Does a BMW M3 xDrive need winter tyres?
“You’ve gone too early!” Admittedly, I’ve heard that before. But not normally from a colleague. But that’s what Wookie (Tom Ford) slid into my DMs to tell me when he saw that I was in a workshop having the M3’s Michelin Pilot Alpin 5 winter tyres swapped back to more ‘T-shirt and rosé weather’ Pilot Sport 4 S rubber.
Have I made a mistake? Is my internal barometer wildly off? It sure as hell feels like the right time; mornings are getting semi-bearable, the M3’s incredibly useful automatic temperature-sensitive hand and arse warmers (selectable in one of the endless programmable menus) have stopped ticking on every time I fire the engine up and I’ve seen at least one daffodil. So, it MUST be spring. And that means it’s time to shed the winter tyres before they start eating themselves alive and turn in to Play-Doh.
You can blame either lack of ambition or climate change but the M3’s winters haven’t really had to break a sweat since they’ve been on. Yes, there’s been a few incredibly chilly days to deal with (plus a dusting of snow on the Winter Weapons test a few issues ago), but with a healthy and preferred operating window of -20 to +7°C, their specialist skill of being able to extract severe deluges of water to prevent aquaplaning and unique tyre pattern to give purchase on snow and ice hasn’t really been tested.
Up until now, they’ve just had to deal with a typically depressing and grey British winter. Which – I have to admit – they’ve done a remarkable job at. They’ve given a welcomed additional layer of confidence and peace of mind while piloting a 500bhp super saloon. But the nuzzling feeling of security has been doubled down thanks to the new xDrive system. In fact, it gives more of a feeling of security as you actively feel it tug you out of low-resistance situations where normally you’d worry about over/understeering. But I’ve decided to take the winters off, as I reckon 4WD is all you need in a British winter – which would save you some wedge on rubber too.
As we were given the opportunity, I’ve not just changed the tyres, but also the wheels. So it’s out with the all-black multi-spokes (which aren’t actually configurable on the M3 online configurator but suit the subtle wine-red paintjob really well), and in with the 19"/20" (the wheel sizes are offset, remember) Bicolour Black Double-spoke style 826 M forged alloys. They’re the standard wheels, but if you pay £300 more there are three slightly different designs to choose from. And if you pay £800 on top of that you can have them shod in Cup 2 rubber. Which we’ll be doing just before the car goes back.
While I let someone else far more qualified and capable swap the wheels (a hydraulic rig and lift were required to make sure the £8,000 monster – and rather gorgeous – gold ceramic brakes weren’t chipped) it gave me an opportunity to snoop around the underbelly of the M3. And it’s fascinating how much hidden componentry and technology is buried away in the undercarriage. Including a low and vulnerable radiator in the chin that now has me terrified of sleeping policeman. But it helped me appreciate (and understand) why the price of an M3 is now so high as there’s a hell of a lot going on underneath there than just some additional drive shafts.
Good: The safety and security that the xDrive offers means that in a British winter you’re fine without winters
Bad: Swapping tyres with ceramic brakes is a nerve-wracking affair without the proper gear. Chipping a disc can be a very costly mistake