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BMW M3 Review: 2014 DCT Automatic Photo:
 
 
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Astounding performance, torque everywhere, beautiful handling.
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The financial reality of being a journalist.
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The best M3 ever? Considering the breadth of its performance, yes.
Tony O'Kane | Aug, 16 2014 | 5 Comments

August 16, 2014

Vehicle Style: High performance sedan
Price: $156,430 (plus on-roads), $165,990 as-tested.

Engine/trans: 317kW/550Nm 3.0 turbo petrol 6cyl | 7sp twin-clutch auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.3 l/100km | tested: 12.1 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

The BMW M3 is one of those ‘must-drives’, a box that every car enthusiast should tick at some point in their lives.

And it doesn’t really matter which one, they’re all legendary in their own special way.

From the perfectly balanced handling and light weight of the original four-cylinder E30 M3, to the wailing straight-six of the E46 M3 and the deliciously high-revving V8 of the last-gen E90 M3... every generation of M3 has had its own particular charm.

But what of the newcomer? The F80?

For starters, it’s the first M3 available exclusively as a sedan. If you want a two-seater, the newly-minted M4 is your steed.

Secondly, it’s the first M3 to be turbocharged. The old 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated V8 is gone, replaced by a twin-turbo 3.0 litre inline six.

Purists may regret the passing of the V8, but this is a superb engine with massive power and stupendous torque.

Thirdly, it’s lighter than its predecessor, and packed with even more technology - much of it borrowed from the heavy-hitting M5.

So things have certainly changed, but does that automatically make it better?

Does the new M3 continue to deliver visceral thrills and poised handling, or has all the new technology - both inside the engine bay and inside the cabin - changed the nature of this beast?

 

THE INTERIOR

  • Carbon-fibre trim with black chrome highlights.
  • Merino leather upholstery, sports steering wheel with M contrast stitching.
  • Heated and electrically-adjustable front seats. Memory function for driver
  • Standard equipment includes: keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors, around-view cameras, bi-xenon headlamps, retractable rear window blinds.
  • Infotainment: 8.8-inch LCD display, iDrive controller, sat-nav, digital radio tuner, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, USB audio inputs.

While the design is recognisably 3 Series, the M3’s carbon-fibre trim, Merino leather upholstery and wonderfully supportive front seats give it an unmistakeable performance-car flavour.

There’s also the M Sport steering wheel - one of the best we’ve ever gripped - and a different shifter console to accommodate the numerous buttons and switchgear that’s unique to the M3.

And those front seats, by the way, are simply fantastic. Heated and electrically adjustable, they also feature adjustable side bolster width so that drivers of any shape are held firmly - but comfortably - in place.

The rear seats are also trimmed in that sumptuous red hide, but the bench is firm and lacking under-thigh support. The bulkier backrests of the front seats also eat into rear seat legroom, and there’s no fold-down centre armrest.

The standard equipment list is extensive, and few will find the need to go ticking option boxes.

The centrepiece of the cabin is the M3’s 8.8-inch LCD colour display, which ties into the iDrive controller (which now incorporates a touchpad for handwritten inputs) on the centre console.

Displaying everything from navigation information, power and torque readouts, the phone screen and, of course, radio and external media info, the display is crisp, easy to read, and very user-friendly.

A digital radio tuner is also standard, and sounds fantastic when piped through the 16-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system.

Bluetooth audio integration and USB audio inputs are also factory-issue.

In fact, the only option box we’d opt for would be for the head-up display ($1700). With the M3’s ability to pile on speed, having a speed readout directly in front of your eyes is a potential licence-saver.

 

ON THE ROAD

  • 317kW/550Nm twin-turbo petrol 3.0 litre inline six
  • Seven-speed twin clutch automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Active rear limited slip differential
  • Front suspension: MacPherson strut, electrically-adjustable dampers, alloy suspension links
  • Rear suspension: Five-link multilink, electrically-adjustable dampers, alloy suspension links.
  • Active exhaust with bypass valve.
  • Wheels: 9x19-inch front, 10x19-inch rear alloys. Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
  • Brakes front: Four-piston fixed calipers,

If you’ve ever wondered what car journos mean when they bang on about neutral handling, drive an M3.

The way it pivots under power, with rapier-sharp turn-in and unshakeable poise, is, at first, eye-widening. Even when carrying serious speed, it takes a clumsy hand to induce understeer.

It’s that balance between understeer and oversteer that makes the M3 such a neutral machine, and such a delight to drive.

Credit some of that balance to the new M3’s 60kg lower kerb-weight and nearly 50:50 weight distribution, courtesy of a carbon-fibre roof, chassis brace and driveshaft; and aluminium front guards, bonnet and suspension arms.

The suspension is electronically adjustable as standard, and in Comfort mode is plenty compliant for around-town motoring.

