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Future models - BMW - 3 Series - M3 coupe

First drive: Manic new M3 is all muscle

Exhilarating: Mighty new V8-engined M3 drives better than ever.

All-new M3 coupe hits Europe, stalking Audi's brilliant RS4 and Benz's ballistic CLK63

10 Jul 2007

THOSE who insisted that the current M3, the last in a coveted line of six-cylinder compact sports coupes from BMW, could not be improved upon had better think again.

The current E46 M3 is certainly a hard act to follow, but its fourth-generation successor, the first V8-powered M3, does more than just follow.

Launched internationally in Spain this week ahead of its official public debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September and its Australian release in late October, the E92-series M3 is the most powerful, quickest and most bespoke example of the iconic compact performance coupe yet seen from BMW.

BMW's latest rear-drive four-seater coupe first broke cover as the thinly disguised M3 Concept at the Geneva motor show in March, with details of its all-new 4.0-litre V8 revealed later that month.

Less than a month later BMW issued full details of the production M3, which is now being built at its Regensburg plant alongside 1 and 3 Series models.

Likewise, the M3's V8 engine is assembled at BMW's Munich engine plant, alongside the M5/M6 V10, the V8 diesel, and V8 and V12 petrol engines for the 5 and 7 Series.

Its crankcase is produced at BMW's light-alloy foundry at Landshut, which also manufactures the BMW Sauber F1 Team's racing engines, along with the new M3's carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof as seen on the previous-generation limited-edition M3 CSL and the current M6 coupe.

Despite the weight-saving roof structure, the fact the compact new V8 actually weighs 15kg less than the current M3's inline six and that in base 323i guise (1405kg) the E92 coupe sheds a further 15kg (over its direct E46 predecessor, the 320Ci), it's dissapointing to see the M3's overall weight increase - particularly after so much talk of weight-saving and BMW's latest "EfficientDynamics" mantra.

For the record, the new M3's unladen EU weight (including 68kg for driver, 7kg for luggage and a 90 per cent full fuel tank) rises a considerable 85kg - from 1570kg to 1655kg. BMW Australia quotes kerb weights of 1495kg (E46 M3) and 1580kg (E92 M3) respectively.

BMW says the extra weight is the result of the bigger two-door body, extra equipment and superior crashworthiness – but points out it is still 100kg lighter than its most direct rival in the Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG coupe (1755kg).

However, the model that has established Audi as a serious player in the compact performance car stakes in recent times, the wild RS4 sedan (also available in Avant and Cabriolet bodystyles), weighs 5kg less at 1650kg, packs a larger 4.2-litre V8 with the same 309kW and even more torque (430Nm) and comes standard with all-wheel drive.

It comes as no surprise that, with the same power and weight, the RS4 and M3 both claim 0-100km/h acceleration of 4.8 seconds, which is four-tenths quicker than the previous M3, 0.1 second quicker than the M3 CSL and right behind BMW's performance flagship, the M5 sedan.

Of course, there is no replacement for displacement and the CLK63's 354kW/630Nm 6.2-litre V8 pushes the heavier Mercedes coupe to 100km/h three-tenths faster at a claimed 4.5 seconds.

The lighter C63 AMG sedan, revealed last week by Benz as an M3 spoiler on the eve of its launch, makes do with 336kW, but is just as quick. Expect it to carry a pricetag somewhere between that of the supercharged C55 AMG sedan it replaces ($160,490) and the CLK63 coupe ($199,100) when it arrives towards the middle of 2008.

The new M3 will be priced around $20,000 above the current model's $140,000 when it hits Australia in six-speed manual-only guise (our guess is $159,900). BMW's own new twin-turbo E92 335i coupe's 330Ci-dwarfing price of $108,500 will also help force the new M3's price higher, to about $5000 shy of the RS4 sedan´s price of $164,500.

And this time around the M3 faces not only German rivals, but a serious Japanese contender, too. Next year's all-new Lexus IS-F is also expected to offer stiff competition, via a 300kW 5.0-litre V8 and keen pricing.

