BMW enjoys vast reservoirs of consumer goodwill. How else can you explain the German automaker’s ability to flourish despite recent engineering and design faux pas? General Motors would have been a lot further along in its death spiral if it had introduced indigestible shapes, indelicate Bangle butts, interminable run-hard tires, unfathomable iDrive and the ubearable SMG transmission. And so, the M3. Does the new M3 Coupe restore the roundel’s rep, or does it signal another misguided attempt to perpetuate the ultimate driving “lifestyle?”
If you consider a gold Rolex Datejust restrained (which, in a way, it is), the M3 is a subtle-looking car. With the aforementioned flame surfacing adorning the base 3-Series, BMW’s M people headed to the ‘hood for inspiration. The M3’s power dome and flanking indents compete with its gaping maw and steal-me side mirrors for bling props, whatever that means. With a black carbon fiber roof, the overall effect is inconspicuously ostentatious.
The M3’s cabin remains cleanly styled and elegantly proportioned. The Coupe’s sports seats are exactly what the 1-Series ordered, but didn’t receive. The armrest is a welcome upgrade, while the anthracite headliner continues to provide hush, hue and aroma. My tester’s fox-red (a.k.a. borderline bordello) Novillo leather added to the eau d’M3. Optional carbon fiber leather is the Fran Drescher of trims (far more appealing than it sounds). The M3’s steering wheel is the same diameter as my wife’s wrist, and just as pleasing to hold.
Unfortunately, I find the manual M-cars virtually impossible to drive smoothly. And that means the new dual clutch M Drive transmission. And that means the $3250 Technology Pack. And that means… iDrive. It’s still a riddle wrapped in an enigma powered by Intel (for all we know).
The M3’s stubby M Drive transmission stalk looks both alien and intimidating. It offers a “comprehensive range of choices:” five shift programs (in automatic mode) and six shift programs (in manual mode). Only the country that gave us Werner Von Braun could imagine that a driver needs 11 shift modes from a seven-speed automated manual transmission. When would I have time to sip my latte, nibble on my croissant or check my Blackberry?
But wait, there’s more! How about programmable adjustments to the suspension, steering and throttle mapping? RTFM uber alles baby.
Ignoring Stendhal syndrome, I fired-up the M3’s small block V8 and reveled in its raspy bark, anticipating what 414 ponies might achieve with 3704 pounds to motivate. I chose comfort suspension and the quickest shift program, left the power button off and kept the steering in normal. Throttle tip-in was limousine smooth, with a slight hesitation; I imagined that I felt the clutch engaging during this process. And then… auf wiedersehen pet.
To say the M3 is ferociously quick is to say you don’t mind revving the 4.0-liter V8 to 8300 rpm. Why would you? Like Ferrari’s entry-level models, the sounds coming from the M3’s mill on the way to peak power make the journey half the trip– as in LSD (and I don’t mean Limited Slip Differential). In absolute terms, we’re torquing 4.6 seconds to sixty. In the real world, it’s a gut punch sandwich with a side of sideways.
That is, of course, once you turn off the M3’s DSC. Even with Nanny in attendance, the understeer-at-the-limit M3 clips apexes effortlessly. With its weight-balanced, highly evolved chassis and fearsome stoppers, the M3 is both a track day weapon and an everyday supercar. If there’s a chink in the armor, it’s the uber-3’s over-light (yet laser precise) steering. It’s a damn shame that Bimmer’s ceded the world’s best helm feel honors to the Sultans of Stuttgart (a.k.a. Porsche).
Once I’d programmed the M-Drive button appropriately, I could instantly switch from relaxed trundle to max switchback attack and back. Using the paddles, you can shift from automatic to manual mode simply by flipping the handle to the right. the cod slushbox isn’t as transparent as Audi’s DSG paddle shifters; I still felt like I was working an automated manual rather than something truly automatic, but it’s still highly livable.
As was the M3’s tolerably firm ride. That said, my tester came with 18” wheels mounted with PilotSport non-run-flat tires– which contributed as much to the M3’s ride comfort adjustable suspension. Even the softer shoes were noisy at speed, but their performance and relative spinal-friendliness made the sonic disturbance a minor inconvenience. Besides, the M3’s sound system’s excellent– and offers six more programmable buttons (which allow you to circumvent iDrive.
In my more relaxed moments with the M3, I began to wonder whether I had found the perfect GT. Only the model’s meager fuel economy and commonplace design prevent this conclusion. In the end, BMW’s seemingly bizarre technology won me over. AMG has a lot to worry about. Over to you Justin…