THE POLITE HOOLIGAN
Text and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis
The BMW M3 is arguably one of the most popular cars around the globe, and has been since the 1980’s when it broke the mould with its "one size fits all" approach converting an ordinary family car to a racetrack animal. With over 33 years of production under the belt the M3 has transformed into a more impressive, more expensive and more brutal family sports saloon than ever before. So is it actually that good?
M3 is an outstanding car for multiple reasons - it looks stunning, and yes it is really fast, but also it is the perfect car for acting up like polite hooligan. Imagine a situation: you pull up to a set of traffic lights and feel this tingling feeling inside, an itch to be bad for a second. Lights go green: floor it (fart), keep it lit (fart), and cloud of smoke left behind. At next set of lights can blame the hooligan civic beside you. The M3 is the perfect chameleon for public roads.
The M3 was originally built for homologation purposes back in the 80's; the already capable family sized saloon has grown in power, performance and weight to what we see here today - the fifth generation of one of the most popular performance cars in the industry. Based on a mid sized family saloon, the M3 has become a staple of track days, and a fundamental part of the performance car world. Often seen tearing up chicanes, corners and occasionally drift tracks, the M3 is instantly recognisable on sight and sound.
Only the first of the breed, the E30 M3 (built from 1986 - 1991) had any real racing pedigree with only 5000 originally being intended to be built, only so they could run in the Group A touring cars, but they became so popular, BMW ended up building nearly 18000 units. Impressive!
The E36 M3 appeared in 1992 and was built right up until 1999, and with this model, some significant changes were brought to the model. The engine stepped up from a four cylinder as found in the E30 to the first of their inline 6 engines. It accelerated faster to 60, and with a higher top speed was a major step up in almost every department. Gone however, was the ethos of a lightweight racer, as it had packed on over 350kg compared to its predecessor, but cemented its reputation as the iconic powerful sports saloon.
The next iteration - the E46 M3 was built between 2000 until 2006 and it followed the sports saloon ethos with only subtle visual differences over the regular E46’s including flared arches to suit the widened track, a subtle bulge on the bonnet hinting at the 340+ horses waiting to be unleashed, and was definitely more track focused than the E36.
The E90/92/93 first appeared in 2007 and in various guises, was built up to 2013. For me, this was the biggest departure from the original lightweight E30 and also featured a major change in the engine, departing from the 6 cylinder sound which had been so familiar and loved for 15 years, instead choosing to change to a V8 which was happy to rev past 8000rpm. It wasn’t as powerful as it rival Mercedes AMG, and wasn’t as sharp or responsive as the E46, so it felt somewhat lost with the sporty flavour the M3 became best known for.
In the transition from E30 to F80, the M3 has grown steadily more impressive, with the chassis, performance, handling, and outright grunt to make cars with a supercar pedigree check their mirrors to see what is pushing them out of their comfort zones. The current model, known by the code name F80 was first introduced in 2014, and is different in many ways to the M3s of old. The first and most noticeable difference is the additional 2 doors; F80 is a four-door only option. Where the E30 was a 2 door saloon, E46 was a two door coupe, E92 & E93 were two door coupe and convertibles respectively; the F80 is, and will only be offered in four door guise. Also, this is the first of the generation to be powered by a turbocharged engine, specifically, twin turbocharging. The resulting on demand power is accessible at virtually any speed. This has resulted in the high revving, charismatic engines that the M3 became known for evolve into something deeper, and it has changed the F80 into something which will take on b road blasts as easily as topping out on a long stretch of open road. Much like a blow to the guts - it is now deep, impactful and you really feel it. Whilst the performance of the F80 has never been questioned, unfortunately the handling of early models was somewhat sketchy to say the least. Lots of reports of early models being twitchy on anything other than glass smooth surfaces led to some cars going a lot more sideways than expected as the spike of the turbocharged unit caught unaware drivers who were unable to respond quickly enough. Continual improvements have been made on the chassis, and the competition pack as seen on Jonny's car make it more fun to drive without the fear inducing ride of earlier models.
Jonny really took his time in selecting his M3, and chose wisely to go for the competition pack along with a host of options which have made this one of the most complete cars I have been in, merging the ethos of performance sports saloon perfectly.
Despite the fact the BMW M3 is based on the 3 series model that represents a family car with style and elegance, elegance is not that the first thing that the F80 resembles if you ask me. The design of the F80 M3 is more that of an aggressive touring race car with its aggressive nose down, fat bum stance and ultra sharp lines. It is an epic thing if you ask me. You want elegance and peace? Buy a seven series!
Differences between the standard 3 series and the M3 counterpart are significant. Huge vents with the sole intention of forcing cold air into the intakes and engine bay clearly show that the M3 with its purposeful design can be the best described as mean and moody.
The F80 features sharp lines, aerodynamic and drag-efficient body with wide flared arches and nearly F1 style complexity bumpers and diffusers. BMW M mirrors which have been often copied since the E36 are once again aerodynamically shaped but somehow give the impression of the car flexing its muscles letting others know it's definitely not a show pony which is all show with no go.
