To 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.[warning]
Model reviewed: BMW M3 Sedan
Price: From $159,900 (as tested, approximately $173,000)[/warning]