BMW M3 Review: 2007 Model | M3 | Car Buyers Guide

2007 BMW M3 Review

Out of the pits the M3 accelerates hard towards the first left hander. I’m still only in second gear but a big dollop of brakes is nonetheless required to shed the speed the M3 has gathered in its first few seconds on the track.

Turn in is crisp, but not electric, and there’s a wee bit of body roll as the M3 settles into the corner, but once committed it all becomes very benign as its perfect weight distribution and incredible balance shine through. Gentle on the throttle at first, I feed in more power as the first mini-straight unfurls before us. Up ahead, the Ascari resort’s perfectly smooth race track snakes left and right and on for another 5km but for now I’m only interested in snatching third gear and keeping the shoe in as long as possible before the ‘S’.

The red line is approaching but my bravery gives out at around 130km/h and I’m hard on the brakes for the left-hander. Ohhhhh, the M3’s composite anchors are good – retardation is impressive but the brake feel is what sets it apart, building confidence and helping you feel more involved in the driving experience. I’ve got cocky, though, and I’ve left my braking too late, forcing the ABS to intervene. Before M3 and I slither way off line, I release the brakes and pitch the car hard left, hoping that the all-new M3 hasn’t lost the neutrality of its predecessors.

Sure enough, the M3 four-wheel drift sheds the remaining speed and allows me to just about maintain the line, albeit with every one of its tyres howling in protest. Classic M3 handling. Brilliant stuff. Before I get out the Moët, though, it’s time to flick the M3 right for the next corner and once again the body takes a micro-moment to lean onto its springs before getting on with the job of going ‘round the bend. Hard on the power now, I roar down the next mini-straight and very nearly bounce off the rev-limiter in third before braking hard once more and throwing it into the blind, uphill right-hander. Again, a benign four-wheel drift ensues, enabling me to carry lots of speed through the corner, but as soon as we kiss the kerbing on the exit it’s already time to brake hard, hard, hard and grab second for the tight, right-hand hairpin.

The M3 squirms under brakes because I didn’t quite have it pointing straight but it nonetheless pulls up sharply and faithfully. I tiptoe around the hairpin so as not to push the M3’s nose wide and once past the apex I stomp on the loud pedal, lighting up the back wheels and sending the M3 into a gigglesome powerslide. Right in front of me, a track marshal looks at me with a disapproving scowl –this kind of deliberate hoonery normally gets you chucked off the track, but today it belongs to BMW and nobody told me I couldn’t turn the ESP off and play.

The 420hp, 400Nm 4.0-litre V8 engine emits a cultured and sonorous bellow while the trick rear differential works hard to maintain the car’s lurid angle. Thanks to its sharp steering, incredible balance and fool proof predictability, there’s no worry that the M3 will snap the other way and send me into the Armco. By the time the tortured rear wheels eventually catch up with the chassis I’m almost pointing straight, so we exit the slide as gracefully as I entered. My, this is an extraordinarily rewarding machine to pilot. My, that marshal looks pissed off. But the M3’s track prowess hasn’t been at the expense of road manners. Indeed, quite the opposite is the case, with the new M3 riding and cruising with more maturity and refinement than any of its predecessors, not least the too-stiff E46 M3 (recently deceased).

Some might bemoan the M3’s softening but not I – in Ireland we need a bit of compliance in the suspension setup, otherwise the tyres spend so much time getting bounced into the air they never grip properly, and in high-powered cars this lack of predictability can prevent you from every exploiting the car’s potential fully.

It might also help win the M3 a few new customers. Here’s a car I can fit my family into that won’t rattle the teeth from their heads and yet is incredibly naughty when the mood takes me. For the first time since the 1987 E30 M3, the fastest 3-Series is back on my ‘If I Won the Lotto’ shopping list (though I’d wait for the four-door, obviously). Some enthusiasts are also a little irked by the M3’s lack of visual drama compared to, I presume, the first and (more likely) the most recent M3 models, but again I have to confess I quite like the understated looks of the new car.

Anyone with even a passing interest in cars will clock that it’s an M3 up close: the quad exhaust pipes, large wheels and wings, bulging bonnet and unique decorations like the carbon-fibre composite roof, M3 mirrors, wing and bonnet vents and redesigned bumpers have the desired effect of beefing up the 3-Series coupé’s looks without making it look like someone crashed it into Halfords. But from a distance, it’s quite stealthy. It doesn’t have the same mean stance as the old model, and because the bodywork was so curvy to begin with, the extra bulges and lumps tend to get a little diluted in the sunlight. It even sounds more grown up; the hard, metallic buzz of the old straight-six has given way to a deeper, more purposeful growl, which is perfectly in keeping with the new car’s classier overall demeanour. Not only is it the best handling M3 since the 20-year-old first-generation model, it’s also the most up-scale and luxurious, ironically.

