Drives: 02 Maxima SE
Join Date: Mar 2007
Auto123.com Review - Laguna Seca
A Canadian publication.
The M3 is equally at ease on the track and on byroads.
Every little detail has been carefully studied to create the ultimate compact sedan.
BMW showcases all its motoring expertise with this wonderful V8.
The center console with armrest is the only black spot in terms of ergonomics.
The M3 lineup expands with the return of the sedan.
The multiple driving aids of the M3 allow the driver to feel confident in a hurry.
The M3 is an exceptional car at a fairly reasonable price.
Another step forward
Laguna Seca, California - The fourth-generation M3 is more refined than ever. With hot new competitors like the Audi RS4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG getting all the attention lately in the ultra-high performance compact segment, BMW decided to bring the sedan back to its M3 lineup, alongside the coupe and the upcoming convertible, which is set to arrive in Europe in a couple of weeks. A wagon and a AWD model would complete the picture and allow the Bavarian automaker to maintain a stronghold on this market (AWD is a more realistic proposition). On the track and on the road, the new M3 offers supreme power, balance and confidence-inspiring handling.
BMW engineers have made the new model over 20-kg lighter by extensively using aluminum for suspension components, the hood and even the engine crankshaft. The roof is now made of carbon fiber to further lighten the car while making it even more rigid.
If you look at the new M3 from the back, you'll notice that the flared fenders give it a racy, aggressive look. They also house some serious rubber.
As for the coupe, only the doors, windshield and trunk were carried over -- everything else has been redesigned. The aluminum hood features a power bulge to accommodate the new and mighty 4.0L V8. Two air intakes were added to help the engine breathe more easily.
The front grille is overshadowed by huge lower openings allowing improved brake and radiator fluid cooling as well as forced-air engine feeding. The near-flat floor, combined with the split diffuser beneath the rear bumper, optimizes the airflow under the car, thus maximizing handling. Elsewhere, the redesigned mirrors not only provide great visibility but also increased downforce.
BMW understood that M3 buyers use it as an everyday car. Most of them have kids or regular carpoolers. The new M3 sedan will certainly meet their needs, seeing as how access to the rear seats in the coupe and convertible requires odd contortions.
414 unleashed horsepower
Bernd Limmer, Chief Engineer of the new M3, explained to us that his team improved the aforementioned V8 by reprogramming the Double Vanos camshaft system and building a new crankshaft out of aluminum and silicone. Each piston gets its own intake control valve. The dry-sump lubrication system remains, although its capacity was increased to meet the requirements of the high-revving V8 (max power is available at 8,300 RPM).
A new electronic management system prevents a cold engine from revving too high but unleashes hell when it gets warm. Through a console-mounted switch near the shifter, this system also allows the driver to program engine speed so as to be able to count on the full 414 horsepower whenever the urge to hammer the throttle is felt. What's more, the engine maintains 85 percent of its torque all the way to 8,000 RPM -- maximum torque is rated at 295 lb-ft at only 3,900 RPM. Therefore, power delivery is steady during accelerations and passing maneuvers. In fact, on byroads, you can overtake a slower car in fourth or fifth gear. According to BMW, the M3 sedan sprints from 0 to 100 kph in 4.8 seconds.
Two transmission choices are available: a 6-speed manual and a 7-speed semi-automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The latter won't hit the market until early summer, though. It uses a twin-clutch mechanism -- a different clutch for odd and even gears. As a result, shifts are completed in a few milliseconds.
Meanwhile, the new final drive comes with a Variable M Differential Lock generating up to 100 percent locking action with fully variable action whenever required, ensuring optimum traction on all road surfaces.
Near-perfect driving cockpit
Every control is intuitively positioned. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel is perfectly sized and ergonomic for sporty driving. The right hand falls naturally on the gear selector.
As far as the seats are concerned, I liked how they wrap your body and provide excellent side support for any body size. The console between the front buckets, on the other hand, is pretty large and I often banged my elbow against it while shifting from first to second. And once again, I was disappointed by the clever though extremely inconvenient iDrive system: it's in your best interest to adjust all your settings before taking off.
New suspension and upgraded brakes
The rear end now features a multilink suspension with five aluminum arms. The optional Electronic Damper Control (EDC) system allows the driver to tailor the vehicle's chassis dynamics to his or her preference through one of three modes: Sport, Normal and Comfort. Needless to say the latter is designed for track driving. Up to 11 setting combinations are possible for the engine and suspension. An available steering wheel-mounted "MDrive" button also allows you to memorize your preferences.
In the braking department, BMW has never been fond of compromises. The huge internally-vented, cross-drilled cast iron discs measure 14.2 inches in diameter at the front and 13.8 inches in the rear. They are connected to a floating aluminum calliper by cast-in stainless-steel pins. (Note that ceramic brakes are nowhere to be found due to the M3 Sedan's everyday functionality.) Equipped with excellent Michelin Pilot tires, the car takes less than 34 meters to stop from 100 to 0 kph on dry pavement.
On the road... and the track
In city driving, the powertrain proves very smooth and docile. Using the clutch of the manual transmission is almost effortless and seamless. Actually, engine torque is so flexible that you can take off in second gear. The M3's size makes it easy to park and maneuver through traffic.
On highways, this BMW pocket rocket is so quiet and so smooth that you're constantly checking the digital speedometer to find out exactly how fast you're going. Too often, I wound up 20 or 30 kph above the legal speed limit. Damaged roads will emphasize the firmness of the suspension, especially on the passenger side; the driver's seat seems less affected by vibrations.
On byroads, the M3 is pure delight: instantaneous passing maneuvers, surefooted handling and confident braking. You can attack corners just about any way you like. Simply point to a certain direction and the M3 will get you there, even without EDC (as was the case with my own test model). You feel tremendously safe and confident behind the wheel of this machine. The rack-and-pinion steering is now further enhanced by hydraulic Servotronic power assistance controlling steering forces and comfort levels. There is also a choice of two different control maps activated through normal and sport modes with a console-mounted button. Need I say more?
On the track, well, the M3 is a total blast. With EDC and accordingly programmed engine management settings, the car hits the tarmac with ferocious yet civilized spirit. Handling is so great that inexperienced drivers can feel like champions. I had the pleasure to perform a 10-lap session on the Laguna Seca Raceway, in Monterey: what a treat! Despite being familiar neither with the track nor the car, I was able to push the M3 to the limit in just a few laps.
What about fuel economy? Well, with such a high-revving V8 and its highly spirited horses, don't expect cheap gas bills. That being said, in normal driving conditions, the M3 might surprise you with regards to efficiency.
And the price?
The M3 is primarily designed for track driving and racing, which didn't stop BMW Canada from making it more affordable than ever, pricing the sedan at $69,900 and the coupe at $71,300. Both will arrive in showrooms on March 8. As for the Cabriolet, it will hit the market on May 17 and retail for $81,900.
Considering its standard features, performance levels, smoothness and rush-hour capacity, the new BMW M3 proves to be a high-caliber sports car offering a sensational driving experience.
Three models (sedan, coupe, cabriolet)
Fuel consumption, if you're too aggressive