19 December 2014
Joining the M3 Coupe, the saloon version of BMW’s fourth-generation midsized M car is ideal for those who held off buying one because of the impracticality of a two-door car. The only differences between the two machines are that the Saloon doesn't have a carbon-fibre roof and its 0-62mph time is 0.1 seconds slower. However, extra doors, more room in the back and a bigger boot mean it’s easier to share the experience of travelling in a car powered by BMW's fantastic 4.0-litre V8. It’s also a great-looking car: when testing, the M3 Saloon drew admiring glances wherever we went.
The M3 Saloon is hugely impressive on the road. The 4.0-litre V8 sounds incredible, making progress rapid and allowing the car to just soak up the miles. There's always plenty of power on tap – 420bhp of it, available as far up the rev range as 8,300rpm, with 295lb-ft of torque on tap down at 3,900rpm – so there should be enough to keep everyone happy. Then there's the magic M button on the steering wheel. Unlike the M5 and M6, you don't get any more power, but you do get a keener throttle response and you can program the car to make the suspension and steering adjust to your personal taste and driving style. So the M3 Saloon is very accomplished and very fast. However, it does lack something in excitement– which could prove to be a disappointment if you're a fan of the M car heritage.
The M3 has a reputation for being one of BMW’s sweetest handling cars, but the current generation has been something of a disappointment for aficionados, with the steering coming in for criticism for not being quite as focused as previous iterations. The hydraulically assisted set-up lacks some of the feedback that drivers of performance cars regard as necessary in order to have total confidence in what exactly the tyres are doing, plus special Michelin-developed rubber that can result in a bit of understeer. The upside of the handling’s drawbacks is that the ride is more compliant than on previous versions of the M3, especially if you opt for the Electronic Damper Control (EDC). This system allows you to choose between Comfort, Normal or Sport settings at the touch of a button: if you don’t opt for EDC, the standard M damper setting gives you something between Sport and Normal.
The current generation of the 3-Series has been around in non-M form since 2005 (with some mid-life revisions at the end of 2008). It has proved to be a solid, dependable car, so there's no reason to expect any problems with the M3. Obviously, with the extra power on offer, the clutch and brakes may not last as long in the M3 as they do in, say, 3-Series Coupes, but as long as you don't drive like a lunatic all the time, they'll stand up well to daily use. Fit and finish inside and out of the M3 Saloon is impeccable, as you’d expect from a premium performance car, with glossy paintwork outside and sumptuous leather throughout the cabin. There are a lot of electronics in the M3, but as there haven't been any issues reported with the more complex M5 or M6, the M3 should be equally trouble-free.
The 3-Series Saloon received an excellent five-star rating for adult occupant protection in the Euro NCAP crash test, so there's no reason to suspect the M3 version won't perform just as well. Naturally, there's lots of electronic safety equipment to keep the M3 driver out of trouble, with the stability control capable of being disengaged by a quick tap of a button on the centre console. In normal setting or in M Dynamic mode it only reacts when you really need it. Six airbags are provided to protect all four occupants and sensors dotted around the cabin ensure that the right safety equipment is deployed to suit the circumstances. There's also a stiffened boot floor and rear structure that protect the occupants in the event of a rear end impact, two-stage adaptive brake lights and extra brake lights to warn drivers behind when the M3 is braking hard.
The M3 Saloon is very spacious and practical, with a superb driving position that will suit drivers of all dimensions, thanks to electrically adjustable seats in the front and a steering wheel that adjusts for rake and reach. There's also a fair bit of room in the back, with enough head and leg room for most adults, and a 450-litre boot that should prove large enough to handle the luggage of four occupants for most journeys. There are also plenty of gadgets and BMW's iDrive infotainment system, which has loads of options, but lacks an intuitiveness found on those in cars from some rival manufacturers. It just takes too many jogs and clicks to get to where you want to go in each menu: you get used to it, but a truly useful system should work without you having to resort to the manual for even the most basic of functions.
The M3 is expensive to buy and run. Officially, its fuel economy returns 22.8mpg on the combined cycle, but if you drive it anywhere near its full potential, that figure will easily drop into the low teens. CO2 emissions are 295g/km, putting the M3 firmly in the top road tax bracket. Insurance costs will also be high as the M3 is in the top group 20. The M3 is fitted with BMW's Efficient Dynamics brake energy regeneration system that tops up the battery's charge levels at any time the engine is not under load. There's also a shift indicator on the instrument display that tells you which gear you should be in for the best economy. The M3 should hold its value well and still be in demand a few years down the line on the used market. Based on demand for older generations, M3s are generally a safe bet.
Submitted: 20/03/2009 10:48:50
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