In the world of BMW M cars, three is the magic number. The M3 is the most successful road burner with motor racing roots to roll off the production line in Garching, on the outskirts of Munich, and 35 years after it first took drivers’ breath away, the latest, 503bhp model seems set to leave them more breathless than ever.
Showing that the famed horsepower war between the world’s performance car makers is a long way from reaching a truce, the new M3 boasts more than 50bhp more than the outgoing model, and finally drives all four wheels – if desired.
Yet perhaps the most telling development of the sixth-generation M3 Competition (and its M4 Competition sibling) is not how many horses the twin-turbo straight-six cylinder engine can generate. Instead, it is the latest suite of electronic driver aids. For the first time, the M3 now features a traction control system with 10 stages of adjustment, a development that is a far cry from the 1980s, when drivers including Steve Soper, Frank Sytner, Eric van de Poele and Roberto Ravaglia relied on nothing more than reflexes to hustle the M3 to victory on Europe’s race tracks.
The new system is called M Traction Control – part of M Drive Professional – and allows drivers to adjust the thresholds at which the electronics reign in the engine and gently brake the wheels to prevent wheelspin. In case that weren’t enough to keep over-enthusiastic drivers on the straight-and-narrow, the latest M3 and M4 will also be offered with the option of xDrive, BMW’s four-wheel drive system. It will includes the Active M Differential for the rear axle and will be available from the summer of next year, says BMW.
Before purists decry the engineers at M GmbH for going soft, it should be noted that with the stability control system cancelled, xDrive reverts to rear-wheel drive, allowing anyone to indulge their inner hooligan and treat the back tyres to a cremation.
The 3-litre, straight-six, twin-turbo engine develops 503bhp from 5,500rpm through to the 7,200rpm red line, while the peak torque of 479 Ib ft is available from 2,700rpm to 5,500rpm. Those numbers are sufficient to propel the both the M3 and M4 from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and onto to a limited top speed of 155mph, although the bulging kerbweight of 1730kg may raise a few eyebrows. The fuel economy is said to be 27.7mpg and CO2 emissions are 234g/km.
As standard, both models get BMW’s M Steptronic eight-speed automatic transmission – sad news for those who speak out to Save the Stick, as no manual M3 or M4 will be sold in Britain.
Naturally, driving modes abound, these in turn influencing the feel and sound of the car, with steering weight, throttle response, gearchange, driving aids, adaptive dampers. Owners will even be able to adjust the feel of the brake pedal, with a new Comfort and Sport selection on the sixth-generation M3. And the M Drive Professional option analyses a driver’s inputs during hot laps, which can be examined in frustration or shared in celebration with other drivers, using the BMW M Laptimer app which is available for iPhone users.
And if we’re being honest, that just means everyone using such tech will set out to see who can pull off the most spectacular drift. Right?
Those who want to go a step further can specify M Pro Package, which brings carbon-ceramic brake discs with the M Driver package. Further still? Try the M Carbon Package, which adds carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) styling accents to the bodywork and a pair of lightweight CFRP bucket seats, the latter saving almost 10kg over the regular M sport seats.
And in a nod to the launch colour of the E46 M3 – Phoenix Yellow – the new M models will be offered in Sao Paulo Yellow, a flat yellow finish shown on the M4 here. The green M3 sports Isle of Man Green, a metallic paint.
Two versions will be initially available to Britain’s drivers. The M3 Competition saloon will cost from £74,755 and the M4 Competition coupe will cost £76,055. No prices for options or the xDrive system have been announced yet. A Touring version of the M3 is due to join the family for the first time, in 2022.
Naturally, the talking point of the 2021 M3 and M4 dynamic duo is the way they look. At the front. Around the grille bit. You know, the kidney grille that no longer looks like a pair of kidneys. At this point, we’ll conveniently step aside and let you have your say on such subjective issues, in the comments, below.