Although the original E30-based BMW M3’s primary reason for being was homologation for rallying and touring car racing, it was quickly drafted to fill another role: That of the German company’s sharpest and purest sport sedan for the street. The subsequent E36, E46 and E90/E92/E93 (sedan/coupe/convertible) generations each further solidified the M3’s reputation as one of the finest performance driving tools available at any price. Now, though, there are big changes afoot with the backbone of the M Division.
The biggest change of all is arguably the fact that there are no more two-door M3s. Now, before you go and try to sic Anonymous on BMW, realize that M GmbH tweaked coupes (and, presumably, convertibles) will still be available; they’ll just be wearing M4 badges, following the pattern set by the regular 4 Series which is now divorced (nomenclaturely speaking, anyway) from the 3 Series sedans and wagons. But there are many more changes to be found, all of which are more than just nameplate deep.
As was the case with all of their predecessors, the new M3 and M4 (codenamed F30 and F32, respectively) are instantly recognizable as derivations of their less athletic siblings, but with some key and clear distinctions. Both have new front fascias with much more lower grille area and sculpting around these openings. The front and rear fenders are pushed out to accommodate beefier wheels and tires (18” standard, 19” optional), and both the M3 and M4 feature functional fender vents that allow air to evacuate from the front wheel wells which helps improve straight-line stability. The rear bumper is lower and incorporates the M Car signature quad tailpipes, and the trunk is topped by a super subtle bolt on spoiler (on the M3) or a new trunk lid with an integral ducktail (on the M4). Both models also feature reshaped exterior mirrors to improve airflow and carbon fiber roof panels to help lower the center of gravity.
There’s plenty of carbon fiber to be found under the roof, as the magnificent material adorns the dashboard, door panels and center console. Other interior revisions include a sport steering wheel, butt-bracketing front bucket seats, re-contoured rear seats (that fold down in a 60/40 split to embiggen the trunk) and unique M spec gauges. In short, the M3 and M4 interior appointments are like those of the regular 3 Series and 4 Series, except they’re even more driver-centric.
Of course, a driver-centric cockpit is worthless if the chassis and powertrain aren’t up to the task. Thankfully, it sounds like BMW’s new wonder twins will have what it takes. The front and rear suspensions are completely new, with aluminum links and ball joints instead of rubber or urethane bushings for improved stiffness and responsiveness. Pizza-proportioned steel brake rotors are standard on both cars, while carbon-ceramic rotors (which will be easy to spot thanks to their pairing with gold-painted calipers) are optional. There’s also a carbon fiber front strut tower brace, and a carbon fiber driveshaft.
At the hind end of that driveshaft you’ll find one of two differentials: Cars with the standard 6-speed manual transmission (which also has an automatic rev-matching feature) have a mechanical limited-slip differential, while cars fitted with the optional 7-speed M-DCT twin-clutch transmission feature an LSD that engages and disengages via an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch. Regardless of which diff and transmission is installed, all M3s and M4s will be powered by a new twin-turbocharged 3.0L inline-six. While it will no doubt lack the banshee wail exhaust note of the old M3’s naturally-aspirated 4.0L V8, this new force-fed mill not only makes more power and torque than the E9x’s engine (425 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft of torque versus 420 horsepower and a frankly-embarrassing 295 lb.-ft), but boasts an exponentially broader torque curve (Peak twist is available from 1,850 rpm to about 5,500 rpm.). We decry the ongoing die-off of atmo high-performance engines as much as anybody but, really, how can you argue with that kind of grunt?
And in case a torque curve flatter than an Olsen twin wasn’t enough to get your attention, a claimed 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds for the DCT-shifted M4 certainly should be. If the M4 in question has the stick, you’ll have to wait an extra 0.2 seconds, or an agonizing 4.1 second 0-60, you poor, poor three-pedal-ista, you. No acceleration figures for the M3 were given, but BMW says they’ll be pretty much identical. And it does confirm the two models will share the same electronically-limited top speed: 155 mph.
BMW has refrained from revealing pricing information for either the M3 or M4, and it is thus far only giving their on-sale date as “early Summer, 2014.” If you can’t wait that long (or don’t have the kind of bank balance needed for a new BMW M car), however, there is good news: You can boot up Gran Turismo 6 on your PlayStation 3 right now, download a free digital M4, and drive it like you stole it on the track of your choosing (just be sure to rent it in the game instead of buying it; you’ll find out why once you test your hot-lapping mettle in a time trial Seasonal Event on the Nürburgring Grand Prix Circuit that runs now through Chirstmas Night). That’s pretty nice, right? Anyway, check out this virtual Bimmer (as well as the real M3 and M4) in action in the videos and photos below.