Despite the broad disruption to its operations brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, BMW’s M division continues to hold firm to plans to reveal both the all-new M3 and M4 this September, prior to the start of production and sales by the end of the year.
Before it gets that far, though, there’s a final phase of development testing to be completed and a validation sign-off by the German car maker’s board later in the summer, ahead of which we've been invited to drive them both in prototype form.
Wearing heavy camouflage, the high-mileage M3 and M4 development hacks that BMW M has brought to the Sachsenring have clearly had a hard life. We’re assured they represent the latest technical standing of the car, though. Ignore the heavy cladding and plastic wrap in our pictures and you’ll be able to make out certain styling elements, including the deep new kidney grille and the widened wing panels front and rear necessitated by the adoption of wider tracks and some rather serious-looking wheel and tyres.
Sat in the pit lane, both cars have a squat, hunkered-down stance that instantly marks them out as something a bit special. They’re quite a bit larger than the outgoing fifth-generation M3 and first-generation M4, too. Each takes on its own distinctive form: the 2021-model-year M3 appears significantly more upright next to its lower M4 sibling.
The rear-wheel-drive saloon and coupé models here represent only half of the planned bodystyles for BMW’s mid-level M-car line-up. As before, there’ll be an M4 cabriolet by the middle of next year and, for the first time, a new M4 Gran Coupé introduced around the same time. In a continuation of familiar BMW M derivative strategy, standard and Competition versions of both the M3 and M4 are planned. The promised upping of performance comes after the introduction of the four-wheel-drive M340i xDrive and M440i xDrive, which plug the gap to the rest of the 3 Series and 4 Series line-up.
At the heart of each new model is the M division’s new S58 engine. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder successor to the long-running S55 unit delivers 473bhp and 443lb ft in the standard M3 and M4 – 29bhp and 37lb ft increases over the outputs of the outgoing models.
From the start of UK deliveries, the standard rear-wheel-drive models will come with the choice of either a standard six-speed manual or optional eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox in combination with BMW M’s electronically controlled M Sport locking rear differential. In the new M3 and M4 Competition, the output is increased by a further 30bhp to a headlining 503bhp through what BMW M describes as “some specific software changes”, while torque remains at 443lb ft. That’ll make the flagship versions of the M3 and M4 a match for any of their direct rivals on peak power.
Unlike the standard models, though, the M3 Competition and M4 Competition will be sold exclusively with an eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox and, in a big break from tradition, they will also be offered with the option of BMW M’s fully variable xDrive four-wheel drive system shortly after the start of UK sales. It’ll be the first time either the M3 or M4 has been sold with anything but traditional rear-wheel drive.