That feels better. I think subconsciously I was, indeed we all were, carrying a basket of stress at the rumor of a V6 M3. It’s undeniably sacrilegious. A few moons ago I wrote a piece championing the possibility of a V6, knowing if built by M, it would be the most ragged, rabid V6 the earth has ever known – a technological masterpiece more compact and better placed in the chassis than any inline 6 of similar displacement. But deep down inside, just after hitting publish, I felt a tug at my heart strings. In some way I had betrayed the roundel in writing so.
As the prodigal son, I am crawling back to an opinion of faith, in accordance with the spirit of the brand. Was what I wrote technically inaccurate? No. But any old German man with a spine in his back would have slapped me silly for writing it. Of course, that same man might do well to slap his neighbors at M for producing a four-wheel drive M SUV with a sport-auto transmission, but the lines have been blurred. After several track days with an X6M, I’m left in awe of its pace. And with front wheel drive BMWs on the way, it hardly feels extreme to speak of a V6 M3. Yet it still feels wrong.
Just in, BMWBLOG has received confirmation that the new M3 will in fact be powered by an inline 6 of unknown displacement and power. We know to expect roughly 450 hp, a redline reaching at least 7,200 rpm, and at least one turbo. Maybe three. We also know it will go on a diet, and hopefully be the “biggest loser” of sorts. It will inherit more carbon fiber than ever before, and that’s a great thing. It will sport an electronically controlled M differential, similar to the brilliant LSD on the new M5. At least for the North American market, it will also feature a 6 speed manual. Unless they plan to match or one-up the folks in Stuttgart with a 7 or 8 speed manual. Why not a 9 speed? My wrist and left leg are tired just thinking of the proposition. I’m guessing it will come with 6 forward gates.
When it comes to engine layout, the M3 has been motivated by many variations over the decades. While it may seem “traditional” to place an inline 6 under the bonnet, the truth is that the classic M3 engine configuration comes packaged as a naturally aspirated inline 4. Yes, the original E30 M3 came packing the internally designated “S14″ 2.3 liter inline 4 – basically a bored out version of the “M10″ 4 cylinder found in the pedestrian 3 series of the time – the 320i; it also shares lineage with the block from the fabled and much loved 2002.
Once the 4-pot got to Garching, the M engineers bored it out and then got busy improving engine breathing to significantly increase engine power. The S14 engine went on to inherit valvetrain and head design from the M1. Thus, the original M3’s engine combined parts and technology from two of the brand’s most sacred sports cars, the M1 and the 2002, and went on to unleash its own distinct personality when driven.
An era of inline 6 M3s was next produced, and the engines that powered these cars won the hearts of many owners. Considering the significant proliferation of the E36 and E46 M3 – perhaps it’s no surprise that the majority of us romanticize the M3 to eternally have an inline 6 under hood.
The current generation M3 sports a banging V8 that revs well past the stratosphere, reaching 8,400 rpm at redline. Revving through its rev-band is nothing short of sublime. I could do it all day long, gear after gear, just for the thrill of it: the sound, the accompanying acceleration, and the incredible balance and smoothness. No one can say that putting this splendid V8 in the M3 was a mistake – but even so, many at the time complained that BMW were straying 2 cylinders too far from the ultimate M3 recipe.
Of course, if we really wanted to be historical and adhere to the tenets of the classic, we would beseech the folks at M to produce an inline 4 M3 – but no one is beating to the rhythm of that war drum. No one. We want the thrill of greater horsepower, and we revel in the inherent smoothness of the inline 6 layout.
What we know for sure is that BMW M have and continue to produce some of the most incredible and technologically advanced engines the world has ever known – at any price point. Consider the V12 6.1 liter “S70/2″ engine found amidships in the McLaren F1. Or even the small but mighty 1.6 liter currently powering MINI JCW products – this engine is has been collecting awards (and trophies) for many years. BMW knows engine design. And BMW M knows how to make an engine special.
Thankfully, unlike the 1M, which is powered by a very thinly modified production engine found in the “iS” cars, the new M3 will have a heart unique and bespoke to the car. It will be a worthy successor to the M engines of decades past. While we’ll bemoan the loss of revs, we’re confident it will embrace its turbocharging to produce its own unique, torquey character – much like the M5 has taken on a whole new, fearsome character with forced induction.
In a new, significantly lighter chassis this new M engine will need to hustle much less heft. The performance standards of the modern sports car are shifting; acceleration and braking times are dropping while top speeds and lateral G loads are increasing. To keep pace with the industry and consumer expectations, the new M3 will likely sprint to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds or less, and will achieve better handling and grip than ever before. It will also feature the most advanced aero package ever fitted to an M car. Many parts, features and lines will make the new M3 a heart-throb, but at the end of the day, it’s the engine that captures our heart. Whether it sports one, two, or even three turbos, it will no doubt be exotic – the center jewel in the crown that is the M3.