupe – but that nomenclature is here to stay, so I’m having to come to terms with it. It is what it is, as the saying goes.
The highly aspirational nature and relative affordability of the M3 tortured me for nearly a decade through the ’90s. I got so, so close, but sadly, it remained just out of reach of both my salary and ANZ’s personal loan obligations, which meant I ended up settling on the cheaper option – an SV5000 – the first Aussie car with 200kW. But, trust me, it was no M3, not even close.
Back then, the M3 coupe was the pick, but these days, with a long-legged teenager still at home, I’d be keener on the family-friendly M3 sedan over the M4 coupe, and the inherent benefits of four-door practicality without any performance penalty.
Not only that, full-strength M cars have always had the looks to match their performance, and the latest versions are no exception. Take the M4, a muscled-up super coupe that looks like its overdosed on ’roids. If this thing comes up is in your rear-view mirror, I’m guessing it won’t be there for long.
But, while I like the fluency of the M4 coupe body, you’ve got to love those bulging rear wheel arches on the M3 – it’s a seriously buffed look and speaks volumes about the car’s performance intentions.
Both are intimidating machines to punters, with a deep front bumper and serious rear diffuser that houses the familiar quad-pipe setup, so inherent on the full-blown M cars.
And, with a price tag of $129,900 (excluding on-roads) the M3 Pure is just about the best bang-for-buck Euro hot-rod going today. The M4 Pure asks 10 grand more for coupe styling, but both are armed with BMW’s celebrated 3.0-litre straight-six turbo drivetrain and offer identical road-going performance.
Here’s the kicker, unlike the standard M3/M4 variants, which make do with 317kW, ‘Pure’ versions wield a bigger stick, with a 331kW boost in power, but the same 550Nm of torque, for a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.0 seconds flat. That’s class-leading performance, people.
It’s all the more impressive when you consider higher-priced makes like the $262,250 Porsche 911 Carrera S with the same 3.0-litre displacement and sublime PDK transmission, needs 4.1 seconds (3.9 with Sports Chrono), while the thunderous V8-powered $155,615 Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan claims 4.2 seconds, though the more expensive coupe version goes three-tenths quicker.
And, it’s not like the ‘Pure’ editions are stripped-out pov-packs either. They get a wide-ranging inventory including all the cool kit, like the BMW M head-up display, carbon-fibre roof, hands-free entry and push-button start, Navigation System Professional and a quality nine-speaker audio unit.
There’s also a surround-view camera, speed-limit information, seat belts with M-colour stripes (these are a favourite) and a sports exhaust system for noticeably more noise.
On top of the catalogue of features, Pure versions also benefit from the latest LCI updates, too, features like adaptive LED headlights within a new bezel design, as well as the latest-generation iDrive 6 infotainment – offering a new app-style interface, tweaked to offer multiple functionality via touchscreen, voice control, or the traditional rotary controller. It’s still the most intuitive and the best-in-class system available of any luxury brand.
Naturally, there are also plenty of tasty options on the menu, too, though some, like Apple CarPlay for 623 bucks is a bit too cheeky for our liking. Our tester also had a superb Silverstone Metallic paint job for $1937, which we rate, as well as carbon-fibre trim and a black chrome finish as a no-cost option.
What makes the Pure variants so desirable, besides they’re price tag, is the standard-fit M Competition Package, which encompasses a range of dynamic enhancements that sharpen both performance and dynamics over the regular M3/M4 models. Frankly, if you’re buying an M car, you’d be mad not to with this.
Apart from the 14kW power boost, engineers have reconfigured the car’s adaptive M suspension three settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – with a slightly firmer ride setting in the baseline Comfort mode, essentially matching the Sport mode in the regular M3/M4 versions. That’s in-concert with the spring rates, which have been increased by 15 per cent for faster response and flatter cornering – at least, that’s the promise.
BMW has also touched-up the interior, with a pair of brilliant M Sport seats for the driver and front passenger. Not only do these combination leather/fabric pews provide a soft cushion and solid levels of bolster, there are cut-outs on each side of the seat backs that allow the seats to breathe. All of this is capped off by an illuminated M badge, which could easily be considered a bit kitsch, but actually looks cool.
