In an unusual quirk of the schedules PH ended up on the same launch cycle for the
new BMW M3 and M4
as Mr Harris and cameraman Neil as they shot the video you'll be seeing very soon. As we all know, having owned several of the things Chris knows a thing or two about how this new one compares and here are his testing notes from his two days in the car. From the rushes we saw waiting for the delayed plane home the video won't disappoint either... Over to Chris.
Chris stuck with the DCT-equipped saloon
Tried to construct a sophisticated simile expressing my need to say something about
the new M3
because everyone else has, using words such as 'M3' 'opinions' and 'exit holes', but it just wouldn't come together without sounding bad. So I gave up.
Here are some personal notes on what I found.
Weird noise to begin with. No word of a lie, I laughed out loud when trying to define it - all I could think was 'mapped 335d'. It's less musical, lower frequency and less clearly straight-six than the M235i I'm currently driving. At first I didn't like it much, then it became a non-issue and after thrashing around a circuit for a while I almost liked it. But it's a million miles from the E46 and E92. Would I buy an everyday car on the basis of noise? Probably not. Radio 4 and ZZ Top will always overcome.
Junk in the trunk; the M3 saloon's got it
Performance? Scorching. The manual will hit 100mph in nine seconds dead, the DCT in 8.7 seconds. It hardly feels turbocharged and the torque is all-consuming. Real-world, this car is miles quicker than the old E92, and the torque means the rear axle loads up much earlier in a given turn, meaning you have the sensation of controlling the car's attitude with your right foot far more than you did before. But that should come in the chassis section. Doh.
I didn't have any problem with the throttle response. In comfort the throttle is long and a little lazy - normally I like that, but the shorter sport and sport-plus settings worked better in this car for me. In the latter the speakers mess around with the intake noise some more. Compared to, say, an E46 you lose a tiny amount of instant zap, but considering it has two turbochargers, you can take several stabs mid-corner to trim your line and the response is always there. It's worth revving out to 7,500rpm too.
Proper M engine, turbos and all? Yup
Fuel economy at a cruise is miles better than before - a genuine 30mpg - whereas I used to see 19mpg in my E92. The M3 badly needed some range, it now has it. This is perhaps the most important improvement over the outgoing V8.
Is the motor special enough? For a quick track blast and a few hours on the road, to impress a few hacks? Probably not, especially in light of the deranged V8 model's zap and DTM blare beyond 7,500rpm. But for everyday use, the torque, the sheer speed and the range make the new gizzards - for me - far more appealing.
Colleagues have given it real flak, with the insinuation that it isn't special (dry sump, forged crank anyone?) but I'd buy this car because of the motor, not in spite of it.
Flipping good. As in, I'm not sure how much more you can expect from a car of this type. We had 19-inch wheels (standard in the UK) running the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sports. Incidentally, that's a completely new tyre with a bespoke aramid belting and compounds specific to this car only. Front axle grip is alarming at first - you push, it grips, you play silly, and it still grips. On very technical roads, nothing in the class would see where it had gone (in the dry) for that reason alone.
Harris wasn't driving for these press shots...
Electronic dampers (again standard in the UK) give the same three modes as the motor. Comfort is the default road setting giving a still firm ride, but no crashiness. Sport adds some support, but I suspect in the UK it will be too much. The firmest setting is for the smoother sections of the Sepang F1 track. There's a non-adjustable damper option that in practice offers a fixed setting somewhere between the sport and sport plus settings, but it isn't coming to the UK.
The clever locking differential is essentially lifted from the F10 M5 - it can slacken itself to a fully open setting under brakes and at high speed, and then lock to 100 per cent on the exit of a turn. It's possibly the most complete unit of its type I've driven and certainly contributes to that searing turn-in and agility on the road.
Of course it's a drift expert - it's an M3. You can choose any angle and pretty much any speed. The tyres can handle quite a beating in this mode. Handy information for that morning commute.
Brakes and tyres make M3 track-ready from box
Leave it in comfort. The other two settings simply add weight, and I disliked them both. The 3 Series electric steering rack has been comprehensively re-engineered for this car, at vast expense. Does it feel like a conventional hydraulic rack? Nope. Is it exceedingly accurate? Yes. And the world really does have a short memory if it cites the last two M3s as being steering paragons. The E46 was light but accurate, the E92 lacked initial response off-centre. Neither were great.
This is not steering to savour, but it gives the driver instant confidence, and that is a brilliant trick when allied to all that front axle grip. For a big car, you can place the M3 with uncanny accuracy.
I only drove a DCT, and the manual would need to be somewhere near a late NSX in shift quality to persuade me to not have the two-pedal car. The dual-clutch is fast, smooth in town, gives extra fuel economy and it just suits the power and torque delivery of the motor. Fast shifts give a decent exhaust crack too.
Tastefully pimped over a standard 3er
We had the optional carbon ceramics, which will make prospective owners look away because they're too expensive. Well, BMW is talking about €7,000 for them, and they're plain superb. If I was going to use this car as intended, I'd have them, and normally I always advise the cheaper steel option. I'm saying that partly because with the standard Super Sport rubber and those ceramic stoppers, you have something instantly track-able.
Single piece front seats are spot-on. Steering wheel still too thick, hi-fi very good, iDrive still baffling. Just the right amount of bespoke touches to make it feel that much more special than an F30 3 Series. Incidentally, geeks like me are rejoicing that this car gets its own internal designation - F80. The coupe is F82.
Not mine to judge really. But if the M3, in that baby blue colour (which is actually a metallic on closer inspection) isn't the best looking M3 since the 1990 Sport Evolution, then I'll call all those E46 CSL owners Jessies. Actually, the CSL is a belting looking thing, isn't it. Look, the F80 has such a sexy rear axle set-down on the road, that people like us will point and grin at them.
Best looking M3 since Sport Evo? Discuss
Absolutely. I loved my E92, but it was surprisingly limited as my daily driver. Opportunities to enjoy that motor beyond 7,000 were predictably limited, the lack of torque left you exposed to turbo hot hatches and, well, you know my thoughts on the range.
This car rights all of those wrongs. In isolation, the motor gets blown into next week by the current C63 507 for pure noise and theatre, but on the road the BMW's fuel consumption and massive torque would swing it for me. Sounds boring, but that's what matters in a daily driver.Not to mention the transmission which makes the Merc's feel pretty antiquated now. And I still think the powertrain feels special enough for an M car.
The rest of the package is BMW M at its best. I think it's a truly special car. It made me smile for the two days that I drove it. When the video comes out in the next few weeks, watch the section where we talk through the level of modification over standard 3er. This car is 50 per cent new.
It's a blinder. I'll have the saloon, the dampers, the big brakes, the DCT, and probably the baby blue. So exactly the car I drove on the launch then.