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The Top Gear car review: BMW M3/M4
For:Superb engine flexibility, fast reacting turbos, chassis poise and grip
Against:It's just not as charismatic as it used to be
M3 4dr DCT
There’s a turbo under the bonnet for the first time - is the magic still there? Ollie Marriage reports
The fastest new 3 channels the spirit of the old M versions. Shame it’s a bit…sober
Hard sometimes not to see things through the distorting lens of one’s real life, so looking at the M3 Saloon, I was made up to have proper access...
What we say:
A far more efficient and effective car than its predecessors. Just not quite as exciting
What is it?
A contentious update of an old favourite. The BMW M3 has always been the benchmark by which all junior super saloons are judges, loved not just for its handling and driver appeal, but also its dazzling naturally aspirated engine. We’ve had four, six and eight cylinder versions across the three model generations since the M3 first showed its face in 1988, but now we have something different. Turbos. A pair of turbos, in fact, mated to a 3.0-litre straight six.
And we also have a new name. In line with BMW’s naming policy, the coupe is now known as the M4 while the saloon retains the M3 moniker.
If you’re thinking of buy BMW’s fastest 3-Series, this is going to be pretty much all that matters to you. You used to buy the M3 solely on the basis of its fabulous engine – the noise, response and spine-tingling top end were worth the entry price alone. But impressively responsive though the new turbos are, there’s still a delay before you get the wallop, while the noise… it’s just too artificial to genuinely prick your ears up.
Same goes for the power deliver. The old car created a real sense of anticipation as the clever valve timing did its stuff and the rev needle whipped round the dial; now you no longer have to work with that car – you just press the throttle, wait a spot for the turbos to catch fire and away you go. Because you don’t have to put much into it, you get less out of it. Still, there’s no denying it’s a very fast thing indeed, and covers the ground exceptionally well. It soaks up distances, is far more efficient and we’ve got to admit that when you do lean on it, it’s still a pretty special thing to drive and easily has the measure of the Audi RS 4. But pure magic? No, that’s now been diluted.
On the inside
It’s all as you expect here – standard issue 3-Series layout and materials (the 4-Series has an identical dash), just with a little bit more kit to play with. Bear in mind that once you’ve specced it to your taste with the nice bits you want, you’ll be looking at a £70k bill. For a small BMW.
Still, even the coupe will carry four normal-sized people and supply boot space enough for a hefty shopping trip. The M3 saloon, well, that’s now genuinely viable as a working four-seater, with adult-friendly space in the back and a voluminous boot. This practicality, reckons BMW, may sway some M4 buyers who can’t quite live with two-door coupe compromises.
By embracing turbo technology, BMW has at least ensured that running costs should be more acceptable. The old V8 M3 returned 22.8mpg; the new one is capable of 34.0mpg with the M DCT gearbox. That’s a huge leap, with CO₂ emissions correspondingly low at 194g/km. Just note the manual isn’t quite as good. Although 32.1mpg and 204g/km still shame the V8.