2008 BMW M3

Crank the new BMW M3 to life and its bassy burble resonates with a meanness that says business. Blip the gas pedal (or the eight individual throttle butterflies to be exact), and the ensuing crescendo might have been inspired by Beethoven’s 1812 overture – it is a siren so purposeful it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. It also speaks to the unmitigated fury that sits beneath the M3’s new power-domed hood.

2008 BMW M3 coupe

Realizing that the inline six that powers the current car had run its course, BMW set about designing a V8 to replace it. Remarkably, and in spite of its two extra cylinders, the new high-revving 4.0L V8 (it redlines at 8,400 rpm!) is actually 15 kilograms lighter than the previous six. More impressive is the 8% increase in fuel economy – this in an engine that pushes 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque at 3,900 rpm.

At first blush, the torque number seems to peak a little too far up the rev range. The good news is the free-revving eight produces around 250 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. The fact the engine has to motive less than 4-kg of car per stallion helps enormously.

Stand on the gas and the M3 clips off 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds. It then holds this urgency as it warps through the 80-120-km/h discipline (3.7 seconds) and on up to its electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h. As I say, its fury is first rate and something very few cars, regardless of price, are capable of rivaling. Were it not for the electronic overseers (sophisticated traction and stability control systems), the engine would melt the massive P265/40 ZR18 rear tires!

The power is relayed through a six-speed manual that’s the model of civility. The first four gears keep the engine in its considerable sweet spot as the road twists turns through the foothills surrounding Marbella. Hit the highway and fifth and sixth bring comfortable cruising – an easy 2,500 rpm at 100 km/h. The best part is that when passing a slower vehicle there is no need to downshift out of sixth to accomplish the move with authority.

The handling lives up to the demands of the monster engine – the M3 sticks to the road like you-know-what to a blanket. To begin with the chassis is incredibly stiff, which allows the aluminum intensive suspension to do its thing without having to compensate for the vagaries of a lesser platform. The optional electronic dampers (with comfort, normal and sport modes) curbs squat, dive and roll to the point where each is non-existent without ever feeling harsh. Only BMW manages to tune the best of both World’s into a single suspension.

Driven to the limit, the M3 is remarkably neutral and free of the vices that are the bane of some super cars – the Viper loves trailing throttle oversteer. The Coupe’s steering points the car in with an eerie precision and the combined benefits of the traction/stability control systems and BMW’s variable M differential lock make it all but impossible to put a wheel wrong even as the car is pushed to its extraordinary limits. The M3’s physical limits are found in the engine’s design – the oil pump keeps things lubricated even when the car is subjected to 1.4g of lateral force.

The other reason for the tenacious handling is found in the details – the roof panel and aerodynamics. The roof is made of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic, which shaves about 5 kg from the highest point of the car (it’s also cool looking with its black sheen standing in stark contrast to the arrest-me red body). This ultra-light panel lowers the centre of gravity, which improves road manners. A discrete lip spoiler on the deck lid and a lower rear diffuser then manage airflow to reduce lift at speed. The net result is a car that does not begin to feel light, even at break-neck speeds. On that note, the brakes are more than up to the task of hauling the M3 down from speed repeatedly without fading – hammer the binders and they are capable of exerting a massive 1.2g braking force.

Inside, the form-hugging front seats, chunky steering wheel and sensible layout place a clear focus on the driver. For example, the tachometer’s redline moves ever higher (to 8,400 rpm) as the engine warms up. Likewise, the optional steering wheel-mounted MDrive button allows the driver to tailor the car to his or hers preferences. Everything from the steering, damper and stability control settings to the engine’s mapping can be stored and recalled at the push of a button. Be warned though, dialing in the sportiest modes is best left for track days – the M does a very credible impression of the proverbial scalded cat when everything is set to hyper.

The inclusion of iDrive is something I could do without. While far more intuitive than the early editions, I still find it somewhat intimidating given the power and speeds at play.

The previous M3 was a blinder of the first order; the newest model makes it seem almost pedestrian by comparison. Not only is the new car the model of civility when driven sedately (something most super cars have difficulty doing), when used to its full potential it is as hyper and hypnotic as anything on the road – even the mighty M5, and that’s saying a whole lot.

It’s also a wonderfully well-timed single digit salute to Mr. Chris Davies, a British Liberal Democrat. This man suggests anything capable of traveling faster than 162 km/h be banned by 2013. Someone should take him for a ride in the M3 – its compelling nature would change his demented stance in a hurry.