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IMG_2162To cel­eb­rate the inter­na­tion­al launch of the new M‑series, the BMW people gave me a choice between the new M3 — the four-door sedan ver­sion — or the M4, worth about $10k more but with two few­er doors. Know­ing that at least some of the test kilo­metres would be done with two excited pas­sen­gers demand­ing turns in front, I plumped for the sedan to min­im­ise all the bow­ing and scraping.

Pas­sen­ger A (11 years old) was thrilled at the buck­et seats, the revers­ing cam­era and the 16-speak­er Har­man Kar­don sound sys­tem, but his head nearly exploded when I showed him the heads-up driver’s dis­play indic­at­ing the cur­rent speed lim­it (cap­tured by a cam­era above the wind­screen) as well as cur­rent speed, revs, gear, etc. That wind­screen cam­era was also used on one of our option­al extras — the auto-dip­ping head­lights, which not only con­trol the amount of light shin­ing into the eyes of the cars com­ing the oth­er way, but also gently change dir­ec­tion to fol­low the road in front.

Pas­sen­ger B (roughly sim­il­ar in age to myself) thought that even when we were in ‘Com­fort’ mode the ride in the back was a little harsh. But when the two of them swapped over, front-seat com­fort was giv­en the thumbs up and Pas­sen­ger A was still boun­cing off the ‘Merino’ leath­er uphol­stery with excitement.

The M3 (and M4) offers three dif­fer­ent com­puter-con­trolled set­tings for ride, throttle and steer­ing: ‘Com­fort’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport Plus’. In addi­tion, you can turn off the trac­tion con­trol and flip one of the paddles behind the wheel at any time to gain con­trol of the gear­box (although why you would both­er when the sev­en-speed auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sion almost always selects a smarter gear than you, I’m not sure).

These set­tings are eas­ily access­ible from but­tons on the wheel, mak­ing it simple to switch from exec­ut­ive-around-town driv­ing to open-road sporty the moment you hit the motor­way, without tak­ing your eyes off the road. Once you are on that motor­way, more little cam­er­as in the wing mir­rors warn you if it looks like you are mak­ing a dan­ger­ous lane change.

All this safety is utterly laud­able, of course, as is the car turn­ing its engine off at the lights to save fuel, like a Pri­us. It just seems to con­tra­dict the M3’s adven­tur­ous, pet­rol-head, motor­s­port desirab­il­ity. ‘Sport Plus’ mode opens up the exhaust flaps so that the six-cyl­in­der, twin-turbo engine roars, scat­ter­ing adja­cent wild­life — although you can turn it down for the school run.

I guess this is the point — if you’re going to spend $173,000 on a car you might as well get three at once: beau­ti­fully appoin­ted exec­ut­ive bells and whistles for around town, a tour­ing car that hugs the road on long drives in the coun­try, and some­thing to make your hair stand on end on track day at Man­feild. I’m just not sure how authen­t­ic each of those options really is, now mat­ter how much fun.

Con­clu­sion: A stag­ger­ingly well-engin­eered vehicle that aspires to be all things to all men (or at least most men) and mostly succeeds.


Tech specs

Mod­el reviewed: BMW M3 Sedan

Price: From $159,900 (as tested, approx­im­ately $173,000)[/warning]

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