"The Ultimate Driving Machine"
Although it began building motorcycles before automobiles, BMW has cultivated a sterling reputation over the past few decades as a performance automotive company. The rapid rise of its Motorsport division (now known by the singular moniker "M") saw the company making successful forays into numerous auto racing championships, including Formula One. Much of that technology and knowledge became infused in the specialized M versions in BMW's lineup, automobiles that soon gained a status as serious performance vehicles-despite their decidedly non-sports-car platforms.
The M3 is a perfect example. Now in its fourth generation (it first came into being as a limited production racing homologation model in 1986), the latest M3 doesn't immediately strike you as a high performance car. Compared to the stereotypical sports car medium (low-slung profile, cramped cockpit, no creature comforts, etc.), the M3 appears almost pedestrian; based on the BMW 3-series sedans, the M3 seats four passengers comfortably and in surprising luxury (in fact, there are also four-door and convertible versions of the M3). Features such as fully contour-adjustable electric leather seats, a built-in GPS navigation system, climate control, a nice sound system, and a trunk with ample storage space are just a few of the M3's utilitarian attributes that belie the car's performance potential.
The M3's optional 7-speed...
The M3's optional 7-speed dual clutch semi-automatic transmission can be actuated by paddles just behind the steering wheel or with the console gearshift knob. Shifts are so quick that the 0-60 mph acceleration times are .2 seconds quicker than a standard gearbox car.
The optional EDC (Electronic...
The optional EDC (Electronic Damper Control) allows the driver to select from three different damping curves, although unlike current sportbike setups, the settings aren't static. The car's ECU actually monitors driving conditions and is able to change damping curves with split-second speed and accuracy.
Our test M3 was equipped with...
Our test M3 was equipped with the 7-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic sequential transmission. Similar to the new Honda DCT for its VFR1200F, the clutch packs are integrated in one assembly, with each output shaft running a set of gears so that the next gear is always pre-engaged.
And with a 4.0-liter V8 pumping out a claimed 414 horsepower at a dizzying (for an automobile) 8300 rpm accelerating the car to a 0-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds, there's definitely no shortage of performance. Those types of numbers were considered in the elite "supercar" territory back in the '90s, yet BMW has managed to harness them into a package that serenely putts along in urban traffic as competently as it scythes down a mountain road-or racetrack, for that matter. Having the famed 12.8-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit ("Riding the Green Hell", January '08) in its backyard allows the M division to put its engineering to the ultimate test on a daily basis. And the M3's performance there is anything but utilitarian; the latest version is said to be more than three seconds a lap quicker around the Nordschleife than its much more powerful M5 sibling boasting a Formula One-inspired 500-horsepower V10 engine.
Much of the M3's speed boils down to the same performance concepts that have become so prevalent in sportbikes. For example, in order to centralize mass for improved handling, the coupe version of the M3 is the first production car to come standard with a carbon fiber roof. The engine hood is aluminum, and the front fenders are made from a tough thermoplastic; most of the suspension components are also aluminum in construction. The new aluminum-alloy V8 engine is 33 pounds lighter than the much less powerful 3.2-liter six-cylinder it replaced. Granted, the new generation M3 is almost 300 pounds heavier overall than its predecessor, but that gain in performance along with the gain in weight can be correlated with today's literbikes (see Trevitt's "Stop Watch" column in this issue).