THE blood-chilling din seems to erupt from the depths of the netherworld. The M3 Frozen Edition’s motor bursts to life and a mechanical cacophony ensues as the lumpy idle hovers at 1 500 r/min before settling into a broody, resonant burble. Neighbourhood mutts yap incessantly and little children smack their palms to their ears. The car hasn’t even left the garage yet and it’s already caused pandemonium… This is evidently no ordinary matt black BMW M3 Coupé, but what the hell is it?
Well, aficionados know that the seminal BMW M3 has been around for 25 years, but South Africans only got a taste of it from its second iteration. History shows that home-grown racing car homologation specials such as the 333i and 325iS established a cult following that lapped up every version of the M3 to reach local shores, from the brash E36-based Dolphin-shape original to the refined, but no less compelling, E92-series 4,0-litre V8 motor that bears the M3 badge today.
Yet, at the start of the second decade of the millennium, the M3 nears the end of its model life with seemingly “modest” engine outputs that sees the BMW trail behind newer rivals in terms of peak power and torque.
An M3 might be the equivalent to an automotive scalpel; one of the most balanced and engrossing driver’s cars for the money… but there’s nothing better than a little bit of extra shove and in-yer-face attitude to invigorate an ageing icon. Enter the BMW M3 Frozen Edition. Only 25 were made – this is one of them.
Whereas European customers could buy limited-edition 4,4-litre V8-engined M3 GTS models produced to mark 25 years of the M3, and the US market was offered Frozen Grey and Frozen Black models that featured the same matt paint finish as the little number pictured here (but with stock outputs), the unique-to- South Africa specification car comes equipped with locallyinstalled performance parts from AC Schnitzer, which pushes up the peak outputs to 330 kW at 8 400 r/min and 420 N.m at 3 900 r/min, black gloss rims, redpainted brake calipers and a boisterous soundtrack that once it has been heard, can never be unheard.
Although most of the CAR team members drove this self-same M3 Frozen between Pilansberg Airport and Zwartkops racing circuit for our January 2011 Performance Issue, during which celebrity test driver Sabine Schmitz declared the BMW her favourite of all the cars featured in the shootout, this road test offered a better opportunity to evaluate the on-road prowess of a rare car that’s arguably a modern classic already.
The consensus of the team was that the transformation of the M3’s character in its transition from a standard car to the Frozen Edition goes beyond raw performance figures. Although not all testers were bowled over by the matt finish of the exterior, which can appear a bit grainy to the eye and raise fears (irrational as they may be) over its long-term resistance to scratching, the overall impression of the Frozen is that of a menacing sports car tailored to hardcore and overtly extrovert sports car fundis.
Tactile carbon fibre-pattern inlays with red stitching accentuate the interior and from behind the wheel only the paintwork seems all that different… But with a deliberate mash of the throttle pedal one’s surroundings will reverberate with the full-pitched wail of Munich’s fettled V8, from the booming growl at low revs to the savage roar at the Frozen’s red line. It’s a motor that refuses to blend in or hush its voice – an unrepentant sportscar that fully expects boy racers and other combatants to draw their chariots near, blip their accelerators and spoil for a dice.
For all its sound and fury courtesy of those four-barrel AC Schnitzer exhaust ends, the M3 sounds a trifle noisier than its standard sibling at cruising speeds, but only a pull on the (left) down shift paddle, followed by a tantalising short sharp brahph! is required to disturb the peace. Then the dark overture begins once more, with you, the driver, in the role of the conductor and the rapid-shifting, super-responsive M-DCT direct shift transmission a wand in your hand. The M3 powerplant is the most tractable and less peaky than some of its predecessors, but it still revs with sheer alacrity (it produces its peak power output on the rev limit!).
Furthermore, the M3 Frozen remains a rewarding driver’s car that is deceptively easy to place on the road – and with ridiculous precision to boot. The steering action is weighty in feel and the throttle pedal and shift paddles feel synched with a driver’s senses. The brakes bite sharply and kissing the apex of a corner is rewarded by a visceral (not least aural) delight as the rear of the Frozen smears the power down.
Pilots must never be lulled into a false sense of security by the M3 Frozen’s balanced ride, pin-sharp steering and prodigious adhesion, however… When a foolish inexperienced driver decides to fiddle with the traction and braking settings to explore the BMW’s limits on the road, he/she must be wary of the car’s aforementioned dark side; it is not averse to fish-tailing wildly or kicking out its rear when the throttle pedal is abused, especially when on the tyres are past their best. If a driver’s skilled, though, the M3 will perform astounding feats on demand.
Why BMW never introduced an upgraded M3 engine to the world market to counter the challenges from Munich’s newer rivals remains a mystery. Purists will say the standard M3 has enough firepower to satisfy the driving connoisseur, and they may be right. The M3 Frozen, by contrast, was tailored to be nothing but hard-edged and awe-inspiring. That booming exhaust and those fiendish looks will not appeal to everyone, but this car represents the ultimate expression of the current M3. There’s nothing quite like it – that’s why you want one.