There are two types of premium compact super sports sedans: The BMW M3 is one type, the BMW M3-fighter is the other. The 2015 BMW M3 enters a more crowded ring of contenders than ever before. Is it still the top of the heap, or does it finally need to concede to its rivals?
(Full Disclosure: BMW sent us the M3 for a weekend. A weekend where I got a vicious cold that restricted my drive time due to the sheer amount of mucus in my system. You're welcome.)
I've always been an M3 fan, but I have a deep dark secret: Until this summer, I had never driven an M3 before, other than an E46 M3 SMG that I valet parked once. I was the definition of a fanboy. I knew what an M3 was supposed to be, how it was a precise balance between engine and chassis, but that was only from friends who spent time in one. I was missing out.
Then I drove an E30 M3. My life was changed.
I got it. Everything that people say about the E30 M3 is true. The S14 is a manic little revvy powerhouse. The steering has just the right amount of assist, the right weight, the right everything. The chassis is compliant and fun. It's just a buzzy smile machine that transforms driving into a game more addictive than Candy Crush.
Over time, the M3 has evolved to suit the tastes and requirements of the time, which frequently means alienating one group of "purists" and appealing to a new type of enthusiast. Every single M3 has grown in size, power, luxury, and breadth of use and popularity.
This M3 is four door only (the dumbly named M4 is now the coupe version), it's larger, it has electric assist power steering, carbon brakes, and, the biggest first, it's turbocharged. It has "efficient dynamics," whatever that means, and more ///M flourishes and branding than one person could rightfully need.
What began as a road going track car has become a track going road car. There isn't an issue with that, but judging the new F80 M3 against the original E30 M3 will always result in a disappointment. But where that disappointment lies will depend on the preferences of the driver, not the car itself.
There's no doubt, this is a different type of M3 than has ever come before it. Now, is that a bad thing?
You might think that the BMW M3 and M4 are the same car, and for all practical intents and purposes, you would be correct. But I'll let you in on a little secret. While the underbits are basically the same, they're wearing very different dresses. See, the M4 has a wider body and some aero deficiencies compared to the M3, so it gets a special carbon fiber trunk. Woo. Hoo.
The M3 is the better looking car, and there are two simple words that will make you understand that: Fender flares. See, the sedan body is narrower than that of the M4, but the track is the same. Instead of just letting the wheels flail out there in the open, BMW covered them carefully and, dare I say, sensually.
No, it doesn't have a carbon trunk lid and instead makes do with a little add on lip spoiler, but that pock mark cannot spoil glorious fender flares. Combine that with the aggressive front end and bulging hood, and you have a real winner on your hands. I even like the Bimmerangs.
What are the bad bits of the M3? Well, it has enough M badges to project self confidence issues ("I really am an M3, y'know!) and some of the detailing out back is a bit fiddly, but that's minor. This is a truly great looking car.
Here's where the M branding pisses me off. Ok, outside is all well and good, you need to let the world know who you are. I get it. But inside, there are these small M badges on the seats. Ok, cool. At night, when you unlock the car, they illuminate in full M color. I saw it, did a double take, and then got nauseous. It is the tackiest element of a car that already has a clothing line devoted to it. Just wear an M jacket instead.
Ok, that out of the way, the rest of the interior is standard 3-series, just with better seats, a better wheel, a better gear shift, better stitching, and carbon trim. So, yes. This is a 3-series, but better. As you'd expect when you're spending $84,300 on a 3er. Yeah.
As I learned in the E30, M3s have always been buzzy little rev machines. Low end torque has not been their forte, but that's ok. The joy has always come in revving these naturally aspirated machines out to the top of their rev range.
But, what ho? This M3 is turbocharged. The first M3 to ever have a turbocharger. The 3.0 liter turbo straight six makes 425 horsepower, just 11 more than the previous M3's 4.0 liter V8. That sounds kind of sad, until you look at the torque figure. The S55B30 I6 has 406 pound feet of torque across a broad range. The S65 V8 in the E92 M3 made 295 pound feet relatively high in the rev range.
That means that this new M3 has an entirely new way of delivering power: It's always delivering power. Turbo lag is minimal, and instead it just punches you in the kidney anytime you put your foot down. Even with traction control on, the M3 has a hard time putting all the power down to the ground without spinning the tires in first. And second. And a little bit of third. This engine is an insatiable monster that will destroy you if you don't treat it with respect. And still might destroy you if you do respect it.
