Opposite Lock: A Collective Sigh of Relief

BMW M3 Engine 750x500

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 …

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.

E30 M3 inline 6 655x490

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.

BMW M3 1987 800x600 wallpaper 09 655x491

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.

12 responses to “Opposite Lock: A Collective Sigh of Relief”

  1. Giom says:

    Tradition is both necessary and dangerous. In my opinion, it’s tradition that brought on the demise of the Amercan and British motoring heyday. Once, they produced something so good, no one wanted to change a thing. Bad idea! The only thing these once auto giants has to show for, are great classics!

    Not so the Germans. They’re not held hostage by this thing called tradition to such an extend they can’t move forward. With every new iteration of an old theme, they create a new classic. Much to the dissatisfaction of their faithfull (at first), but you can’t let that hold you back!

    My point is, Shawn, don’t be too hard on yourself, your previous article did not sell out anything. If anything, it was written in the true spirit that is BMW today.

  2. Dogland says:

    4 seconds or less?
    Highly doubt that.

    • JRobUSC says:

      the next M3 is going to be the first model to benefit from extensive use of lightweight materials (CFRP, aluminum, etc.) and is expected to weigh as much as 400lb less than the current M3. Considering magazines have gotten the existing M3 Competition Package 0-60 in 3.9s, I don’t anticipate a 300-400lb lighter car with an extra 30hp and an extra (probably) 105lb-ft of torque to have trouble beating that figure. And handling should be world class. You’re talking about a car that will weigh roughly 1000lb less than the new M5, giving it an even better power to weight ratio and the sharper reflexes that come with lower weight — frankly I think the performance will be incredible. BMW may actually have a (comparatively speaking) bargain priced 911 on their hands with the new M3.

  3. mckillio says:

    While I’m glad they kept the I6, a 120 degree V6 could have been pretty cool.

    • auaq says:

      Hmmmm ….. yeah! Perhaps for a change a 120 degree v6 would be interesting idea. We have seen plenty of 60 degree and 90 degree engines but rarely any 120 degree v6 engines. Although ferrari have made and used it in their formula 1 application during the turbo era. However, one must really work on the harmonic balances of such configuration to a very extensive length in order for it to last at least 50k mi.

      • mckillio says:

        I believe that a 120 degree V6 has better balance than a 60 degree V6. 720/the number of cylinders is supposed to be perfect balance, exceptions being horizontally opposed (boxer) and the inline 6 of course.

      • Robert1 says:

        I’m pretty sure that Renault’s championship winning F1 car (piloted by Fernando Alonso) was powered by a 120 degree V8. They were the only ones to do it, and it sucked at first but then once they mastered it they won Championships.

        Really, only 60 degrees off of 180, it’s nearly a boxer 6. Very cool stuff – I agree, it would have been cool to see BMW use this configuration and v angle since it would offer all the benefits, much lower center of gravity and short block, plus room for turbos and firing order balance – it’s a unique package but tough to design.

  4. Horis says:

    i have never owned any other car than a bmw 3 series, personally i thing bmw makes the best cars (@ Giom i agree with you but certain traditions need to be keep up, like BMW M3 being the benchmark for performance)
    the Question is BMW still the Benchmark, i dont wanna buy the new M3 only to watch the tail lights of the Nissan GTR even though my acceralation peddle is touching the floor.

  5. David says:

    I sure hope you’re right about the loss in mass for the next gen car. I actually care far more about “adding lightness” than power.

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