ALGARVE, Portugal – The M3 is arguably the biggest loser in the BMWs modern naming strategy. Where once the mention of this hallowed moniker sent chills down the spine of motoring enthusiasts (not least the competition), today it’s in danger of being referred to merely as the four-door version of BMW’s mighty new M4 Coupé.
Perhaps for reasons of nostalgia or simply because the four-door versions at the international launch of BMW newest M cars were finished in my new favourite colour, Yas Marina blue, I was drawn to the M3, rather than the M4 Coupé, as we set out on the road driving section of the programme (with a day at the fantastic Portimao race circuit to follow).
When viewed alongside one another it’s clear there is no shortage of drama in the overall designs of the M cars. Besides the addition of rear doors the M3 is marginally wider (7 mm), while being 41 mm taller than the M4. They share the same wheelbase. In contrast with the previous generation (E92/E90), both Coupé and Sedan have lightweight (and great-looking) carbonfibre roofs. As is to be expected the M3 is slightly heavier (by 23 kg) but is said to offer 35 dm³ of extra luggage space over its sibling.
Once you set off in the M3 you’re immediately aware you’re behind the wheel of an M car. From the low-slung seating position your eye line over the thick-rim steering wheel is flanked on one side by the now familiar bonnet bulge, on the other an equally familiar double arm side mirror. The new M3 will cater for three passengers at the rear while the M4 will accommodate only two.
Not as familiar, especially considering BMW M division products of the past, is the turbocharger technology found under the bulging bonnet. The new M TwinPower turbocharged inline six-cylinder delivers 317 kW between 5 500 r/min and 7 300 r/min with an impressive 550 N.m of torque between 1 850 and 5 500 r/min. And it’s with this figure that BMW has moved the M3 (and M4) into a new realm of performance potential. Whereas previous generations required a level of commitment towards high revs in order to fully appreciate the capabilities of the multi-valve variably valve-timed engines, the new M3, with its twin turbochargers (one per three cylinders) has been gifted a welcome and extremely impressive breadth of ability.
Mated with either a six-speed manual ‘box or optional seven-speed (dual clutch) M DCT transmission, the new M3 is as happy to navigate everyday congestion as it is to visit its 7 600-r/min red line. With full torque delivery available so low in the rev range, the need to gear down before executing overtaking manoeuvres – or blasting up the nearest mountain pass – is greatly reduced.
While the corresponding exhaust note is certainly different (less raspy at the higher echelons of the rev range) from that of the outgoing V8 model there’s certainly enough drama emitted from the new car’s quad pipes to draw a smile – and attention. The advantage is the absence of a cruising speed drone as the engine settles into cruising mode. A further advantage of this new downsized engine is a claimed combined fuel consumption of just 8,3 L/100 km (for the M-DCT model).
While our test units were fitted with optional 19-inch alloy wheels (R23 000 in our market) the corresponding ride quality (especially with the adaptive dampers set to comfort mode) was more than acceptable for a vehicle with such lofty performance potential. On the road section of the launch I also preferred to leave the steering arrangement in Comfort (as opposed to Sport and Sport Plus) as this provided the best balance between weighting (it’s lighter than in Sport) and response. That said the front end of the new M3 remains firmly planted even while carrying more corner speed than common sense dictates (hey, I had to test it).
Be too aggressive on the throttle while exiting a corner and the rear tyres (despite their bespoke Michelin design) will squirm for grip – just like a proper M car should. Show restraint, however, and the reward is a linear, lag free, dollop of shove and a relentless surge of speed. Set the transmission in the most aggressive of its three shift modes and every shift is accompanied by a satisfying wallop through the single-piece driver’s seat. By contrast, in its tamest setting, the transmission shifts almost undetectably.
I approached my first experience with the new BMW M3 with a certain measure of trepidation. The M3 has such a proud heritage of uncompromised performance to live up to and a part of me was worried that modern demands for ultimate efficiency and political correctness might have compromised this otherwise legendary package. I can, however report that all is well with the M3 (and M4) lineage and that even though the new generation has fewer cylinders, two turbochargers and unfamiliar nomenclature there remains a very distinct sense of occasion to piloting the vehicles – a common theme through all generations to date.
Model: BMW M3 (F80) M DCT
Engine: inline, six-cylinder, turbocharged
Capacity: 2 979 cm3
Power: 317 kW @ 5 500 – 7 300 r/min
Torque: 550 N.m @ 1 850 – 5 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,1 secs
Fuel consumption: 8,3 L/100 km
Top speed: 250 km/h (limited)
CO2 emissions: 204 g/km
Price: R1 004 092,40 (including VAT and carbon dioxide emissions tax)
*According to the manufacturer.