I’ll admit it. I have a problem with writing about cars I love, not just like. It’s almost as if the experience is so overwhelming that it takes me some time to sit down, go through my notes and methodically process and reflect upon the information.
For better or worse, BMW’s new M3 falls into this camp of vehicles that I’m enamoured with. All-new for the 2015 model year, I wrote about my first 24 hours in the M3 in this earlier article.
What’s in a name?
If you’re not in the know, a few years ago BMW changed their naming conventions. The odd numbered models in their range now denote sedans, whereas the even numbered models now generally refer to their coupes.
There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, such as with BMW’s four door coupes (a la the 4 and 6-series Gran Coupés and their M equivalents). But in the context of this article, BMW’s M3 coupe is no more and has now been named the M4.
Back to six pot power
And so we move onto the M3 “sedan”. Let’s start with the power, which is the main reason why someone would choose an M car over the standard spec and perfectly quick 335i.
Gone is the previous generation 414 hp 4.0-litre V8 engine. Under the hood, BMW engineers have stuck a direct-injection twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline-six cylinder engine generating 425 hp and 406 ft-lbs of torque. This new mill fixes one of my biggest complains with the E92 M3’s high revving V8 which was great as far as top end horsepower, but a bit weak in the usable torque department especially at low revs.
To save weight, reduce turbo lag, and minimize thermal losses, the two mono-scroll turbochargers have been cleverly integrated into the manifold. With a max 18.1 psi of boost pressure and almost 100 ft-lbs more torque (up by 38 per cent) than its predecessor, the M3 still feels like it has a big muscley American V8 in its nose. In fact, in a straight-line the M3 is as fast as a base Corvette or a Porsche 911. Bonkers for a four door family car.
Despite the bump in horsepower and torque, the new car is quicker than the E92 M3, and offers 28 per cent more range from one tank of fuel. It’s also kinder to the planet, with 26 per cent less CO2 emissions.
Part of the reason for the better fuel consumption is thanks to the efforts that have been focused on weight savings. It’s carbon fibre galore everywhere and not just in the interior trim pieces. The roof, driveshaft and engine brace are all made of the exotic material to trim the fat. Add a few extra bonus points for the visible carbon fibre bits looking spectacular and being able to wow your friends.
The upgrade in horsepower and torque also means the necessity for a proportional upgrade in stopping power. Optionally available are M carbon 6 piston ceramic brakes.
But at an eye-watering $8,500, you’ve really got to want them for the gold calipers or if you intending on tracking your M3. Otherwise, the standard four piston front, two piston rear BMW M compound brakes will do just fine.
The feel from the brake pedal is quite wonderful with short-travel operation that is calibrated just so. The pedal isn’t too touchy so as to cause your passengers’ necks to snap forward at every braking event. Yet, the pedal has such great feel that you can modulate tiny adjustments with ease.
You have two transmission choices. Those subscribe to the #SaveTheManuals movement will want to row their own gears via the auto rev matching 6 speed manual gearbox that is lighter, more compact and quieter than its predecessor. Not to worry, the auto throttle blipping can be disabled in Sport+ mode for those who want to really test their footwork.
Now in its third generation, the shifts are almost instantaneous. With the Drivelogic mode set to the sportiest of its three settings, it truly replicates a race car experience.
Ride and Handling Experience
BMW may deserve some hate mail regarding the electric steering feel but it’s not all bad news. This entirely new system is built by ZF and has three selectable modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport+) that have been specially tuned for the M3/M4. Granted, while precision is high and steering is delightfully quick, there is still not that much feedback coming through the wheel.
Thankfully, BMW’s engineers have made the decision not to let the Servotronic system compensate for understeer, oversteer, or coarse road surfaces. The electric power steering motor will not help to unwind the steering wheel, and it will self-centre only by natural forces.
However despite the quibbles above, the M3 still communicates beautifully. Part of the magic is BMW’s standard 50/50 formula for fore-aft weight distribution. Another part is how BMW mounts the rear subframe carrying the suspension rigidly to the unibody (without rubber bushings).
This truly helps to aid in chassis-to-driver communication. While this may seem like a trivial change, the back end and your backside are both important data sources. Sensing the difference between heading into full-on oversteer or just slipping on a little bit of gravel is hugely reassuring when driving near the limit of adhesion.
However, the standard lightweight aluminum double-joint spring front/forged aluminium five-link rear suspension setup seemed perfectly adequate. Make no mistake that the M3 is much firmer than the standard 3-series, as it should be.
The impacts are never harsh or jittery though, despite the large 19-inch wheels and low profile tires.
M3 owners expect a visceral experience when behind the wheel and the sound that the car makes is such a large part of that. The M3 has a new electronically controlled exhaust which has electrically controlled flaps just before the rear silencer.
The selectable drive modes dictate different engine sound profiles meaning that you can enjoy both an exciting drive on your favourite twisty backroad, or a quiet six hour road trip at highway speeds.
Although there has been yet more squawking from BMW traditionalists about the “sound enhancer” that pipes artificial engine and exhaust notes through the audio system, I happen to think it sounds pretty damn good despite the diesel enginesque engine sound at cold start. Most of my passengers did not even notice the effect of the synthesizer even after I mentioned the presence of said system to them.
All of the above is why I doubt that owners will see the BMW claimed fuel consumption figures of 14.1L/100 kms in the city and 9.7L/100 kms on the highway. I averaged 14.2L/100 kms in mostly city driving, which was somewhat of a surprise as official figures tend to be vastly optimistic.
Amongst all of the technical jargon and performance talk it’s easy to overlook the M3’s interior.
The available heads-up display has been tweaked to offer M specific performance data and the steering wheel features two configurable M drive settings to store all of your favourite steering/suspension/throttle settings.
Just like other 3-series sedans, a whole suite of BMW active and passive safety systems are available, from available lane departure warning, collision mitigation, blindspot warning, to a 360 degree camera system.
Another highlight is the wonderful one piece BMW M sports seats which are visually inspired by racing bucket seats. Some reviewers say its tacky, but I happen to like the illuminated M logos on the seat backrests!
The contoured rear seats are also made from lightweight composite material and can be folded in a 60:40 split to expand the cargo capacity.
Without trying to sound too much like a BMW fanboy, this latest generation M3 lives up to its reputation of being a legend in the world of performance cars.
Having previously owned a lovely Mercedes-Benz C55 AMG, I can attest to the practicality (and pleasure) of owning a sports sedan that will blow your socks away while still being able to carry 3 other adults and their luggage in comfort. You can truly have the M3 as your daily driver except for the most severe of winter conditions.