Have you ever seen a muscular guy in a suit that's a tad too tight? That's what comes to mind when viewing BMW's new M3. It bulges everywhere.
The hood had a power dome to hold the menacing V8. The wheels were pushed to the corners and seem like they were flush with the body panels. And the wheel wells were pushed out to hold its 19-inch tires and alloy wheels.
We had the sedan version of the M3. There is also a coupe with a carbon fiber roof. It's a tad lighter, about 22 lbs., than the sedan and it costs almost $3,000 more: $57,275 v. $54,575. Still performance is almost identical. Both cars will get from a standing start to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.
What's more, a retractable hardtop convertible M3 will join the mix this summer. It will feature BMW's first seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that will replace the reviled SMG gear box and will be available in the sedan and the coupe in the fall. Look for this transmission to roll through BMW's product line.
But the heart of any M-car is the engine. And the M3 is equipped with the series' first V8. Its compact, at 4.0 liters, and high revving with a redline of 8,400 rpm. It produces 414 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. BMW says the new engine's power represents a 24 percent increase over the inline six of the last generation M3 yet the new engine weighs seven percent less than the powerplant that it replaced.
The engine note was guttural at any speed. The M3 let us now that there was a powerful engine under the hood by just the way it sounded. The car handled the streets here with rifle shot precision. The sport suspension was firm without being harsh. And acceleration was rocket-like. We were particularly pleased with the way the car handled at low speeds.
The M3 had quad exhausts that exited at the center of the car in the rear. It had deep air intakes in the front and fender gills. The sedan was red with matching sport seats and leather steering wheel. Our lone disappointment was that the sedan was not equipped with satellite radio. It didn't have a sunroof either but it did have a navigation system.
Our test vehicle was equipped with an optional sport button for faster throttle response. It had electronic damper controls and an M Drive button so that we could call up our favorite ride and response combination. But we kept the setting as it was and enjoyed the drive.
According to BMW, the M3 provides sure-footed responsive handling for a high-performance, powerful and luxurious coupe, while keeping mass under control. The combination presented numerous challenges for the BMW M3's engineers. The result is a new, aluminum chassis developed specifically for this model. The design begins with placing components in such a way as to create a 50/50 front/rear weight balance.
Virtually all of the M3's front-end components are aluminum, including the front struts, swivel bearings, central sub frame and an additional thrust panel below the engine serving to maximize lateral stiffness of the entire front section.
Our routes were mostly unchallenging for the M3. This car needs curves, hills and long straight-aways to truly show what it can do. But for style and panache it did just fine here. The sedan was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission which we melded with almost immediately.
Shifts were smooth; the clutch pedal was reasonable and cross gating was easy. The M3 is definitely the kind of car in which a manual transmission is not a burden. But we do love double clutch gear boxes. We think that with a double clutch automatic BMW's M-cars might fine a larger female following.