Blue Thunder: Driving the BMW F80 M3

The last time we checked in with our friendly local BMW M dealership, Munich Automobiles, we were given the keys to the then brand new BMW M4 and we returned it with big smiles on our faces and magnificent rubber burning memories imprinted into our brains. We also casually mentioned that given a choice, we’d pick the sedan variant over the flashier coupe. Fast forward a couple of months and a call came in from Munich Automobiles asking if we’d like to take the BMW M3 out for a spin. Now, who are we to refuse such an offer?

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With the keys to the shiny Smurf (Yas Marina) blue BMW M3 safely entrusted into our grubby hands, we set off to discover if one of Munich’s finest is indeed sweeter as a sedan.

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Both the M3 and M4 sport an aggressive gaping snout and both feature blistered flared arches. Discounting the searing colors on offer, the M3 does come across as a more caricatured styling exercise when paired up next to it’s non-M sibling. The widened track and hunkered down stance appears much more prominently when slapped onto the slightly chunkier sedan. Visually, it really is a matter of personal taste. While both the M3 and M4 are very pleasing to the eye, the M4 is the one with a more sports-car feel while the M3 is the one that definitely has a street fighter vibe to it. Once again, I’d go for a slightly less retina-burning shade if i am ever blessed enough to one day be spec-ing one up.

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Inside, It’s pretty much home turf for anyone who’s familiar with the 3-Series sedan, all the switchgear, knobs and buttons are where they are supposed to be and in the M3, we do get a few new toys to play with.

Quite a few new toys i must add. Out goes the excellent ZF 8 speeder and with it, it’s funky futuristic gearstick and in comes M division’s stubby but brutally effective M double-clutch transmission (with Drive logic), or M-DCT in BMW speak, allowing the car to punch in 7-gears of (almost) seamless, relentless power.

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Little buttons next to the shifter allows drivers to adjust and save settings for various aspects of the drive train, suspension settings and steering feel. The settings go from slightly comfortable to nauseous cranky passenger mode, so do remember not to select the wrong combination.

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Like the M4, all you’ll need to do is hit the right sequence of buttons and knobs and launch control is yours to play with. Hit another right sequence of buttons and knobs and you’ll bring up an even more invigorating happy smokey “dealership might not like you” burnout mode. Fingers crossed we didn’t do any of that. (wink wink)

Instrumentation is clear and precise but with a very bright heads up display that plays out not just your velocity but engine speed in addition to audio and navigation information, there really isn’t much of a need to take your eyes off the road once you’re on the move. And in an M3, you get on the move rather quickly.

Also in an M3, we have an extra set of doors and much rear space to fit in some passengers. Which really ups the usability factor of the M3 over Its sleeker Coupe sibling, which in some ways, also brings the M3’s cool factor up another notch.

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Dynamically there is little separating the M3 and M4, with 550Nm of torque and over 430 horses pumped out from BMW-M’s TwinPower Turbo’ed Straight-6, they are both ridiculously quick and cover ground at a rather alarming pace once you decide to put your foot down. Power is unrelenting once the turbos come on song and you’ll find the M3 hunkering down hard as it aims straight ahead for the rapidly approaching horizon.

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While the M3 carved the corners very well, it is the way the car makes you feel when doing so that gives you, in the fine words of James May, that “fizz in your pants” feeling. Piloting the M3 down or up a series of tight bends gives you the sensation that it’s playfully toeing the fine line between composed and planted to “OMGZOMG help!” and it engages you to nudge it either way by controlling your right foot. It’s quite hard to explain but that’s how i felt about it.

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For those feeling rather brave and fizzy, calling up the engine midway through low speed bends allows for a squiggle from those big 19s’ before the electronics come in to sort out your rear end and catapult you down road the right way.

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For those feeling extremely brave and even fizzier, there’s the traction control “off” button awaiting a prod from a much more talented (or maybe not) driver. Knowing that this car has a reputation for spitting out those who show it little or no respect, i gladly left it alone and continued on my merry enthusiastic driving way. Did i mention selecting sport mode brings up a louder, more growly, more bassy and generally very pleasing exhaust note? Selecting sport mode brings up a louder, more growly, more bassy and generally very pleasing exhaust note. Just not at 5am in the morning if you have neighbors.

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On the road, in the car’s most “comfortable” setting, i did find that the M3 felt just a tiny bit stiffer than the M4. I have read conflicting reports on this so either my bum became extra sensitive or i could just be imagining things. A back to back drive in both cars is a good idea if you are planning to use either car as a daily.

And on that topic of ride, we come to the realization that i might have picked the wrong car. Now earlier, i had made mention, the added advantages of the M3 over the M4, and that was how much more usable it is, with its extra set of doors and all. Which of course is all true but then i had to put people inside the car and things sort of went south from there.

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You see, unless your passengers are the sort of people who enjoys the fine art of car control, chances are, that they are probably not going to like your car as much as you do. While the M3 has a “comfort” mode on it’s suspension setting, the ride is acceptable at best and with 550Nm of torques available low down the rev range and easily called upon with slightest prod of the throttle, people are going to get thrown about. And by people, i mean passengers. And when passengers who aren’t the least bit interested in sub 5-second 0-100 timings, they are going to get vocal, and when they start to get vocal, you begin to question the reason why you bought a sedan in the first place.

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In conclusion, what then the BMW M3? A magnificently brilliant car to drive, sounds fabulous and a visual treat if you choose the right (or wrong) color, and rightfully deserves its place as the benchmark for all sports sedans. You might just need to curate your passengers in the future.

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