Buckle up, get drinks and snacks ready, this’ll be long.
As I told you earlier, a surprise phone call got me into a 2015 M3 from Friday ‘till Monday. As I had plans for the weekend anyway, I drove it almost 700kms (435miles) while going after family affairs. First put it through some heavy city traffic, then a night-drive on my favorite hill roads (I’m still shivering with adrenaline, when I think about that), then a road trip across the Hungarian plains, mostly dual carriageway with some motorway blasts added. No, I didn’t adhere strictly to speed limits, only where I really had to for public safety or policing reasons. Yes, I got my family and stuff in the car for some of the legs. And no, I’m not Chris Harris, but I did use MDM (the middle, playful setting) freely, and even switched the systems off completely on a few occasions.
Here’s what I learned, also answering some of the questions you asked.
The M3/M4 is the new “Dino” Ferrari
This is an idea I had while I was trying to put this car on the map. If you recall, Dino models didn’t have prancing horses on them originally. They did have Ferrari know-how, but were downgraded a little, and got 6cyl engines. I guess this is pushing it a bit, the M3 being an FR-layout sedan, but look at this:
Ferrari F430 (2004)
- 490 HP
- 465 Nm (343 lb ft)
- 1450 kg
- 3,7 sec to 100km/h (62mph)
- CCB as option
- F1 Gearbox as option (change in 0,15 sec)
BMW M3 (2015)
- 430 HP
- 550 Nm (406 lb ft)
- 1595 kg
- 4,1 sec to 100 km/h (62mph)
- CCB as option
- Active M Differential
- M-DCT as option (change in 0,10 sec)
Of course Ferrari moved on since, but that’s why the M3 fits so well into an imagined line-up under the 488 GTB: it’s almost like a true Ferrari, but not quite.
The M3 is effing fast, and has a balance I only read about thus far
Don’t look for a proper dynamic test here, other, much better authors have you covered on that. I only have some basic skill behind the wheel, but enough not to spin this car, not even on the one occasion it stepped out on me with everything off. (75% throttle, in third. Yikes.) I’m also not influenced by hazy memories of M3s of yore, as this is the first I ever drove – some of the people who have been there and done that, will tell you this new one isn’t the sharpest tool in the drawer. My take on it however, is that even though the Chris Harris video implies that all the M3 wants is drift (read: spin, if you’re not good like him), I would say the contrary is true. There’s so much balance and so much goodwill towards the driver in this car, if you have a modicum of talent, and common sense, you’ll feel god-like in it, and will cover ground with speed some older (and less driver-friendly) supercars can only dream of. So where do the drifts come from then? From the mountain of power & torque, that’s where. The good people at M GmbH made sure that they added enough grunt to get the better of the excellent chassis they designed themselves. In one word: equilibrium.
OK it’s a great sports car, but will it baby?
Yes, it will. Though if you want to transport even a 20” bike in it, you’ll need to lay the seat-backs flat.
But when in place, the back bench seats two kids no problem, and three if only two use boosters. Don’t worry, I got the seat-belt aligned on the daughter properly, after taking this pic:
And the kids be like all giggly with the looks and speed and sound of this sub-zero cool car, at least mine were always pushing me on.
How about fuel economy? And will it off-road?
The best I got in the end was a respectable 10,5 l / 100 km (22,4 MPG) highway and I wasn’t holding back that much – hypermiling might even get it over 24 MPG. Now as per off-roading, the BMW Professional sat-nav did get me on an unpaved street, and the car didn’t as much as blink. Speed bumps aren’t problematic, not even big ones, neither are grassy parking spots. However, the huge rubber is extremely prone to tram-lining on any road that isn’t 100% brand new, so I guess dirt roads with tractor tracks are out of the question – but you thought as much, didn’t you?
So what about the sound? Is it artificial?
I… don’t know. Tell you what, normally, you don’t really hear the engine itself, but that’s thus in most all turbo motors – even old-school, like the Shamal I drove the other day. What you hear is the exhaust and you also hear the turbo, especially when you’re pushing the car, and more so with the windows down. In normal mode this adds up to a straightforward BMW sound, you might mistake it to a 335i, maybe even 335d. However, in Sport Plus mode of the engine management (read: gas pedal sensitivity) a butterfly valve opens in the exhaust, and the car starts to sound ungodly. I was giggling like a little girl on the first couple of hard accelerations, then under an overpass I had to cry out loud because of the overwhelming sensation – it’s effing fantastic.
And then, when I was finally hitting 6000 revs at full throttle, the car gave me that well-known metallic shriek all great M motors are known for. Shiver down the spine, tear in the eye, and just at the right moment - 10/10 for the theatrics. Was that shriek through speakers? Maybe, I really don’t know. But if it was, they knew what they were doing, them Germans.
Will it daily?
Yes. That’s the whole point of getting an M3 instead of some lightly used supercar you can have for the same $$$ (or less). You can see out of it, the seats are good even on long journeys, the driving position is spot on, there are loads of toys (I love the HUD, but didn’t like the sound of the harman / kardon system), it has ample space for four adults, and even a family of 5, and the boot is exactly the size of a normal 3 series. Speed bumps aren’t problematic, neither is parking, and it won’t overheat on you while you sit in backed-up traffic. Also, when you want it to just get you there, it’s not that loud and not that jittery and is nice and almost quiet, and peacefully automatic… yeah.
Truth be told, the ride is only good compared to what it can do, and not compared to a bog-standard 320d. And there’s lots of tire noise at speed, and you will hold onto the steering wheel all the time with both hands because of the tram-lining. So this isn’t a grand tourer, it’s more of a baby Ferrari – as I was saying. If you really need it for commuting, maybe get a 335i instead.
Are there any features other cars need as well?
I think the “god-mode” toggle for the exhaust is a great idea – even a 1.0 three-cylinder can sound like fun, if loud enough. Also, the HUD is excellent, and is a safety feature too, if done properly, not just a toy.
Is it a poseur mobile, or is it really Motorsport through and through?
No one asked me this question, even though this is important. Three weeks ago I drove this exact same car at a press event, where we could at least sample how it performs on a track. OK, that was little more than a glorified auto-x course, but there was an M235i too, and the difference was mind-boggling. Compared to the M3, the M235i fails spectacularly on the track, as it’s a street car, however sporty. The gearbox too slow, the steering too soft and rubbing off speed with understeer, the brakes spongy and weak… after the instant steering response and powerful CCB brakes of the M3, the non-M BMWs simply feel inadequate. On the flip side this means that if you have the money to buy an M3 / M4, and supply the rubber and servicing, you have a track-ready car right from the factory – this remains true to the name.
That said, it’s still going to end up with a lot of poseurs, who can buy it, but don’t have the want, or the means to track it. Just like Ferraris… There’s a theme here, see?
So there you have it. I only spent like 70 hours in possession of the key, but I think there’s not much more I could have gotten out of that time. My thorough and scientific research yielded a result: the M3 is probably closer to the Ferrari 430 than to the BMW 320d. And I got to say that surprised me.