Saturday, 25 October 2014

Why the BMW M3 deserves its brutal reputation

THE original BMW M3 is a sort of automotive Al Pacino. Despite having a sophisticated side, you can’t help looking at it and concluding it’s hard as nails.

There have been other go-faster saloons since – in the same way there have been plenty of American gangster films before and since Scarface – but this is the one everyone always remembers. It’s always been held up as being not just one of the greatest BMWs ever made, but one of the best cars, period.
Yet in the same way that I remember feeling weirdly underwhelmed when I watched Scarface for the first time, I initially got behind the wheel of this German performance motoring icon last week, taking it for a brief run and concluded it wasn’t much cop.

Why, I wondered, did people in the distant past of the late 1980s get so fizzed up about an expensive, two-door saloon which was only available in left-hand-drive? Didn’t the descendents of today’s modern man find the dog-leg racing gearbox, where you shift the gearlever backwards to get first, utterly infuriating to use? And why were they going for something which was only so-so to drive in the real world when you could have a TVR S2 or a Ford Sierra Cosworth for less?

It was only as I was pondering these questions – and why the original M3, codenamed the E30, attracts such a whopping premium over its faster successors – that the motorhome in front finally turned off and the road opened up, finally giving me the chance to actually see what one of the most sought after BMWs ever can really do.

It took about 20 seconds for Al Pacino’s automotive equivalent to pummel my scepticism into submission. Only when you take the M3 by the scruff of its neck do you really appreciate that it really is as good as everybody says it is.

You can tell from the howl of its four-cylinder, BMW Motorsport-developed engine above 4000rpm and the sensational handling that this car was developed with one thing in mind; winning races. The M3 Evolution version I drove might only develop 212bhp, which is less than half of what today’s M3 churns out, but because it’s so much smaller and lighter it still feels ruthlessly frantic.

Which is really frustrating thing about driving an E30 M3 – the magic moment when you get its steering and suspension to sing is also the moment you have to back off, because you just know you’ll lose your licence if you carry on.

The BMW E30 M3 not only lives up to every bit of its hard-earned reputation as a roadgoing streetfighter, but it’s a bit too brilliant for British roads. Mess with one at your peril!


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