The ground hugging stance, deep front and rear bumpers, flared arches and imposing appearance definitely set the F80 M3 further apart from its non M derived brothers than any previous incarnations of the M3
Whilst the BMW interiors may be built to a good standard and well finished, they never quite stand out in the performance luxury sector compared to its closest rivals - the Mercedes C63 or Audi RS4; however, Jonny chose to make some subtle changes and transformed it into a really lovely place to be in.
He opted for contrasting sakhir orange leather seats with the flying side bolsters only found in the competition spec seats, which he married with the carbon fibre interior trim featuring black chrome finishers, and it makes a noticeable difference, changing a somewhat plain interior into once which feels more special.
The seats are extremely comfortable as well as being a talking point with illuminated badges, and the open side bolsters as described above. Everything just seems to fit so well, and the cockpit is very driver focussed with the steering wheel feeling large and chunky and perfectly positioned.
The M3's entertainment sector is handled by BMW’s iDrive system. Jonny once again upped the standard system, choosing the harmon/kardon surround sound upgrade and it is so impressive how listening to some quality music your ears are picking up sounds and noises from all around you.
What really happened with their engines? The tinny rattle of the previous generation M3 was no more following the introduction of the lazier V8 and the modern twin turbo inline six. Whilst purists argued that the acoustically enhanced effects piped into the cabin took away from what the M3 was really about, these most likely were the same folks that argued about things that were better in their day and may be still refusing to give up their Nokia 3310. But in reality times change and things progress and maybe the old saying “There is no replacement for displacement” may be a bit outdated itself. When we have big V8s producing 200hp vs modern 1litre 3 cylinders doing the same, why not?
The F80 M3 is powered by a a state of the art 3-litre inline 6 petrol engine that is force fed some of the finest cold air via twin turbos. The F80 in its standard form produces a very impressive figure of 425hp whereas the Competition pack squeezes out a further 19 ponies totalling it up to 444hp. The engine produces 406lb ft of torque and for a modern turbo engine it loves to rev relatively high up 7300rpm. The F80 can accelerate to 62 from a standing start in 4.2 seconds and within the next 4.4 seconds it will be sitting at 100mph and at 155mph the restrictor will stop you from dying. The performance really is truly impressive for a family sized saloon. There is no shortage of power and the chance to light up the tires at traffic lights.
The F80 came with a choice of two transmissions – a six speed manual or seven speed twin clutch automatic, Jonny opted for the latter one. The shifts are instantaneous; however, are well known for being very aggressive, so changing gears mid corners is a no no, as it would easily end up facing you the other way.
One thing that isn’t quite impressive compared to the older models is the way the F80 three litre engine sounds. But I am not having a dig at it, that is a very common trend amongst all the new turbo engines – the rather synthetic monotone engine noise is accompanied by a rumble in exhaust, artificial programmed burp on every gear change and overrun and all this further enhanced via speakers in the car. But you know what, that really is not a deal breaker as it still sounds magnificent, just not as nice as the older generations.However, Jonny opted for the exhaust upgrade and its money which has been very well spent with the pops, bangs and overrun leaving you in absolutely no doubt that this is no ordinary M3
As described briefly above, it was widely acknowledged that on early cars, body control through the rear wasn’t the best - in fact, it left a lot to be desired, and with the mountains of torque from low revs, coupled with a snappy DCT box, on a demanding road very often the F80 was a handful to get the best out of from all but the most skilled of drivers. However, face-lifted models (and competition models in particular like Jonnys) are vastly improved. Even at low speeds the M3 feels more settled, and it remains calm and poised as the speedo needle climbs further to the right. Competition spec M3’s like Jonnys have more power and chassis improvements which make full use of the limited slip differential and small slides can be easily engaged to give plenty of smiles to the inner hooligan in us! The M3 has a great turn in and feels very predictable at any speed. Oversteer can be easily engaged through the huge amount of power and torque and is easily controlled with some balance of the throttle. A spot of throttle blipping will easily make the rear end step out whilst the direct steering and a touch of opposite lock makes it relatively easy to extract the best from the revised chassis. Coupled with the huge brakes, stopping the large saloon is a relatively easy task, even more so when fitted with the astonishing carbon ceramic option
Jonny's F80 is equipped with spectacular 20" M-Star-spoke style 666M black forged alloys that are dressed in some of the finest rubber for the ultimate grip. Alloy wheels, just like shoes, can make a gentleman look bad or good, but Jonny really is a man of a taste. The wheels set off the car beautifully.
Over 5 generations of M3, I feel that F80 has finally gotten back to its routes - the consummate fast sports saloon - the polite hooligan. A car which is as comfortable doing the school run, or going for the groceries via a race track or meeting your rival at the traffic lights. When looking at an example like Jonny's, where the options list has been carefully examined and deliberated over to make sure that every element performs as well as it looks, and to ensure that his extras work in perfect conjunction with the standard options, it is a prime example of an M3 done right. His carbon addiction inside and outside perfectly accentuate the sharp lines and colour of the M3, the M Performance exhaust unleashes the best of the inline 6.
I can finally say I love a modern BMW.
I can finally say I love a modern BMW.