Whether it was the Ultimate Driving Machine or Sheer Driving Pleasure, BMW's promises have been derived and honed on their M3s. From the very first E30 M3, the connection between the driver and the car was what was cherished. Now, four generations later, the F80 M3 is stoking the fire once again. Is it all consuming? A stint at the roller coaster Algarve International Circuit race track tells us more.
First, BMW aficionados will complain that the new M3 isn’t the real M3, because it is the sedan. The drivers’ darling was always the two-door M3 Coupé, now known as the M4. But these two machines are mechanically identical and the same can be expected of the driving experience. Prior to these two, the only M I had sampled was the M5. Big, heavy and brutal, it demanded all my respect but it didn't quite win my admiration. But a few laps around a race track with mountainous climbs, blind corners, long sweepers and off-camber corners, and the M3 makes the differences plain.
You see, in the big M5, the effects of extra kilos are eased by adding more power, but that also changes the nature of the beast. In the new M3, power is balanced finely with weight. In fact, the new car is lighter than the outgoing car and even lighter than the current 335i. It feels it too. On the unfamiliar and unpredictable Algarve circuit, the M3 was light on its feet, springing from the outside of the corners and into the apex. It bounded confidently through switchbacks. It braked hard - pop-your-eyes-out hard - without shimmying too much. You could sense the tail wagging but only enough to add to the excitement, and not get your blood cold with fear.
You can get the rear to squirm quite easily, all you need to do is put your foot down. That’s because the new M3 is more powerful and has a lot more torque on offer than before. For the record, 425bhp is developed between 5500 and 7300rpm and the 56kgm of torque is on offer from 1850rpm, all the way to 5500rpm. And there lies the bitter sweetness of the new twin-turbo in-line six engine. The driveability is handy when you are driving down to the shopping district, and it also forgives you for having used a higher gear to exit corners without losing too much time. It will even rev to a heady 7600rpm, but that isn’t the same 8300rpm limit as in the old car. The throttle response is linear enough. The exhaust volume and bass are companionable, not intoxicating. No burbles, gurgles or rasps from this in-line six to make you grin.
But, you’d quickly swat all details aside when immersed in a hot lap with the M3. It is a machine that feels intimate to drive, delightfully balanced, adjustable on the throttle, bracingly direct to steer, race-car fast and yet forgiving enough for an amateur to fool around with. Yes, the M experience has been altered from that of the days gone by, but the M3 proves that the purist’s approach at the M division is burning as brightly as before.