BMW'S Latest Icon : BMW M3 (E92) [review]
Mon, 07/30/2007 - 23:27 — admin
Whilst the E30 M3 actually began life in 1986, BMW Motorsport GmbH had already started in 1972 and produced some legendary models like the M1, M535i, M5 and M635 CSi that proudly wore its red-violet and blue “M” badge.
Initially intended for motorsport homologation purposes, the original 5000 examples of E30 M3s swelled to 18,000 by the time the first M3 retired from production.
To better utilize the available production capabilities of BMW’s factories, any future M model had to be production ready. The M department created a series of modular M-engines and drive trains that could drop easily into the assembly line.
The previous 3.2-litre straight six was chosen because the E46 3 Series could only accommodate the straight sixes. However when designing the E92 plans were afoot to use a 4.0-litre V8 which was part of the modular system of engines which includes the evocative V10 of M5 fame.
All the M-engineers had to do was develop suitable suspensions for the power plants and make sure they participated in the development of the chosen model lines, in this case the 3 Series. The technical provisions for M-versions could then be included in an early stage. This ensured the M-engineers would not have to work from scratch to produce any M-versions allowing them to focus clearly on the heart of the matter, the engines.
The V8 is a technical marvel with Dual Vanos and eight individual intake throttle butterflies to control each cylinder. It does without the Valvetronic system as that is optimised for fuel efficiency not maximum horsepower.
Those who take delight in the mechanical construction will fall in love with the details of this new engine. Just look at the exhaust plumbing where the long, equal length 4 into 1 extractors painstakingly welded part by part to ensure that no crimping occurs yet coiled so tightly to remain as compact as possible.
Port injection is employed rather than direct injection to not only atomize the fuel but the cooling effect of vaporization makes the intake charge denser before it actually enters the cylinder, again to produce high specific outputs. Remarkably torque peaks relatively low down at 3900 rpm which means for the next 4400 rpm torque remains high in order to produce 420 bhp at a dizzy 8300 rpm.
However the engine is not merely for admiring, it has a job to do and this M3 has never sounded better. The baritone snarl that the exhaust emits is even better than the V10 scream of the BMW M5. As has been the BMW norm, the linear power delivery seems initially unimpressive until that is, one sends the tacho past 4000 rpm where the pace quickens appreciably.
The power delivery is decidedly stacked toward the higher reaches of the rev range, somewhere after 6500 rpm where it seems to catch a second wind delivering a relentless surge to the engines rev limit accompanied by a ferocious exhaust bark.
For those who must have some form of automatic gearbox they will have to wait. The purist approach to sports cars is welcomed as the joy of driving is somewhat diluted by something like an automated gearbox. However BMW expects that more than half of the cars sold will be ordered with the automated sequential gearbox.
While the manual box felt decent enough, the notchy 1-2 shift would be a detraction in our heavy local traffic conditions. Fortunately the clutch operation is as light as some Japanese offerings. There is much to be said in favour of a mechanically communicative manual shifter but the M-department still needs to work on this one.
To ensure that the substantial power is harnessed effectively without the sobering effect of four-wheel drive, the engineers offer the Variable M-Differential which keeps the power from overcoming the rear tyre with lower grip, maximizing power delivery. In fact the M-diff can send 100% of the torque to the wheel with the most grip.
What can’t be contained by the M-Diff, the DSC electronics cut in to curb the power. DSC may be a life saver but it also curtails the fun of actually cutting loose in the M3 though most of the time it’s a welcome addition. There is however M Dynamic mode where DSC can be programmed to stay out of the way until things get a little sideways before it steps in to take control.
This is only accessed via pre-programming through the i-Drive system under the M-Drive mode. Of course for the perverse, there is the DSC-Off mode for sheer oversteering capability. Unless on a track it is advisable to keep the DSC at the least in M Dynamic mode.
The best way is a slow in fast out approach. The reduced understeer as one enters the corner is slightly unnerving on unfamiliar off-camber roads like the ones we encountered in the Spanish mountain roads. Being worn and of low grip didn't help either but perversely it was rather fun to hang the tail out a little.
The ride comfort is surprising in light of the very firm spring and damper rates employed. Thanks to the sturdy chassis, the cabin feels very composed even when crossing over poorly paved roads. The M3 is equally adept tackling country roads as it does the racetrack.
Handling is excellent with a huge dose of entertainment thrown in. With this much power, the M3 can be coaxed into oversteer easily and on the appropriate roads, richly rewarding. However it should be said that the M3 is not a car for novices and needs an experienced hand at the helm.
The exterior is recognizably like the 335i coupe but subtly different as BMW has changed almost every exterior panel and only uses twenty percent of the original body components like the doors, windows and lights. These new parts give the M3 an aggressive, purposeful stance like no other 3 Series.
A lightweight carbon fibre roof first used in the previous special edition M3 CSL is now standard equipment reducing weight and achieving a lower center of gravity for better stability. Unfortunately (and for rather obvious reasons), E92 M3 buyers who opt for the 'sunroof' option do not get to enjoy the beautiful c/f roof.
Not surprisingly there is a substantial worldwide following for the M3 with the outgoing model finding over 80,000 satisfied owners. One may think that performance cars must have a pointy nose and be no more than three feet in height but there is a market for a traditional coupe design that is as easy to live with as its saloon counterpart.
This is the realm of the M3 coupe. It can accommodate four adults, carry full sized bags, be a daily driven car, race at the track and make trans-continental trips effortlessly. This broad spectrum of abilities makes it a very sensible choice for those looking for a high performance car. That it can threaten the bastion of the exotic sports cars only heightens its desirability.
CAPACITY : 3999cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V8, Dual VANOS
VALVES : 32 valves
BORE X STROKE : 92 x 75.2mm
COMPRESSION RATIO : 12 : 1
MAXIMUM POWER : 420 bhp at 8300 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 400 Nm at 3900 rpm