First drive: 2015 BMW M3 and M4

BMW’s 2015 M3 and M4 aren’t just better than the competition; they’re the best M cars to-date.

When I landed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the launch of the 2015 BMW M3 and M4, I assumed I’d be able to open my first drive report with a harrowing tale of track day terror.

It was a safe bet, too, as BMW was sticking us journalists unencumbered, without drive instructors in the passenger seat or a pace car, behind the wheel on the legendary Road America racetrack.

The 2015 BMW M4 is a true motoring masterpiece.

And why did I anticipate a day of white knuckled driving? A quick YouTube search for “Road America Kink”, the most infamous corner on the circuit, will return many distressing videos of car after car spinning off and crashing.

To my surprise, though, I found Road America an absolute cinch to navigate – even at speeds in excess of 140 mph. While I’d like to give myself credit for the track mastery, I’d be safer crediting the car.

That’s because the car that carried me through the corners, the 2015 BMW M4, is a true motoring masterpiece.

Not the same underneath

Although the M3 and M4 might look like the 3 Series and 4 Series respectively, they’re very different beasts indeed. In the transformation from Series car to M car, hundreds of parts were reinforced and lightened.

Recounting all the bits and changes might very well put you to sleep. But for kicks, I’ll give an example: the carbon fiber drive shaft is five kilos lighter in the M4 than the steel unit in the 4 Series. See? You’re already yawning.

All told, the M3 and M4 are just shy of 180 pounds lighter than the previous M3 Sedan and M3 Coupe, which is astonishing, as every generation before had been heavier than the last.

2015 BMW M4 engine openThe biggest change is found under the hood: the all-new S55 3.0-liter twin turbocharged inline six cylinder. If you’re wondering: no, it’s not just the 335i’s 3.0-liter inline six with two 18 psi turbos bolted to it; it’s a different engine. All told, the S55 produces 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.

The last M3 lacked in torque. This one doesn’t. In fact, this engine has 40 percent more torque than the outgoing V8-powered M3, giving it more torque than Rūaumoko, Māori god of earthquakes.

The I-6 is not as evocative or enlivening as the V8, but the acceleration is astonishing.

Not only does it have force-of-nature-like torque, but it also achieves 25 percent better fuel economy. If that weren’t impressive enough, peak torque hits at around 1,800 rpm and carries flat through to just shy of 6,000 rpm. That means, with the traction control off, you can quite literally steer the M4 with the throttle pedal.

Bolted to the S55 engine is either a seven-speed DKG 7 dual-clutch transmission or a six-speed manual taken from the 1M Coupe, but with a few modifications. The DKG 7 is slightly faster 0 to 60 (3.9 seconds versus 4.1) but the six-speed not only enhances the feel of connection between driver and car but also gets better fuel economy.

Road or track

Standing in the pits at Road America, the first thing I noticed as the journalists fired the engines of the M3 and M4s was the exhaust note. The outgoing M3’s V8 sounded dark, grumbly, and mean. The new S55 engine, though, at first ignition and idle, sounded more like an industrial fridge.

Climbing behind the wheel, I hoped it would sound better at full throttle. Delightfully it does – but just. The new inline six is just not as evocative or enlivening as the V8, but the acceleration is astonishing.

The first car I took ‘round Road America was an M3 with the DKG 7. Paddle shifting the transmission from first to second gear resulted in a big, neck jerking smack. It wasn’t a kick indicative of a lag-y or late shift but rather of forceful immediacy. Just like the F1 transmission in the Ferrari 458, the M3 and M4’s DKG 7 shifts without delay and with much ardor. I don’t mean to be corny here, but the DKG is a real kick (sorry, not sorry).

The 2015 M3 and M4 now have electromechanical steering, which finally sends the old hydraulic unit to the scrap heap. Knowing how much automotive journalists detest electric power steering, BMW was keen to create the best one on the market. And I dare say it has.

The numbness of other systems has been all but nullified. It’s not as twitchy as hydraulic units, sure, but you still know what the wheels are doing. The steering ratio is quick but not so quick that a driver will have to fear sneezing.

The M4 was noticeably quieter and more refined than both the outgoing M3 and the 4 Series.

Braking, just like steering, and throttle response, was quick and responsive and never left me worried.

Driving on the track is an exciting and impressive adventure for sure. But out on a closed circuit, you don’t get a feel of what it’s like to really drive the car. So many cars stand tall on the track but fall flat on the open road. The M4 didn’t.

I only had a few moments on the street with the M4 but I was nonetheless impressed. The M4 was noticeably quieter and more refined than both the outgoing M3 and the 4 Series.

In Sport I did find the suspension a bit too jittery for a comfortable drive to work. Delightfully, in Comfort mode, the M4 rides smoothly and irons out roadway imperfections without compromising the car’s quick turn in and downright flat cornering. Let me put it this way: If most carmakers’ Sports settings were as good as the M4’s Comfort setting, they would be throwing parties.

