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BMW's latest causes M3 mania

In demand: Dual-clutch M-DCT gearbox should make M3 even more popular.

BMW Oz confirms dual-clutch M3 plus M3 convertible as M3 sedan looks set to come too

17 Apr 2008

BMW Australia has announced it will soon widen the appeal of its already-popular new M3 coupe with a new automatic option, before bolstering its M3 “family” with the addition of the M3 convertible and, possibly, M3 sedan later this year.

In a surprise move that comes less than a month after Mercedes-Benz launched its bruising new C63 AMG sedan at the unusually low price of $139,500, BMW says it is in the final stages of completing a business case for its direct rival, the new M3 sedan.

GoAuto has learned that Australia's first M3 four-door is likely to arrive by December, around the same time as the M3 convertible.

While the latter is officially confirmed for sale here and should carry a traditional BMW price premium ($16,000 in E46 guise) over the new M3 coupe), the M3 sedan will significantly undercut the $157,000 M3 coupe with a price that approaches that of the C63 sedan.

“While we are still working on the business case for introducing the M3 sedan into Australia, we are delighted to confirm the M3 Convertible will be available to Australians from later in the year,” said BMW general manager marketing, Tom Noble.

Of course, while the new CLC-class coupe, launched in Europe this month and based on the previous-generation W203-series C-class, replaces Mercedes’ current entry-level two-door model, the Sports Coupe, to rival the new 1 Series coupe launched here by BMW this week, a new Benz-AMG rival for the M3 sedan and M3 convertible won’t be seen for several years, following the emergence of redesigned, W204-based CLK coupe and convertible models in 2009.

Meantime, there is currently a nine-month waiting list for the C63 AMG, 500 examples of which are earmarked for Australia in 2008, and Lexus will also enter M and AMG territory for the first time in October with its IS-F sedan, pricing for which is also tipped to be competitive. Here and now, Audi’s S5 ($131,900) is the bargain of the compact V8 bunch, while the CLK63 AMG coupe is the most expensive at $200,300.

Like the Audi, the M3 is available only with a six-speed manual transmission, but that will change in June with the arrival of the long-awaited M Double-Clutch Transmission (M-DCT) automated manual transmission, which will bring an even wider potential customer base to the 309kW/400Nm V8-powered 3 Series coupe flagship.

BMW says only a “limited number” of M3 coupes fitted with the seven-speed self-shifting manual gearbox will be available, but even without a non-manual transmission, the E92 M3 has sold in unprecedented numbers in Australia since its launch here in October – despite its $17,000-higher pricetag this time round.

Some 263 Australian owners have taken delivery of the newest M3, making it twice as popular as its 3.2-litre straight-six predecessor in its first six months on sale (the E46 found 132 Aussie homes in the same period) - as well as the most popular M-car ever sold here.

"We have been blown away by the level of passion and excitement our customers have expressed for the new M3 coupe,” said Mr Noble.

14 center imageLeft: M3 coupe and M3 convertible.

"Naturally, we expected there would be a high degree of interest in the car with its unique advanced lightweight composite body panels, 50/50 weight distribution, track bred suspension, and an industry-leading, centre-of-gravity lowering carbon-fibre roof.

"There is nothing like the M3 coupe on the market, which explains why interest levels were so high, vastly exceeding even our most optimistic expectations.

"But it seems the Australian love affair with V8 engines is also still pumping strongly. Our V8 engine is different from most, revving freely to 8400rpm and delivering a smile-widening rush all the way from 2000rpm.

"You can't argue with the sales figures. They confirm undeniably the new M3 is the most popular new M car we have ever launched in Australia.

"In addition to in-dealer launches on October 11, we held special BMW M driving days across Australia late last year at race tracks in order to present the M3's amazing dynamism at its absolute best.

"Just recently, the first few M3 coupes have been added to the BMW Driver Training fleet, giving participants the unique opportunity to drive one of these iconic cars on a track under expert guidance," he said.

Effectively replacing the clutch pedal-less E46 M3's six-speed Sequential M Gearbox (SMG – a newer seven-speed iteration of which is the sole transmission available in the current M5), the M3 M-DCT with Drivelogic will join the conventional six-speed manual M3 coupe, presumably at a price premium.

The E46 M3 SMG coupe cost the same $140,000 as the manual and, despite widespread media criticism of its slow-but-smooth or quick-but-abrupt gearshifts, proved just as popular. So, supply permitting, the new M3 M-DCT should be even more widely accepted given it will be far more effective and user-friendly.

As with SMG, M-DCT offers both automatic and (via paddle shifters) manual driving modes, but unlike the appallingly slow auto mode in the SMG, the M-DCT's auto function should be as smooth as that of similar twin-clutch automated manual transmissions found in the likes of everything from Volkswagen’s Golf and Audi’s A3 to Mitsubishi’s upcoming Lancer Evo X and Nissan's GTR coupe.

In the M3's case, the icing on the M-DCT cake is that it makes it both quicker and more frugal than the manual, with claimed 0-100km/h acceleration dropping two tenths of a second to 4.6 seconds) and more fuel efficient, with combined average consumption being slashed by half a litre - from 12.4L/100km to 11.9L/100km.

BMW says the M-DCT is the world's first double-clutch transmission designed for high-revving engines. Like its rivals, it features a dual transmission structure with separate clutches timed to overlap, "leading to an uninterrupted flow of power, ideal for the sportiest drivers".

DCT is German transmission maker Getrag’s answer to BorgWarner’s robotised manual introduced in Volkswagen Group models under the DSG name in 2003. Claimed to offer a 15 per cent fuel consumption improvement over a six-speed automatic transmission, it makes its OEM debut in BMW’s E92 M3, but will soon be a common feature in many cars.

Getrag said at the Frankfurt motor show last September that it will sell 500,000 dual-clutch transmissions to five car-makers annually by 2010, and a staggering two million by 2014 – not including a joint-venture with Chrysler that will open a 700,000-unit capacity dual-clutch plant in the US next year.

The Dodge Journey people-mover is expected to feature it next, in mid-2008, and Ford group vehicles including Volvo’s mid-sized S40 sedan and V50 wagon are also earmarked for DCT fitment.

“We are very excited about the imminent arrival of the first of the new BMW M Double-Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic gearboxes. A limited supply of M3 coupes fitted with the new gearbox arrives from June.

“While the six-speed manual gearbox in the M3 coupe has been acclaimed by customers, we are sure that the new M Double-Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic will add even more appeal to the M3 offering, and attract another segment of the supercar market to our dealer network,” said Mr Noble.

In other manual model adjustments, BMW's 320i and 323i sedans are now auto-only, in response to sales of manual versions dropping to just five per cent of the mix. Effective from March production, the entry-level 3 Series sedans will be special-order-only propositions.

Read more:

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