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First Drive: 2008 BMW M3 Sedan and Coupe
2008 BMW M3
At first glance one might think that BMW's M performance division took a page from the hot rodder handbook with this latest edition of the M3, replacing the 3.2-litre inline-six with an all new 4.0-litre V8. With two more cylinders, 800 more cubic centimetres and 24 per cent more horsepower, it sure looks like it.
But look again - this is no ordinary "there ain't no replacement for displacement" engine swap. BMW's new V8 is 15 kg (33 lb.) lighter than the six cylinder engine it replaces and it uses less fuel, not more, to produce more than 100 hp per litre of displacement.
This is a high tech V8, not an old American style torque monster. The crankcase is constructed of a light aluminum-silicon alloy that eliminates the need for conventional cylinder liners. The crankshaft weighs just 20 kg (44 lb.). Each cylinder has its own throttle butterfly.
A new, comprehensive electronic management system coordinates all engine functions and integrates with the clutch, gearbox, steering and brakes. The engine management system uses ion-current technology to determine engine knock and poor combustion within the cylinders. The spark plug works as both an igniter and as a sensor monitoring the combustion process.
The engine reaches peak horsepower at 8,300 rpm. Redline is 8,400 rpm, but varies depending on engine temperature. Peak torque is reached at 3,900 rpm with 85 per cent of maximum torque available through 6,500 rpm. The coupe will sprint to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, the sedan in just a 10th more.
Power transfers to the rear wheels through a close-ratio, oil-cooled six-speed manual gearbox, via a twin-disc clutch and Variable M Differential Lock rear axle. The latter can provide up to 100 per cent locking action to either rear wheel.
So strong is the torque in this new engine that I routinely forgot about first gear, preferring to move ahead from a traffic light in second. Pull up behind a slower car in fifth gear, tap the gas pedal, and swiftly move ahead. One only needed to shift gears to extract performance, not to drive.
Running hard through the canyons and hills of Big Sur when traffic permitted or on the challenging Laguna Seca race track, the new M3 proved to be a versatile, nimble and sure-footed performer and, equipped with BMW's nanny group - Dynamic Stability Control - DSC (avoids under- and over-steer by applying brakes and reducing engine speed), Automatic Stability Control (prevents wheels from spinning on surfaces with reduced traction) and Cornering Brake Control (prevents the car from spinning out of control when committing the cardinal sin of applying the brakes in a bend) - extremely forgiving.
The new M3 can also be equipped with a variety of other driving accessories that allow the driver to customize the ride and handling characteristics of the M3. DSC can be shut off allowing more experienced drivers to enjoy the full dynamics of the car. The optional Electronic Damper Control (EDC) allows one to set the chassis dynamics in one of three modes - sport, normal and comfort. Sport mode significantly reduces squat and dive motion when accelerating or applying the brakes. The optional MDrive further enhances customization, allowing the driver to choose personalized settings for all dynamic driving systems. With MDrive, specific settings for DSC, EDC, throttle response and steering response can be stored and recalled instantly with the touch of a button on the steering wheel.
In my base tester (no EDC, MDrive or navigation system and hence, no iDrive controller), the sound system, heating and other controls were accessed in what many of us consider a normal fashion, via buttons and switches on the console. I found these intuitive to use, easing adjustments while driving.
A variety of interior trim packages will be available when the M3 goes on sale in Canada March 8th, including a base cloth and leather seating trim and a Novello leather package in silver, beige and red.
Also available, and for the first time since 1993, is a sedan version of the M3. This is a welcome addition. The M3 is such a good all round car that being able to buy four doors means it can also double as a family sedan when not pushing the limits on the track. A convertible will debut later in the spring, while all-wheel-drive and wagon versions are under consideration.
Carbon fibre is not available on the sedan, which differs stylistically from the coupe. Four doors aside, the sedan and coupe differ in other ways as well, when viewed from side or rear, particularly the taillight arrangement, the arch of the shoulder line and the placement of the "gills" behind the front wheel arches.
Up front though, the look is nearly identical. The front "kidney" grille appears to shrink above the huge lower openings which funnel air to the brakes and radiator. Body work runs beneath the car as well, providing a nearly flat lower surface to improve aerodynamics. The mirrors have been designed to improve air flow around the mirrors and to add a small amount of downforce.
Sport sedan enthusiasts will be happy to see the M3 return after a two year hiatus. But in the meantime, competition has heated up in the luxury sport coupe and sedan market. Mercedes-Benz' AMG division and Audi have not been sitting on their hands awaiting the return of the M3. It will be interesting to see if, in the eyes of luxury sport buyers, the BMW M3 can maintain its status as the best sports coupe (and now sedan) in the world.
Grant Yoxon is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist and Managing Editor of CanadianDriver.
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