There's something I should disclose: I've always wanted an M3. Exactly why is unclear, but the feeling dates back to at least 2000, before I had a licence, when the then-new M3 was splashed across the cover of every British car magazine. Descriptions included: bloody-hell, bonkers, mega, power-slide – probably in that order.
But reality eventually deflates most teenage fantasies. With the keys to the new fifth-generation M3 in hand, I wonder if this particular fantasy would survive.
In radioactive yellow, the fifth-generation M3 looks like a bodybuilder in spandex. It's all bulges and rippling surfaces; its sheet-metal fitting one-size too small. The new M3 isn't as subtle as before. But let's chalk that partially up to the colour. In black or grey, the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing cliché would apply.
It only takes one on-ramp to realize the M3 is nothing like the 3-Series upon which it's based. The dainty three-spoke steering wheel is stitched in M colours. The seats are low with deep side bolsters. It's comfortable but serious – a place for contemplating the meaning of chassis balance and slip angles.
Replacing the naturally aspirated V-8 is a new twin-turbo straight-six. It delivers unnatural power – arriving as a great wallop of torque at 1,850 rpm and continuing unabated to 7,300 rpm with a peak output of 425 horsepower. The sound is unnatural, too, auto-tuned and fed through the speakers. It can't compete with the mechanical symphony of the old V-8, but the six has fuel economy and torque on its side: 38-per-cent more torque, to be precise.
At its May launch at a race track in Portugal, the M3 proved itself more than capable of power-sliding across the tarmac. And thanks to a clever limited-slip differential even a ham-fisted mortal like me can catch the slide and feel, for a split second, like a driving hero.
On city streets, this BMW can feel rabid to (almost) relaxed, depending on a myriad of settings. The steering filters back some delicate information to the driver. It won't impress diehard fans of the original 1986 M3, but for a modern car with electrically assisted steering, it's about as good as it gets.
In hindsight, I can see what appealed about the M3 to my teenage self: It's a normal car capable of abnormal things. Everyone expects a Porsche 911 or a Ferrari to be engaging and fun. They're loud, impractical sports cars. But a humble sedan that can do the same? The M3 went against type and defied expectations. And I like that.
Of course, now the M3 has a reputation which precedes it. Everyone expects it to deliver sports-car thrills, and it does. The fifth-generation M3 is easily as fun as a Porsche 911, 95 per cent of the time, but with the bonus of a couple extra doors.
Teenage fantasy survives intact. I still want an M3.
You'll like this car if ... You appreciate oversteer.
- Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo I6
- Base Price: $74,000; as tested: $100,545
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed double-clutch auto
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city, 9.7 highway (with automatic)
- Drive: Rear-wheel drive
- Alternatives: Mercedes C 63 AMG, Dodge Charger Hellcat, Audi RS 5 (coupe only), Lexus RC F (coupe only)
- Looks: Slightly less subtle than before so choose colour wisely. M3 sedan is a more interesting prospect than the M4 coupe.
- Interior: Great seats, great controls and a long list of expensive options.
- Performance: A sledgehammer of an engine meets finely balanced chassis. Oversteer ensues.
- Technology: Adaptive suspension is a must if you’re going to use this car every day. Without it, the ride is overly harsh.
- Cargo: It only makes the power-to-weight ratio worse, but the M3 will carry the entire family if it must.
Undisputed best-in-class, at least until we get a new C-Class AMG next year.
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