BMW ///Master Class: M2 vs M3 vs M4 vs X6 M vs i8

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We had a very exciting start to our week, as Valencia BMW, Center BMW and Pacific BMW were kind enough to host us at  BMW M drive event and dine event. The idea was to drive the new M and Alpina range and then enjoy a celebrity chef tasting afterward. We can tell that this story has wet your appetite, so let’s dive into it. For us, we wanted to see how the M cars all stacked against each other, so with Santa Anita Raceway to play around, we did just that.

The i8

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We’ve driven the i8 before, so we where very familiar with it going in. However, it was interesting to see how it compares when directly pitted against other M cars. The i8 is set up a bit differently and feels very different as well. It feels much more futuristic yet somehow still familiar. As we noted the entire car is all about gimmicks…the doors go up to be dramatic, the dash lights up red when put into sport mode, and the was the car feels in motion is a little over the top. But that’s part of the appeal and what makes this car work…it’s a bunch of things that individually seem like gimmicks, but added up they all work together to create a fun and unique driving experience.

It’s a hard trick to pull off and many other car makers fail at this, but BMW does a brilliant job of hitting the mark. Stacked against the other M cars the i8 is a different machine all together: It doesn’t really fit in. It’s more of it’s own flavor and spin on what a car is, so it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. That might be a middle of the road answer, but you’ll have to take it for what it is. If you want proper, old-school M fun, then you’ll want to stick with an M car. If you want a unique and refined driving experience on the other hand, the i8 is not a bad way to go.

The M3 Competition Package

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What can we say that hasn’t been said before? The M3 is a benchmark for performance cars and there’s a good reason for it: It does everything that well. Can you take it for a grocery store run? Check. Can you tack it for a hardcore track day? Double check. Can you comfortably transport your buddies on a night out? Triple check. The M3 is fast, powerful and feels properly dialed in like the M cars of old. With the competition package everything has a little extra boost. There’s a little bump in horsepower and torque, the steering a bit sharper and there’s some bits of extra carbonfiber goodness as well.

While some people have issues with the turbo-charged engine, we found it sublime as the performance exhaust gives a deep, burbling roar as we pushed the car through its paces. There was no turbo lag and the car feels balanced and direct: You point it one way and the car goes that way. Admittedly, we’re not the biggest fans of the dual-clutch transmission paired with paddles. We think that with a manual, the M3 would feel truly special, but we will admit that the DSG is light-years ahead of the old SMG transmission. All in all the M3 is a proper M car and great modern successor in a legendary lineage of M cars.

The M4 Competition Package

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You know everything we said about the M3? Well repeat that except for now it’s on an M3 that looks a little sexier and sleeker with two doors. We love the M4, and with the competition package we love it even more. One of the things we’ve heard is that BMW M has lost it’s edge as other cars in the category are giving them legitimate runs for their money. What we see is that M cars are actually still M cars, they are dialed in racing machines you can use every day on the street, but when they first came on the scene no one else was doing anything near their level. However, as time has progressed and we’ve reached the modern era, everyone has stepped  their game so the field is now more packed than before. So this doesn’t means that M cars have somehow gotten worse, it means that everyone else has gotten better and reached the near M level, so the real question is how do the M cars manage to stand higher than the rest of field despite the fierce competition? We think it’s a mix of utilizing the same DNA as their predecessors and good old fashioned BMW witchcraft.

Getting back o the M4, it’s everything the M3 is minus two doors, so if you like the sleek look of a coupe, this is the car for you. We’ll state it again for the record, we think that with a manual transmission the M4 would feel even more special, but we’re not going to complain about powering around with the DSG. All in all the M4 is the same winning formula as the M3 just in a slightly sexier package.

The M2

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The M2 is a car we’ve been waiting to drive for a while now because we’re intrigued by the idea…a smaller, lighter version of the current M3 & M4 would make for a really fun car. We’re a bit annoyed by the marketing, as the folks at BMW are trying to convince us that this is the “real” M car, much like when they had the 1 Series M launched against the E92 M3. But we got to examine and drive the M2 and we must say, we were a bit perplexed.

The M2 is sold as the “smaller and lighter” car but looking at it right next to an M4, the M2 is not that much smaller and it only weighs roughly 80 pounds less (with no options) so it’s not that much lighter either. The dimensions are a little odd on the car too, and one thing we take issue with is that the signature M engine outlets on the side fender that started with the E46 M3, on the M2 are they actually fake and non-functional. This upsets us since the mantra of M cars has been form is function, so an M car with non-functional bits is a violation of that philosophy. Driving the M2 was a disappointment because the car still feels soft and not as hard-dialed in as the M3 and M4. It really feels like a slightly more powerful version of the M235i. And that’s what disappoints us: When you drive a regular 3 or 4 series and then you drive and M3 or and M4, the M car feels very different and very maximized. When you drive a 2 Series, then an M235i and then the M2, they all feel too closely similar. On it’s own the M2 is a fun and a bit playful, but when stacked directly against it’s bigger brothers the M3 and M4, it becomes clear that the M2 is a training car to get you ready for the properly dialed in ones. the M2 is a car that we’re told is one thing when in reality it’s something else: It’s not a hardcore, dialed in M car of old. It’s a soft, playful modern car that speaks to a different segment of drivers.

The X6M

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The X6M can be summed up in one word: Why? Why does this car exist? The answer: Why not? Why does this car have 580 horsepower and enough torque to rip the skin off your face? Why shouldn’t it? The X6M is the sleeper hit of the day, because it is literally a stupid amount of fun. When we were driving it we could not help but smile and laugh, because the car sits so high up, it’s cozy and comfortable, yet it drives like a bull at full charge and shockingly handles like a dialed in sports car. The whole experience is so absurd because your brain knows this shouldn’t be, and yet it is.

