Michele Lupini - Cars in Action, Marabella, Spain
Wed, 18 Jul 2007
It’s hot in the south Spanish Mediterranean coast today — very hot. The readout on the M3’s dash nudges 39, but it makes small difference to the car.
We’re in town for the international launch of the brilliant new BMW M3 — the one with a 420 brake horsepower 4.0-litre V8 under the bonnet and it’s proving to be every bit as exciting as we expected it. I’ve long shaken off the searing heat outside, the tardiness of the 24-hour trip up from Jo´burg that saw us rushing into our resort hotel to make our car pick-up time. M3 sorted all that instantly…
The road out of town spears due north before winding into the barren olive tree-endemic hills and the ribbon of tarmac is perfect for our needs — hugging the contours, the traffic is thinning, the road challenging, rough but intact.
Haven’t hammered it yet — couldn’t, really, and I did not need to either. That raspy V8 has mountains of torque and while it seems to be revving high, there’s still so much room between the needle and the end of its sweep…
The M3 we’re driving is bright red — metallic bright red — and it's the first time I’ve seen anything like it. The roof is clean carbonfibre black — they don’t bother painting it. It’s to shift the centre of balance down anyway, so why add the weight of paint when the object is to lose it in the first place.
A cheeky power bulge on the bonnet has two little vents each side and it’s clear M has been in the gym. It looks like Superman rather than Clark Kent 3: flared arches, pimped sills, power bumpers and those four fat exhausts punctuated by typically BMW M wheels, among other touches like those neat door mirrors and stylish M-gills on its flanks. It all makes it quite clear what this is. Beware…
Inside it's awesome, too — what better hue for the leather of a red car than toffee beige? There’s a carbon matte-finish material sewn over where there’s normally wood or alloy in an everyday 3 and a host of other sporty touches: the start/stop button prominently on the dash, the Damper, Stability and Sport buttons next to the chunky manual six-speed gear knob among others. And the seats are awesome — tight, hugging and comfy although I’d perhaps like it if mine adjusted even lower.
The typical BMW multifunction steering complete with M button (pity, this time thumbing it can’t give you the extra hundred horses M5 can but it does quicken the throttle, tighten the chassis) is fresh looking too, although it too, is surprisingly limited in reach adjustment.
Finally it’s my chance. Drop three gears down the manual box — click-click, punctuated by a proper if easy clutch action — and plant it. Wham! M3 reacts like a whip. Its rather guttural, mechanical, almost staccato growl turns into a charging lion roar as that needle seems to carry on forever.
The engine note stays surprisingly constant but everything happens so much quicker. You’re squeezed back into the seat, snatching the gears as they come — it seems you are in warp in a 'Star Wars' pod. And the corner’s coming. M3 brakes furiously, the Gs swap around fast but it’s rock solid in attitude — straight, secure and without a hint of bump-steer or any will to dodge you no matter how horrible the tarmac.
Turn in and it obeys. Floor it and it lights up a whole lot before traction control calms it — enough even to get a drift going. It’s honest and tells you what’s happening too, typically BMW composed as M3 rips up even the most challenging roads with consummate ease — it’s living up to every expectation we had of it…
Steady on — we’re on public roads. Haven’t even had a presentation on the car yet, that’s tonight, but we know already it’s bloody awesome. And tomorrow we drive M3 on the racetrack, too, so there will be quite a bit more to report, back on, along with the finer details. See you then — don’t miss it…