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      10-05-2007, 12:27 AM   #1
ruff
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M3 first drive

MWERKS First Drive: 2008 BMW M3


For more than two decades, BMW’s M3 has been perfectly schizophrenic, equally at ease as a daily driver and a track toy. In all that time, the formula has remained the same: BMW takes its 3-series coupe, drops in a high-strung powerplant pilfered from some racing program or another, tamps down the already firm chassis, and puts the bodywork on steroids. (Thankfully, BMW skips the spray-on tan and tribal tattoos.)

There’s a bit more to it than that, obviously — otherwise an M3 would amount to nothing more than another tuned 3-series. In fact, all the base car’s major components get thoroughly re-examined and optimized for a life of abuse, but the one hallmark of any true M-car has always been the engine. And the big news for this fourth-generation M3 is that BMW has kicked the long running six-cylinder to the curb in favor of a V-8.

Enthusiasts who question the wisdom of adding two more cylinders to the nose of a car whose pork factor is already in question should be happy to hear that the V-8 actually weighs less than the previous M3’s inline six. And not just a couple pounds lighter for shouting rights, but a dynamically significant 33 pounds lighter.

Needless to say, there’s no mistaking the new M3’s V-8 for a warmed over 7-series lump. In true M tradition, this engine shares its DNA with pedigreed racecars. Essentially eighty percent of the M5’s high-revving V-10 (which itself was an offshoot of BMW’s Formula 1 program), it measures out to 4.0 liters. And even though its bore and stroke are slightly different than the ten-cylinder’s, it still achieves the magical half-liter of displacement per cylinder that gets the guys in the M-emblazoned lab-coats all tingly.

Like its ten-cylinder sibling, the V-8 uses bedplate-block construction for an amazingly solid crankcase assembly, and the entire structure is cast of aluminum in the same foundry that pops out the F1 mills. Naturally, it sports all the goodies you might expect from an M engine — a throttle body for each cylinder, variable intake and exhaust timing, tubular exhaust headers, and spark plugs that double as knock sensors. The net result of all this engineering is 414 horsepower at 8300 rpm (just 100 rpm shy of redline) and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm. While paper-racers will debate the merits of the engine’s specs ad nauseam, what really matters is how the engine works when it’s in the car.


The Spanish Autoroute along the Mediterranean coast from Malaga to Marbella largely resembles Southern California’s, except that instead of Hummers and Hondas the dense local traffic consists of Rovers and Renaults. Off the main highway and into the hills, the scenery changes quickly — narrow country roads wind and twist and climb the craggy terrain, occasionally passing through the tiniest of villages. Olive groves quilt the surrounding hillsides, the oil of their fruits slicking the already challenging asphalt. Pretty ideal conditions for shaking down a new M3, no?



Plan A was to flog the piss out of the car from Marbella to the Ascari Race Resort about an hour and a half away. The driving habits of rural Spaniards had me exercising the much less lively but eminently saner Plan B instead (a 6/10ths jaunt in the middle gears to Ascari), netting perhaps the biggest surprise of the day — this thing actually makes torque in the mid-range! Not turbo-induced mountains of churn, mind you, but certainly enough that you can pick fourth gear and shoot through traffic swiftly without reaching for the shifter.


From idle on up to 6000 rpm, the presumably peaky V-8 actually delivers its power as smoothly as a big six. Crossing beyond 6000, the V-8 lacks the drama that characterizes some competitors’ high-revving engines; it simply keeps unwinding until its mechanical symphony reaches its 8400-rpm crescendo. The bark of its eight throttle bodies and wail of the exhaust alone are worth the M-car premium (it will start in the low $60K range, by the way).

Heel-and-toe addicts will applaud BMW’s decision to offer the M3 with a proper 6-speed manual as the only option (for now — a twin-clutch is in the works), forgoing the M5's optional seven-speed sequential queaso-matic. The shifting action of the 6-speed manual is typical BMW fare — it works well but lacks a sense of pure precision — and the pedals are perfectly placed. The locking rear differential in my car made itself heard at low speeds, clicking and chattering in search of the best wheel to send most of its push. Nevertheless, the combination of V-8, six gears, and a locking diff gets the coupe to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds, though you’ll have to switch off the electro-prison-guards to achieve that.

