A new version of what the fourth owner of a 320d wants his car to look like.
Day one: The M3 is here. It is black. It looks superb. The seats are red, although for some reason BMW calls this colour ‘Sakhir orange’. They also say that excellent custardy colour you can get on Minis is orange. I’m starting to think BMW doesn’t know what orange means and keeps trying it out on things that aren’t.
Start the M3 from cold and it makes a deep, vigorous noise on the inside. This might be a bit of a cheat. It’s one of those modern cars that plumps up its engine note with artificial sounds played through the stereo. If you stand behind the M3 as it’s warming up, it makes a less pleasant noise, a bit like a bag of chainsaws. The rest of the car feels meaty. The steering is heavy, the power delivery grunty, you feel if you checked under the back bumper you might discover a massive pair of hairy bollocks.
Day two: Give a mate a lift. After 15 minutes or so, apropos of nothing, he declares that the M3 is ‘a bit…’ and then he makes the international hand gesture for ‘bumpy’. He’s right, it is a bit. And that’s with the chassis in comfort mode. I put it into ‘sport plus’ to give an illustration of how it could be even worse. From the driver’s seat, comfort setting isn’t terrible. It doesn’t crash into bumps but nor does it absorb them. It follows the contours of the road in a serious, sporty sort of way. Sometimes two separate parts of the interior in this car creak and chirp under the onslaught. Even so, you could probably live with it. The steering less so. Even in ‘comfort’ it seems needlessly heavy.
Day three: A day of trundling about town. This particular M3 has the double-clutch paddle shift gearbox which works perfectly well in auto mode. The interior is well laid out and comfortable. It’s a car that can do normal things, normally. But it has 425 horsepower and can kick a Boxster in the face for fun.
Day four: A wise man once told me that once the Germans got rid of the of their aristocracy there was no one left to provide refinement and taste-setting, leaving the door open to salmon-coloured sports jackets and Hasselhoff. In other words, you can draw a line directly from the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the gold brake callipers on the BMW M3 with optional carbon ceramics. There are other questionable design decisions on this car. I’m not very fond of the exposed carbon fibre roof, for example. And the light-up M badges in the front seats are ghastly. I’m also slightly bothered by the door mirrors which look like they should join the body at the top, but don’t. That said, as whole it’s still a terrific looking thing.
Day five: It’s tipping it down. This is not M3 weather. When it’s damp the traction control light flickers a lot, even if you’re being careful. More so if you’re being not-careful. Part of the problem is that there’s a brief pause and then all the torque seems to arrive in a lump. The old non-turbo, V8 M3 had 414 horsepower and 295 lb ft of torque. The new turbo six cylinder has 425bhp and 406lb ft. The numbers give you some idea of how the engine character has changed. It feels a bit like an AMG Merc without the carefree abandon of total madness.
Day six: It’s still wet. There will be no helmsmithing and heroism today. But that’s okay because I’ll let you into a secret: A few weeks ago I had a go in a different M3 on some utterly fantastic Scottish roads. On the first day it was dry. The M3 was a strange disappointment. Even with the suspension in its hardest setting the whole car lurched about. It felt heavy and uncoordinated, and it was hard to know what it was going to do next, especially since the steering gave previous little clue to what the tyres might be up to. The next day it was damp and the M3 was even less endearing. It felt snappy and unpredictable and not very nice. Really good fast cars encourage you to have fun. The M3 encouraged you to have a go, briefly shart yourself, and then back off. Which, personally, I don’t find very enjoyable.
Day seven: The new series of The Apprentice started this evening. While watching another roster of shit pricks machine gunning Sralan Sugar with bullshit I was filled with a sudden sadness about the BMW. I used to think the M3, especially the saloon, was a car for people who knew their stuff. But I’m a bit worried that it would also appeal to contestants on The Apprentice. In other words, people who think they’re alpha males but are in fact transparently twattish chancers. I hope not.
Goodbye: There’s much to like about the M3. It’s very fast in a straight line, it looks terrific and it feels like a nice object to own. But there’s something that bothers me about it and I think I’ve worked out what it is. This car is a fraud. Cruising gently the ride feels taut and uncompromising yet when you really rag it on a good road, it lollops and lurches about. It sounds bassy and serious from the inside but it’s an artifice, partly played through the stereo speakers, and from the outside it’s nothing like as nice. It boldly wears a carbon fibre roof panel to show how serious it is about weight saving yet one of its failings is it feels like the centre-of-gravity is too high and anyway, if they were that serious about weight saving, why have they put light-up M badges in the seats? It’s hard to escape the feeling that, where once M3s were cars for people who really cared about driving, this is a car set up for people who think they care but will never seek out a nice road and give the car a good airing nor really venture far from town. As such, it’s designed to look, sound and feel superficially hardcore to punters who will never drive it in a hardcore way. Because if you do, it all starts to come apart. As such, it’s hard not to feel that the M in the new M3 stands for ‘marketing’.
The car talked about here is a BMW M3 DCT. It has a 3-litre twin turbo engine making 425 horsepower. BMW says it can go from 0-62 in 4.1 seconds and has a limited top speed of 156mph. Without options, it costs £58,675.