At last, PH gets behind the 'wheel of the new M3!
Still, you could wedge a RAF hangar door open with the BMW press pack handed out on the launch. The book devoted purely to the engine is a reference tome in itself, but then technology and lots of it is one of the new car’s principal weapons.
Elsewhere there’s a carbon fibre roof, lightweight suspension, MDrive facility with different setting programmable into an M button on the steering wheel (a la M5) and (optional) electronic dampers with three different settings. For now, a six speed manual gearbox is the only transmission available although some form of semi-auto ‘box will follow. Despite their best efforts, the M guys admit the new car weighs slightly more than the old one. As for the looks, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Unsurprisingly, the new car is dominated by its engine. Even when you first sit in the car, you’re immediately struck by the ‘powerdome’ bonnet that seems much more prominent from behind the ‘wheel. The V8 starts with a cultured growl and settles to a respectable idle. Around town it is well-behaved, and apart from the sometime clunkiness of the transmission at low speed it’s all very effortless to drive. The ride seems very composed too, certainly more comfortable than the old car, although we won’t really know until we’ve driven it in the UK.
The final charge of the V8 towards its 8,300rpm is really quite a remarkable thing. This is where the power is truly ferocious. Up until now, the M3 can feel slightly constrained by its weight and what feels like a longish set of gear ratios, but once you’ve tapped into that final band you’re really flying and the noise the thing makes as it falls into the soft limiter is unforgettable.
We hack across the mountains of southern Spain, making our way from the launch resort towards the Ascari Race track inland. On these roads the new M3 is punishingly, absorbingly, illegally fast. Imagine the old Spa circuit without the rain and you’re about there: long, gently curving downhill straights that stretch out into the distance followed by sweeping, plunging and rising compound curves. It’s mainly third and fourth gear stuff in this car and it’s in its element. The chassis feels poised and secure, and there always seems to be more revs to play with, and consequently more power.
Two positives stand out at the Ascari racetrack. Firstly, the straights give you the chance to extend the V8 right to the cut-out in a number of different gears and the resultant speeds are very impressive indeed. Secondly, with this much power the car can be pitched sideways and held there in a wanton drift (try that in a RS4) through a number of the slower corners – which is hilarious, although only when you’re not paying for the tyres. However, as a tool to whittle away at your lap time, the new M3 is a little less convincing. It’s the small, subtle stuff once again: the remote steering; the LSD that feels a little slower to react than the old car; the lack of razor aggression in the engines mid range. Altogether, they slightly but decisively blunt the experience in a playground such as this.
It seems certain that many M3 buyers will find this new car a superb companion and that any thoughts are in the distinct minority when they contain phrases about ‘steering feel’ and ‘driver feedback’. Such things increasingly have little value in a marketplace obsessed with power.
That there really is room for a ‘CSL’ is not in doubt and my bet is it won’t be long in coming from what was and wasn’t said on the launch. Whereas the old CSL required plenty of in-depth fettling to extract that extra edge from an already focused package, it seems the positioning of this new car leaves a much easier gap in which to place a hardcore version.
Contrived, maybe; an exciting prospect, definitely. But in the meantime, perhaps just a little of the M3 magic has been lost…