It is saner, but can still drive you crazy

Icon returns The new M3 already has a certain colourful reputation to live up to, just like this choice of body paint

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The BMW M3 is making a comeback in saloon form. Does it live up to its reputation?



The driving instructor’s repeated warnings to start applying the brakes early at Turn 10 didn’t fall on deaf ears, but clearly it was starting to fray a few nerves. But, it was not until we went out onto the track and tried to tackle the notorious turn that we realised that the instructor wasn’t overplaying caution.

Of course, the car that we were taking turns to test drive and throw around the haloed corners of this ‘technically difficult’ track was the new BMW M3. So, caution was inevitable, especially since it could get thrown out the window after all the adrenaline kicks in at the track.

We were a group of motoring journalists from India, at the Algarve Race Track just outside Portimao town in southern Portugal. And parked on the tarmac, gleaming under the Portuguese sun were the five generations of the M3.

The first E30 M3 had a 4-cylinder engine, the next two had the souped-up specials of the classic BMW straight-sixs of the times, and the outgoing model – the fourth generation M3 – was the exception with its four-litre V8 engine. With its relatively edgy handling and the dollops of power being fed onto the wheels, it is no wonder the fourth gen model was considered a bit of the ‘Mad’ sports car that it felt like on the track. Of course, the inevitable comparison being made was with the more dignified and less brash behaviour of the M5 sedan.

So, the new M3 already has a certain colourful reputation to live up to. More change has been imposed on it after the coupe and the convertible versions have now been spun-off as a new model line with the M4 moniker. In fact, after the last M3 saloon of 2011, it now makes a comeback as a four-door.

Design

The M3 was always recognisable as being a 3-Series derivative in terms of design. This new, fifth generation is no different. But, of course, there are pointers to its performance credentials, none more prominent than the classic bonnet bulge and the carbon-fibre roof, which has been a staple for the past two generations. For those that might overlook these subtle pointers, there are the oversized airdams and carved out scoops in the front fender that feed air to cool an evidently powerful engine under the hood.

There are also the side vents with the M3 logo which are not just to look cool, but also meant to allow air flow around the wheel rims to cool the brake pads. And the recommended option is the carbon-ceramic M super performance callipers. Yeah, why not? If you can consider the M3 as your weekend driving option, the nearly ten per cent extra you have to pay for these add-ons should be affordable too!

The rear of the new M3 sports the other classic design cue – the dual twin exhausts – set in the midst of some more air vents on the rear fender. The wheel arches are flared even more than in the regular 3-Series, making the M3 look more like the performance car that it is, but it is also meant to accommodate the larger 255/35 ZR19 tyres shod on special 19-inch alloys. Incidentally, the car also gets special Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres which feature a dual compound construction with a softer inner tread layer and a harder compound for the outer tread layer.

One funky new addition is the pixie-eared design for the door mirrors. We don’t know how much it contributes to aerodynamic drag reduction or in keeping down wind noise, but they sure look special.

Cabin

The new M3’s cabin is again very similar to the 3-Series in terms of layout. The same familiar lines and the orientation of the dashboard greet us. But there is extensive use of CFRP (carbon-fibre reinforced plastic) panels which lend the M3 the necessary bragging rights to challenge the other super sports cars. Of course, there are also acres of double-stitched leather in two tones. The best feature of the M3’s cabin is the sports seats – comfy, perfectly bolstered at the right spots and very supportive of dynamic driving on the track.

There is also enough in-cabin tech and the M-special gear lever to keep ‘gawkers’ busy. The speedometer talks without speaking with the needle sweep ending at 330 kmph (though top speed is limited to 250 kmph). There is also the three special buttons on the centre console that give away its sports cred and help you choose an individual setting for the steering, dampers and stability control.

Performance

The new M3’s mandate is responsible performance. So, while it now produces only 204 gms of CO2 emissions, it hasn’t lost out on sheer performance. That is always a difficult balance to achieve. At the heart of this endeavour is the new 3-litre, inline six cylinder engine which offers 10 horses more to flog, but together with all the new light-weight, aluminium and CFRP chassis parts, the car manages to shed 80 kgs.

According to BMW engineers, the new engine loaded with friction reduction tech behaves like a larger naturally aspirated engine, though it features twin mono-scroll turbochargers. What that essentially means on tarmac is that a wave of torque and power gets delivered in double quick time. The cooling system is also capable of handling the demands of the race track.

We had already experienced the M3’s gradual acceleration capabilities on the highway leading up to the Algarve track. It was also rock steady at high speeds despite the stiff wind that was buffeting the car on the open road. But on the race track, the M3’s sheer acceleration shocks us. It effortlessly crosses the 200 kmph mark on the straights and of course the carbon-ceramic brakes were a big help at Turn 10. Peak output is 431 HP and peak torque is a sumptuous 550 Nm available from a low 1,850 rpm.

The engine is offered with an option of a 6-speed manual transmission with throttle blipping or a 7-speed M double clutch automatic gearbox. We drove the M DCT on the track and thoroughly enjoyed the ultra-fast gear changes while using the paddle shifters.

There is enough braking and stability tech at work to try and keep the car on the track. But the sheer amount of work that has been done to boost the rigidity of the car’s chassis is very evident every time we swerved and attempted to apex the tracks 17 turns. The M3’s rear rarely ever stepped out. Push it hard and you can squeeze some tail slide, before it is killed by the electronics kicking in.

Bottomline

The new M3’s handling improvement is thanks largely to the more rigid chassis. Credit must also go to the electronic steering wheel that now has more heft and feedback than any other BMW.

To say that the new M3 is the car to buy from BMW M Division will be debatable. And the M4 may be the more popular vehicle in coupe form. But we are M3 fans and the new one is clearly a big step up.

Published on June 05, 2014

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