The all-new BMW M3 isn’t just about performance: there’s emphasis on efficiency too. Are the rewards still as rich?
Base price: $159,900.
Powertrain and performance: 3.0-litre turbo petrol six, 317kW/550Nm, 7-speed automated dual-clutch transmission, rear-drive, Combined economy 8.3 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 4.1 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4624mm long, 1429mm high, luggage capacity 495-1500 litres, fuel tank 57 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Jaw-dropping performance, great steering, rear-drive handling.
We don’t like: Flat engine note, some high-tech equipment still optional.
How it rates: 9/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? A brand new BMW M3 is always a big event, but this one is especially important because it takes the legendary Motorsport division to new places. It’s faster and more powerful than ever of course, but in the pursuit of greater efficiency this car also brings controversial new features to the M3 brand, such as turbocharging (the old car’s V8 is replaced by a twin-turbo six) and electric power steering.
You’ll note that the vehicle featured here is a four-door, but we don’t need to call it the ‘M3 sedan’. That because the two-door version of this model is now called the M4, in line with BMW’s new naming policy (even numbers for coupes, among other things). The M3 started life as a coupe, of course and is most closely identified with that body shape; how odd that it’s now up to the sedan to carry on that iconic badge.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The new M3 is as epic as ever. The raw data is incredible: the new M3 boasts 40 percent more torque than the old, is 80kg lighter and 25 percent more economical. It can rocket to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds, which must surely place it on the outer rim of genuine supercar territory – even if it does have five seats and a decent boot.
So the figures are impressive. But M-cars are also about raw emotion, so does the M3 deliver there as well? Mostly, yes. The sheer muscle of the turbo-six engine makes the old V8 seem positively weedy in terms of flexibility and mid-range grunt. The chassis is sublime and BMW M really seems to have nailed this electric power steering thing, by developing a new system that takes away much of the assistance as you wind lock off, endowing the tiller with a real sense of feel.
You can set up the powertrain, steering and adaptive suspension up pretty much any way you like and it’s not difficult to do. Each of these three systems has its own three-mode setting control, and you can have any combination of the three you like. You can also set your favourite combinations to keep on the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel.
You can go further if you choose, by selecting the level of shift aggression for the dual-clutch gearbox (easy) or delving into the iDrive menu (a bit more difficult) to adjust the stability control to the so-called MDM setting. This allows rather a lot of slip and will in fact let the car spin if the driver does not provide sufficient intervention. You have been warned.
The M3 is a marvel of modern-day powertrain and chassis engineering. One of the finest performance cars on the planet. So what’s not to like?
Maybe the noise. There’s been a lot of anxiety over the loss of the sonorous V8 soundtrack and BMW has overcompensated on this car by pumping up the volume on the turbo-six. It starts up with a satisfying burble, but under load the cabin is dominated by a loud and rather flat tone. It’s not terrible, but it lacks texture and authenticity. It’s not necessary, because this powerplant has nothing to apologise for.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? As easy as any 3-series. For some, the M3 might not feel quite special enough inside; it’s very luxurious and has some M-specific touches, like the signature red-and-blue stitching on the steering wheel and gearshift lever leather. There’s carbon fibre trim and of course special M-seats (complete with illuminated M-logos).
But still, there’s nothing particularly outrageous about the car when you’re simply sitting inside it. That’s the way with so many of the best M-cars – they’re about driver-centric performance and handling rather than status and equipment.
Having said that, there are some equipment items you might expect as standard on a $160k car that are optional on an M3: active safety gear such as blind-spot warning and lane-departure alert are now fitted to some mainstream cars, but are still extra cost on an M3.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The M3 is one of the finest performance cars on the market and option prices notwithstanding, it’s a still massive amount of car for the money.
There’s nothing to be lost in choosing M3 over M4, but about $10,000 to gain in list price: the M3 is 25kg heavier but has exactly the same performance. Some of those in the know also reckon the M3 is that little bit better balanced on the limit because of its slightly different weight distribution.
You’d have to be a virtuoso driver to debate that one. But one of the fantastic things about the M3 is that you don’t have to be an expert pilot to enjoy it.
- Air conditioning: Dual climate
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Blind spot warning: $1300
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes with braking function
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: Yes
- Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
- Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
- Lane guidance: $1300 as part of Driving Assistant package
- Leather upholstery: Yes
- Parking radar: Front and rear with camera
- Power boot or tailgate: No
- Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
- Rear ventilation outlets: Yes
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: Yes
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: Yes
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: Yes
- Trip computer: Yes
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