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New BMW M3 driven!

2007-07-26 08:03
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model M3
Engine 4-litre V8
Power 309 kW
Torque 400 Nm
Zero To Hundred 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 250 km/h

Egmont Sippel

Egmont Sippel drives BMW's new M3 during its international launch in Spain.

I tap off.

My co-driver has asked me to. His palms are sweating, he says.

The M version of BMW's E90 3-Series has behaved impeccably throughout, but enough is enough. On a challenging Spanish mountain pass the car has proven its point with astonishing aplomb: late on the brakes, fast in the apex, early on the gas, with nary a groan.

That's besides the scream of the new V8, as the M3 rocketed uphill and downhill out of second and sometimes first gear corners.

And just to get it out of the way: first to second is a touch notchy and slow in this 6-speed box, derived from a newly-developed manual for the M5's American market.

Quick comparisons

It's nowhere as light, quick and slick as the phenomenally fast first-to-second shift in Audi's RS4, for instance.

That?s one little observation. Another is the M3?s ratio differential that will sometimes - in tight stuff too fast for second, yet too slow for third - lock up the rears under conditions of maximum attack.

That's a road rather than car dependant feature, of course.

Yet the biting point on the M3's tightly-packaged new twin-plate clutch (with unique ventilation characteristics, by the way) is not always easy to modulate. Even a slow pedal release might result in a jerky transition from third to second.

And whilst we're on it: the soundtrack is vaguely disappointing. It's a rasp, rather than a roar, let alone a demonic wail, bark, bellow or howl.

It's also a tad muted and one-dimensional. Note and timbre stays unchanged from low to high revs, leaving rising pitch and frequency as the only indicators of sky-rocketing revs, delivering linear power and pull all the way up to the 8 400 r/min red line.

Aurally, the M3 is therefore thrilling, rather than awe-inspiring. And awe-inspiring is the rich and refined double-layered engine and exhaust notes of Audi's RS4.

Is BMW losing it?

The M3 cabin is nothing special, either, again measured against the class and sophistication of Ingolstadt interiors.

Is Bee-Em losing this contest, then - especially keeping in mind that the RS4 drives via quattro as well? And that BMW steering as of late just ain?t that great?

For low and behold, the latest M3's rudder does not deliver encyclopedic feedback, even though links and valve mapping have been revised, exactly for better feel, and even though power assistance can be varied between normal and sport modes.

With a 12.5:1 ratio it is still very sensitive and ultra-quick, however. With all that hydraulic assistance it's also easy. And once you're dialed in, there's just enough weight and resistance to find a dependable and predictable groove.

Confidence, then, is what counts. And after a tentative start, the M3 rudder delivers.

So does the rest of the car, in buckets and spades.

First up is ride and body control.

Creating a killer machine

Being an M3, the aluminium suspension geometry has been changed, front and aft, compared with the 335i's. Main mountings are extremely stiff for less frame movement and better wheel kinematics. Springs are shorter and dampers stiffer. And Michelin rubber is conventional, rather than run-flat.

It all adds up to a very good ride for this kind of car. Being relatively supple in standard settings, the M3 is also easy to place and control on bumpy B-roads, whilst damping can always be tightened up electronically via two more stages, road surfaces allowing.

Combined to a torsionally-stiff body with an inherently solid two door structure, plus reinforced B-pillars, body posture and control is nothing short of outstanding.

The second great M3 feature is weight saving. Peripheral luxuries have been tossed out. Bumpers and the roof are from carbon-reinforced lightweight plastics, for less mass at the furthest outposts. The V8 weighs 202 kg - 15 kg less than the old 265 kW 3.2-litre straight-6. And the hood is aluminium.

This all contributes to easier and faster damping, plus that razor-sharp turn-in. The Audi - already nimble and quick - just can't live to the Bee-Em on this crucial stretch of tarmac.

Munich's neat attention to weight reduction also ensures a better power-to-weight ratio, especially as the superb new V8 kicks up a storm of Arctic ferocity.

Everything is neatly kept under control and superbly synchronised, of course, by an unbelievably quick and powerful ECU.

V8 monster

But the 4.0-litre also boasts some sophisticated hardware solutions (like eight individual throttle butterflies) plus innovative thinking (like ion flow technology to detect and correct knocking and misfiring, and brake energy regeneration garnering electrical energy for the car's on-board network on the overrun, or under braking).

Much will still be said about the 4.0-litre V8 monster, not least because its 309 kW and 400 Nm allegedly bullets the 4.615 metre sport coupé's 1 655 kg from 0-100 km/h in less than the official 4.8 seconds.

Yet for Munich, that's an out-of-bounds rumour, lest it upsets M5 and M6 owners.

Rather concentrate on the new car's M Diff Lock, they counter. It's a clever limited slip feeding steroids to the rear wheel with the most grip. No wonder traction is so phenomenal. Ditto for exquisite car balance and ferocious lateral grip.

Coupled to great seat-of-the-pants chassis communication and excellent vehicle reflexes, the M3 can thus be drifted, driven tail-out or manhandled sideways, all at will, and all at mind-bending speed.

It's all systems off, then, on our first flying lap of Ascari - a wonderfully undulating 5.4 km track with an exhausting array of intriguing corners.

Which is exactly the point at which the M3 comes back at the RS4 with such a dynamic vengeance, if not out-and-out mechanical superiority (unless the RS4 clutch turns out to be as dodgy as some suspect). It's easy pushing the Beemer over the brim. But it is just as easy to control it on the wrong side of right and flirt with chaos, before bringing it all back home.

All is forgiven

We're talking savage fun, in other words. Compared with the RS4's clinical control and dogged four-wheel drive tracking, the M3 guarantees a lively, free-spirited style of creative driving.

The Beemer has all the means to be pin sharp and brutally quick, to the point where palms might sweat.

But it also has the capacity to stretch a smile right around your head, straight into the heart.

So, when the request came, I tapped off. I didn't mind. My soul was aglow already.

It will be for some time yet.

And that from a single encounter with the most powerfully addictive drug for on-road dynamics and sheer driving pleasure this side of a million bucks, and that side of a dinkum two-seater sports car.

This car, this animal, this beast, is alive and well and living right on top of the performance-&-pleasure heap. New M3 is the oversteer, tail-happy king of unadulterated, flat-out, feel-good fun. As a ferocious monster backed-up by delicate, subtle and pliable dynamics, there is nothing to beat it.


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