Hours of rain had made a slippery mess of the famous Road America racetrack near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The stability control light on the 2-door 2015 BMW M4 I was driving flickered constantly, even when accelerating in a straight line, and the rear end kicked out on every upshift from the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. The combination of bad weather, a powerful car, and an unfamiliar track with a notorious lack of runoff room had put my naturally cautious nature into overdrive.
At least it had stopped raining, and three laps in, I was feeling more comfortable. I was already well into the long, sweeping, downhill right hander known as the Carousel Turn when I realized the rear end of the M4 was sliding. The car's nose suddenly pointed inside the corner; it was the beginning of a spin, yet before my conscious mind had even registered enough of this to pick out the proper swear word, I had already caught it by pointing the front wheels where I wanted to go and keeping the throttle steady, turning the skid into a drift, and holding it until the M4's stability control could find traction on the slick surface.
That unconscious reaction speaks volumes about the underlying excellence of the M4 and, by extension, the 4-door M3. When you hear enthusiasts talk about "communicative steering" or a suspension that "talks to you," this is what they mean, and the 2015 BMW M3 and M4 -- the M4 replaces the M3 Coupe -- have it in spades. These are more than just 3 and 4 Series BMWs with bigger engines; they're reengineered with an eye on maximum performance. For example, changes like the rear suspension subframe that's bolted directly to the chassis, with no vibration-absorbing bushings in between the two. The ride's stiffer, but that direct connection likely played a part in helping me keep the car on the track.
The 2015 BMW M3 and M4 are based on the current-generation 3 and 4 Series, with an upgraded suspension, all-new engine, better steering, and a host of other changes to turn the luxury sedan and coupe into a multi-passenger Corvette fighter; seriously, BMW estimates the M3 can accelerate to 60 mph in just under 4 seconds, about the same as a Corvette.
The heart of the new M3 and M4 is a new 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 cylinder engine with 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Respectively, that's an improvement of 2 percent and a whopping 38 percent over the V8 it replaces. It's connected to either 6-speed manual, or the more popular 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The M3 and M4 are exclusively rear-wheel drive, this year aided by a new electronically controlled locking differential. You can choose between the standard 4-piston brakes with cast-iron rotors, or a new track-ready $8,150 6-piston carbon-ceramic braking system that increases resistance to brake fade. The throttle, suspension, stability control, and transmission can each be individually set up for your personal tastes -- those hard-hitting shifts on the track were easily tamed by selecting a less aggressive setting -- with two programmable presets on the steering wheel for your favorite settings. Despite being bigger than last year's car, the new M3 and M4 lose about 180 pounds thanks to the carbon fiber trunk lid, driveshaft, roof, and more.
The rainy weather prevented the kind of at-the-limit handling BMW had probably hoped for, but it at least proved valuable for testing stability at triple-digit speeds, and how well those new carbon-ceramic brakes hauled it down something sane again in the blink of an eye. Plus, the full-throttle wail of the new engine anywhere other than the track would likely have scared enough cows to ruin a year's worth of Wisconsin cheese, and there was no way I wanted to be responsible for that.
Nonetheless, part of the M3's magic is that it's equally adept on the streets as it is on the track, so I headed out in a Marina Blue M3 to the nearby Henning's Cheese factory to purchase some of Wisconsin's finest. With the M3's suspension, steering, transmission and throttle sensitivity in their most relaxed modes it was docile, with the suspension absorbing all but the sharpest of bumps, albeit with a slight graininess to the ride. With a decently sized back seat, standard navigation with BMW's iDrive infotainment system, and even an Efficiency mode that shuts off the engine at stops, this new M3 is a model citizen that can burst to super-legal speeds in an eyeblink.
At just under $63,000 for the M3 sedan, and $65,000 for the M4 coupe they aren't cheap, especially when you start adding option packages. We want some time with them on our local roads, but even a brief rain-soaked experience tells us that there's no doubt that the 2015 BMW M3 and M4 uphold the tradition of combining race track performance with everyday civility.