BMW’s M3 is a super road car, but not the bargain of the decade, and the factory supplies the car only in left-hand drive form. Peter Dron asks whether it’s worth paying an extra £6,300 for a bit more horsepower and some dubious cosmetic and aerodynamic changes – Fast Lane
How much evolution can one model stand? In the case of BMW’s M3 the answer seems to be: as much as is necessary to keep beating the Mercedes-Benz 190s in German touring car races and other competitive events.
The latest version of the M3, the Sport Evolution has a bored-out engine, larger wheels and tyres, higher overall hearing, and some minor bodywork and internal changes. It costs £34,500. This is £6,300 over the price of an ‘ordinary’ M3 (which is itself pretty expensive for a left-hand-drive car with a four-cylinder engine). Part of the justification for this is that you are paying for a limited-edition model: only 500 of these Evolution models will be made and the UK allocation is exactly 10% of the total.
An increase in capacity from 2,302 to 2,467cc – achieved by increasing both bore and stroke – has lifted the power peak from 215bhp at 6,750rpm to 238 at 7,000, while torque has risen from 179lbs/ft at 4,600rpm to 177lbs/ft at 4,750rpm. Other engine changes have been in detail only: a lower (10.2:1) compression ratio, and reprogrammed injection and ignition (a Bosch DME system).
The lap of Millbrook we recorded at an average of 147.6mph suggests that BMW’s claim of 154 is achievable on the straight and level, while 0-60mph in 6.2sec is about a tenth of a second off the suggested 0-100kph time of 6.5sec. This is substantially better than the standard M3, which is quick for a normally aspirated car of its engine capacity: 138.3mph and 0-60mph in 7.0sec, by 100mph the Evolution’s advantage has grown to 1.4sec.
Performance in fourth and top gears has lost its edge more than we’d have expected: it’s partly due to the higher overall gearing (22.2mph/1,000rpm instead of 21.3), which simply means that to make rapid program you have to stir the lever around a bit more: but this is after all a racy sort of car, so that must be half of the object of buying it, and anyway the change quality is excellent.
You can sense the extra power from behind the wheel, though the difference is not huge. The quality of the engine has also changed little. It has an appealingly violent quality to it, rather thrashy in the noise it makes up the top end, but remarkably smooth all the way from tick over to the 7,300rpm red line. Even so, you can’t help regretting that the ‘small six’ – one of the most pleasant road car engines currently available – apparently cannot be persuaded to accept anything like M3 horsepower without hurling its crankshaft though the casing.
Few road cars handle as well as the M3: in particular, we can think of nothing which beats the purity of response of its assisted rack and pinion steering. The springing and damping are near perfect, and the car’s behavior is near to impeccable in the dry: a touch of power oversteer available in tight bends, but mild, stable understeer in other circumstances. In fact, it’s almost neutral, and the combination of braking ability, grip and traction often gives the potential to out perform considerably more powerful cars in real world conditions.
The only warning note we would sound in relation to the M3 Evolution is the the 225/45 ZR 16 Michelins – excellent though they are on dry surfaces – are less satisfactory when it rains. We’ve tried them before, as optional fittings on a standard M3 (normal wear is 205/55 ZR 15s) and found them to be excessively prone to aquaplaning; the rain also highlights the relatively short wheelbase of the 3-series, especially in faster curves.
In the press blurb, BMW rabbits on about how the new adjustable spoilers provide a “further improvement in roadholding and driving safety”. But of course, not many drivers will take the time out to stop, unpack a screwdriver, and alter the angles of incidence of the front and rear aerofoils when they switch from motor way to country road. The boot wing is rather exaggerated, though it seems quite tame compared with the excresense on Mercedes-Benz’s 190 Evolution.
The covers of the steering wheel and gear lever knob have been turned inside out: while suede is the ideal material if you happen to be wearing racing gloves, it’s not so good for base hands, and the outer source of the cow would be preferable inside the road car.
When you buy a 3-series BMW is it possible to specify extended seat runners to give drivers of above average height enough legroom – it’s about time BMW fitted the extended ones to all 3-series models. No one is fooled by the illusion it gives of almost adequate rear legroom. It’s a pity, because otherwise the front seats would be very comfortable, and the driving position perfect: the new seats (complete with slots for a full racing harness) are very comfortable and supportive.
Now that BMW has proved it can sell left-hand-drive Z1′s to British buyers for nearly £37,000, any comments about value for money (in reference to almost anything) seems redundant, but it seems to us that, apart from the hotter engine, the changes to the M3 in this version are more for the benefit of the BMW’s racing team rather than the buyer. However, the standard M3 is such a great car that the extra performance of this Evolution model – welcome though it is – hardly seems worth a 22% price hike.