Built for road or track – or both?
Can two of the world’s best high-performance track-day production cars in the form of BMW’s M3 and M4 also provide suitable daily transport? DAVE MOORE thinks he has the answer.
The temperature gauge dropped to minus 3 degrees Celsius, and the early morning shadows along the route from Taupo to our appointment with a distant Hampton racetrack harboured black ice and pot holes. In other words, it was a typical New Zealand winter’s morning, and we were always aware of the cars’ 317 kilowatts working through the rear wheels. But it wasn’t twitching and slippage that gave the game away, it was the relentless shove in the back that reminded that this is BMW’s latest hot 3-series. Actually it was a hot 4-series, too, as now, the Munich-based concern labels its sedan as a 3-series and the coupe as the 4-series and the respective M3 and M4 versions are the hottest of the lot. Previously, with two or four-doors it was M3 pure and simple. We would be driving each of them on road and track over two days.
It’s probably not surprising that the same cars that managed stunning times around the windy rain and hail swept Taupo circuit one day, could carve through the North Island New Zealand countryside the next with such aplomb. After all, one of the many parameters set for the new pair of M-cars was to be able to manage a sub-eight minute Nurburgring Nordschleife time, as well as perhaps the more simple task of being quicker in day-to-day terms than the previous V8-engined M3, not to mention the models before that, which offered four and six-cylinder power units.
The first turbocharged M engine with six cylinders makes 317kW from three-litres, compared with the previously naturallyaspirated 4.0-litre V8’s 308kW and this helps of course. As does the new six’s amazing torque spread of 550Nm from 1650 to 5500rpm, to the bent-eight’s 400Nm, which results in the new cars managing the arbitrary zero 100kmh time in 4.1 to the previous car’s five seconds. But it’s the company’s weight-saving regime that also counts here, with the use of high-tensile steel, carbon fibre and aluminium resulting in a saving of 63kg from the old M3 despite having more kit, more gears and of course more performance.
So, almost despite the cars’ extra performance, the sheer flexibility of the new M3 and M4 means that they now need just 8.3-litres to travel 100km, compared with the 11.2-litre required by the previous V8-powered car.
With the main differences being their styling and bootlid numbers, the new M3-M4 biumvirate have identical kit levels, packing active damping, with its one-prod-away Sport and Sport + settings.
With a rain and hail-washed Taupo track to start things off on the day before our subzero drive to Auckland, my co-driver and I were exposed to the uncanny talent of the new M3 and M4 chassis: there’s such an inordinate amount of grip afforded by it, and despite the presence of almost idiot-proof electronics, the two cars talk to the driver lucidly and accurately.
The cars’ approaching limits are easy to recognise, and the electro-mechanical steering imparts all the right signals to even the coldest hands, while my preferred M1 setting reeled in the tail so gently that it made me look like a far-better driver than I probably am.
The sheer flexibility of the car’s new twin turbocharged six comes into play very effectively at Taupo, whose changes of radius suit cars with strong mid-range torque delivery far more than one with a peaky, but more powerful engine – not that there are many in this segment. With a professionally-driven instructor’s car ahead to show the new lines required for the conditions – much later apexes than we remembered from the summer – the car’s seven-slot transmission can help either Mmodel to stay up to speed with the powertrain paddled-back into third slot and left to it.
There is immense torque and coupled with so much grip, this means that there is no peakiness to try and dislodge the cars’ rear end, which for the most part stayed resolutely velcroed to the track. While we were given a wicked slalom course to try and were encouraged to use the full highway straight at Taupo, the pleasure without fright aspect of the car was ever present, though it has to be said that in all-out racing conditions, the Ms are able to get a little closer to the fear factor.
Truth be known, the behaviour of the M-cars on the 300km blat from circuit to circuit was even more impressive. Going though notes from the night before the road drive, I wrote that I wasn’t sure that 19-inch rims would put enough rubber and air between me and the road to be exactly comfortable for a four-hour drive – never mind on wet and often ice affected surfaces – peppered with potholes and slumps for good measure, but the ride quality was remarkably smooth.
Even in Sport mode the cars coped well in the lousy conditions, and when switched to the Comfort setting, you’d wouldn’t even suspect the car is an M-machine at all.
M4Coupe at Hampton Downs: The track delivers the kinds of changes of elevation that can separate the pretenders from the real thing on track.