Written by: Calvin Chan
Photography by: Calvin Chan
If I handed you $100,000 to spend on a BMW M3, how would you spec it up? What colour would it be painted, Austin Yellow or Yas Marina Blue like the one shown above? Automatic or manual transmission? 4-door sedan or 2-door coupe? This is what automotive journalists like us daydream about while we're waiting in line at Starbucks ready to order that seasonal pumpkin spice latte. We occasionally peer into the parking lot in hopes of spotting a rare exotic or a new 2015 model that just rolled off the showroom floors. And then we spot our press vehicle for the week - one that can range from a low-end compact to a high-spec convertible. But for this sunny autumn week in Toronto, we're test driving the 2015 BMW M3 Sedan and I couldn't be more delighted. Daydream no more.
Each year the M3 has progressively received a bigger engine. Starting from the 2.5-litre four to the 3.2-litre six, and onwards to the howling 4.0-litre V8 found in the previous generation's E90 series. Following the trend of appendage enlargement, you would've thought a new V10 was in the works, but not quite. For this year's M3, codenamed F80, BMW has hopped on the bandwagon and replaced two cylinders worth 1020cc with not one, but two turbochargers, fundamentally changing the M3 and how it is meant to be driven.
To meet more stringent fuel economy numbers, downsizing the engine makes sense except to the folks at AMG - the 2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 will debut with a twin-turbo V8. Instead, BMW has equipped the F80 with a twin-turbo straight-six with 425 screaming ponies and 406 lb-ft of torque. Chopping off two cylinders has also made it nearly 80kg lighter and 20% more fuel efficient than the outgoing model. You may look at these numbers and think to yourself, huh? That's only an 11 horsepower boost, what difference will that make? But keep in mind there are also perks to turbocharging - it has 111 lb-ft more torque. That's nearly the power difference of a diesel versus a gasoline engine. The torque is accessible from a mere 1850 rpm and stretches up to a whopping 5500 rpm. All that torque spooling in low gears means the M3 can pick up from any rpm and whip your neck back to the headrest as the dials hastily wind up to red. The power is linear, and quite frankly insane. There are even new Dinan packages rolling out for the M3 under BMW warranty that can boost the horsepower north of 500.
But there are two downsides to this transition. The first is that turbocharged engines don't rev to the same limits as naturally aspirated ones. The E90 M3 revved up to 8300 rpm, 1000 rpm higher than the F80 M3. The second correlates with the first, and that's with the exhaust noise. Turbos just don't sound good. The whiff of the them sucking in air and winding it up like a treadmill - my ears just aren't as satisfied as the vociferous high notes played by the E90 strings. Sticking with the latest audio fashion, the M3 also amplifies engine noise and pipes them through the Harmon Kardon speakers - the epitome of automotive brainwashing, but hey it still sounds good. I just wish there was an option to turn it off so I can hear it's authentic roar. But if high revs and exhaust noises are the only two trade-offs for a larger torque stockpile, then so be it. If the soundtrack is of importance to you, look elsewhere - the AMG showroom for example. The BMW M3 was built to be a driver's car - not one to please the symphony audience, but one to shave seconds off its lap time.
What made our earlier BMW M4 test drive so memorable was its smooth 6-speed manual transmission and buttermilk gear changes. The computers would auto-rev for us when down-shifting, and even if you accidentally stall, simply mash the clutch pedal and the car will automatically restart the engine for you. The clutch grab was so forgiving that operating the M4's gearbox didn't feel like a manual whatsoever, but rather a tiptronic with a redundant third pedal. Maybe that's why I have no problem with the M3's 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, a gearbox that is also shared with the M5 and M6.
Yes, a stick allows for a more engaging drive through the bends with your left foot and right arm, but the DCT is so seductive with its lightning-quick reflexes and manages to shave 0.2 seconds off from 0-100km/h against the manual (4.1s and 4.3s respectively). The paddles are slim but emit a clunky and satisfying noise when you flick it, the blip on down-shifts sound amazing, and you even have the option of changing how aggressive your gear changes are. Forgive me but this is the epiphany where I realize yeah, I would actually choose the DCT over the manual.
The F80 M3 is not only quick in a straight line, but excels around corners thanks to a rigid chassis that utilizes lightweight materials such as magnesium, aluminum, and carbon-fibre reinforced plastic. A fixed carbon fibre roof further reduces the weight of the car and lowers the M3's center of gravity. Matched with a carbon fibre front strut brace, lower aluminum suspension mounts, lightweight wheels, and sticky Pilot Super Sport tires, the M3 feels stiffer than the generations before it and bites into the apexes undisturbed by oversteer.
