Faro, Portugal –
Read our story about a historical hands-on with the preceding four-generations of M3 in CarBuyer #223 (out in mid-June) and you’ll have a good idea why the M3 nameplate is so highly-regarded – and also why it’s become a contentious thing in the modern day, since there’s so much to live up to.
But before then, What Is An M3, Condensed? Take a 3 Series, make it more light, balanced, powerful, but still easy to drive and full of that ephemeral quality, driver involvement.
From the outset, the fifth-gen M3 based on the F30 3 Series seems to tick all the right boxes. BMW’s press release makes all the right noises about, for lack of a better description, the ‘M3-ness’ of the new car: Reduced weight, improved balance, tuned by real race drivers™, and most importantly, a six-cylinder engine, since ‘real’ M3’s have always had (or had their roots in) an inline six.
Following the basis of its 3 Series base, the new M3 is longer, lower and wider than before, growing closer to the ground and spreading out as well, with bigger front and rear track and wider tyres too.
All this sounds like it belongs on a car that’s massive, but the new bodywork and proportions are quite a sight to behold. As you will know, if you’re a regular CarBuyer reader, BMW puts a huge amount of work into aero optimization, so much of the design features seen also have a practical purpose.
Aero and aesthetics combine well on the M3, as the muscular design looks fabulous draped on the more flattened out chassis, although we don’t quite agree with the pastel shade of ‘Yas Marina Blue’. Nevertheless, the M3 is endowed with considerable physical presence, one that matches the new driving experience.
With the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox on board, the M3 weighs 45kg less than before, despite being so much larger, thanks to the use of aluminium in both body and chassis parts, as well as carbon fibre. Like the M6, the roof panel’s made of the fantastic black stuff.
Like all current M cars, the M3 packs a powerplant derived from current production cars, in this case, it’s the ‘35i’ 3.0-litre straight six engine, but which is modified considerably. The M3 packs two turbochargers, each with a mono scroll. The layout of the inline six engine, and the gas flow management, make having two smaller, but equally-sized turbos are a more efficient way to produce more power, according to M’s boffins.
It also has a different crankcase design, and ditches piston liners for less weight and more durability, and the engine makes 11bhp more than the outgoing V8, but with 40 percent more torque, or a massive 550Nm.
Naturally, the new M3 is explosively fast, and even then it’s a bit of an understatement. There’s only a hint of lag before the turbos do their thing and whisk you away with supercar celerity. The initial throttle and power application aside, it’s more usable and feels vastly more rapid and modern – throttle, wait a millisecond, warp speed.
Much like the M5, you ride the gargantuan wave of torque and happily blurt your way through the gearshifts. The new engine has an active flap exhaust as well as the Active Sound Design feature which pipes actual exhaust noise in through the cabin speakers. The result is that below 3,500rpm, it sounds like a blathering monster, which is either good or bad, depending on your mood. Above 3,500rpm and you get more of the grin-inducing, raspy, buzzsaw inline six fix which is supposed to be thia M3’s big trick.
Broadly speaking, and when equipped with M Adaptive Suspension, you can tweak the engine, gearbox, steering and suspension settings by three degrees (Comfort/Efficiency, Sport and Sport Plus) and the first two work very well on most surfaces. Sport Plus turns the car into a jittering, gym-like workout on public roads, and is best left to the track.
The thing is, the M3 is properly, properly fast. There’s no doubt in the hands of a half-decent driver it could keep up with the likes of ‘normal’ supercars (458, R8 etc), as it flies over all sorts of tarmac with general ease. One can also switch the engine, gearbox, steering and suspension settings by three degrees (Comfort/Efficiency, Sport and Sport Plus) and the first two will work very well on most surfaces.
Without a doubt, it’s faster, easier to drive and offers more explosive performance, faster than before. But it’s also underpinned by a slight lack of rear end feedback. The car has got massive amounts of grip, but it takes awhile to learn this and to trust it.
After all that, is the new M3 a worthy successor to the first, second and third-gen models? In a word, no, because it is not really an ‘M3’ anymore – you need only flip the page and read about the what the M3 Coupe has become, aka the M4, to know that.
In this way, it’s easier to see the latest car not as an M3, as we know it, but as a sub-species of the M4 – BMW itself says it expects the coupe to be the majority seller of the two. If you read CB222, then you’ll know the future E30s and the like will not be M3s, but cars like the M235i. And the M3/M4 is now the leading edge of the high-performance executive saloon category, one that addresses all of the problems of the previous model in a very modern, and very M, way.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine: 2,979cc, 24V, inline 6, biturbo
Power: 431bhp at 5500-7300rpm
Torque: 550Nm at 1850-5500rpm
Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed: 250km/h
0-100km/h: 4.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency: 8.3L/100km
Availability: Q4 2014
Also Consider: Audi RS 4, Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG
To check out how the M3 handles on track, as well as our First Drive of the new, two-door BMW M4, be sure to check back on carbuyer.com.sg later this week.
For our full verdict of the new BMW M3 and M4, including our historical hands-on drive with all four generations of the legendary sedan, pick up CB223, out on newsstands in June!