“SO, THE M3?” was a question met by the six judges with a verdict of shrugged shoulders and muted indifference.
This Performance Car Of The Year article was first published in MOTOR Magazine November 2008.
An hour earlier it’d scorched Wakefield with a 1:07.7 lap time, the quickest outright and a handy 0.5sec brisker than the all-powerful SL63 AMG. So why, then, the lacklustre response? Expectation had a lot to do with it.
A fifth place at PCOTY 2007, in manual form, established it as world benchmark for rear-driven V8s. So we knew it was fast. And after enduring – no, suffering – an era of recalcitrant ‘robotised’ single-clutch SMG gearboxes, hopes were high that BMW’s new M double-clutch seven-speed cog-swapper – the reason for M3’s PCOTY inclusion here in ’08 – would be a revelation of sorts.
So you’d expect this “world’s first” technology, as BMW spin-doctors describe it, to offer improvements in performance and usability. Especially given the $8309 premium ask. Well… For a start, its 0-100km/h (5.3sec) and 0-400m (13.3sec) proved slower, by 0.23sec and 0.03sec respectively, than we managed last year in the regular manual.
Different place and time, sure, but displaying a habit of wheelspinning through the first four gears sans electronic smarts, it clearly has issues with launching. It’s just too toey to modulate a clean getaway. Meanwhile, with launch control switched on, it bucked and moaned off the mark.
But once the Michelin Pilot Sports – or what was left of them – hooked up, Lord has it got some punch. Left in ‘D’ for dumb, to cracked an eye-watering 80-120km/h time of 2.8sec, quicker than in full-noise ‘M’ mode with spirited paddle-smashing up-shifts. Hmm.
No less dramatic was the sphincter-clinching moment Ponch experienced when the BMW’s Glory Box refused to down-shift from sixth gear just beyond Coota’s 1000m mark, leaving the M3 to pull up from 234km/h at the end of the runway sans engine braking.
The M-DCT was just as stubborn at Wakefield, refusing to downshift on demand regardless of how hard you smacked the left paddle or how much you swore at it. (And while the newie is plainly a better ’box than the ‘SMeG’ predecessor for 80 percent of driving situations, the old unit was at least accurate and responsive in attack mode).
Yet despite this handicap, the M3 owned the race circuit in terms of lap times. Its 1:07.8 was quickest outright, by 0.3sec over the Lotus and 1.1sec faster than the monstrous SL63 AMG. Despite the BMW 309kW/420Nm 4.0-litre V8 relinquishing 77kW and 210Nm to the Merc, it’s lighter 1580kg weight means that both have an identical 196kW per tonne.
None of the local muscle cars – or any other PCOTY rival bar the Lotus (191kW/tonne) – comes close for power-to-weight, and the nearest Aussie, the F6, was more than two seconds adrift. Run back-to-back, it’s clear that power isn’t the M3’s superior trait over the HSV and FPVs, it’s the handling.
Don’t believe the marketing hype, because in terms of cornering dynamics and pace there’s daylight between the Aussies and this particular German. In terms of turn-in point, nimbleness, grip and adjustability, the taut and athletic M3 is vastly superior tool, leaving the other rear-drivers, by contrast, feeling bulky, wallowy and unfocused.
It was even giving the thinly veiled race car called the Exige a run for cornering prowess, on average trading off with the Brit right at the top of list of fastest corner speeds. And, as we’ve written many times before, the M3 switches into a comfortable, refined, quiet and eminently polished grand tourer – a consummate daily driver – the instant it hits the road.
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Few cars are this capable, yet perfectly suited to any driving situation. So no one was surprised when judges handed it a runner-up spot, the M3 romping into a spot in the PC08 finals without breaking much of a sweat.