Six things we learned driving a BMW M3 from London to Lisbon
The European road trip is back! So long as you can prove you’ve been a brave little sausage and endured not one, but two dead arms in order to get a double dose of vaccine, you can now (at the time of writing) travel from the UK to France, then freely around Europe.
So, having been devoid of a properly juicy road trip for the last two years, and thanks to two mates deciding to get married – rather inconveniently – in France and Portugal, instead of getting on four separate low-cost airlines to their Big Days, I decided to join the dots with the 500bhp ‘Green Demon’ (what my non-car mates like to call the M3) and do it in one hit.
It was a 3,650-mile voyage with a capricious and random itinerary. One that took the M3 from France’s wine region, across the Pyrenes, into Galicia, dropping south into Portugal before taking the most direct route home. Understandably, this kind of healthy amount of time behind the wheel offered some learnings. And dental cavities from endless bags of hard-boiled sweets. So, here’s a shortlist of things I learned.
You’ll probably spend most of the time in its tamest setting
Spoiler alert: for the majority of my trip I ended driving the M3 like a boggo 3 Series. How boring. But I suspect most owners will end up doing the same. That’s because the new M3 defaults to its most sanitised and sane setting at start-up. Compared to M3s of old, firing the car up is an anti-climatic affair: it wakes in its calmest, most efficient engine map, quietest exhaust mode and will scurry up the eight-speed auto box as soon as possible when getting going.
If you want to make a proper M3 nowadays you have to dress it up to be one. And even then the wardrobe is massive and hidden in sub-menu after sub-menu, screen after screen. You can save your preferred configuration on two buttons on the wheel. But then there’s still too much choice. Plus, when it is in maximum attack mode it can be a bit too sharp, too firm. So finding a configuration that works for your situation takes time. And effort. So most of the time just bang it in ‘D’ and get going.
It was disappointing on twisty mountain roads
Imagine the scenario: you’re at the bottom of a dry mountain pass with delicious liquorice tarmac sprawled up it. You’re in an M3. What do you do? Drive, obviously. Hard. But I was let down. Yes, the car is tremendously fast, but the M3 has the steering feel of a light coma paired with the ablest front end of any M3. It’s also hamstrung by its new auto ‘box as it isn’t the keenest to shift and is too smooth for this kind of car, which, when paired with a muted engine (which this is), means you can get lost as to what gear you’re in. And that’s crucial information as you need to know where you are in the gearbox to counter the engine’s turbo lag.
The knobbly gear paddle things are oddly satisfying
Here’s a weird one: the M3’s gear paddles are ribbed. On the underside are some Lego brick-like nipple things. I can only assume they’re to be a tactile response to make you think ‘sporty’ as I’m sure they don’t offer more grip. And you don’t need more grip on a gear paddle. But I have to say on a long drive they’re oddly satisfying. Maybe I’m just weird.
It has us frothing for the M3 Touring
Next year BMW is finally fusing a bigger boot onto the back of the M3 and it might be all the car a petrolhead will ever need. The standard M3 is practical enough (with the seats down it can swallow all you need for a European tour; bicycle – if you take the front wheel off – four shirts and two suits, a large suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, pallets of water and a couple of disposable barbecues) but more than that I think the Touring will wear the G80’s more multifaceted personality better than the saloon. And people will be used to the face by then. I know I am.
The rear diff can smell like ski wax
The G80’s traction is immense. Truly immense. In fact, you’re often left wondering if it’s 4WD. The way the diff, chassis and tyres work together to keep you firing forwards is shocking. But the diff does get warm when working hard, emitting an odour not too dissimilar to a Yankee Candle store when you come to a standstill.
How far you can go on a tank varies wildly
When driven enthusiastically, the M3 drinks like a parched university fresher. I’m talking 5/6mpg at times. Yikes. But when you’re at a steady cruise in the car’s default ‘Efficient’ mode you can achieve numbers in the thirties. It really goes to show the bandwidth of the S58 twin-turbo inline-six engine and how computer and fuelling maps have really come on. The best range I ever saw when brimmed was a rather fitting 666km (414miles). But while driving normally expect to see 27mpg and around 350 miles of range. Beware, when you’re down to your last 30 miles you’re restricted to just over 4,000rpm.
The head-up display is massive
There are three different head-up display configurations possible with the M3. All of them are too big. I know the whole point is to have information in your eyeline, but when the multicoloured rev counter becomes the size of the road, it can be a little distracting – which is the one thing it’s not meant to be.
Mileage: 7,650 // 27mpg
Good: An unexpected continent crusher. The longer we have it (and further we drive it) the more impressive and versatile the M3 becomes
Bad: If you drive it hard, it can be incredibly thirsty. Not what you want during a fuel crisis