BMW is back with another M3 Saloon, but is it any good? Rory Reid took one out to some demanding Austrian mountain roads to see how it copes in this in-depth review.
The M3 Coupe has always been the prince of BMW’s M performance range. Fast, aggressive, and with a reputation for providing serious driving thrills. Its days appear numbered, however, threatened by the new kid on the BMW block – the BMW M4. The M3 will live on — BMW isn’t willing to axe the name just yet, but it’ll only be available as a four-door saloon. Those who want slimmed down coupe kicks will have to get the M4.
The M3 Saloon will ditch the famed naturally-aspirated 4.0-litre V8 in favour of a smaller turbocharged six-cylinder power unit. Sacreligious? We took one for an extended blast through some torturous Austrian roads to find out.
“Everything has been re-designed new from the ground up.”Cast a casual eye across the muscular surfaces of the new BMW M3 Saloon and you could easily mistake it for the previous model. All the usual hallmarks are present and correct – the kidney grille, aggressive front splitter, M side vents etc., but everything on this 2014 M3 Saloon, barring the headlights, doors and windscreen, has been re-designed new from the ground up.
BMW has focused heavily on weight reduction in an attempt to improve both efficiency and handling. This new car is an impressive 80kg lighter than the outgoing model, thanks to significant use of carbon fibre or aluminium on a number of key compoments. These include a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof, a CFRP propellor shaft, front side walls, and a bonnet made from aluminium rather than steel.
It doesn’t get much more practical than a four-door saloon, particularly one that’s based on the BMW 3 Series. There’s plenty of space inside this car — lots of leg and headroom at the front and rear, a good amount of usable space for odds and ends and a huge boot.
You get a pair of good-sized cup or bottle holders on the centre console, a large central cubby and adequately proportioned door bins. In the back, BMW’s opted not to include two distinct seats, rather a single bench giving plenty of room for three.
Performance & Handling
“Drive this car hard and the power produced by the engine is absolutely relentless.”Gone is the 4.0-litre V8 unit in the fourth-gen M3, in favour of a six-cylinder turbocharged power unit. Power-hungry M fans need fret not, however, because the 3.0-litre twin turbo engine here is marginally more powerful than the model that precedes it, producing a healthy 431hp – borderline supercar territory.
The engine revs to an impressively high rev limit of 7,600rpm, doing its best to mimic its naturally aspirated peers in this regard. More impressively, power is produced across a wide RPM range – between 5,500rpm and 7,300rpm. Having such a wide, flat peak power band means the car stays in the sweet spot for maximum power even when when power is interrupted during gear changes. Drive this car hard and the power produced by the engine is absolutely relentless.
Our test car was fitted with the optional seven-speed M DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission which is, for want of a better word, magical. It can act like an ordinary automatic gearbox, changing up and down as required without fuss, but has a manual mode, accessible via a sequential shifter on the centre console or paddles behind the steering wheel.
In manual mode the transmission gives you almost total control over what you do with the gears. Fancy redlining the car in first all the way to your destination? That’s absolutely fine – it’ll hold your chosen gear forever and a day. Want to cruise in too high a gear with the throttle to the floor getting nowhere fast? No problem, it’ll do that too.
Impressively, the dual-clutch system facilitates buttery smooth gear changes that are almost imperceptible. But its integrated Drivelogic technology means the driver can adjust the ferocity of gear changes on a whim. You can, if you want, get a real kick in the back with every change in ratios. At its most aggressive setting, it’ll disengage and re-engage the power so ferociously it’ll upset the balance of the car and trigger wheelspin – just as you might find in a manual car if you dumped the clutch pedal while changing up at an inopportune moment.
It’ll disengage and re-engage the power so ferociously it’ll upset the balance of the car and trigger wheelspin.”The stiffness of the steering and suspension and the responsiveness of the throttle can be adjusted independently in the same way at the push of a button, and two M preset buttons on the wheel let you save your preferred driving characteristics.
Torque is the major story in the new M3 Saloon. The twin-turbocharged engine produces a whopping 550Nm – 40 per cent more than the old V8. Peak torque is available from as low as 1,850rpm – diesel territory – meaning this car pulls hard with almost no provocation.
The 0-62mph sprint is completed in a mere 4.1 seconds – half a second quicker than before with the M DCT box, or 4.3 seconds with the manual, which is supercar territory.
It corners well, too. Try as we might, we found it nigh on impossible to provoke understeer, with oversteer available on tap if you get a little too brave and shove the accelerator pedal mid-corner. Bodyroll is minimal with the suspension in its stiffest seeing. The steering is surprisingly communicative for a car that uses an electronic power steering system.
Ultimately the M3 is fast, furious and fun when pushed hard.
Economy & Environment
BMW’s primary motivation in ditching its big, naturally-aspirated V8 in faovur of a smaller twin-turbocharged straight-six is rooted in its desire to reduce emissions and increase economy. It’s succeeded. Despite its ballistic performance the new M3 Saloon delivers a combined fuel economy of 34mpg and CO2 emisions of 194g/km – a 25 per cent improvement.
We can’t think of another car that delivers this blend of performance and economy. What BMW has achieved here is nothing short of staggering.
Equipment & Value
The new M3 Saloon is a relative bargain. It’s more expensive than the previous car by nearly £3,000, but the extra performance is incentive enough to warrant the extra layout. Usefully, the new car comes with more standard equipment. 19-inch light alloy wheels, leather interior, folding wing mirrors, electric front seats, Xenon headlights, compound disc brakes, adaptive M suspension, BMW M Professional Media infotainment with Bluetooth and USB, front and rear parking sensors and heated front seats all make an appearance as standard.
Of course, BMW will happily flog you all manner of optional equipment if you’ve any cash to spare. We’d recommend spending £825 on the M head-up display and, if you’re prone to hoonery, the incredible M carbon ceramic brakes might be a useful extra – though the £6,250 asking price might be a bridge too far.
We defy anyone that can afford those carbon ceramic brakes to get into trouble in an M3 Saloon, such is their ability to haul the car from ludicrous speeds to a standstill. If you do find yourself on an unavoidable collision course with something firm, you’ll be pleased to know the M3 Saloon is based on the current BMW 3 Series, which secured a five-star rating in Euro NCAP tests. Adult occupancy safety is rated at 95 per cent, while child safety sits at 84 per cent. Even pedestrian safety is an impressive 78 per cent.
There’s plenty of opportunity to get into trouble in one of these cars, but you’ll be well protected should the worst happen.
It’s difficult to think of another car that is as accomplished or as capable as the BMW M3 Saloon. It’s rapid almost beyond belief for a car of its proportions, handles like a sports car but as efficient as many cars that can’t deliver even a fraction of its performance.
It’s a genuine joy to drive, transforming moment to moment from muscle car to sports car to sensible family transporter almost on a whim. It doesn’t come cheap but it makes its current-generation rivals (the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and Audi RS5 Coupe) look underpowered, slow and overpriced. It is, without question, one of the finest cars we’ve tested this year.