The BMW M3 is a legendary car. With every generation, it has been the de facto benchmark that other manufacturers look to beat. So what makes the M3 so special? The fact that it is all the car you would ever need. Devastatingly fast yet soothing when you are in the mood to cruise around. Physics bending dynamics, but also capable of ironing out imperfect road conditions. Sports car rivalling performance yet having the capability to carry a family of four in luxury. But one should also remember this car is tested and developed in Europe, where road conditions are as similar to ours as vada pav is to a ham burger.
So what better way to test out the M3 through diverse driving conditions that what our motherland err government can offer. We drove this BMW sedan from our office in traffic infested Mumbai, on to the mostly well-paved NH4, all the way to the curvy Chorla ghat to see what is what.
The First Meeting
As soon as the M3 rolled into our office parking it was easy to tell that this is no ordinary version of the 3-series. The aggressive front end with the sharp bumper and massive air intakes hints at the performance on tap. Even the massively flared wheel arches, razor sharp 19 inch rims makes it look more like a hot wheels concept than a four door sedan. At the back too, the cutting edge bumper flanked by the twin exhaust pipes means business.
What also adds to the aggressive stance is the fact that BMW has lowered the M3, which makes it look faster even while standing still. You can also see the effort BMW has taken to save weight, with the roof made of carbon fibre and the bonnet made of aluminum. Even when you peel the skin you will find most of the suspension made from lightweight aluminum and the prop shaft from carbon fibre.
Once I ingressed into the body hugging front buckets, the M3’s cabin looks familiar yet it feels special enough. It shares most of its bits with the normal three, but the carbon fibre finish, sporty drive selector, sculpted M steering and the supremely supportive front buckets makes it a special place to be in. At the heart of it, this is still a proper five-seater with a comfortable rear bench and all the gadgets you ever need to keep you entertained. Talking of practicality, you also get a big boot with split folding rear seats. How many sports cars can boast of that?
Driving Through Chaos
Once done gazing over the looks and tech, it was time to drive the M3. Getting out of our tight underground parking was a cinch thanks to the good visibility and relatively tight dimensions. It even cleared a fairly big hump which has claimed many sports cars expensive belly. Out on the road, left in Comfort mode, the M3 felt surprisingly easy to drive with linear throttle response. The 7-speed dual clutch upshifts quickly to aid fuel efficiency. But, it does feel a bit over enthusiastic when you depress the throttle pedal ever so slightly to make a quick overtake which is so typical of a dual clutch transmission. Overall though, the engine gearbox combo works appreciably well in town.
However, at low speeds, the ride which always feels stiff and jarring in any given mode. Set in Comfort, which is the softest setting, you can feel almost every imperfection on the road and the lightweight aluminum suspension is noisy too, as you can easily make out if you have gone over a poor cockroach or have hit a sharp pothole. On a positive note, if the road condition is only mildly bad, body control is quite good and you don’t get thrown around much. Maneuverability is a highlight too, as it feels as easy to drive as the standard three, which is a big compliment. The light steering, compact dimensions and smooth power delivery makes it soothing to drive. All you have to worry is judging the extremities of the car, as the flared wheel arches jut out quite a bit. Ground clearance too turned out to be adequate but you do have to tackle big speed breakers with caution as the low chin or the belly can scrape easily if you go too fast.
Does It Work Well As a GT Car?
As soon as I broke free of the chaos in Panvel and got on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, the M3 finally got the space to stretch its 420bhp strong legs. Calling this BMW sedan quick is an understatement. It feels docile while cruising and as soon as you depress the throttle even a wee bit, it just explodes towards the horizon while the driver is comfortably pushed back into the heavily contoured seat. To explain just how devastatingly fast the M3 is, we bolted our Vbox timing gear and the results were even better than we expected. It achieves a 100kmph from standstill in 4.43sec, 150kmph in 8.15sec and 200kmph in a scarcely believable 14 seconds flat. Just remember we are talking about a big five-seater 1.6 tonne plus sedan here.
The ride too improves considerably but the cabin is still is a noisy place, especially over cement roads on the expressway. There is lot of tyre noise from the sticky 275 section rubber. It was less of a problem once we exited the expressway onto well surfaced NH4 though. Where the ride is acceptable at higher speeds, fuel economy and the miniscule tank size can be a pain. Sure, a tank capacity of 63 litres doesn’t sound half bad, but when you get efficiency figures not in excess of 7kmpl, the working range is not the most practical.
This Is What The M3 Was Built For
From the first time I experienced the serene tarmac of Chorla ghats, I promised to come back with something potent to enjoy this beautiful piece of road at the fullest. But getting to the road isn’t the easiest as you have to pass Belgaum and some sections of the road had very bad ruts, the deepest of them seeming more like Godzilla’s footprint. As we started at 4am from Belgaum, we were able to deal with that dreadful stretch of road peacefully with no traffic and we finally we got to Chorla at the break of dawn. It was a sight to behold with beautiful mountains on one side and a stunning piece of snaking tarmac surrounded by lush green trees right in front of me.
Despite the rain, the M3 felt at home completely. For starters, the steering is first rate. It’s smooth, slick, linear and capable of filtering out the worst of the feedback while allowing the good bits of feel to filter through. Even on this road, I rarely reached the limits of the M3’s incredible handling envelope. In sport-plus mode, there is incredible composure and the grip from the sticky Michelin tyres just urges you to push this car harder. The M3 is a precise tool, with every minute input making a difference in the way the chassis balance changes. It is also very German in the way it behaves at the limit. Treat it badly and it will spit you out as it feels twitchy and nervous if you try to hustle it. On the flip side, if you are smooth and precise with the steering and throttle, there are very few cars that reward you the way the M3 does.
After going up and down the Chorla several times, it was time to just sit, sip tea and reflect on what had been a truly amazing drive. Is the M3 a do-it-all car and the only vehicle one can have in one’s garage? The answer is a no. The stiff-kneed ride, noisy suspension, low profile rubber and outrageous power will tire you out both mentally and physically on your daily commute. But as a weekend drive, this car is just spot-on. Not only is it quick and beautifully made, it gives you that experience which we look for in cars of this kind - right from the volatile engine to the great chassis balance. The icing on the cake is the fact that it is extremely practical with a big boot and the comfortable seating will keep your family happy too. If you can afford one, as an all-rounder, there are very few cars that can match the M3’s wide range of abilities.
Pictures by: Kapil Angane