This week, in Monterey, CA, takes place the annual BMW’s Group Press Event. The main attraction of this even were the upcoming BMW 1-series and the M3’s, sedan and coupe version.
The guys at motortrend.com managed to test drive the new M3 and they shared their opinions. I won’t get into details and I would rather let you read their great review.
The part that makes us drool is the thirty M3 sedans and coupes they’ve gathered together. That’s right 3-0, all six-speed manuals, all brand spankin’ new and all just begging to be caned mercilessly on the fantastic Carmel Valley Road and world famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
As you know by now, the all new 2008 M3 has apparently “sold out” once again — pissing off purists with not only a return to the sedan (and convertible) but by adding another two cylinders. Just when the purists were starting to speak in hushed reverence about the sanctity of the E46 M3’s 3.2 inline-six, too. Good grief, almighty.
With the power button on, the M3 can buck like a cattle-prodded bull on the streets and demands your full attention for smooth shifting. Unlike the M-button on the M5, the discreet button on the M3’s center console doesn’t give you full power — you have that all the time — it just dramatically sharpens the throttle response. And it doesn’t matter where you are; push it while at steady throttle on the freeway, and you can feel the car tighten up — clench its glutes, if you will, as though poised to sprint.
It’s an apt description, because if you hammer the power button and throttle sequential you will indeed be charging full speed to the roar of eight pistons at 8400 rpm.
Ease off and switch off, and the M3 becomes a pretty good city car. In the base model, without the three mode Electronic Damping Control (EDC) suspension system, the ride is touch tight and jouncy, but in no way of endangering a case of Trader Joe’s 2 Buck Chuck and bags blue corn tortilla chips stashed in the trunk.
Different story if you start womping the M3 on the twisties as we did on Monterey’s famously winding Carmel Valley Road. In three turns, any wine and chips in the trunk rapidly became purple slurry — anything not tied down was launched airborne. This includes Blackberries and iPhones helplessly stashed in the M3’s inconveniently shallow cubbies.
Secure articles before taking off and the M3 is a scream — particularly fully-loaded versions with EDC and the M-dynamic system. Double tapping the EDC button so that two lights come on puts the M3 in its stiffest, sportiest suspension mode. Perfect for smooth country roads or racetracks — brutal on anything less than well maintained pavement. I found myself accelerating through a flat squiggly section of three smooth left-rights in a row, so immersed in the experience that only when the road straightened again did I exhale, finally remembering to breathe.
Like most cars, base M3s come with a Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), a nanny that reels you in when you start to get naughty. BMW’s DSC is like any other, nothing particularly sporty or forgiving about it. For that, you need the option M Drive system, with M Dynamic Mode (MDM). Pressing a small M button on the steering wheel activates your own personal settings of all of the M3s complicated subsystems — including the throttle response (power button), EDC, active steering system, and a sportier level of DSC, MDM. BMW claims MDM is perfect for the track, since it allows for a more wheel slip and yaw angle.
And to a certain degree this is true. We got a chance to hammer various M3 sedans and coupes, with and without M Drive, for ten laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca — a real eye opener.
Before hitting the track, I was certain all I needed was a base M3, sans the optional EDC and M-Drive systems. But after fiddling with the various button combinations, I began to see the light.
Without MDM, the base M3 is either hairy-chested track rat or a milquetoast pansywagon, all thanks to DSC. With DSC on, there is little joy to be had in corners. Too hot, a little yaw, and suddenly you’re throttled back and understeering. Click it off, however, and you better know what you’re doing because the M3 will rotate as commanded, if not by you, then by the laws of physics.
With M Drive’s MDM system, there is that in-between setting. There wasn’t enough time to figure out exactly what the limits were, but they seemed pretty high. You can exit corners fast and tail out, and the system seems to avoid defaulting to massive fun sucking understeer whenever possible. So would I take it? Grudgingly yes, and I’ll tell you why later.
Beyond the M Drive epiphanies, the track drive offered only a few insights that we didn’t already pick up from Carmel Valley Road. It bears repeating that the M3 is damn impressive and clearly the product of guys who got only As in physics and math. It’s also interesting to note that the powerdome hood can sometimes make track placement an issue — particularly trying to hit Laguna’s corkscrew apex when you’re flying down a right/left and trying to see over the hood bump. Brakes also pulled unevenly under some of the harder stops, but I’d chalk that up to how hard we drove these cars.
Other surprises and complaints from my first run through of an M3:
I thought I’d like the gearbox more. The throws are longish and clutch uptake is a bit high. Positives are that the engagement is solid and reassuring; feels like the trans would last through more than its fair share of drag launches.
I also understand what boss man MacKenzie meant about the slightly vague feeling from the active steering system. This is not the feel-every-asphalt-pebble steering system you may be expecting. It is a tad numb and just off center, with less effort and precision than I remember from previous M3s. It’s still very good; it’s just a tad bit less — direct, precise, involving — than it used to be.
Rear seat room is a surprise; not at all compromised by the M3 sport seats. I sat behind 6 foot 2 inch Gleason as he took our sedan for a spin and found inches legroom at my knees-and I’m a short torso, long-limbed freak. That is packaging genius and gives this car some serious everyday practicality.
As for the one I’d take home — I’m an enthusiast and I’d take the M3 with M-dynamic mode and EDC. Yes they are expensive options, but my philosophy is, if you can afford them, better to have then have not. If you get to the point where you don’t need them, just turn them off. The systems provide a margin of safety and fun.
If I could, I’d opt for the iDrive delete option and wouldn’t upgrade the leather to fancy Novillo stuff. I think the cloth and leather option is handsome and practical — the cloth covered lower seat areas hold you better and hey, they spare at least a few Bessies.