Now I get it. Many auto journalists I've chatted with over the years have raved about the BMW M3, several even calling it their all-time favorite sports sedan. I've always been a fan of the brand and the distinctive drive-feel of its products, but until recently I've never experienced an M on its home turf—the race track. Now I get it.
On a rainy day earlier this month, we accepted an invitation to drive both the M3 sedan and M4 coupe on Wisconsin's legendary Road America race track and its adjacent country roads. While the pros can feel the difference between the two 2015 models, I found them equally thrilling. (Aside from the obvious difference: the 2015 M3 remains a sedan with four doors, and the M4 becomes a coupe with two.) First introduced in 1985, this is the fifth generation of the M3—and it’s lighter, faster and packed with more innovation than ever before.
The F8x (BMW's internal reference number to describe this iteration in the series) features the company's return to an inline six-cylinder engine, though it’s nothing like the version first introduced in the second generation M3 (aka E36). Equipped with a naturally aspirated twin turbo, the 425 horsepower engine is more powerful than the previous generation's (aka E9x) larger, heavier V8. Which is to say the 2015 M3/4 hauls ass with a nod to its heritage.
Road America is a gorgeous, tree-lined, four-mile course with 14 unique turns and several elevation changes. The M3 effortlessly hit 145mph on the straightaway, cornered like it was on rails and roared with a confident gurgle that almost sounds more American than Bavarian. With BMW Performance Driving School instructor Andy Van Cleef in my passenger seat, I was encouraged to push through my comfort zone and hone my track skills. As I grew more and more confident, the M3 continued to prove itself a well-balanced, hard-hitting beast. (I was working with a seven-speed M Double Clutch Transmission that had Drivelogic and super-fast paddle shifters that tightly rev-match on the downshift and offer up a throaty engine exhale and smoother reduction in speed—a feature now available with the six-speed manual, as well.)
On the civilian streets, the M3/4 is admirably restrained, but still capable of invoking its wicked track-eating ways if prodded to pass a slowpoke or enjoy an on-ramp. The latest iteration of BMW’s i-Drive is straightforward to use, offering no-frills access to navigation, entertainment and other systems. The multifunctional knob easily affords manipulation of menus on the large LCD screen sitting in the center of the dash. Plus, a heads-up display shows the most relevant information projected (reflected, actually) onto the windshield at the driver's line of sight.
Though the M3 has never been a study in evocative design, it remains distinctive with its low, wide and boxy stance. The latest version does possess a couple noteworthy details, though: large air intakes on the nose and sleek side mirrors that have been rendered with a sculptural quality. And the slope of the roofline has a stronger curve than years past, offering a sexy head on the stout body.
The 2015 BMW M3/4 is just hitting the streets at an entry-level price of $63,000. Our spec, an M3 with pretty much all the additions, in white with black wheels tallies up to $83,000.
Images by Josh Rubin