The X6M offers a master class in ridiculousness because it’s a usable sport activity vehicle (whatever that means), but it’s also a hardcore driving machine. The M3 and M4 are much more serious cars for serious drivers, the i8 in it’s own eco-future dimension and the M2 is a soft trainer car, but the X6M is just a barrel of jolly monkeys strapped to  rocket. There’s no way to fully describe the X6M with words, it’s just something you have to drive and experience for yourself. Well done BMW, the joke is on us this time and we love you for it.

 

 

 

After the drives we enjoyed a some refreshments and three-course tasting menus provided by a few celerity chefs. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, and we want to again thank Center BMW, Valencia BMW, and Pacific BMW for hosting us.

Final Verdicts

i8 – It’s gimmicky, but all the gimmicks work which makes it cool. It’s fun to drive and looks really awesome, so it’s a winner in our book.

M3 – A legend with 4 doors, nuff said. It’s properly dialed in a with extra doors so you can claim it’s “family friendly.”

M4 – If we could only take one home today, it’s be this one. It’s an a proper M3 it but sleeker and sexier with the 2 doors.

M2 – A huge disappointment for us. It still feels too soft like the 2 series and not properly dialed in. On it’s own it’s a great car, but compared head to head wit the M3 and M4 you realize it’s a good training car but not a proper M.

X6M – Literally a stupid amount of fun. It should not exist, and yet it does, which makes us giddy. A sleeper hit, and a hard hit at that.

Cheers,

-JB

 

Father Vs Son: E46 Vs E90 M3

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With so many amazing machines on the road now it sometimes becomes easy to take cars for granted. What we mean by that is that in the modern era cars have come so far and performance has become so accessible, you sometimes forget how certain cars became known as the benchmark. One such car is the original E30 BMW M3, which when it first came out in 1986, set a new benchmark for what a performance sedan could be. The next generation E36 M3 continued this tradition, even though the US customers did get a little short-handed by the EPA. In 2001, the E46 M3 came onto the scene and solidified the legend of the M3. And in 2008, the V8 power E90 and E92 (sedan and coupe versions, respectively) took the M3 to another level of insanity.

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Since we have access to a 2001 E46 M3 and a 2008 E90 M3, we’d thought it’d be fun to revisit these cars and what makes them special, as well as how they stock up against each other. First, let’s take a look at the E46 M3.

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Featuring an inline 6 engine that cranks out 333 horsepower and 262 ft pounds of torque, the E46 M3 had some fairly insane stats for the the time it was introduced. The particular example we have is colored in the flashy Laguna Seca Blue, which was a controversial color at the time but has gone on to become a classic. The color can be subtle (sorta) at times and very vibrate at others, depending on the light. The example we have has a 6 speed manual transmission, which hugely changes the driving experience, as we’ll get into later. The E46 M3 is fairly small and compact car, and somehow the lines are still classic and timeless. It looks very modern and not dated, which is something previous generation M3’s can’t claim.

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Driving the E46 M3 is a joyous experience, the car is nimble, light and very dialed in. Driving it is a simple “point and go” experience as the E46 is easy to place and the car always feels like it wants to go a little faster, turn a little harder and be a little more aggressive. The recommended driving setup is with the Sport button on and with a manual transmission. The SMG semi-automatic F1 style transmission that is available is notoriously clunky, especially at low speeds, but the manual makes the driving experience sublime. The clutch is light and shifts are effortless, so even a newbie to the manual transmission can learn relatively quickly on this car. The quirks with the E46 is that it is a bit of a noisy car, in that there are creaks and moans the car makes, but usually the sound of the amazing S54 engine can drown them out. Also the E46 can understeer a bit in certain corners at speed, but the back can be broken lose for some playful slides. 10 minutes of driving this car and it’s easy to see why it’s a modern classic and was a home-run for BMW when it was introduced.

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So how could BMW top that? There attempt to do so was with the next generation M3, and we happen to have access to an E90 M3 to see exactly how they tried to do so. The E90 upped the ante, the new S65 engine was a monstrous V8 that had a whopping 414 horsepower and 292 ft pounds of toque. For the transmission you could get ether a manual or the brand new DCT, which was a dual-clutch F1 style transmission that was a huge improvement over the SMG. The car we had was equipped with the DCT, which almost seemed fitting as the E90 belongs more to the laptop generation of performance cars while the E46 belongs to the coal mine generation.

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Driving the E90 M3 the first things you notice are the size and the power of the car. The E90 is bigger car than the E46, and it is heavier as well. But it’s also much more powerful and the V8 under the hood never lets you forget that fact. The E90 pulls very hard and hugs the road in a way that makes you believe in witchcraft because like the E46, the E90 is very much a “point and go” car as well. The E90 feels so planted and tells you everything that’s happening on the road that your driver confidence is hugely boosted. Continuing the tradition of the E46, the E90 has that very special signature M Car feel to it. Even with the DCT, the car is quick, agile and a proper driver’s car. Put the car in M dynamic mode and the play factor doubles as the car’s rear becomes easy to slide and catch, which suddenly becomes your new favorite game while driving.

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So which one do we like more? It’s a bit of a toss up, but we’re going to give the slight edge to the E46 M3 on this one. The combination of a manual transmission and the slightly more playful driving nature give a little better sense of connection with the road. This isn’t to downplay the E90 M3 at all. It’s more of a generational preference. But both cars are proper M Cars, are proper driving machine, and are amazing bang-for-buck classics that can you buy right now. Do what we did; grab some buddies, grab these cars, and go for a fun drive in Malibu and up the coast to Moonshadows for some mojitos.

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Cheers,

JB