On the challenging sections, both on and off the track, the new M3 feels more compact and lithe than other 3-series models. This is the biggest M3 to date, but from the driver’s seat you wouldn’t know it. The car simply goes (and stays) where it’s pointed, thanks in large part to the standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, but credit is also due BMW’s engineers for tuning the chassis so brilliantly. Others have criticized the steering as a little dead; I thought it was perfectly linear and progressive, matching the control feel of the rest of the car. Like all great BMWs, there is harmony here among the many moving parts. The body leans just as predictably as the steering wheel turns, and just as unconsciously as the suspension compresses over bumps.

The secret is endless tuning, of course, and also, as Lotus founder Colin Chapman once said, adding lightness. Reviewing notes from the last-generation lightweight M3 CSL, the boys in Munich put their most prolific sports coupe on a crash diet (no pun intended) and added plenty of lightness in all the right places. Steel has largely been banished from the suspension in favor of aluminum, resulting not only in lower overall weight, but a much more reactive chassis. Compound-construction brake rotors use the light stuff for the center hats to reduce unsprung weight and rotational mass. These small details may seem insignificant, but they are what will separate the M3 from its rivals.

What won’t distinguish it from the pack is the rest of its braking system. The compound rotors sound like a road grater at low speeds because of all the cooling holes drilled through them. Never mind that their technology was developed on the racetrack; once the hot laps start the center pedal goes as soft as an L.A. judge on a celebutante. The culprit is the single-piston front calipers, and there’s simply no excuse for them on a car that is an otherwise perfect track-day weapon.

The M3’s aesthetic qualities have always been dictated by functional demands, starting with the bulged fenders and massive deck wing that made an icon of the original E30 model. What this newest one lacks in improvisational sheetmetal, it makes up for in sheer engineering brilliance. The carbon fiber roof might seem like pandering to the tuner crowd, but along with the aluminum hood and plastic front fenders, it not only removes weight, it helps ensure the weight stays in the right place, low and between the wheels.

The driver’s area of the M3 looks uncomfortably similar to a standard-spec 3-series. Sure, there’s leather all over the place (some of it has even been embossed to resemble carbon fiber) and the excellent sport seats are a bit deeper than the standard items. And just in case you forgot you were in an M car, perhaps the tri-color graphics on the doorsill plates, the pedals, the shift knob, the steering wheel, the floor mats, and the gauge faces will jog your memory. But overall it lacks the feeling of being something truly special. The test car’s red-over-saddle color combination did little to challenge that notion.

Enthusiasts will continue to flock to the M3 for the right reasons. The engine is truly a modern marvel, the chassis is a masterpiece, and the focus on weight reduction is admirable. If only the brakes were up to the task...


http://www.mwerks.com/artman/publish...cle_1273.shtml
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      10-05-2007, 01:05 AM   #2
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Good review. Glad to hear another Journalists actually liked the steering. Brakes...meh

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      10-05-2007, 03:12 AM   #3
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Brakes

Jason - "Brakes...meh". How about brakes...a potential disaster.

Strange though. We have heard reports saying there is little to no fade and now this terrible evidence - the brakes "once the hot laps start the center pedal goes as soft as an L.A. judge on a celebutante".

I guess BBK (and the resulting big $) may be the sole required upgrade to the car.

Probably the best thing about this article is the photo gallery which I reposted here.
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      10-05-2007, 03:13 AM   #4
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I'm sick of reading about people suggesting BBKs. Not because it's their fault for mentioning it, but because they bloody shouldn't have to on a performance car.
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      10-05-2007, 06:25 AM   #5
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That article isn't new. It's a re-run of this one:
http://www.motivemagazine.com/pub/fe...st_Steer.shtml

Thought we've that already seen here, but can't seem to find a link...

Best regards, south
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      10-05-2007, 11:33 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by southlight View Post
That article isn't new. It's a re-run of this one:
http://www.motivemagazine.com/pub/fe...st_Steer.shtml

Thought we've that already seen here, but can't seem to find a link...

Best regards, south
Good find.
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      10-05-2007, 12:19 PM   #7
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Pic of the CFRP laminations is cool.
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