2015 BMW M3 Driving Impressions

Whether it’s winding country roads or a high-speed racetrack, the BMW M3 is at its best going fast. Separate adjustments for steering, throttle control and damping (with the optional adaptive suspension) let drivers customize the M3 any way they see fit. But even in its tamest settings, the M3 is 100 percent sports car.

The new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine (S55) replaces the V8s on the outgoing generation and is lighter, more powerful, and gives a substantial boost in torque. It’s also a higher revving engine than its predecessor, and as such, one might be tempted to shift early if going by sound alone. But let that motor whine all the way to the 7500 redline, and you’ll feel like a superhero merging onto a rural highway at 80 mph in fourth gear, or barreling down a 150-mph straight like we did at Road America, a 4.0-mile serpentine racing circuit near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

A redesigned, lighter suspension uses a double-joint spring strut setup in front and a new five-link axle in the rear. The new rear suspension is mounted directly to the body (omitting the connecting parts normally in between), giving the M3 a much stiffer ride and more direct road feel. The only downside is that it produces more road noise. Most components, including control arms, are aluminum. Even with the suspension in comfort mode, the M3 is firm and well-sprung, though is more compliant over bumps and rough roads.

With the 7-speed double-clutch transmission, we could put it in Drive and let the car do its thing, or we could switch over to manual and click the paddles. The latter was especially satisfying on the track, where we could focus more on the line and less on the body mechanics of changing gears. The M double-clutch transmission is faster than the manual, propelling the M3 from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, compared with 4.1 seconds using the manual. While shifts from the double-clutch are blink-of-an-eye fast, we did find they could feel abrupt when pushing hard in Sport and Sport Plus modes.

Manual transmissions have an automatic rev-matching function in Efficient and Sport modes, but the blip comes when you take the shifter out of gear, so your shifts had better be fast for optimal performance. In Sport Plus mode, the auto rev matching turns off, leaving you to your own heel-and-toe skills.

The M3 drops traditional hydraulic steering for an electromechanical system, which purists bemoan. But we found steering feel precise and direct, with three modes that allow drivers to choose the level of steering effort. Comfort is the default, and is by no means light. Sport and Sport Plus increase the steering effort, in the case of the latter, quite considerably.

Steering feel depends largely on personal preference, and heavier steering doesn’t necessarily mean better performance. In fact, our driving instructor at Road America, who heads the M Performance Center driving program in Spartanburg, South Carolina, switched our steering from Sport into Comfort in the middle of a lap. Though at first we thought we were being demoted, he explained the lighter steering effort can help when learning the track, so you don’t have to feel like you’re fighting the wheel.

Standard M3 brakes are bigger and more powerful than those found on 3 Series sedans, but the big push seems to be for the new carbon-ceramic rotors, complete with huge gold-painted calipers that, despite their amazing performance, look downright cheesy. As manufacturers are wont to do when it comes to impressing journalists on a product launch, the BMW crew fitted our test cars only with the $8,150 carbon ceramic option. These monsters are unbelievably powerful, once you get some heat into them.

Dynamic stability control can be adjusted for optimum safety or optimum slip. With it on, it can save your bacon if you make a mistake, but we also felt the system holding us back when rounding corners at Road America. With it off, the M3 commands a healthy dose of respect.

Wheels, whether the standard 18-inch alloys or either of the optional 19-inch designs, are wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, designed specifically for the new M3. Their mixed performance designation means they should hold up well in a variety of driving conditions.

Around town, the M3 is well mannered, though it feels clunkier than its 3 Series counterpart, thanks in part to a relatively large, 40-foot turning circle, nearly three feet wider than a 330i. So while the M3 might handle high-speed chicanes with ease, it’s not quite as nimble in the supermarket parking lot.

As with all BMW M cars, the 2015 M3 has a fantastic exhaust note. Partially organic and partially engineered, the M3’s sound is loud and unmistakable, from both within and without.

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1518 Savannah Highway
Charleston, SC 29407

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