If there is one chink of consolation about 2020, you could well be looking at it here. The BMW M3 and M4 twins, the Nissan Z Proto and the Maserati MC20 together represent the new wave of hero performance cars to look forward to as this annus horribilis slides into the rearview. If there is a thread that ties together these very different cars it’s one of uncertainty, of not quite knowing which way the die will fall once cast.
The Nissan Z Proto is unashamedly retro and, in all likelihood, will be the last of a long line of pure-ICE blue-collar coupes. Hedging on nostalgia is a smart move from Nissan, insuring the car against accusations that it might feel old when it does arrive in 2022 or 2023. ‘Of course it’s not cutting edge, that’s how it was designed’ is one heck of a get out of jail free card.
BMW is also probably eyeing this M3/M4 generation as a bookend to the old way of doing things. In offering a rear-drive car to begin with, followed by an all-wheel-drive version and, for the very first time, an M3 wagon, Garching has sought to aggressively infiltrate the heartlands of its rivals and as for that front end styling? Your eye is probably the best barometer there.
Then there’s the Maserati MC20 and its astonishing Nettuno V6 engine. This mid-engined missile has been targeted for a junior supercar ground zero and the Italians have future-proofed their investment by promising a full EV variant. Three different sectors, three very different approaches to vehicle development in an age of uncertainty. One thing’s not up for debate though. We can’t wait to get our hands on them.
01 TO THE METAL
OFFERING UNPRECEDENTED CHOICE AND RADICAL STYLING, THE NEW BMW M3 AND M4 ARE HERE AND MEAN BUSINESS
BY SCOTT NEWMAN
WE COULD ALL LEARN something from M Division CEO Markus Flasch. The boss of BMW’s go-fast arm is active on social media (@markusflasch on Instagram if you’re curious) but, wisely, he clearly never reads the comments. “I haven’t received any negative comments,” he tells Australian media regarding the bold new face of the G80 M3 and G82 M4.
Unsurprisingly, Flasch is a staunch defender of the controversial styling of his new creation: “It suits the cars, it’s beneficial for cooling, I wouldn’t change it if I could. If you see the car in its natural surrounding, I think it was the right move.” He might be right. When Chris Bangle’s E60 5 Series debuted it looked as though it had driven through the ugly forest and hit every tree there, yet today it still looks crisp and modern. Time will tell.
The passionate discourse surrounding the design has overshadowed the substantial engineering changes that have taken place beneath the heavily creased skin of the new M3 and M4. Never before have customers in this segment been offered such choice: manual or automatic; rear- or all-wheel drive; sedan, coupe, convertible or wagon, all of which will be coming to Australia. Reardrive sedans and coupes will land locally in Q1 2021, with the convertible and all-wheel drive variants launching towards the end of the year and the five-door Touring sometime in 2022.
Essentially, customers are offered a choice between fast and fun. All examples use a new evolution of the S58 3.0litre twin-turbo straight-six that debuted in the X3 and X4 M, but in manual-equipped cars outputs are limited to 353kW at 6250rpm and 550Nm from 2650-6130rpm, the latter figure the ceiling for the six-speed ’box. It’s basically a carryover unit from the previous generation, albeit with revisions to the clutch housing and the adoption of Gearshift Assistant, which automatically matches revs on downshifts (and can be turned off).
Selecting the automatic option drops the 0-100km/h claim for 4.2sec to 3.9sec, not only thanks to the eight closely-stacked gears but an extra 22kW and 100Nm, the ‘Competition’ models producing 375kW at 6250rpm and 650Nm from 2700-5500rpm. The Competition extends its advantage at higher speed, cutting the 0-200km/h time from 13.7sec to 12.5sec. There’s more to come, too, Flasch confirming that the S58 will not only be compliant with the 2026 EU7 emissions regulations but “I can promise that this engine is not at the end of its power limit yet.”
A torque-converter automatic appears for the first time in an M3/M4, the eight-speed locking its torque converter as soon as the car is underway, while automatic upshifts are abolished in manual mode and there’s now the ability to immediately select the lowest possible gear by holding the downshift paddle. “There were not many reasons to stay with the seven-speed dual-clutch,” explains Flasch. “There were more advantages than disadvantages [to the auto] and on the weight side there is no disadvantage with the auto.”
The benefit of the Competition’s extra grunt and closer gearing is apparent in its rolling acceleration superiority. The manual takes 4.1sec to accelerate from 80-120km/h in fourth gear and 5.6sec in fifth, whereas the automatic Competition slashes these figures to 2.6sec and 3.4sec respectively. Top speed is limited to 250km/h for both models, though can be optionally raised to 290km/h. No performance claims have yet been offered for the allwheel drive Competition, but we’d expect a 0-100km/h claim in the region of 3.5sec.
The M xDrive system is basically a straight lift from the M5, Flasch boasting: “There was no reason for us to change anything in the hardware, the system is perfect and the benchmark in the high performance segment.” Power is fed exclusively to the rear wheels in normal driving, an electronically-controlled limited-slip diff shuffling it left and right while a similarly controlled multi-plate clutch in the centre diff brings the front wheels into play as required.
Three modes are available. The default is 4WD which prioritises traction; 4WD Sport keeps things more reardriven while 2WD eliminates torque transfer and is, in the words of Flasch, “purely for entertainment”. Wheel slip control is now governed by the engine ECU for faster, more accurate responses while the transfer case can also adjust to small differences in wheel speed between the front and rear axles without troubling the main ECU.
It’s one of a number of new initiatives that have kept the software boffins busy, one of the more entertaining being M Drift Analyser that, as the name suggests, analyses your sideways antics and provides a star rating based on its length and angle while also providing feedback on how to improve. Developing that would have been a fun few days in the office.
It’s not all good news, however. While there’s more power on tap there’s more car for it to haul, too. Using BMW’s official figures weight has increased between 160kg (M4 Competition automatic) and 203kg (base M4 manual) depending on the specification. It’s a slightly misleading comparison, for a change in regulations means manufacturers can no longer quote car weights in their absolute lightest spec (did any F82 M4 actually weigh 1497kg?). Nevertheless, the new M3 and M4 have clearly packed on the pounds.
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