0-litre engine with greater power for track heroics you’d never think could so effectively be combined with the more mature manners of a sensible sports saloon. For the right kind of buyer, it’s quite a car.
So, what’s this M3 really like? Like no other 3 Series saloon, that’s for sure. You realise this as soon as you hit the start button of this fifth generation F80-series model and the twin turbo straight six engine fires up with a throaty roar. The noise may not be quite as emotive as the revvy V8 used in this car’s direct E90-series predecessor but it’ll still alert the neighbours to the fact that something rather special is sitting on your driveway.
With a big normally aspirated engine fitted up-front, the previous generation version of this model required selection of a lower gear for instant acceleration below 4,000rpm, so you constantly had to keep the engine spinning, which was fun if you were in the mood but a little tiring if you weren’t. Thanks to 550Nm of pulling power this time round, that’s not necessary here: plant your foot in almost any gear and it goes. Very fast, 50 to 75mph in 4th occupying just 3. 5s in the manual model and 4. 2s in this auto version. True, there isn’t the razor-sharp throttle response you only get from normally aspirated induction – and I rather miss that. But turbo lag is slight and, once the blowers have spooled up, they’re your passport to absolutely ridiculous speed.
The M DCT twin clutch auto version that almost all buyers choose, though unlike Mercedes and Audi models in this segment, BMW does still give buyers a manual stick shift option.
Overall, there’s no doubt that this remains the proper driver’s tool its predecessors always were. It’s not as light and chuckable as those earlier M-cars: weighing in at 1,500kgs, it could never be. But then BMW makes an M235i model you should try if that’s more the kind of thing you’re seeking. The M3 has moved on – but kept the spirit of the original.
Is this how buyers will want their M-car to look? Probably. This M3 sits 47mm higher off the ground than its M4 coupe stablemate but it’s a difference you’d never appreciate from a casual glance. Instead, your first impressions are of a rather menacing thing, with real width to the design, especially when you view it from the front and take in the differences over an ordinary M Sport-trimmed 3 Series saloon: the wider flared wheelarches, the characteristic powerdome on the classic long bonnet and the way the deep front spoiler with its trio of air intakes sits purposefully beneath the trademark double-slat kidney grille. These unique aerodynamically-optimised twin-stalk side mirrors with their translucent LED indicators are bespoke too.
It's just as good inside too, where you're greeted by an intuitively-designed cockpit, the centrepiece of which is the M leather steering wheel with its MDrive buttons for personalised vehicle set-up. On M Double Clutch Transmission models like this one, you also get gearshift paddles with a cool metal finish. Through the stitched wheel, you glimpse a purposeful set of Motorsport-derived dials, with a segment beneath the rev counter showing the various suspension, throttle and steering set-up options you’ve chosen.
I think the deep-set leather-trimmed heated, electrically-adjustable M seats are my favourite interior touch though, with their contoured sides, integrated headrests and pronounced raised elements.
BMW’s M3 is different from the car it used to be. Of course it is. The Munich maker now has smaller, more agile motorsport-tuned models like the M235i if all you want are tarmac-tearing thrills. So his MK5 M3 had to evolve into something a little more grown-up without losing the raw dynamic excitement that’s always characterised this iconic badge. Tough to achieve at the same time as meeting demands for weighty safety legislation and eco-minded engineering.
But not impossible – as this fifth generation model proves. Yes, it’s lighter, much more economic and better able to pretend to be nothing more than a luxury sports saloon if you’re not in the mood for motorsports magic. But, thank goodness, it also still knows how to entertain. With the right buttons pressed and the right electronics de-selected, it’s still a car you have to master, where yours are the risks but yours too the rewards. In spite of everything, we still have an M-car fit to continue this famous bloodline. Thank goodness.