We kicked off the test route in country NSW in an M4 Pure, and toggled through the various suspension settings, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, across a few fairly average road surfaces, and although there’s a firmness to the ride (even in the softest setting) there’s also sufficient compliance ready to soak up the harshest of bumps and potholes, without upsetting the car.
That said, despite its Pure positioning in the range, I struggle to see why the Comfort mode needed to be re-calibrated for a harsher ride compared with the regular M4 in the same setting. Surely, that’s the benefit of adaptive suspension systems on road cars (performance models included) – to allow a broader scope of ride settings – notwithstanding the Competition Package.
There’s definitely more noise, though, it’s a deeper exhaust growl on these cars, and frankly, it’s not something you’ll ever tire of. It’s an angry sound, intimidating, even – and we sure do like that.
The driving position is spot-on, deep enough into the car to feel like you’re right in there with it, but not too low as to obstruct forward vision. The ergonomics are good, too. All the main switches and controls are in easy reach, and it all feels premium. It’s a good place to spend some time.
The numbers are one thing, but make no mistake this thing has real pace, especially if you hit the M1 button on the steering wheel, which ramps everything up to the max. Great fun on a deserted B-road, that’s for sure.
And it’s not just the acceleration out of the blocks that gets the heart racing, mid-range oomph is just plain potent, furious even, if you keep it pinned. But here’s the thing, power delivery is now so seamless, that at times, it feels naturally aspirated.
There’s a ton of torque on tap, too, but unless you’re on a closed road or racetrack, you won’t get anywhere near what the M4’s ceiling. It even pulls well in seventh, from just 70km/h – as tested.
I’ve been aware of grumblings about M’s seven-speed dual-clutch performance at low speeds over the years, even from within our own organisation, but in all honesty, I’ve never really paid it much attention – never thought the need to, really.
Outside of the Porsche’s sublime PDK transmission, I’ve always had the opinion that BMW’s DCT offered the kind of quick-shifting punch and sensation that would satisfy even the most ardent enthusiast, but this latest iteration is clearly more refined.
Its straight-line performance is close to supercar status, and that’s before we get into the handling side of things, which, thankfully, has been thoroughly sorted with this update.
No longer does the rear end feel at odds with the rest of the car the very instant you give the throttle a decent prod. Instead, it feels well balanced and very much tied down, so that corner exits become as addictive as the short, sharp downshifts. That said, there isn’t the crackle and pop fireworks we might have expected with each pull of the left-hand paddle.
Agility, has always been a big strength of M division’s engineering, and now, with the chassis completely ironed out, it all comes together as one complete package – meaning, you can really lean on it through the bends with all the confidence in the world. This is what we expected of the F80 series when it launched in 2014.
Between the two, the M4 feels slightly sharper than the M3. Certainly, it can carry more speed though a corner with less lean, thanks to a 23kg weight advantage over its four-door sibling.
The standard wheel and tyre package on the M4 Pure are 19-inch light-alloy rims shod with 255/35s up front and 275/35 R series down back, but the car we sampled was fitted with the optional 20-inch wheels, giving a slightly wider footprint afforded by the combination of 265/30 front, and 285/30 rear rubber.
The big surprise here was the M4 (on bigger wheels) seemed to deliver the more compliant ride, even over sharp edges. We would have expected the opposite to be true, but it was agreed the M3 felt a tad busier over the same surface, while grip and traction felt on-par with each other – that is, thoroughly planted.
BMW continues its long-running insistence on overly thick-rimmed steering wheels for its M cars, which always feel too much of a handful for this tester’s tiny mitts, but at least it’s round, unlike the flat-bottomed fad favoured by some rivals. And, while the electric power steering is quick, accurate, and refreshingly meaty, the feedback still isn’t as alive as it once was in the E90 Series cars.
There’s no such issue with the brakes, though. Driven enthusiastically, you’ll need to really call on the big 380mm/four-pot stoppers up front (370mm/2-pot down back), which proved effective, time and time again and without any noticeable fade.
It’s simply impossible to argue against the value proposition these new BMW M Pure editions bring to the table. And now that the chassis has been completely cured of any previous nervousness, we can’t think of a more complete high-performance executive model that offers so much, for so little.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the BMW M3 and M4 Pure.