BMW is expected to depart with tradition by offering a Volkswagen DSG-style double-clutch automated manual transmission from around March next year – instead of the Sequential M Gearbox (SMG) that has featured on all M models since the E46.

Measuring 123mm longer (at 4615mm), 37mm wider (1817mm) and 25mm higher (1418mm), the new M3 rides on a 30mm-longer wheelbase (2761mm) and 30mm/14mm wider front and rear wheel tracks (1538mm/1539mm) respectively.

14 center imageAt its heart lies a 3999cc V8 that spins to a stratospheric 8400rpm cut-out (even higher than the V10's 8250rpm rev-limiter).

Exact claimed outputs are 309kW (420hp) at 8300rpm (up 17 per cent) and 400Nm of torque at 3900rpm, with 340Nm available from 2000rpm.

The direct-injection 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine first seen last October in the E92 3 Series Coupe range offers less power (225kW at 5800rpm) but the same 400Nm torque peak – from just 1300rpm.

As expected, the M3's V8 is closely related to the M5/M6's 5.0-litre V10 and features the same 90-degree cylinder angle, the same 500cc cylinder displacement, the same offset crank pin arrangement, the same individual throttle butterfly set-up and the same oversquare 92.0 x 75.2mm bore and stroke dimensions Likewise, the all-alloy M3 V8 employs a high 12.0:1 compression ratio, double-VANOS inlet and exhaust valve timing technology, and 35mm and 30.5mm intake and exhaust valve dimensions to deliver a specific power output that also exceeds the impressive 100 horsepower-per-litre mark at 105hp/L.

The all-new V8 is claimed to be one of the world's lightest V8s at 202kg and features wet sump lubrication and twin oil pumps to deliver what is claimed to be reliable lubrication at lateral and longitudinal forces of up to 1.4g.

The new V8 is Euro IV emissions-compliant and comprises a short, forged crankshaft that weighs just 20kg, as well as a fibreglass airbox and air funnels, but its most significant new feature is Brake Energy Regeneration technology, which offers superior off-throttle alternator control to recharge the battery - a system that will filter down to other BMW models.

BMW claims average fuel consumption of 12.4L/100km – eight per cent better than the outgoing 3.2-litre M3.

Apart from its carbon-fibre roof, the new M3 differs from lesser E92 coupes in a number of ways, including radically flared synthetic front and rear quarter panels (the former with now-trademark go-fast venting) and an aluminium bonnet comprising both twin air inlets and a prominent power dome.

Externally, only 20 per cent of components, including the doors, bootlid, headlights, tail-lights and windows, are carried over - making this M3 the most unique example of the 20-year-old M-division nameplate.

Inside reside M sports seats, M instruments and a multi-function M steering wheel, while underneath is a fully enclosed underbody, alloy-optimised suspension components, reinforced front strut towers and the M differential lock.

Quad exhaust outlets, standard 18-inch wheels, unique twin-arm wing mirrors, four specific paint colours and more aggressive front and rear bumpers further distinguish the M car from other E92s.

Like the M5, the latest M3 also features an MDrive button, which allows drivers to choose between a number of DSC stability control, Servotronic power-steering and throttle pedal travel modes, as well as three Electronic Damper Control (EDC) suspension damping settings.

Optional in Europe, MDrive and EDC will be standard equipment in Australia, leaving only 19-inch wheels to the options list. Surprisingly, a steel roof with sunroof will be a no-cost option, and BMW expects 20 per cent of buyers to opt for this.

The E46 M3 was available in coupe and convertible bodystyles but, following the M5 Touring, the E92 could also be the first M3 to be available as a wagon.

Drive impressions:

BMW appears to have performed something of an engineering miracle by producing a 1655kg V8-powered vehicle that remains true to the M3's original signatures of agility, balance and precision in a powerful compact sports coupe.

The truth is that on the road the new M3 does not feel 85kg heavier than its predecessor, and certainly not 250kg heavier than the entry-level 323i coupe.

