2014 BMW M3 review – Telegraph.co.uk

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The BMW M3 is now a saloon only. The Coupe version is now called the M4

So now we’ve got the Mark V M3 built in a world quite different from the
hedonism of the mid-noughties. And it’s quite a refreshing return to the
traditional launch format of the Munich engine company, where the first item
is the engine. So take a special casting of BMW’s silky straight-six, very
stiff with closed-deck construction, equalised bore spacing and a forged
crank to keep it safe at 7,500rpm, where it’s producing a spirited 425bhp,
about 10bhp more than the old V8.

Racing type pistons have friction reducing coatings and the Carillo-type
connecting rods are deliberately cracked open across the main bearing web
then bolted back together around the big ends, so the mating surfaces are
infinite and almost self locking. Some car makers avoid this arrangement
because it implies a material choice siding on brittleness rather than
strength.

“We have never had a problem,” says Norbert Siegel, head of the new M3’s
engine, but he admits that the block strength is crucial to extracting more
horsepower. The bore linings are twin-arc plasma sprayed to reduce weight
and bore friction, and there are two Hitachi twin-scroll turbochargers.

Twin engine oil pumps have a variable pumping capacity depending on the
physical loads on the car and the engine’s oil pressure, which prevents oil
starvation in cornering and braking and reduces frictional losses. Fuel is
injected directly into the combustion chambers and the twin double-VANOS
variably timed cams are chain driven and actuate four valves per cylinder.

The M3 saloon is more subtle than the M4 Coupe

Transmission choice is a six-speed manual or a £2,645 seven-speed twin-clutch
option, which BMW UK expects most buyers will go for. The standard
differential is an active unit locking early according to sensors around the
car. The rear axle carrier is rigidly mounted to the strengthened body
shell, so expect a bit more road noise. Suspension is MacPherson strut with
a multilink rear and lots of beautiful aluminium castings.

You’d never mistake an M3 for a standard 3-series, but the coachwork additions
are mostly subtle or functional. There’s a lot of air being vented up under
the front bumper and the door mirrors look plain weird, but the badging on
the door kick plates, grille and wing vents is nicely understated. Swaged
strakes on the boot lid look like you slammed it on a ladder and the
standard carbon fibre roof is questionable but works in the M Sport mien.
The £56,175 M3 saloon seems to fit that part (and rear-seat passengers)
better than the mechanically identical £56,635 M4 Coupé.

Both interior feel pretty standard 3-series with sports seats, until you look
closely and realise there are individual “tuning” buttons for the
steering, dampers, stability control and steering, plus a unique M-sport
gearlever and twin-clutch paddle shifts.

You know you’re in something special just yards down the road. Not that the
ride is awful, far from it, but the electronic steering has more heft and
accuracy than a standard car and there’s more feedback (though still not
quite enough) to the wheel rim. Specially developed 19in Michelins have
compliance, but flap over bumps like a marching band in flippers.

The M3’s interior is broadly the same as any other 3-series

The engine gurgles like a tuba in a bubble bath, but picks up the pace with a
crescendo of torque rather than the ill-tempered snap of the V8. This is a
classier way to go fast; more linear, more understandable. I’d also
seriously consider the expenditure on the twin-clutch gearbox, which is
super fast, smooth and easier to shunt through traffic.

Get on it and the engine note hardens into an artificially enhanced, muscular
wail piped through the car’s
stereo. The attack is terrific with both blowers spooled up by 1,900rpm.
It’s fast and how; 0-62mph in 4.3sec (4.1sec for the twin clutch) with 50 to
75mph in fourth gear taking just 3.5sec – might as well rip up your licence
now, really.

The main reason for returning to six cylinders this time with forced induction
is emissions, and the M3’s Combined figure is a creditable 32.1mpg and
204g/km of CO2. Cruising we managed 28.2mpg, but when you stand on it, the
economy plummets, in our case to just 14.1mpg.

And it’s hard not to drive the M3 like that because it’s such a lovely
old-school, rear-drive road ripper, so balanced, accurate and (mostly)
forgiving. There’s a halfway house setting on the stability control that
allows you a bit of fun, but pulls you back from the brink. If you turn it
all off, you’d better be ready for the big slides, which come in fast and
lairy, although it comes off tail slides more gently thanks to that active
differential. All the same, let’s not be doing it on a wet day, hey?

The brakes are pretty good, too, being front four-pot vented discs and rear
two-piston calipers, although the test cars were all furnished with £6,250’s
worth of carbon-ceramic brakes. And while these are virtually unfadable
with a linear pedal action on the road, paying more than 11 per cent of the
car’s price in brakes seems steep.

All told this is a terrific return to form after the slightly ill-balanced
Mark IV V8 M3. In M3 or M4 guise this is a very fast and fine handling
although potentially edgy machine, but on the right day and right road
there’s little that will touch it.

THE FACTS

BMW M3

Tested: 2,979cc six-cylinder twin-turbocharged petrol engine,
seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, rear-wheel drive

Price/on sale: From £56,175/June 21

Power/torque: 425bhp @ 5,500rpm/406lb ft @ 1,850rpm

Top speed: Electronically limited to 155mph.

Acceleration: 0-62mph 4.3sec (4.1sec for semi auto).

Fuel economy: 23.5mpg/32.1mpg (EU Urban/Combined).

CO2 emissions: 204g/km

VED band: K (£635 for first year, £285 thereafter)

Verdict: Back on form with a bang, the new M3/M4 is just so much
better, fluent and fun than it’s Mark IV predecessor. The M3 saloon will
be less popular but it’s much more practical than the M4 Coupé and doesn’t
really lose much in body rigidity.

Telegraph rating: Four out of five stars

RIVALS

Audi
RS5 Coupé
, from £59,870

No RS saloon is available from Inglostadt these days, but the 5 is a handsome
hound if a bit limited in its fun potential thanks to 4×4 Quattro. Twin
turbo 450bhp V8 is limited to 155mph, 0-62mph in 4.5sec, 26.9mpg and 246g/km
of CO2.

Mercedes-Benz
C63 AMG
, from £57,300

Merc’s 1.7-ton rear-driven behemoth, with 450bhp twin-turbo V8 power. Big and
great fun, but a bit lairy. Limited to 155mph, 0-62mph in 4.5sec, with
Combined consumption of 23.5mpg and 280g/km of CO2.

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