Wednesday, 29 July 2009

BMW M3 coupe

I spent a couple of days at evo Magazine in the summer of 2008 and Ollie Marriage took me out for a spin in the BMW M3 that was part of their fast fleet at the time. I wrote 500 words on the experience and they follow below:

The M3 is quite frequently accused of not being the most subtle of cars. I think that perception stems purely from people knowing what it is when they see one rather than the mildly bulging wheel-arches around the shiny wheels and the M-Sport badges working together with the black roof to shout a tad too loudly. You have to know what you are looking for to differentiate it from a normal 3 series coupe, the easiest tell-tale being the shape of the mirrors. This might work against justifying its £50k plus price tag in eyes of the show-offs amongst us but it my eyes at least, the subtlety is endearing.

I'll admit to being a bit blasé approaching the car in the car park but only because I have seen so many of them on the road. The first thing that caught my attention and suggested I should perhaps revisit my opinions was the engine's idle once the start-button was depressed. Oddly lumpen, a shade too loud and really quite sinister; it gave me the impression BMW had left it that way for a reason.

On the move, at a steady 50 - 60 mph in 4th or 5th, everything is all very civilised as it would be in any modern car, sporting or not. The 'audibles‚' are the road noise from the wide semi-slick tyres and the air conditioning. 6th is present and has more work to do for economy on a motorway cruise than keeping everything hush under the aluminium bonnet. One would also expect the cabin of a 'sports car‚' to be a bit spartan but the M3 most definitely isn't. Apart from the big iDrive screen, the inclusion of cup holders was quite interesting but perhaps forgivable owing to their location on passenger's side of the cabin.

Onto exploring the more manic side of the M3 we started by rolling along, barely above idle, in third before flooring the throttle pedal, a road tester's trick it turns out. It reveals where the torque lies in the rev range. There was an obvious lump around 3,000rpm then again around 5,000rpm as the Bi-VANOS variable valve lift and control system worked its magic. Past this, power delivery was linear all the way up to the redline although I have to admit to getting a bit scared every time the tachometer needle nudged 8,000rpm.

8,000rpm meant an almost naughty roar from the 414bhp V8, appropriate really because barring 1st gear, 8,000rpm meant illegal speeds. Huge powerful brakes and super-grippy tyres meant we could lose the speed just as quickly as we'd picked it up and on that B-road today with farm traffic, blind bends and crests - not-to-mention the 'bizzies' never being far enough away, the fun‚ could only really be indulged in in bursts. Whenever we backed off and the revs fell away [accompanied by some tasty flywheel-whir], the duality in the M3's persona was highlighted.

It also existed at corner exits where catching bumps while accelerating out, made the DSC (dynamic stability control) kick in perceptibly retarding the throttle and making the dampers work in double-time to keep the body under control. The moment the bumps stopped though, the jittering stopped too to be replaced by what could only be described as 'serenity'. I was only left aware of the potential performance of the E92 M3 when it was teased out. The rest of the time, it just sat there, never nagging, waiting for you to call it up. Sitting in the same non-descript way the M3 had sat in the Evo car-park.

Back therein, engine switched off and belts unbuckled for graceful egress, the BMW M3 earned a little bit more respect and a tad more menace in my eyes. I'm glad I saw what lay beneath though god forbid if we'd ended up on a racetrack and asked it to really break a sweat. I'm glad I didn't have to do any of the driving because I'd have simply been out of my depth.

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