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We test out the amazing BMW M3 and M4 in the Austrian alps

CarsBy Robbie Farrell
The new BMW M3 saloon and M4 coupe in the Alps
The new BMW M3 saloon and M4 coupe in the Alps
The plush interior in the BMW M4
The plush interior in the BMW M4
The 3.0-litre BMW M4 engine certainly packs a punch
The 3.0-litre BMW M4 engine certainly packs a punch

It still strikes me as a little bit “odd” that BMW has decided to ditch its famous M3 coupe name tag. If you want to drive a coupe version with the iconic M badge, you will have to go for the even-numbered M4.

You see, some bright spark in Munich has decided to play the numbers game, and give all the new coupes even numbers – while the saloon models retain the odd ones.

For example, the 1-Series saloon is still called the 1-Series saloon, however, if you choose to buy a coupe version of the car – well that’s called the 2-Series. The same goes for the 3-Series and 4-Series and so on.

I know it’s all a bit confusing. So, at the UK launch this week, which was held in Innsbruck, Austria, I was a little sad to see the famous M3 coupe name disappear forever.

One thing that hasn’t disappeared though, is BMW’s passion for building some of the best sports cars in the world.

The BMW M3, which is now in its fifth generation, and the M4 coupe has undergone a lot more than just a name change.

On the outside, the M3 and M4 are treated to some serious body kits with massive wheel arches and M logos everywhere.

Inside, apart from the extremely-comfortable sport seats and ‘M’ gear selector, this powerhouse is fairly similar to the normal 3-Series saloon, albeit with a few extra performance buttons. If I am to be honest though, I still feel that BMW’s interiors are still a tad behind the more modern ones found in one of its closest rivals – Audi.

Call me weird if you like, but I actually prefer the four-door saloon to the two-door coupe. It appears to have a wider stance at the rear end, and there is just something more appealing and practical for me.

I must be in the minority though, as estimated sales figures in the UK for the saloon are only a quarter of the figures for the coupe. 

Both models are treated to a superb brand-new engine that has the BMW engineers drooling at the mouth. 

The immense 4.0-litre V8 engine, which took pride of place in the outgoing model,  has been replaced by a smaller 3.0-litre six-cylinder in-line engine with M TwinPower turbo technology.

The good news is that this smaller engine is faster, yet more economical than the older model with fuel consumption and emissions lowered by nearly 25 per cent. 

Combined figures from the company suggest that it can cruise around town sipping just 8.3l/100km, while emissions are now 194g/km €1,200 a year road tax.

Although the peak power is only up slightly from 420bhp to 431bhp from the old model, the peak torque, which is the best part for me, is up roughly 40 per cent to an astonishing 550Nm.

This means that the standard sprint time from 0-100kph takes just 4.3 seconds in both cars with manual transmission, or just 4.1 seconds with my favourite – the optional M double clutch transmission.

It not only meaner, it’s leaner too, with a weight loss of over 80kgs due to the use of light-weight materials, and both models now feature a carbon-fibre reinforced roof.

Putting it through its paces on the Austrian Alps is an experience which will remain with me forever. 

From the time you press the start button and frighten the life out of the onlookers by the sheer engine volume, the M3 and M4 is close to the most perfect car I have ever driven.

Surprisingly enough though, behind all the noise and looks, it can just about be driven as a normal day-to-day car.

The settings inside are somewhat similar to an Indian takeaway menu. Stick steering, gearbox and throttle, which all have individual buttons located beside the gearknob, into comfort mode and you have got the mild ‘Korma’ mode that will happily potter around town like a normal car.

If your taste buds are accustomed to something a little more fiery then choose Sport, or Jalfrezi mode, on all three settings and you can burn your buddies at the lights with ease.

If you really want to drive around like an F1 driver you can choose the Sport +, or Vindaloo mode, and watch the rear end spin quicker than something from the Fast and Loud TV show.

Both the M3 and M4 slalomed through the Alps like a professional skier. The meandering roads were a great way to test the car’s handling and performance, and I couldn’t find fault. 

The power between third and fourth gear is astounding and, even in normal Sport mode, there was never any fear of it losing grip as it cornered like a rapid rollercoaster.

So what’s not to like about it? Well there is absolutely nothing – apart from the price. It is by far one of the best handling performance cars I have ever driven. It is a pure drivers’ car, and even tops the company’s M5, which we drove last year, for me.

But, with prices starting at €100,050 for the M3 saloon and €100,890 for the coupe, my only hope, along with many of us, is that my Lotto ticket hits the jackpot.

Keep your eyes peeled (or your ears covered) this week as it heads to the BMW Irish Open in Fota Island, Cork, before its’ official launch next Saturday.