We head to the race track with the BMW M3 Competition Sedan and BMW M4 Competition Coupé to see what the 510bhp, turbocharged duo can do.
BMW’s M3 has gone through a number of different engine configurations since the high-revving 4 cylinder of the original 1986 E30. BMW’s M division dabbled with a naturally aspirated inline 6-cylinder in the E36 and E46, before switching to a V8 in the E90, E92 and E93 generations. For the F80 M3, BMW went for a twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder engine; arguably one of the greatest performance engine configurations of modern times and this set up has carried over into the latest G80 M3.
BMW’s M Series machines are legendary road cars. It’s virtually impossible to upset them in normal driving conditions, so we’ve come to Yas Marina Circuit to upset them, or at least to try and find their limits.
BMW M3 Competition Sedan
Unlike a lot of track days, today we have a lot of seat time in the M3. It’s just Altitudes and a number of Middle East car journos and all we have to do is keep up with the lead car driven by one of the Drive Dynamics professional drivers. It sounds simple, but at the end of each lap, the lead car will push on just a little bit quicker and after a few ‘slow’ warm up laps, things start to get very warm indeed.
The first ‘quick lap’ means unleashing the M3’s 510 hp down Yas’ start/finish straight. With the revs in the 3-litre’s powerband, the M3 can bang through its eight-Speed M Steptronic Transmission with ease, launching you into the first breaking point with a howl that only an inline six cylinder can produce. It’s a glorious noise, and one that is getting rarer as manufacturers slowly make the transition to electric.
Braking hard and then turning into the first left-hander, the M3 sticks to the track like the proverbial glue. It’s unshakable through the corners, so much so, that I drop back from the group and try and unsettle the 4-door supersaloon through the cut-through at turn three. Instead of driving smoothly down these slow, tight turns down I throw the M3 in aggressively and… it just sticks to the track. For the next few laps I try to catch the BMW out – even gradually decreasing the traction control doesn’t unsettle the M3, it just hunkers down and goes where you point it. And don’t get me wrong – this is hard driving here. By the end of the session my heart rate was peaking and I was in need of a couple of bottles of water. The M3 can take some pounding, that’s for sure.
BMW M4 Competition Coupé
Although the M4 goes, stops and handles almost identically to the M3 Sedan it does actually feel different – and the feeling’s all in your mind. Because the M4 is more ‘grown up’ than the super aggressive M3 (it even looks more mature), you tend to drive it as such. Instead of trying to get it a bit ‘squiffy’ in the corners, you now try you best to hit the apex smoothly, without scrubbing off any speed. Braking is similar, as you now respect the coupe a little more, hitting the stoppers early, scrubbing off speed before turning into a corner. Acceleration is still the same and there are absolutely no worries about putting the 510bhp to the tarmac safely.
Even out on the drift track with the traction control turned off, the coupe feels more mature than the M3; more controllable, less aggressive.
The BMW M3 Competition Sedan and BMW M4 Competition Coupé are similar cars underneath, but entirely different in attitude. Everyone knows what the M3 is about; it’s always been BMW’s bad boy. Aggressive, loud and always extroverted, the M3 appeals to similar characters, whereas the M4 is equally as fast, but its demeanour is more relaxed, less hasty and not as combative. Either way, whichever model you choose, you’re guaranteed excitement thanks to the twin-turbocharged inline 6 cylinder engine under the bonnet.