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Tested: BMW M3

2008-02-08 07:10
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model M3
Engine 4-Litre, V8, 32-valve
Power 309kW @ 8300r/min
Torque 400Nm @ 3900r/min
Transmission 6-Speed manual
Top Speed 250km/h
Power To Weight 186.7kW/ton
Fuel Tank 63-litre
Weight 1655kg
Boot Size 430-litres
Steering Servotronic rack and pinion
Airbags Yes, front, side and head
Tyres Michelin Pilot, 245/40 (front), 265/40 (rear) ZR 1
Front Suspension Independent, aluminium two-joint spring strut axle
Rear Suspension Independent multilink five-arm axle
Service Intervals 25 000km/onboard computer determined
Service Plan 5 year/100 000km
Warranty 2 years/unlimited km
Price R663 000

Lance Branquinho

What's it about?

The latest incarnation of BMW's most notorious range of cars. Boasting twice the number of cylinders and double the power output of the original E30 M3 launched in 1986, the latest version controversially features V8 power.

From 1992-2006 the indomitable naturally aspirated M3 straight six grew from 3- to 3.2-litres. It provided the M3 range with unrivalled smoothness, accelerative ferocity and the most distinctive howl in all of automobile-dom.

Unfortunately the engine had reached its peak development cycle, and packaging was becoming an issue too. Today's M3 then, marks the move to 4-litre, V8 power.


Beyond the change in powertrain, the essential package remains true to its heritage. A stylish 3-series Coupe with forbidding rear-wheel drive handling, supercar acceleration and day-to-day driveability.

The latest version is the most dramatic visually. From the deep cut front bumper spoiler to the menacing bonnet bulge and induction gills behind flared front wheel arches, this M3 brooks no argument.

A carbon-fibre roof breaks the shape of the car perfectly and those quad-tailpipes leave nobody in any doubt as to what engine configuration is riding up front.

Displacing 4-litres, the 90-degree V8 features double-overhead camshafts driving 32-valves and is made from an aluminium-silicone alloy at BMW's own foundry in Landshut north of Munich.

It weights just 202kg and produces 309kW - only 100 r/min shy of its 8400 r/min redline. Featuring an oversquare set-up of 92mm bore and 75.2mm stroke per cylinder, it's designed to rev until hell freezes over.

An inconspicuous yet essential feature is the Variable M Differential Lock, developed by BMW's M-division for the M3, ensuring neck-snapping traction out of even the most treacherously cambered second-gear corners.

On the inside

Swing open the large Coupe-profile driver's door and first impressions of the interior are decidedly underwhelming.

Beyond the M-instrument pack - 330km/h speedo, 9 000r/min tach and an M-logo - some tacky, coloured stitching on the steering wheel and M3 kick plates, the interior is disappointing.

It might have ergonomic refinement, irritable iDrive and epic in-car sound, but there is hardly anything bespoke about it. The seats could have a keener take on one in heavy cornering too, where you slide about a bit too much for my liking.

A heavy duty gearbox runs wide down the middle encased in its copious transmission tunnel, making the cabin cosy to the point of actually being on the tight side.

On the road

Fire up the M3 before setting out for your morning commute to work and you'll be disappointed. Without an oil-temperature gauge the rev-counter nanny's you and sets the illuminated orange-through-red limiter on the rev-counter at a decidedly spoilsport 6000r/min. It's akin to being in grade 10 and finally sneaking a peak at the netball first team in showers only to have your spectacles fog up completely.

In traffic it's dawdle to drive. Despite a high revving nature, the double VANOS camshaft adjustment allows torque to peak on 400Nm at 3 900r/min and you can short-shift from first-to-second-to-fifth and accelerate cleanly from 30km/h without any driveline shudder.

Negotiating traffic to work or dropping the kids off at school - the 430-litre boot is capacious enough - is capable territory for the pliant M3, but hardly its raison d'être.

Once the engine temperature hits 80 degrees the orange and red rev-counter warning illumination recedes to 8400/rmin. Next you switch off the DSC and press the power button next to it on the transmission tunnel.

Slip the typically slick BMW six-speed 'box down to third, make sure the windows are down and floor it.

Revel in the savage acceleration of the new V8 and the alarming alacrity with which it guns for the 8400r/min limiter.

It bellows from 4 000-6 800r/min and is simply manic from 7 400-8 400r/min, inviting you to use the last 1 000r/min repetitively. The accompanying frantic rush of power and noise is intoxicating.

Roll-on acceleration is epic in fourth from just over the legal limit and 0-100km/h should be a shade on 5 seconds depending on surface and skill levels.

It's insanely thirsty too. I averaged 18-litres per 100km/h, which included only 20% hooliganesque driving - and this despite having Brake Energy Regeneration onboard.

Demanding handling

How well does the M3 chassis cope with this corpulent V8 power, though? Being rear-wheel drive, there is a sense of forbidding about it. This is no foolproof Audi RS4, it has a low tolerance for high-jinks.

Super sticky Michelin Pilot tyres, all round independent front and multilink rear suspension and our clandestine hero, the M-diff, synergise for an unforgettable driving experience.

The M3 does not suffer fools gladly. The steering may be a tad numb, but it's unwittingly quick at a ratio of 12.5:1 and being rear-wheel drive it can turn in a lot sharper than you can temper the subsequent oversteer.

Drive it neatly, setting up dexterously for hard cornering and taking care to modulate steering and braking inputs, and the chassis copes exquisitely.

Savage power and epic traction, aided by the brilliant M-diff channelling power to the drive wheel with surfeit grip, ensure a handling package as good as all your GT4 PlayStation apex-clipping fantasies combined.

In slow corners you can lash out with some fantastically controllable power-slides thanks to the deft overall chassis balance and quickness of steering.


It scared me. I have driven more powerful cars, but on a deserted B-road one early weekday morning the steering weighted up too much, and although the body control was ace, I was petrified of having a huge tail-out moment and backed off.

A week later I tackled the same road at one and a half times the pace and it was sublime.

The M3 may have comfort features. It may also be (just) roomy enough to take your four-ball to an early morning tee-off. It may even be easy to park thanks to sensors. But it's a driver's car and demands to be respected, nurtured and obeyed.

If you have kids and they travel with you often get an RS4. It's roomier, classier inside too, and as powerful as the M3. And its all-wheel drive chassis security will save your life more often than not.

If you relish the challenge of waking up on a Saturday morning at 04:45am to have a go at your favourite B-road get the M3. You'll discover why. I did.


  • Striking styling package elevates 3-Series to new heights
  • Manic V8 engine worthy straight-six replacement
  • Deft chassis balance rewards neat driving with epic cornering speeds
  • Scary


  • Inexplicably bland cabin
  • Seats are not up to 10/10th driving
  • Your marriage will suffer over weekends
  • Scary


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