The new BMW M3. Don’t look at the mantlepiece.
Well, we’ve all seen and heard by now. There’s a new M3. This new M3 is possibly the most controversial launch of any M car for more than a decade. People have opinions. But are we looking at this all wrong? The best way to address BMW with regard to the launch of any new M3 will always be an ironic ‘no pressure!’, accompanied by a wry smile. After all, you could argue that in reality, this is where it all began. Sure, the M1 came first, and before that even, there was the 2002 turbo, then there was the E12 M535i, but let’s be honest, it was only with the arrival of the E30 M3 – both on track and in the dealerships – that the whole thing started to make sense.
The thing about the M3 that makes life so difficult for its creators is something unmeasurable in a car – character. You can make a car fast; you can make it light. You can make it luxurious, or you can strip it down, add horsepower, torque, and make impressive 0-60 times. You can express all these things in numbers. But how do you measure soul? It comes down to this; we buy a car more often than not, based on the paper facts – with a bit of vanity thrown in (does it suit my self-image?) – but its how the car makes us feel that creates long term admiration, and that’s what makes a true classic – a loved model.
Now, I’ve liked all the M3 models to date. I liked the E36, but always felt it to be overshadowed by both predecessor and successor. I liked the F80, but I never wanted to own one. The F80 was handsome, with a look that took the styling from the earlier E9X V8 and tweaked it to form the perfect update. It was (and still is) a quick and capable machine, and on paper, it ticks every box. But I never loved the F80, and I simply can’t see us looking back in 15 years’ time with the same fondness as we do for the E46 M3, for example. Many enthusiasts currently looking for E46 M3s at the moment call me with the opening line ‘the one car I regret selling…’, and I just can’t imagine that happening with the F80. But could I tell BMW how to do it better? I doubt that. So then, what does this all lead us to? Will the new G80 M3 capture the essence of M3? Well, firstly, we may as well get this out of the way, hadn’t we? Yes, that grille. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to ignore it.
BMW’s press car arrived at Munich Legends on the last sunny day of May (the 5th) and sat there, on its enormous, delicate looking wheels, just itching to be driven. The first thing you notice is the G80’s immense presence – everything about the car forces you to look, then look again. Elderly local residents stopped and stared – unusually, without making complaints about my driving – the technicians downed tools to come and admire the newcomer, builders in vans slowed down and shouted stuff – let’s just say it was a big event in Chelwood Gate. I was trying to make some urgent calls but found myself constantly wandering over to the window to gawp. You just can’t help yourself. The size of the G80 has been put to good use – a cavernous boot, oodles of space for rear seat passengers, and lots of room under the bonnet for that monstrous S58 twin turbo. And a monster it truly is – the competition version has over 500 horses and a whopping 650Nm of torque. We’ve come a long way from the 220 break and 240Nm torque of the original E30 M3, for sure.
But I didn’t get to drive it until I was late picking up the wife from the station. In I jumped, and this time – learning from the recent CS experience – went to set all the buttons to gentle. Two hours and many button pushes later, I was none the wiser, but a lot the later. The bewildering array of shiny symbols is simply overpowering, and as it turns out, almost pointless. Because when you drive the G80, pretty well everything becomes irrelevant. Later that night I decided to go for a Chinese take away, because it was a long way from home. Out there on the wide, smooth tarmac of the A22, the fast stretches interspersed with roundabouts, I fell in love. The power of the M3 is absolutely captivating, utterly addictive, and, believe me, once you get behind the wheel of this car, you won’t care about the grille. Swallowing miles like a hungry road-eating ogre, cornering with such immediate confidence, overtaking with such earth-shattering acceleration is, frankly, one hell of a power trip. It is so much fun I wanted to pull over, let them all pass, and do it again. I’m not kidding. This isn’t a professional car review – there are plenty of those to choose from – but I’ll quickly tell you some of the bad things that don’t matter. The sports seats are designed to make your buttocks go numb, so if you like that, order them. The car is full of annoying ‘nanny state’ foibles – for example, when you start to get low on petrol, it puts you into limp home mode. This is a problem for me with my pathological dislike of stopping to refuel, borne out of the knowledge that there will always be another place to stop further up – I would be stuck in permanent low power mode. It tries to tell you which gear to select, when to brake, and what socks to wear. The instrument cluster is overrun with updates and information and is thus utterly useless. The interior lighting, with its various selectable colours, is tacky and feels like visiting The Pink Flamingo on a bad night in 1986. The wheels are so big and awkward that the turning circle on street manoeuvres is an embarrassment, and you’ll kerb those precious rims in the first multi-story you enter (sorry, BMW, please send me the bill). But believe me when I say, none of this matters. The new M3 is a proper piece of kit, and now I want one. I recommend you book a test drive as soon as possible.
So, that grille? Reminds me of a daft schoolboy phrase that seems perfect for this car. You don’t look at the mantlepiece while you’re stoking the fire. So, M3 fans, my advice is this; just get on and enjoy the flames.
Dan Norris, Straight Six Magazine by BMW Car Club GB (July 2021 issue)