Let me start by saying that the E46 BMW M3 CSL is arguably the best specimen of the nomenclature and will be fondly remembered years from now. It was essentially a lightweight, more powerful and focused variant of an already sorted car, the regular M3 of that ilk.
It was quite expensive though, costing some R930,000 back in 2004, which was about R400,000 more than the standard car. However, on experiencing the vehicle you were left a little dumbfounded at just how much more visceral it was to pilot and just how intense the straight six’s howl was.
Then came the next generation model in 2007, replete with a high revving, normally aspirated V8 engine and it too set the bar high and remains a hoot to drive. To upstage that was certainly going to be somewhat of a tall order for the F80 M3 on test here. Coupe lovers have the M4 to find solace in. Personally, I have always been a fan of M3 sedans since the E36 and the previous E90 M3.
So, as you may gather, I am not the least perturbed that the Munich-based company opted to give the sedan the M3 moniker. One thing clear from the outset is that the proviso for the new model was that it needed to be more efficient and lighter than its predecessor, all the while heightening the driving dynamics. No mean feat by any stretch of the imagination and the model had its work cut out for it.
How on earth would it supersede the mostly brilliant V8 and be thriftier in the process? Engine downsizing remains the order of the day and the new M3’s 3.0l twin-turbo straight six replaces the normally aspirated 4.0l V8 while punching well above its weight. Even the next generation Merc C63 AMG packs a 4.0l biturbo V8 engine instead of the previous model’s normally aspirated 6.2l V8. Even with a slightly smaller engine, the M3 now has 317kW and 550Nm, which is 8kW and 150Nm up on its predecessor.
Many will look at the former figure and think that is not much improvement. However, it is the latter figure that makes all the difference. It is available from 2,500r/min all the way to 5,500r/min and in turn makes the car feel mighty, brawny and broadly more useable than the outgoing model at most engine speeds. The engine itself can rev up to 7,300r/min. Our test model, replete in Yas Marina Blue hue, looked the part, particularly with those almost caricature, muscular rear haunches crouching over 19-inch wheels (R25,000 option) and tyres.
The aluminium bonnet still has that signature power dome, while M3 decals can be seen peppered about on the kidney grille, fender vents and on the rump. Quad exhausts at the rear finish off the look and leave onlookers in no doubt of the vehicle’s pecking order. There is also a carbon fibre roof to keep the weight down for good measure.
The interior also presents something of an occasion with form-hugging M-specific front seats, resplendent in a light grey colour. Embossed on the backrest is an M logo that illuminates at night when the vehicle is unlocked, which is a nice touch. The rest of the vehicle is conventional 3 Series fare, with high quality materials throughout.
While the previous model’s normally aspirated V8 was a class act in its own right, it lacked low-end torque and was rather thirsty. The usability of the new engine is far better than the old mill. At low revs it remains unassuming in the way it manages to go about things, particularly when allied to the exemplary M-DCT dual clutch transmission. In comfort mode ride quality is more than acceptable, with only the worst road undulations filtering into the cab- in. Below 2,500r/min the exhaust bypass valve remains closed, so the engine note is more subdued in a manner not far removed from the 335i.
However, jab any of the M buttons (M1 or the more manic M2) on the steering wheel and the vehicle seems to tense up in anticipation. The throttle response becomes sharper, the steering’s response resistance heightens, while the dampers assume a much harder ride quality. The vehicle moves from being a docile, family sedan into a foam-at-the-mouth sport saloon looking for supercars to slay. In-gear acceleration is savage at the very least, feeling like a Nissan GT-R in urgency and distillation of speed.
The active M differential is something of a treat here, displaying swift, incisive transitions from being opened to locked, which aids grip on a track or your favourite winding road. Of course, should you be au fait with rear-wheel drive dynamics, then you can completely switch off the DSC (dynamic stability control) and revel in the controllable drift theatrics on offer. The exhaust note, meanwhile, is a heady mix of a straight six wail at low to mid rev range and a booming, raspy note at the upper rev echelons.
Everything about the vehicle seems to be well judged, and the more I drove it the more I came to the conclusion that this could easily be the most complete performance sedan at the price. In fact, I will go one better and say for the money, this makes a more compelling case than the mighty M5 sedan.
Yes, it is that good. We managed about 13.5l/100km over the test tenure, which is some way off the manufacturer’s 8.3l/100km claim, but for a vehicle of such performance disposition it is acceptable. Many people have lambasted the price of the new M3 with many reckoning that it is too much to pay; however, looking at its performance credentials and factoring its everyday practicality and usability, you will be hard pressed to find a more complete package at the price. Criticisms? Make sure that you have an infinite budget for rear tyres.
Engine: 2,979cc, six-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 317kW at 5,500r/min
Torque: 550Nm from 1,850 to 5,500r/min
0-100km/h: 4.1 seconds
Top Speed: 250km/h (governed)
Fuel Consumption: 8.3l/100km