26 September 2023

Five Decades Of Fast Cars

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By Paul Gover.

In a time of anniversaries, headlined by 70 for The Queen, BMW has also just notched up a massive landmark.

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 recognised – like AMG for Benz and, in the past, HSV at Holden – as the branding for something special.

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

M cars are built to be driven and enjoyed.

The very first BMW M3 was a rowdy, raucous little beastie in 1986 and a total contrast to its spiritual successor, the latest M4 coupe.

The M4 of 2022 is far quicker in every way than the first M3, but also much more relaxed and loaded with tech.

It is also vastly safer, with driving enjoyment that’s accessible to anyone – with the appropriate cash – and far less likely to bite in regular road conditions.

It can still be a wicked challenge on a closed racetrack, which is where high-performance combustion cars are heading beyond 2030, but it’s also got a cushy four-seater cabin and a useable boot.

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

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

In sharp and cosseting contrast, the new M4 – with 375 kiloWatts compared to just 143 in ’86 – is able to cruise quietly and comfortably through the speed traps that litter the Hume Highway and return fuel economy – around 8 litres/100km – than you would expect.

The test car is (thankfully) missing the optional race-style sport 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 regulation safety stuff. The digital displays are big and clear, and the cabin finishing is to the proper luxury level.

The M4 is not cheap at $155,500, and this can easily jump to $180,000 with a couple of options, but it’s fun to highlight the carbon fibre roof to friends …

The frontal treatment, now being called the ‘coffin nose’, is not to my taste but you cannot see it when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.

It’s far easier to focus on the twin gold M buttons on the steering wheel which can, and do, unleash brilliantly rewarding driving and the snap-crackle-pop soundtrack that most people prefer from their new-age turbo fast cars.

The punch in the M4 is everything you could want, and far more than you need on public roads, with brilliant torque response in every gear. That’s thanks to the twin turbochargers that provide the punch from very low revs for great overtaking and fun on twisty roads. It also has a brilliant, though muted, six-cylinder engine note and a real howl at the redline.

The brakes are powerful, the suspension can be compliant on a bumpy road or firm for the track, and the latest ‘proper’ automatic – in place of the ponderous DSG gearbox in the past – is quick to respond and has a gear for every occasion.

Best of all, it’s old-school rear-wheel drive with feel-some steering to make every trip a fun run.

The old-fashioned hoonigan M3 might be gone, and now celebrated as much for its myth and motorsport successes as the road going reality, but the DNA is just as strong in the M4 and a celebration of everything that still makes the M badge a sign of success.



Price: from $155,500

Engine: 3-litre twin-turbo inline six

Output: 375kW/650Nm

Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Position: performance coupe

Plus: refined, dual-purpose

Minus: selfish and expensive

THE TICK: for some people

Score: 8/10

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