For decades now, BMW’s high-performance spearhead has been the M3, the hottest version of the best-selling sports sedan. Complemented by the M4 coupe (which joined the party in mid-2010, and absorbed the two-door M3 into its ranks), these two cars represented the best blend of speed, prestige and practicality in the automaker’s lineup and served long as the springboard to more expensive factory fare. Bimmerhaven.
For 2021, BMW has redesigned each model and added some modifications to the M variants. There are now two specific M3/M4 trim levels: those equipped with a manual transmission (base) and those that come exclusively with a new automatic gearbox (the Competition). The approach – and the competition’s mechanical details – represent a clear break from old fans past and present and first-time buyers alike with a choice that would go a long way toward defining the driving experience of these machines. .
Which version of the BMW M3 and 2021 BMW M4 is right for you? After two weeks of living with an M3-exclusive six-speed and competition-only M4 automatic, it’s clear that the automaker’s decision to split its M ranks was an inspiring one that speaks directly to the changing preferences of altitude – performance-luxury buyers.
How do you like your horse?
The BMW M3 and M4 both start with the same turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine that delivers 473 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Piercing eyes will notice roughly 50 horsepower more than the previous generation M cars, but that’s not the only power boost available for 2021; The Competition package adds an additional 30 horsepower and 73 pound-feet of torque for a total of 503 and 479, respectively.
What, objectively, does that extra grunt get you? If you choose to pay the roughly $3,000 competition premium on the base M3 ($69,900) or M4 ($71,800), it cuts 0.3 seconds off the sprint to 60 mph, keeping the scale below the four-second mark thanks to its easy- Launch ministrations from the eight-speed automatic transmission.
It would be a mistake to simply focus on numbers when comparing the two drivetrains. BMW’s decision to replace last year’s automatic dual-clutch manual with a true torque-converter-equipped design has made both M models. Whereas one previously had to tolerate choppy shifts and uncertain gear selection at low speeds, the M4 competition I tested was smooth Significantly no matter how little or how much of the crop you gave. Combine that with the extra torque cap for any perceptible slip in the swap ratios from the ZF-designed automatic box, and the overall engine is vastly improved.
Compare that to a standard six-speed M3 setup with a DIY transmission and the difference in smoothness stands out far more than any power gap on paper. While there’s nothing objectively wrong with a manual BMW setup, it’s not guaranteed to handle the drudgery of navigating, and it regularly reminds you of that fact. The shifting action is rather vague as it shifts from one gear to another, and the clutch pedal is not easy to master when slipping off the line or striving for a smooth 2 to 3 shift.
However, that’s the only lottery change available for the luxury sedan (or coupe, for that matter), at least until the arrival of the 2022 Cadillac Blackwing rivals. Manual box enthusiasts should be grateful that BMW gave them one last run before automation became available. She is the only order today from Bavaria too. It’s a future fast approaching, especially considering that the automatic option allows the upcoming 2022 M3 and M4 to offer all-wheel drive for the first time.
More money, more problems
Aside from their transmissions and powertrains, there’s nothing else that separates the competition from the base M car. The M4 Competition I drove had an inch more staggered wheel front and rear than the M3, but there was no appreciable difference in comfort or handling. Although the steering is not as precise as one would prefer from a high-performance car, the chassis control is excellent and the fast cornering remains predictable and convincing.
The sedan and coupe both have efficiency, combined speed experiences that demand little drivers other than what they point out, and shoot and save their dear lives while the twin-turbocharger cranks out. Each vehicle displayed impressive amounts of mechanical stability, aided and induced by a wide range of electronic and assist controls that can be programmed to two M shortcut buttons on the steering wheel for easy activation.
You’ll appreciate this ability quickly, as scrolling through the different suspension, exhaust and drivetrain settings on the center stack’s touchscreen can be overwhelming. The rest of the infotainment features are easy to analyze, with BMW’s iDrive continuing to be one of the top fronts among high-end brands.
In terms of in-car comfort, it goes without saying that if you need a usable rear seat, you’ll want to avoid the M4 Coupe’s narrow rear quarters in favor of the M3’s more palatable rear seat. In fact, the M3 gives adults of nearly any size a fair shake in terms of leg and height, and it’s among the class leaders when it comes to sedans of its size.
You may also want to pass on the available M Carbon Package that our M4 tester is equipped with. In addition to the exterior trim wrapped in an on-trend lightweight weave, it featured a pair of buckets fitted with not only high-sided struts but a carbon-fiber horn placed unacceptably directly between the driver and front passenger legs. The final result? Thighs are bruised from slipping over the unyielding material at every entry and exit, not to mention reduced support and comfort compared to the M3’s much better standard sport seats.
It’s not a competition
The M3 and M4 are two of the most important BMW models. Its reasonably affordable price tag (for a luxury car), excellent performance and easy-to-live character have led to steady sales and strong loyalty from customers fond of their low-key approach to sporty driving. Enjoy its ability to double as a track day horse, and the versatility of the sedan and coupe is unquestionable.
The 2021 redesign marks a return to form for M cars after a few years of cruising in the dual-clutch wilderness while BMW has decided how aggressively of character it wants to offer wealthy buyers. More palatable than ever, it’s clear that the company’s steering committee has taken advantage of the competition’s traditional automatic approach as the best way to profit in the future, and after pushing both in a row, it’s going to be tough on all of the tougher manual transmission enthusiasts. to the opposition.
Faster, smoother competition and more of a bargain, a good choice for the vast majority of drivers whether they come in two-door or four-door flavors. The six-speed, on the other hand, is best appreciated as a final arc from a format that no longer appears to be the best match for a vehicle combination that transcends its original motorsport roots.
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