The 2008 BMW M3 puts the world around it in fast forward. No, this isn't some function hidden deep within the still befuddling iDrive or a secret performance setting achieved by hitting B, A, B, A, Select, Start; just an inherent ability to twist the world over its power dome and past its windscreen at a nearly impossible speed. Neither is this the kind of garden-variety performance achieved by the average big engine, small car formula. Remember how cheesy '80s action shows would speed up the tape during chase scenes? The resultant mix of unbelievably flat cornering and inexplicably rapid oncoming traffic just ended up being unbelievable and inexplicable. But not in this new M3.
This thought first occurs as I'm shifting from third to fourth on the same wet, windy and narrow road in the Catskills that had the Jaguar XKR tying itself in knots. Burying the throttle well into three figures that thought comes just after I ask myself if this is a bad idea. The answer is no.
The fast cars following disappear into the spray as the M3 crests yet another apex and accelerate out onto the flat corners beyond. The BMW making that impossibly fast, flat cornering believable, redefining the way in which I think a car should perform. I almost feel sorry for whatever it is I have to drive next.
That the M3 eschews conventional fast car wisdom makes it all the more special. Not present is any kind of manumatic or all wheel drive. The traction control is easy to completely defeat even if the power and electronic damping controls are baffling. The push-random-buttons-then-get-on-with-driving-it setting seems to work for me.
Those buttons, located down by your right leg, are the visible front to an achingly long list of in-car technology. A brief look reveals the usual dynamic stability control, as well as switchable throttle maps, electronically adjustable active dampers and regenerative braking. That you notice none of this once you put the owner's manual away speaks volumes for the fundamental right-ness of the design, none of it interfering as I use the throttle to play with the BMW's backend entering and leaving the mountain bends.
Earlier that morning, swamped in Manhattan's gray sea of traffic on my way out of town, there was little to hint at the M3's performance to come. The light clutch and adjusted-for-speed steering make easy work of the stop and go, while the suspension — firm in any setting — never makes the bumps go away, the jolts fail to affect the stiff body. The engine, while fast and flexible, doesn't hint at the performance its capable of. In fact, the whole thing feels decidedly normal. Looks it too, the bulges and droops making the already unappealing current 3-series even uglier. I like to think of the sedan's body as a form of camouflage; helping drivers avoid the attention a car this capable would normally garner. Even with the badges, those sitting one car over in traffic think of you as an upwardly mobile young executive from New Jersey, not someone hell bent on breaking every traffic law ever written.
But it's not city driving for which people will purchase the M3. It's the sheer involvement with which it rewards drivers. To look at it on paper, the BMW would seem a parallel for fast sedan rivals like the RS4, IS-F and C63 AMG. Gone is the lightweight simplicity of its forebears and present in the kind of complexity that'll make used car buyers shudder in three year's time. But, once you put your foot down, that piece of paper will disappear nearly as quickly as just about any other car on the road. It's just that good.
Thanks to: Brian, Tony and Matt at 0-60