The cabin of the E90 M3 is, predictably, rather restrained and sumptuous. Apart from the unique seats and a few switches devoted to controlling the ESP, E-differential, active suspension and throttle response, there’s nothing in here we haven’t seen before. However, it’s the changes you can’t see that make the difference –the M3’s driving position is much improved over the old model’s and the seats are comfortable and supportive in a way the lumpy items in the defunct car could never hope for. Rear space is vastly improved, too, although the plague of iDrive has infected the new M3, as well – a necessary evil, I suppose, in that it’s needed to allow the driver program of the steering-wheel ‘M Button’.

Standard equipment is decent, with heated leather and electric seats, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, while satellite navigation, swivelling xenon headlamps, electronic dampers and 19-inch alloys are likely to be popular options. Ach! Would you listen to me, banging on about options when all you want to hear about is how it drives! As mentioned, the M3’s track performance is really rather special but it’s nothing compared to how the car feels on the road.

On pock-marked and rough surfaces there’s a sure-footedness to the M3’s electronically controlled suspension that only the Audi RS4 can match. It never skips off line, never moves around in unexpected ways and is just so balanced you intuitively know how the car is going to respond to your next input. The brakes, so impressive on the track, bestow huge confidence upon the driver and help to make short work of long lines of traffic, safely and without drama (and also without inciting too much fist-shaking or light-flashing).

And then there’s the power: enough to blast you up to the national road speed limit in just 4.8 seconds and in need of restraint at 250km/h while also offering huge overtaking and acceleration potential, provided you’re willing to work the gearbox hard and show the red line no mercy. As entertaining as the M3 is, though, it’s not perfect. Not even close, in fact. First off, it’s a bitch at low speeds, with a dead clutch pedal and a rubbery, over-long gear change that seem to enjoy conspiring with one another to make the drive look like a bunny-hopping joy-ride.

Secondly, it never actually feels as fast as the numbers suggest because to get the most from it you have to cane it with Victorian-era cruelty, and this isn’t something you’ll want to do to your 100 grand car all the time, unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys leather-studded under-kacks. Its substantial weight and rev-hungry V8 means you just don’t have the kind of muscle and flexibility that allows you to pull out in top gear and zip past a lumbering juggernaut.

The M3 won’t come out to play unless you’re committed to using the whip. The real issue I have with the M3 lies in its steering, however. It’s sharp, yes, though not as over-sharp as the outgoing model, which does make it a little more predictable and less twitchy, thankfully. It’s also got a bit more feel than the rather numb E46 M3 but in terms of weight it’s no better, and because of this you’re never quite sure just how hard the front tyres are working which, in turn, makes you feel a little bit removed from the fun.

The suspension, too, plays its part in making the M3 feel a little less exciting than before. Whereas the old car cornered flat and hard, the new machine rolls a little bit more and feels a tiny bit looser overall, especially on initial turn-in. In making the M3 more drivable and exploitable BMW has also dulled its responses a little bit and hasn’t infused it with enough feel to take up the slack.

The biggest problem the M3 faces is the Audi RS4. Ah, yes, the RS4. You were wondering when I was going to get around to that, weren’t you? Some argue that the M3 customer and RS4 customer are two very different animals but this is twaddle. Brand loyalty counts for little in this market. The buyers are usually driven individuals with lots of disposable income and the desire to possess the best of everything.

The M3 will appeal to many because it is one of the most amusing cars in the world (especially if you like going sideways) and it’s also got a badge that needs no explanation. Rolex. Bang & Olufsen. M3. Enough said. It’s also the new kid on the block, which certainly appeals to the fashion-conscious man about town. But the RS4 is also something special –intimate, immediate, intense. It’s as drivable as the BMW M3 every day but, if memory serves me correctly, it could have the edge in terms of driver involvement and purity.

Perhaps this argument had better wait until next month’s issue of new car– let’s stick to the job at hand for now. Compared to the outgoing M3, the new car is a better product and a better driver’s car in just about every single way possible. The only aspect of the new car’s handling that’s inferior to the old car is in terms of initial responsiveness but once the M3’s suspension gets loaded up, it’s just as balanced and a lot more playful than before thanks to far superior calibration of the throttle, brakes, suspension and steering. No, there’s not quite enough feedback through the wheel and there is that minute hesitance when changing direction, but in every other respect it’s ‘job well done’ for M Division.


BMW E90 M3

Engine 4.0-litre, V8 420hp, 400Nm torque

Transmission 6-speed manual

Acceleration 0-100km/h 4.8 seconds

Top speed 250km/h (limited)

 Economy 12.4 litres/100km

CO2 Emissions 295 g/km

Weight 1,655 kg

Boot Capacity 430 litres

Price €103,900


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