BMW'S Latest Icon : BMW M3 (E92) [review]

Car Specifications
Engine: 
3999cc, Normal Aspiration
Cylinder Layout: 
V8, 32 valves, Dual VANOS
Top Speed: 
250 km/h (electronic limited)
Transmission: 
6-speed manual or DCT
0-100km/h: 
4.8 sec
Power: 
420 bhp at 8300 rpm
Torque: 
400 Nm at 3900 rpm
Features: 
  • Serious German muscle car
  • V8 sounds better than V10

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.

The script was back then to make a race-ready super coupe from the proverbial sow’s ear, the E30 coupe. Well, it worked, the striped down racer was indeed one of BMW’s finest. However to produce a bespoke M3 was rather costly as the final M3 differed from the coupe significantly and kept the Motorsport division very busy.

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.

With 420 bhp from just 4.0-litres, the M3's V8 engine is 5 bhp past the 100 bhp per litre benchmark for race-grade normal aspirated engines. With an all aluminium alloy block and cylinder heads, this V8 is actually some 15-kgs lighter than the wonderful 3.2-litre straight-six it replaces so there is then little to lament. Power peaks at an astonishing 8300 rpm and then it runs into the rev-limiter at 8500 rpm.

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. 

The intake tract forms a vertical plunger into the cylinder to offer the best airflow and pulse tuning to allow a mild supercharging effect of the intake charge at high rpm to achieve an impressive 105 bhp per litre output.

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.

BMW has returned to the basics it would seem as the E92 M3 is introduced with just the six-speed manual gear box. It  seems the much ballyhooed SMG III did not meet muster on some issues and a new type of gearbox will be introduced later. Although BMW is not alluding to it but indications are  that they are readying a dual clutch type gearbox like what Audi and VW have.

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 handling has opinions deeply divided. The reason is the feathery feel at the helm despite the fat gumball Michelin Pilot Sport tyres employed. There is a certain degree of looseness in the turn-in that takes some getting used to. This characteristic is from a stiffly sprung car set up for oversteer and the M3 is decidedly neutral in most corners and oversteery with trailing throttle or 2/3 throttle. Entering with power pushes the nose into understeer.

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.

Remarkably the M3 is very refined, not like a race car despite its tremendous abilities like the 0-100 km/h times of 4.8 seconds and an electronically restricted top speed of 250 km/h. Driven with restraint, the M3 behaves like the 3 Series coupe, docile and comfortable, the large performance tyres notwithstanding.

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.

As is the BMW norm, the cabin's appointments are first rate though a little austere with just leather upholstery and no sign of lacquered wood though it can be ordered as an option. Carbon fibre inserts are more suitable for an extreme sports car like the M3.

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.

FAST FACTS : BMW M3 (E92)
ENGINE
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

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : 6-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 250 km/h (electronically limited)
0-100KM/H : 4.8 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Aluminium 2-joint spring strut
REAR : Five link axle

BRAKES
FRONT : 360 mm ventilated floating disc
REAR : 350mm ventilated floating disc

TYRES
TYPE : Michelin Pilot Sport II
SIZE : f: 245/40 ZR 18, r: 265/40 ZR 18

SAFETY
ABS : Yes
AIRBAGS : 6
TRACTION CONTROL : ASC, DSC, M-Differential

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4615mm
WIDTH : 1804mm
HEIGHT : 1418mm
WHEELBASE : 2761mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1655-kg
TURNING CIRCLE : 11.7m
 

 

Summary
Brilliant V8 engine with the potential to be a great drift machine. Surprising comfort. Notchy manual gearbox mars an otherwise flawless performance. Again BMW has created something special and worthy of a cult car status. As before we will be awaiting the arrival of the lightweight CSL variants.- AL in Malaga, Spain; Photos: Max Kirchbauer, Alberto Martinez, Richard Newton
Photos: 
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