We took the M3 up to Southwood Road, a three hour drive north of Toronto, and arguably one of the best roads in Ontario. Stretching 33 kilometers, Southwood is littered with twisty bends and scenery one would only find in Narnia, the M3 was finally at home. The leaves were beginning to change colour and the clouds were beginning to darken. Then the downpour. Normally we keep the M3 in MDM mode where the traction control is only 50% active and hits that perfect balance between neutrality and oversteer. But with the torrential rain and the wipers on, we stuffed our balls back in our pants and kept all the systems on.
In the wet, the rear-wheel drive M3 struggled to find traction but never disappointed. I wouldn't dare to explore the bottom half of the gas pedal afraid that the rear-end would merge with the hollow trunk of a Maple tree. But despite my conservative efforts, steering the M3 felt tactile and predictable. It was confident through the corners and managed to keep the tail in check. The E90's naturally aspirated V8 pushed you to drive at its 8300rpm limit, but the turbocharged M3 radically changes that. Most of your time will be spent in low gears where the torque is meatiest. The cache appears to be bottomless. Combined with the constant spooling of the turbos, the entire stretch of Southwood could be driven solely in third gear. It's magnificent.
The heads-up M display was extremely useful. It displayed everything from the rev-counter, gears, and speed, helping trim those few milliseconds I would need to peer down at the analogue gauges. The suspension felt balanced, and though you will feel road bumps and imperfections, it's not enough to make your spine tingle when you get out. Body roll is minimal and the adjustable side bolsters help to keep your body straight and composed.
Like every other M car, the interior is flooded with buttons to configure everything from the throttle response to the steering feedback. These can all be programmed to one of two M buttons on the steering wheel to save your driving settings. We preferred putting everything into Sport mode. I felt that it gave the M3 a balanced response from the throttle without too kick that would put the car sideways. Sport Plus mode was too choppy and I would only recommend using it on the track. It's way too coarse in the low revs and doesn't suit city driving below 60km/h.
A feature we didn't have on the manual BMW M4 was Launch Control. With a manual you simply launch it yourself with the clutch, but with the 7-speed DCT, the computers do it for you and optimize the traction and revs for a Saturn V rocket start. However, unlike other manufacturers, setting it up can be quite convoluted (yes we actually had to bust out the instruction manual). Deactivate DSC by holding down the button for a few seconds, push the shifter into Sport/Sequential mode with driving program 3, hold the brake and mash the accelerator. When you're ready to go, let go of the brake and watch the M3 hit hyperspeed - zero tire smoke, no tire squeals, only blur.
We encountered a few problems here, and we thought we would share them to save you the embarrassment if you happen to find yourself on a legalized drag-strip. When they say push the brake pedal, really push it. Launch control won't work if you're only lightly tapping it. Second is to make sure the car is warmed up. Cold tires and a dusty engine don't help - do a few laps or rev the car up before attempting it. If you're leasing your M3, many dealers will only turn on the Launch Control feature once the car has reached 2000km, so make sure to inquire about that.
The BMW M3 is essentially an M4 with two extra doors. Despite being based on the looks of a 3-series, it's not far off from the dimensions of the M4 - they weigh nearly the same as well. The M3 sits only a few millimeters higher than the M4, but the latter's larger doors and low-cut lines create an illusion of riding lower and wider. Whereas the M4's front end and wide arches look the meanest of the two, it is the M3 sedan's rear that looks the most hypnotic. Both carry four bevelled tailpipes, but they blend in much better with the bulkier M3 rear lamps.
The cabin is what really sets the M3 and M4 apart. The rear seats housed in an M4 are fully functional but suffer from a lack of headroom and aren't the easiest to crawl into. With two extra doors, the M3 sedan is the more practical choice for those with kids and larger families. Headroom is sufficient, legroom is appropriate, and there are even optional rear window and windscreen sunshades.
You need confidence to downsize an engine by two cylinders, let alone defying BMW history by giving the M3 not just one, but two turbochargers. Yet, BMW has pulled it off and the only thing I miss about the E90 was the raspy V8 noise. Set that aspect side, and there's nothing else that I miss. I am content. And just when I thought the E90 couldn't get any better, the new generation F80 M3 strives and proves to be technical perfection. Turbocharging is the new kid on the block.
型号 Model: 2015 BMW M3 Sedan
顏色 Paint Type: Yas Marina Blue ($895)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $74,000
試車售價 Price as Tested: $91,145
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2812
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4671 / 1877 / 1430
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1631
引擎 Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo straight six
最大馬力 Horsepower: 425 hp @ 5500-7300 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 1850-5500 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption (City/Highway/Combined)- L/100 km: 13.9 / 9.7 / 12.0
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Front: 255/35R19 - Rear: 275/35R19 - Michelin Pilot Super Sport