BMW's M3 and M4: double the choice, double the motoring fun

Faster, lighter and more nimble than ever yet with a smaller engine, the only thing that can challenge BMW’s new M3 is its two-door brother, the equally new M4.

Historically, the M3 was one car with two specifications. It could be ordered as a two-door coupé or as a four-door car for those that needed performance and practicality. But not anymore. Now the M3 is only available with four doors and the coupé version has become the M4.

With their launch, BMW is going to great lengths to explain why, for the first time, the coupé and four-door versions have different names, but for most M car fans and potential owners, there are only two things worth considering – how they look, and how they go.

In terms of the first issue, BMW has kept to the tried and tested formula of making the cars look slightly angrier and masculine than the standard models they tower over. Flared wheel arches, sculpted air intakes behind the front wheels for better brake cooling and aerodynamics, plus domed bulging hoods to make space for that extra engine capacity.

And what an engine it is. An in-line 3-liter six cylinder, which for the first time ever in the M3 comes with a brace of turbochargers. And whether you plump for the coupé (M4) or four-dour (M3) the performance is the same – 0-62mph (100km/h) in 4.1 seconds when specified with the double-clutch paddleshift gearbox and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph (250km/h). Yet somehow, both cars are capable of 34 mpg on the combined cycle. That’s better in every respect than the V8 engine BMW used in the outgoing model – it even produces more power – 431hp.

Making this fuel economy possible and ensuring that the cars are as much fun in the bends as they are in a straight line is due to a strict diet which has seen both the M3 and M4 shed 80kg.

Inside, the cars feel even more like track-focused racers than ever, with newly designed racing seats and a host of driver aids. But it’s also a comfortable place to spend time if you’re a passenger and, these being BMWs, there are a host of optional creature comfort extras to choose from, rom the Connected Drive infotainment package to a full leather interior.

Announced Thursday, both cars will be making their official global debuts in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show in January before going on sale in the US and EU in 2014.