It's obscenely fast and feels a bit AMG-ey in how it breaks traction with ease. Then again, it's more controlled than an AMG car, mainly because it has a better chassis. The balance of the M3 has shifted. Instead of being chassis first, it's distinctly powwwwwerrrrrrrr first and then chassis second. Not a bad thing, just a change.
This M3 has carbon brakes. $8,150 carbon brakes. Yes, that's obscenely expensive. On track, they're probably worth it for a ton of track day action, but they really make no sense on the street.
That doesn't mean that these brakes are bad. Not in the least. For carbons, they aren't grabby and have a nice progressive pedal with just the right bite. Still, I can't imagine buying these brakes for road use unless you just want everyone to stare at your simply gigantic rotors and see that you have gold calipers, which means you are obviously superior.
The suspension is adjustable into three settings: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. The majority of my highway driving was spent in comfort and backroads were in sport. Sport plus is for sadists.
Both settings were pretty much perfect. It feels controlled and balanced, just as you'd expect. Neither setting was overly harsh and communicated the road just dandily to the buttocks of the driver (in this case, we're referring to my buttocks). It's one of the best riding cars out there today.
I have a bit of a gripe, and it's not with this car. It's with the immediate stance that electric power steering is bad power steering. I postulate that bad power steering is bad power steering, hydraulic or electric. The new M3 has EPAS, and it's one of the best implementations of electric assist yet, and is definitely better than the hydraulic steering in something like the Jaguar F-Type.
The M3's steering isn't the greatest in the world, but it's pretty damn good. By modern standards, it's pretty communicative and builds load accurately and correctly in a corner. It isn't just heavy for the sake of being heavy, it's heavy when appropriate. The Sport setting is the best way to experience the M3's steering. Comfort is too removed and sport plus feels too artificial. Sport should just be the only setting.
As for the rest, well, on the road it's super planted up to absurd, obscene speeds. It changes direction quickly and fluidly. Compared to the 2015 Lexus RC F, the M3's 500-plus pound weight savings make it feel more lithe. More alive. This thing has to be a hoot on track.
You can get either a six speed manual or a seven speed M-DCT double clutch trans. I've never been the biggest fan of BMW's double clutch transmission, and though the calibration is a tad suspect here, it's far better than I remember. I started off with it in the most aggressive setting, which resulted in chirping tires at every high speed shift, wiggling hips, and making you look like an ass off the line.
Then I tried the least aggressive setting, which I think has the paddles call back to BMW to see if a gearshift is allowed before engaging the next gear. It's just too slow. The sweet spot for me was the middle setting. Shifts were still quick, but not unsettlingly so. It's really the only setting you need.
If it were my car, it'd have a third pedal.
There are so many toys here. It has iDrive, satellite radio, cameras, three settings for each the steering, dampers, throttle mapping, and gearbox, two memory settings for your favorite combo of the performance settings, auto headlights and high beams, auto wipers, and more.
It can even link your GoPro straight to the car. What a cool feature.
BMW has been getting a lot of flack for piping faux engine noise into the cabin through the speakers. I don't like the idea of it either, but in reality, it doesn't make a huge ton of difference. Yes, it gets louder in different modes, but it's not awful.
The I6 has an authoritative bark to it, but it isn't necessarily the most evocative noise. It's not like hearing any previous generation drive by where you went "holy hell, that's purty soundin'!" It's a bit gruff sounding.
The stereo? Oh, yeah, that's good. Not awesome, not terrible.
So, this M3 is $84,300. Yeah. That's what I said too. But it doesn't have to be that expensive.
See, the base price for the M3 is $62,000. In my ideal spec, which I've refined since we did our "how you'd option it" post, my M3 would be just $67,475. For a car with this level of performance and involvement, that's a steal. It's a perfect "only car." Kids need to go to school? M3. Track day? M3. Grocery store? M3. Anything? M3.
Sometimes, you don't have room for three cars to do multiple things. In fact, most times you don't have the room for that. So that ability to make your family hauler, daily driver, weekend, car, and track car into one car is a steal.
Now, you just need to decide if you want a BMW M3, or a BMW M3 fighter. Give me the M3 any day.
Engine: 3.0L Turbocharged I6
Power: 425 HP at 5,500 RPM/406 LB-FT at 1,850 RPM
Transmission: Seven-Speed Dual Clutch
0-60 Time: 3.9 seconds
Top Speed: 156 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,595 Pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 17 City/24 Highway
MSRP: $62,000 ($84,300 As Tested)
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove