Five decades of fast cars

by John J. Williams

With headline 70 for The Queen, BMW has also erected a huge monument at a time of anniversaries.

It’s been 50 years since the German brand decided to go for good with its M Performance badge.

From relatively humble beginnings, M is now recognized as the branding for something special, like AMG for Benz and, in the past, HSV for Holden.

Five decades of fast cars

The M brand is already positioned for a transition to electrification, and its engines are downsized and turbocharged, but the spirit remains the same.

M cars are made to drive and enjoy.

The first BMW M3 was a noisy, cheeky beast in 1986 and completely contrasted to its spiritual successor, the latest M4 coupe.

The 2022 M4 is much faster than the first M3 in every way but also much more relaxed and packed with technology.

It’s also vastly safer, with driving fun accessible to everyone – with good money – and far less likely to bite in normal road conditions.

It can still be a great challenge on a closed race track, where high-performance combustion-engine cars are headed after 2030; it also has a comfortable four-seat cabin and a usable trunk.

Its presence in the BMW range is confirmation that motorsport is still part of the German company’s DNA after 50 years and hundreds of thousands of faster cars.

I rode the original M3 pocket rocket ‘back in the day’ and loved it. It was tight and rewarding, but it took total concentration and was a pain on all but a Sunday romp.

In sharp and delightful contrast, the new M4 – at 375 kiloWatts compared to just 143 in ’86 – can drive quietly and comfortably through the speed traps that dot the Hume Highway and cut fuel consumption – around 8 liters/100km – then you’d expect.

The test car lacks (thankfully) the optional racing-style sports seats that some people choose for their M3 – but only work if you’re the right size and shape – but the package includes a great sound system, brilliant headlights, a plush cabin, and all the safety regulations. The digital displays are large and clear, and the cab finish is at the right level of luxury.

The M4 isn’t cheap at $155,500, and this can easily jump to $180,000 with a few options, but it’s nice to highlight the carbon fiber roof to friends…

The frontal treatment, now called the ‘box nose’, isn’t my taste, but you don’t see it when you’re in the driver’s seat.

It’s much easier to focus on the dual gold M buttons on the steering wheel, which can and will unleash brilliantly rewarding driving, and the booming soundtrack most people prefer from their new turbocharged cars.

The punch in the M4 is everything you could want and much more than you need on the open road, with brilliant torque response in every gear. That’s thanks to the twin turbochargers that deliver great overtaking and fun on winding roads from very low revs. It also has a brilliant, albeit muffled, six-cylinder engine sound and a real howl at the redline.

The brakes are powerful, the suspension can hold up on a bumpy road or firm for the track, and the latest ‘true’ automatic – rather than the cumbersome DSG gearbox in the past – is quick to respond and has a gear for every occasion.

Best of all, it’s old-fashioned rear-wheel drive with tactile steering to make every ride enjoyable.

The old-fashioned hooligan M3 may be gone and is now celebrated for its myth and motorsport success as much as it is on the road, but its DNA is just as strong in the M4 and a celebration of everything the M badge still stands for. Makes success.



Price: from $155,500

Engine: 3-liter twin-turbo inline-six

Power: 375 kW/650 Nm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Position: Performance Coupe

Plus: Sophisticated, Dual Purpose

Minus: selfish and expensive

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