BMW unleashes rockets at runway

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Words: NZ Autocar
30 Mar 2021

On a day that promised rain after weeks of dry weather, BMW got lucky with sunny proceedings for the launch to customers and press of the sixth-generation M3 and M4. The event proper took place on the main concrete runway of the North Shore Aero Club.

Unfortunately, because of rules and regulations, we got no time behind the wheel of either car but did get some seat time as a passenger. So we experienced the sound and fury of the new M cars, and even some drifting action that didn’t end entirely as planned. But it was certainly a tantalising taste of what’s to come.

BMW New Zealand’s chief, Karol Abrasowicz-Madej, kicked off proceedings, giving an outline of the M3’s history and introduced the latest pair of hotshoes. He said that despite the headwinds of 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic, the M division sold over 144,000 vehicles last year, up six per cent on 2019, and comfortably ahead of its nearest AMG rival (125,000).

The first generation of the M3 was produced between 1986 and 1991, with nearly 20,000 sold, but the second generation was more successful, the M division selling 71,000, and over 110,000 of the current generation have been retailed.

Tim Michaelson, BMW NZ’s product manager, mentioned that one in every four BMWs sold here is an M vehicle. For the latest generation of M3, New Zealand is taking only the top Competition model - the same applies for the M4 - and, unlike in European markets, the manual transmission will not be offered (unless you really want one). Instead, New Zealand takes the variant with the eight-speed automatic.

With 375kW and 650Nm going to the rear wheels, BMW suggests that the M3 and M4 can run from standstill to the open road limit in 3.9sec, a smidge quicker than the Gen V model which featured a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Dynamics are also said to be improved, as are tech levels.

Options include carbon packages for the exterior ($9500) and interior, M carbon bucket seats that are harness ready and power operated ($7500), M carbon ceramic brakes ($16,500), titanium exhaust, and a host of other exotic bits and pieces.

The ride experience kicked off with the landing of the only Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter in New Zealand, the heavy lifter threatening to blow away the proceedings. And then attendees got to experience full-bore acceleration and slalom action on the main aeroclub runway.

From back at the hangar you couldn’t hear that much, but inside the M3/4 there’s plenty of aural drama to take in. And on the drama front, the interior is very much up to speed, with four exquisite two-tone colour match ups for the ‘Merino’ leather upholstery and piles of carbon finishings to accentuate the speed and dynamics of the vehicles.

Of which there was plenty; the engine spins to around 7200rpm but it’s the acceleration across the midband that is so intoxicating. Both the demonstration vehicles, one in Sao Paulo Yellow and the other in Isle of Man Green, had conventional braking systems which seemed to be perfectly adequate for the task. You’d only opt for the carbon brakes if you envisage lots of track time ahead. Both drivers commented on how well the cars handled compared with the fifth generation, and they were certainly planted, level and quick through the slalom run of cones.

For the final runs we were privy to a little drifting action at the far end of the runway, following a road that ran around the boundary of the airfield. With TC totally off, the M4 took little persuasion to achieve over 22 degrees of slip action in one direction, flicking back with even more enthusiasm the other way, but on the following change of direction centrifugal force took over and we ended up facing the wrong way on the grass. So the drift monitor allocated only four out of five stars for that run; two brilliantly well executed and a DNF.

It’s not that the fifth generation was exactly deficient on the sideways action front; we were passengers for a very memorable smoky lap of Portimao drift action at the launch of that vehicle. BMW is also set to offer AWD versions of the M3 and M4 here in the future, if the added security is needed though, like the M5, the drive to the front wheels can be disconnected if desired.

The M3 and M4 are essentially unchanged in price from Gen V, the four-door Competition Sedan going for $168,900 and the M4 Competition Coupe selling for $172,900. Both come with a five-year/100,000km warranty and three years of free servicing (unlimited km) and connected drive services. We hope to report on a drive experience with the pair very soon.

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