Car Enthusiast - click here to access the home page


 



Eight into four. Image by Kyle Fortune.

Eight into four
BMW's M3 wears a more sensible suit in saloon guise, but it's no less fun for it.

   



<< earlier review     later review >>

Reviews homepage -> BMW reviews

| Week at the Wheel | BMW M3 saloon |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

Of all the BMW M3 models, the saloon should be the most discreet. Or so we thought; the heavily blistered wheelarches filled with optional 19-inch alloy wheels, sculpted bonnet and four giveaway tailpipes ensure that even the four-door M3 doesn't go unnoticed by those who know. It's certainly a bit less showy than its coupé relative, the four-door doing without the contrasting black carbon weave roof panel that BMW's M people claim reduces the centre of gravity on the two-door. If anything the M3's bulging addenda suit the four-door's shape better, the slightly taller, less lithe profile working well with the M3's necessary muscular detailing.

More assertive than aggressive it's certainly a tough looking car, the M revisions giving the saloon shape a real shot of athleticism. After the beautifully detailed exterior the interior is a bit disappointing; sure, there's some M badging, but overly chunky steering wheel and heavily bolstered seats aside there's little to really distinguish it from its much cheaper brethren. Forget all that though and wait for the variable-limit rev counter to allow full revs once the V8 engine is warmed up and you'll forgive it the M3 its regular 3 Series interior.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

Many have criticised the M3's 4.0-litre V8 engine for being short of urgency in the lower rev range. Certainly the 295lb.ft of torque isn't quite as impressive as the 414bhp power figure, but to call the M3 sluggish at low revs is to do the M division's V8 engine a real disservice. It's perhaps because of its high-rev savagery that the M3's engine feels a touch docile at lower engine speeds. It's not; the M3 is quick at any point in the rev range. Get the rev counter's needle swinging up towards the 8,500rpm red line though and you really understand the dual natured aspect of the engine's performance. It's fast, then faster - almost absurdly so.

Push that pedal to the floor and you're rewarded with more than just sensational performance, but an aural treat too. The M3's V8 has a strong voice, one that's got every rev-head car and van driver driving up alongside and making the blipping hand gesture in traffic or on the motorway to hear it. In the manual car that's no problem, a dip of the clutch and flaring the revs ensuring grins and thumbs up all round, that alone worth choosing the manual over BMW's paddle-shift two-pedal set up. The manual isn't perfect though, the clutch and shift being tricky to modulate unless you're hurrying it, slow traffic resulting in sometimes clumsy shifts.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

Like all M division's recent cars the M3 saloon can be tailored to behave like you want it to. There's not quite the incomprehensible number of options as in its M5 and M6 relatives, the M3 making do with a handful of choices to personalise the way it drives to your tastes. Forget the electronic dampers settings beyond the default setting, as firming them up results in such a deterioration in ride quality as to limit the M3's cross country ability. The variable M differential is key to the M3's behaviour, the trick locking differential providing up to 100% locking action. Switch the M3 to MDynamic Mode and the M3 reveals its extraordinary breadth of ability with the electronic thresholds raised. Thankfully, it's possible to programme the M button on the steering wheel to your preferred settings, meaning only one foray into the typically unintuitive iDrive system is necessary to set up the M3 to your liking.

It's an enormously rewarding car to drive quickly. It feels very obviously and naturally rear driven. It's easy to provoke the rear into oversteer, the M3's normal gait seemingly to exit every corner with the rear wheels steering. It's all fantastically enjoyable and controllable, the M3 flattering its driver with its incredible composure at and beyond its limits of traction and grip. If there's a weak link in the dynamic package it's the steering, which although nicely weighty through the chunky steering wheel isn't exactly loaded with information. The brakes too might be up to road use, but track work is certain to have you fighting a long pedal and dealing with fade.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

At just under £50,000 the M3 is pretty decent value for a car that can carry four in relative comfort, reach 62mph in 4.9 seconds and slam up against its 155mph limiter shortly after. BMW is a touch stingy with the equipment though; things like Bluetooth preparation and those fancy electronic dampers come as cost options. Similarly, a USB connection requires some extra cash. Economy is where the M3 will hit its owners the hardest though. BMW quotes a combined consumption figure of 22.8mpg and mentions its EfficientDynamics regenerative brakes in helping the M3's overall efficiency. Forget ever seeing that combined figure; everyday driving results in economy in the mid to high teens and committed pedalling in significantly less. Throw in a relatively small fuel tank and you'll become very familiar with the super unleaded pump on your local fuel forecourt.

Overall: star star star star star

The BMW M3 saloon is a sensationally rapid and enjoyable car that appeals even more in its slightly more practical and discreet saloon guise. It's not the perfect all-round package though, requiring commitment to drive smoothly and a confident driver to get the most of. Its limits are high too, meaning it's rarely able to exhibit its depth of talent on the road - unless you're wantonly irresponsible with your driving licence. Fuel consumption is a real issue though, particularly with BMW's sensationally fast and able turbodiesels demonstrating that pump-friendliness and serious pace aren't mutually exclusive in the 3 Series line up. The M3 saloon is a brilliant M car no doubt, but its relevance has never looked shakier.

Kyle Fortune - 7 Jan 2009



  www.bmw.co.uk    - BMW road tests
- BMW news
- 3 Series images

2008 BMW 3 Series specifications:
Technical specifications for 2008 BMW M3 saloon

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.



2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 BMW M3 saloon. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 






 

Internal links:   | Home | Privacy | Contact us | Archives | Old motor show reports | Follow Car Enthusiast on Twitter | Copyright 1999-2023 ©