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First drive: BMW M to fire with Competition

M power: The M4 Competition Coupe adds $5000 to the price of the regular model but gets performance and styling tweaks.

BMW’s M3 and M4 Competition variants to help achieve best M division sales ever

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BMW logo27 Jun 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON

BMW’S M3 and M4 Competition twins are set to give the German prestige car-maker’ s hard-charging M division a turbocharged lift when they arrive next month as its high-performance brand gears up for its best year of sales in Australia.

The M3 and M4 Competition variants were announced in May and GoAuto was given a brief steer of the M4 Competition Coupe at an international drive event just outside of Budapest ahead of its Australian launch in mid-July.

While BMW M simply offers the Competition Package as an optional extra in other markets, Australia is the only territory in the world that will have the Competition M3 and M4s as permanent, standalone variants.

Last year, global M sales grew by 39 per cent to 62,400 units – 34,500 for M cars and 27,900 for M Performance – with Australia accounting for 1851, up 26 per cent on 2014.

Speaking with GoAuto at the first international drive, BMW M area manager of sales Joerg Bartels said that Australia was an important market for M globally, thanks to the high take-up of performance models.

“Australia is among the top 10 markets,” he said. “Also the amount of M cars we sell has grown in the past three years significantly. My experience from some visits to Australia was that there are quite a lot of performance enthusiasts, therefore it is an important market.” Mr Bartels said the M division takes into account customer feedback when developing M cars and special models, such as the Competition variants, but added that there were several avenues for obtaining feedback about cars.

“We have the M Power World which is a website where we are in contact (with people in the BMW M online community). We meet customers at many drive events … we get customer feedback from BMW Driving Experience track offers where you can drive the Nurburgring and of course afterwards the people talk about the cars,” he said.

“We read the press feedback and take that into account. Every now and then we also have a customer evaluation in some big markets where we also directly get feedback. And of course our own experiences are taken into account as well. Afterwards this gives us a package we can work on.” Sales of M and M Performance variants in Australia have hit a high this year with 965 units shifted to the end of May, representing a 40.7 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Of that total, 582 are the full-fat M models including M2, M3, M4 and M6, as well as the X5 and X6 M, while the slightly less hardcore M Performance variants – think M135i hatch, M235i Coupe and Convertible and the X5/X6 M50D SUVs – have grabbed 383 sales.

14 center imageLeft: BMW M area manager of sales Joerg Bartels. The M3 sedan is the most popular M model and its 201 sales year to date represents a 90 per cent increase, while interest in the M4 Coupe has fallen six per cent to 142 units and the M4 Convertible is down 39.3 per cent to 37 units.

BMW Group Australia product communications manager Adam Davis told GoAuto that while the company does not divulge sales targets, the response to other recent M models, including the ultra-hardcore and exclusive 368kW/600Nm $295,000 M4 GTS gives an indication of the interest the company expects of the Competition variants.

“I’d point you to the level of demand the M2 created locally, and the pre-sold status of GTS to show the level of local interest in M product in 2016,” he said.

“Our market took the decision to make these Competition models specific variants of the M3/M4, as we think they add a halo effect to those models and continue the momentum generated by the sold-out GTS stirrings.” As previously reported, the M3/M4 Competition package includes an uprated version of BMW’s TwinPower turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder petrol engine, upping power by 14kW over the regular models to 331kW, with torque staying at 550Nm.

It is matched with a seven-speed ‘M’ dual-clutch transmission as standard – a six-speed manual is a no-cost option – and the 0-100km/h time for the M3 and M4 Coupe is one tenth of a second quicker than the standard versions at 4.0s (the Convertible does it in 4.3s).

Three body styles arrive next month with a $5000 premium over the M cars on which they are based, with the M3 Competition sedan starting from $144,900, the M4 Coupe from $154,900 and the M4 Convertible at $165,900, all excluding on-road costs.

While in Hungary for an international drive of the M2 Coupe, GoAuto was offered a quick spin in the M4 Competition Coupe ahead of the media drive of the Australian-spec model next month.

Visually, the Competition gains a non-coloured set of the stunning 20-inch M light-alloy wheels from the menacing GTS with mixed tyres measuring 265/30R20 up front and 285/30R20 at the rear.

Other subtle changes to give it a slightly more aggressive look than the standard model are the quad tailpipes from the M sports exhaust system and the Shadow Line trim sourced from the BMW Individual collection that features a high-gloss black finish for the grille, side air vents and window trims.

The cabin of our test vehicle was bathed in dark tan leather that was not to our taste, but there are other options for buyers that are not fond of this particular shade of brown.

On top of the regular M4 goodies, the Competition adds lightweight M leather sports seats and woven M stripes on the seatbelts. The cabin doesn’t feel any more special that a regular M4, but that’s not really the point of the car.

Our brief time behind the wheel of the M4 Competition Coupe on the roads outside the famed Hungaroring circuit immediately followed some track time in the smaller and lighter M2 Coupe, which emphasised the size and heft of the M4 in comparison.

While the M2 is a nimble, small coupe that is easier to pitch into tight bends, the M3 and M4 siblings are more brutal high-performance machines and buyers will choose accordingly.

Instantly, the steering in the M4 feels significantly heavier than the M2, and that feeling increases as the speed increases.

As well as the extra power, Competition variants get a tweaked Adaptive M suspension set-up, with 15 per cent stiffer springs.

The settings have been altered to appease buyers looking for a harder and edgier driving experience, with the Comfort damper setting the same as the Sport setting in the regular M4, while Sport is equivalent to Sport+ – and Sport+ in the Competition brings a new level of stiffness and responsiveness.

As a result, even in Comfort mode, the ride feels harsh over slightly uneven roads and potholes, but, again, anyone looking for a sharper model than the regular version is unlikely to care.

It is difficult to tell the difference in engine performance compared with the standard M4, and aside from some light turbo lag from the punchy six-pot, the Competition is as brutally quick off the line as you would expect.

While off-the-line acceleration is impressive, more fun is had higher up the rev range, particularly when overtaking on one of Hungary’s Autobahn-like freeways.

Again, while it is not as nimble through corners as the M2, the M4 Competition Coupe is flat and composed when pushed, although when a colleague accelerated from a standing start the coupe got its tail out, providing a bit of light entertainment.

The carbon-fibre brakes fitted to the test car pulled up exceptionally well when required – thanks to slower cars in the wrong lane of said freeway – but steel brakes would likely do just as fine a job.

It is difficult to assess the M4 Competition Coupe from our brief drive, so we will leave a full review for the Australian launch, but an extra $5000 over the standard model is not a big ask at this end of the market.

In Europe, initial take-up of the Competition Package for the M3 and M4 since its March launch has been 66 per cent of all M3 and M4 sales.

Whether it outsells the regular version in Australia remains to be seen but there is no doubt the Competition models will garner more than enough interest from power and performance-obsessed M fans to ensure another record year of sales.

2016 BMW M Competition pricing*
M3 Competition Sedan (a) $144,900
M4 Competition Coupe (a) $154,900
M4 Competition Convertible (a) $165,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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