Words: Calvin Chan
Published: June 28, 2021
It’s been more than a year since we have found ourselves at a race track. Virtual sim racing around Imola and Silverstone has scratched the motorsport itch but hasn’t quelled the urge. We’re at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, or more specifically, the Driver Development Track, making use of its 2.88 kilometre, 12-corner layout to sample BMW’s latest and greatest. Fast sweeping chicanes, high-speed carousels, undulating off-camber corners, and an uphill back straight should shine some light on what these Bavarian machines are like when unconfined by speed limits and yellow lane markings.
The lineup in the pitlane has us giddy from excitement. The new G80-Series M3 is here to play, as is one of our favourite cars from last year, the M2 CS draped in an eye-catching Misano Blue paint. We’ve also got the M5 Competition to drive, allowing us to truly realize what a surplus of 600 horsepower is like around the DDT, and while we did not spend an exorbitant amount of time with each vehicle, we did gather up enough track driving impressions to concisely sum up our thoughts on each one. We drove the new M3 first.
2021 BMW M3
Silky straight-six engine, three pedals, a six-speed shifter, and rear-wheel drive. If Greek theorists ever came up with the formula for ambrosia, it would look something like this new M3. The paragon of 3 Series sedans have always been straight shooters, pilgrims of driver involvement, and it’s no different with the G80-generation. We’re talking about a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six pushing out 473 hp and 406 lb-ft, and this isn’t the more powerful Competition trim. Paddle shifters in the optional 8-speed ZF automatic should make it quicker in a straight line, but rowing the gears yourself not only raises the level of engagement ten-fold, but what you gain in driver control and skill just can’t be matched. Those fearing the learning curve of a manual will be happy to know it comes with a defeatable auto-rev matching system.
The engine? Incredibly smooth, and a limitless pool of low- and mid-range torque. Punchy right from 2,500 rpm. The DDT is all about carrying as much speed as you can around its twelve undulating corners, and the M3 offers so much usable torque that you really don’t need anything more than third and fourth gear, so wrangling the familiar gear lever was a seldom occurrence. You might want to grab second on the first chicane after the pit straight, but third picks up just fine. Traction is immense, especially in the first corner, a long, open right hander. Tire squeal? Hardly any. The Pirelli P Zeros were stickier than white on rice. The front end is remarkably agile, the steering is heavily improved from the previous M3, and is faithful to even the faintest of steering inputs. Careful not to scrub the tires with too much steering lock, and you will find that the M3 is so planted that you would think it was all-wheel drive. Fun fact: AWD is actually coming for the 2022 model year.
Around a tight and technical circuit such as DDT, the added power from the Competition model really isn’t warranted. The standard M3 with its manual gearbox is so well equipped out of the box, and it proved itself with its glorious engine and sensational cornering abilities. Oh, and fantastic looking seats. These aren’t the optional carbon buckets, but are very supportive in lateral motion, and we really leaned into its side supports when tackling the mid-speed corners. The footwell is spacious, and the pedals are nicely spaced apart for left foot braking and heel-toe shifting.
Nose? What nose? We’ve been inside the car the whole time.
2021 BMW M4 Competition
If the M3 was the cool kid on the block, then the M4 Competition is the serious, hard-faced accountant, focused on the numbers and the bragging rights. The Competition trim brings a few notable additions, such as more horsepower and torque, but it also loses the optional manual transmission. Boo hoo, you might say. The majority of buyers will opt for the 8-speed automatic gearbox anyways. But in a market where three pedals are growing rarer by the day, it’s nice to see a manufacturer doubling down and still offering them. Loyalists will remain loyal.
The 8-speed gearbox feels like a dual-clutch. It’s unbelievably quick, firing through gears at rifle speeds but with a refined smoothness. Gentle and polished, it’s a potent companion to the torquey S58 engine. We did not have a chance to thrash the M4 Competition around the DDT, but we did swing it around a slalom course, and came away with similar conclusions as the M3 Sedan.
Like its predecessor, the G80 M4 Competition does not produce the most melodic of exhaust noises, and it sounds loud for the sake of being loud. It’s more machinery than mellifluous orchestra, and there’s an ear-piercing whine when upshifting at the limiter that’s distinctive of any BMW straight six, but it should satisfy prospective owners. Long story short, you will hear and know when an M4 is busting down the boulevard.
The standard sports seats are great. The optional carbon bucket seats are even better, and look stunning in Kyalami Orange. The lower thigh bolsters aren’t as protrusive to your derriere as the Porsche equivalent during ingress, and the amount of side and back padding is generous. There’s also a central lower seat divide that separates your thighs right above the crotch, and while it doesn’t seem to serve any true purpose, it’s certainly been attracting a handful of phallic jokes. I think we’ve all agreed that ‘crotch holder’ is the official term.
2020 BMW M2 CS
Taking this smurf blue M2 CS onto the track only reinforced our love for this two-door pocket rocket. While we adored its characterful engine and attainable performance on the city streets, the M2 CS shines the brightest when hunting apexes and letting the rear hang loose over the rumble strips.
Thanks to its compact wheelbase and stout proportions, the M2 CS changes direction with ease, and is stiff enough to remain flat around the twisties, something that the DDT rewards greatly. The 3.0-litre straight-six is a darling of an engine, happiest when revved hard and never shy to throw all 444 horsepower in your face at once. Sticky Cup 2 tires take that output and transform it into forward and lateral grip, sealing the deal for what is possibly the most engaging sports cars under $100,000. The cherry on top of the sundae? It’s got a manual gearbox, our preferred weapon for absolute car control around the track. Like the M3, there’s so much torque available that you never need more than third gear.
Depreciation, work your magic soon.
2021 BMW M5 Competition
While many are busy playing ‘who has the most horsepower’, 600 horses is about 200 too many around the DDT. The M5 Competition is too quick for its own good, and would feel more at home rummaging down the back straight of the CTMP Grand Prix circuit rather than this tight technical track, and it’s overwhelming here. The M5 remains sure-footed and grounded, handling weight transfer like a champ when pedaling through the apexes, thanks in part to all-wheel drive and the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires.
Don’t lift, don’t lift! That’s what I told myself as I unleashed the full chariot of horses down the cresting back straight of the DDT, but my cojones weren’t big enough for the blind uphill and compression downhill. What a monster.
And the noise. Oh the noise. Bless the relative lack of exhaust regulations here in Canada. This is one of the best sounding BMWs on the lot, and is actually the same M5 we tested last winter, and we recorded the audio here. That’s the optional titanium exhaust, ladies and gentleman. Arguably one of the best looking dancers in the pitlane too, draped in that seductive shade of Imola Red.