It’s also not too bad when giving the M3 some stick along a bumpy mountain road, but for this kind of driving the middle “Sport” setting is the best.

Leave Sport+ for when you’re at the racetrack. It’s just a little too stiff for the average backroad.

It’s still no featherweight at 1560kg unladen, but with 317kW of power and 550Nm of torque, the M3 will blister any length of tarmac.

Tread carefully if you elect to disable stability control though. All of that torque is spread from 1850rpm to 5500rpm, and the M3 will spin its rear tyres with just a moderate squeeze of the throttle.

Conversely, with all electronic aids switched on the traction control interrupts power delivery all too often.

Thankfully the intermediate “M Dynamic Mode” strikes the happy balance, allowing more than enough slip while still preserving grip.

The active limited slip differential (borrowed from the M5) also works wonders, locking the rear wheels when accelerating, and unlocking when decelerating to aid turn-in.

There is, of course, some turbo lag to contend with. I don’t think I’ve ever driven a turbocharged car that didn’t have some kind of lag, and the M3 is no exception.

You purists can stop wringing your hands though: the lag lasts for mere milliseconds, and throttle response above 3000rpm is almost instant.

And the trade-off for the slightly doughy low-RPM throttle feel is a far more flexible power delivery.

With maximum torque available over such a wide rev-range there’s no shortage of pulling power, and as long as you have at least 2200rpm on the dial, the M3 simply flies.

Yet with a redline of 7600rpm, you can drive the new M3 much like its naturally-aspirated, high-revving predecessors.

Peak power arrives at 5500rpm (coincidentally, right where peak torque starts to tail off), and doesn’t let up until 7300rpm.

With an effective powerband that stretches from 1850rpm to 7300rpm, the new M3’s twin-turbo six is far more tractable than the naturally-aspirated V8 it replaces.

The M3’s seven-speed twin-clutch automatic (largely identical to the M5’s gearbox) is the perfect partner to this engine.

In automatic mode and in its most relaxed shift-setting (there are three), it shifts smoothly and keeps revs low to preserve fuel economy.

Dial it up to its sportiest mode, and it hangs onto gears longer and pre-emptively downshifts when braking. In manual mode, the gearshifts come hard and fast.

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The engine isn’t the only thing that’s undergone radical change for the F80 M3 though.

The steering has finally transitioned from being hydraulically-assisted to fully-electric - an efficiency measure that reduces load on the engine.

BMW’s experience with electric power steering has been patchy of late. The X5’s imprecise hardware is something of a lowlight, but thankfully the M3 fares much better.

That said, while it’s not the most talkative or feedback-rich steering set-up, the M3’s wheel responds quickly and directly, while still conveying some information about what the front wheels are doing..

Just don’t bother with the Sport or Sport+ settings for the steering. They just increase steering weight, with no change to feel or rack-ratio.

And with the grip of the M3’s 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, the M3 changes direction with eye-widening ease.

The huge cross-drilled brakes, meanwhile (see above for their specs), generate enough stopping force to pop your eyeballs out of your skull.

But it’s how all of these attributes come together that makes the M3 so special.

The transition from acceleration to braking to turning to accelerating is so fluid and so natural that you feel like the car is an extension of your own body.

You feel a sense of connection that isn’t always present in a sports sedan. This is more than just a fast four-door, it’s the textbook definition of what a performance car should feel like.

 

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.76 out of 37 possible points.

Safety features: Stability control (switchable), traction control (switchable), ABS, EBD, brake assist. Dual front and front-side airbags, full-length curtain airbags.

Three-point seatbelts for all seats and ISOFIX child seat anchorages for outboard rear seats.

 

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

Beyond the usual rivals from Audi and Mercedes, there’s a few other options from the domestic tuning houses HSV and FPV, and also Volvo’s Polestar division.

Keep in mind though that Benz’s C 63 AMG has yet to receive a sedan replacement, with the company’s V8 bruiser now only available as a coupe.

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

M3 fans can breathe a sigh of relief. While there may now be a couple of turbos hanging off the exhaust manifolds, they don’t dilute the rawness of this superb performance vehicle in the slightest.

If anything, they enhance it by making it deliver more power, more of the time. Yes, the E90’s atmo V8 was a wondrous powerplant, but the F80 M3’s straight-six takes things to the next level.

Yet while things look a little different in the engine bay, BMW hasn’t messed with the M3’s core attributes - its handling balance, agility and everyday usability is entirely and absolutely intact.

Is the new M3 a better car than the venerated model it replaces? Absolutely. But not only that, it’s arguably the best of its breed.

 

PRICING (excludes on-road costs)

The BMW M4 and M3 are available for order now. The M4 Convertible is also bound for Australia, although exact price and timing is still to be confirmed.

  • BMW M3 Sedan - $156,900
  • BMW M4 Coupe - $166,900

MORE: BMW M4 and M3 REVIEWS

 
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