Better still, the fact that its cracking new V8 is actually lighter than the previous M3's straight six means it is just as neutral and even easier to drive on the throttle thanks to an abundance of extra torque.

Yes, the same purists that claimed the 1570kg E46 M3 could not possibly remain a driver's car will also label the latest M3 as overweight, but we reckon the weight gain is a small price to pay for the new model's extra stretching space, improved safety, stiffer chassis and more extensive standard equipment list.

And just imagine how heavy it would be without its carbon-fibre roof and plastic quarter panels.

No, the M3 is not as raw or unfettered as the original E30 four-cylinder, the E36 that followed it or even the E46 that proved such a massive advance over them in every area.

Nor does it offer the outright muscle-power of Mercedes-AMG´s 6.2-litre V8 or the guttural, hairy-chested bellow of the RS4´s bahnstorming V8.

Instead, there is the familiar metallic engine note from the previous M3´s straight six, combined with the high-pitched mechanical symphony of the M5/M6 V10.

Off-idle response is muscular largely thanks to a low first gear ratio, but it doesn not shade the 3.2-litre M engine as comprehensively as we expected.

Indeed, it is the mid-range where the V8 really begins to shine, before revving banshee-like to its seemingly never-ending ceiling of a 8400rpm, as indicated by the unique variable-redline M-car tacho. On the road it's difficult to catch the M3 out in the wrong gear, such is the pulling power on tap from almost any revs.

On the privately-owned Ascari racetrack inland from Malaga in Spain, where the international launch was held, the M3's much wider spread of useable power than its already highly tractable six-cylinder predecessor made it even easier to steer on the throttle, without the safety blanket of DSC stability control.

At the push of the steering wheel's MDrive button, the M3 sharpens its throttle response to the point where transmission snatch becomes apparent, steering response is tightened and the DSC systems allows a surprising level of sideways exuberance in complete safety before throwing its highly effective anchors out.

Speaking of anchors, a disconcerting noise under even light braking, especially after hard usage at Ascari, was the only blight on the otherwise phenomenally effective yet highly adjustable braking system.

At 100km/h in sixth gear the engine is spinning at just 2500rpm, where there´s enough urge for useful overtaking acceleration. At an indicated 250km/h there´s about 6500rpm on board, which suggests that, like the M5, the new M3 would be capable of using most of its 330km/h speedo - if it were not electronically governed to 250km/h.

The M3 is a better balanced vehicle than the Audi, which pushes its heavy nose wide in corners when hurried.

As a super-slippery stretch of sand-strewn Andalucian mountain pass showed, the M3´s chassis is reassuringly neutral, with power oversteer just the squeeze of its throttle pedal away.

And, as surprisingly good as the RS4´s steering is or as limpet-like its all-wheel drive grip is, its tiller never really feels as pure, undiluted or communicative as the BMW´s and its chassis never quite matches the M3´s in terms of unflinching solidity or mid-corner adjustability.

Of course, BMW´s newest M-car comes complete with all of the E92 coupe´s conveniences, such as a through-loading system, pop-out door pockets, a seatbelt feeder system and a welcome hill-holder function.

However, the E92 also brings its niggles, such as the inconvenient push-button starter. And, being an M car, there is no active steering or run-flat tyres. We appreciate the former, but latter are replaced, not by a full-size spare wheel or even a space-saver, but the infamous M Mobility kit.

The mere fact that the RS4 has become a yardstick by which other compact performance cars are measured speaks volumes for Audi´s best model ever.

Unlike the RS4, however, the M3 never feels like a garden-variety model that has borrowed its larger sibling´s engine. And, unlike the auto-only CLK, the M3 remains the purist´s performance coupe – a complete package.

Thankfully, despite a sizeable weight gain, the M3 appears to have lost none of its precision, agility or poise. In fact, with a high-revving, spine-tingling V8 under its bonnet, it is now more exhilarating and rewarding than ever before.

Read more:

BMW reveals more M3 secrets

First details: New M3’s V8 firepower revealed

First look: BMW's next M3 breaks cover


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