Competition

Clearly, the 2015 BMW M3 and M4 are brilliant. But let’s be frank; we expected that. After all, so are its competitors. The real question, then, remains: How do the mid-size M twins hold up against the Audi RS 5, the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 507, or even the Porsche Boxster S for German luxury sports car dominance?

The short answer: very well.

The Audi is quieter and more refined inside but doesn’t feel quite as raw. The AMG sounds better but is far more difficult to drive, as 507 hp at the rear wheels makes it a bucking bronco looking to throw you off. And the Porsche is a bit livelier on its feet but is so much smaller and less usable as a daily driver.

The M3 and M4 aren’t without their drawbacks, though. Even in Sport mode, the traction control feels too big brother-y. The engine and exhaust notes aren’t very evocative. The interior still lacks the refinement of its competitors. And the base prices, at $62,925 for the M3 and $65,125 M4, are jaw dropping.

That said, the M3 and M4 take on the task of taking on both circuit and street with a level of composure and confidence that its predecessors lacked. The M3 and M4 aren’t perfect cars, but they’re the best M cars I’ve ever driven – and it doesn’t get much better than BMW M.

Highs

  • Exterior styling
  • Rapid-fire shifting DKG 7 transmission
  • More torque than Rūaumoko, Māori god of earthquakes
  • Well-weighted electric power steering
  • Quick turn in and flat cornering

Lows

  • Interior refinement still a bit lacking
  • Industrial exhaust note at idle
  • Overly active traction control
  • Steep base price
Product Review

A Mercedes so sophisticated, it connects to your watch to plan your massage

The mid-size luxury SUV segment is a must-win competition, and the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE is the newest contender. With active suspension, driver assist, and even a connection to your watch, this is more than an SUV, it’s a mobile device.
Cars

With lessons learned from racing, Mercedes-AMG takes GT R sports car to next level

Mercedes-AMG keeps finding ways to make its GT sports car even more hardcore. If you thought the GT R variant was as good as it got, get ready for the GT R Pro, which will race into the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Product Review

While other crossovers dabble in dirt, Toyota's truck-like RAV4 doubles down

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 gets a clean-sheet redesign, ditching the previous generation’s car-like styling for truck-like toughness. Toyota’s compact crossover also gets more tech and new powertrains.
Cars

2020 Toyota Corolla sedan aims to offer sharper handling, better tech

The 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan gets the same upgrades as the recently-introduced Corolla hatchback, including a firmer foundation, new engine, and more tech features. Will that be enough to keep the long-lived Corolla nameplate relevant?
Cars

Jaguar’s V2X technology will keep you from getting stuck at red lights

Jaguar wants to make sure you never have to rush through a yellow light again. The carmaker is building tools that will tell you what speed you'll need to drive to avoid getting stuck at a red light.
Cars

Drool over Lamborghini’s latest dream machine: The one-off SC18

The Lamborghini SC18 was built by the automaker's Squadra Corse racing department at the request of a customer. Based on the Lamborghini Aventador, it features upgraded aerodynamic aids and reduced weight.
Cars

Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn ousted, arrested after whistleblower cries foul

Nissan will oust chairman Carlos Ghosn after an internal investigation revealed he underreported his salary to Japan's financial authorities for years. Greg Kelly, one of Nissan's representative directors, will leave for the same reason.
Cars

Tesla owners will soon be able to summon a repair van in a few taps

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted out plans to expand the Tesla mobile app so Tesla owners can request on-demand service for common problems from Tesla Ranger mobile service vehicles in just a few taps.
Cars

2019 Crosstrek Hybrid has something no Subaru has ever had

The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is the Japanese automaker's first production plug-in hybrid vehicle. It will go on sale before the end of the year. Subaru relied on plug-in hybrid tech from Toyota to make the Crosstrek Hybrid a reality.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Nissan turmoil, product designer Jae Yoo of Nerf, and more

For today's episode of Digital Trends Live, we turn our attention to the L.A. Auto Show and Lamborghini's race-ready version of the Urus. We also speak with Jae Yoo of Nerf and MLS defender Zarek Valentin about their origins, modern tech…
Cars

Mini’s most extreme hot hatchback will hit the streets in 2020

The Mini John Cooper Works GP concept first seen at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show will go into production in 2020, Mini has confirmed. The John Cooper Works GP is the ultimate performance version of the basic Mini Cooper.
Cars

Jaguar can take the next F-Type in one of two completely different directions

Jaguar needs to decide what the future has in store for the F-Type. Its options include turning the next-generation model into an electric car aimed at the Tesla Roadster or pelting it into the ring with a twin-turbocharged V8 from BMW.
Cars

Volvo will be at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, but it won’t bring any cars

Volvo has declared that it won't unveil any new models at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, and that its display at the show won't feature a single car. Instead, Volvo plans to focus on mobility services.
Cars

How a village in Italy caught 58,000 speeding drivers in just 10 days

A village in Italy knew it had an issue with cars speeding through it, but data from a newly set-up speed camera left residents utterly gobsmacked. In just the first 10 days, the camera recorded more than 58,000 speeding offenses.