2008 BMW M3: I am Legend
Written by Kimatni D. Rawlins
As the saying goes legends aren’t made, they’re born. So when BMW decided to play around with racing in 1986 they also found themselves playing with history. See, in order to enter the German Touring Car Championship, BMW was required to homologate (manufacture road variants of) the motorsports vehicle (based off the 3 Series Coupe) leading to the first generation M3 which became the most successful racing touring car in Europe’s history. Now in its fourth generation, the M3 has been satisfying owner’s thirst for performance for twenty years in the US.
For 2008, the M3 is offered as a coupe and a four-door sedan with the convertible to follow shortly. Its forte is simple. Pure power coupled with unadulterated performance! For example, BMW outfitted the M3 with its first V8 which uses F1 technology. The four-liter naturally aspirated light-alloy powerplant outputs 414-horsepower at 8300 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 3900 rpm. It doesn’t redline until 8400 rpm so the high-revving engine is able to hold each gear longer for maximum acceleration. With a power to weight ratio of 8.9 lbs/hp the new V8 is stronger, yet lighter than the 3.2-liter 333 horsepower straight six it replaces from the third gen M3. Expect the coupe to move you from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 mph.
To unveil the ‘08 M3 to “happy feet” journalists, BMW took us to one of the top racing facilities in the world: Mazda Raceway Leguna Seca. Its great turns, changing elevations and infamous “corkscrew” was the perfect scenario for the new Bimmer. Here you have a very technical car trying to outwit a very technical track. Being that this was my third visit to Leguna Seca, I was pretty comfortable with its routine. Yet, it would take more than a few laps to become comfortable with the overzealous functionalities of the M3. Man, and I thought flying an Airbus was challenging! Nevertheless, once the German engineers and product managers explained the vehicle’s wonders then I become somewhat relaxed. I’ve driven M cars many times – including the M5 and M6 – but you must program your mind all over again. Where shall we begin?
Let’s “play it forward’ and think about stopping before we start. The M3’s high-performance braking system brings the vehicle to a halt from 60 mph in 105 feet. Its Frisbee-sized discs are cross-drilled to provide better cooling. Add dynamic brake control and the Bimmer hypnotizes drivers into thinking they’re track instructors or great drivers. Brake wear can be monitored via a dash display. Standard 18-inch wheels are staggered as are the optional 19s which are tucked in Michelin Pilot Sport 2 rubber. The M3’s new aluminum chassis is another example of superlative performance engineering. It starts off with a 50/50 front/rear weight ratio with mostly all of the front parts being aluminum including the struts and a thrust panel under the engine (which BMW says keeps the entire front end stiff). The anti-roll bars are hollow for more weight savings. “Servotronic” steering is BMW’s maneuverability technology that offers two steering dynamics and uses inputs based on road speed. In “Sport” mode steering is very direct and provides immediate response. In “Normal” mode steering is lighter and requires less effort.
Before we jump into more technology lets discuss the M3’s new styling. BMW took the current 3 Series’ shell and replaced 80 percent of its parts to form the stocky M3. They retained only the windows, doors, trunk lid, and front and rear lights. Aluminum was a major factor for rigidity and reduced weight. The hood is aluminum and features a bulge to accommodate the V8 which needs lots of ventilation and air flow. A carbon-fiber roof is utilized on the coupe and can be replaced by a steel roof if the optional sunroof is ordered. Side skirts look like split surf boards, M3 gills glaze from each side, the wheel flares are on steroids, four pipes rock the rear and a lip spoiler puts the icing on the cake. BMW brought back the four-door because owners use their M3s as everyday transporters and needed the convenience of a sedan. BMW describes the Bimmer as being a part of their personality.
Back on the track, I started settling in my comfort zone, assaulting the asphalt with a vengeance. The M3’s beefy steering felt powerful in my grips, its seats held support with both adjustable thigh and lateral support while the six-speed manual shifted with confidence. An optional seven-speed double-clutch gearbox is on the way. Next to the shifter are three unique buttons for increased performance orientations. The “Power” button modifies engine mapping allowing selectable power control. Electric Damping Control (EDC) is optional and comes with the $3,350 “Technology” package which also includes “M Drive,” navigation and the “ComfortAccess” system. EDC has three settings and gives drivers the ability to operate the chassis via three modes -- Sport, Normal and ComfortAccess. It’s like putting on track shoes for running or cleats for football or soccer. The third button, “DSC Off,” (Dynamic Stability Control) allows you to vary slip angles. Then, BMW borrowed technology from the M6 and M5 including the tachometer and steering wheel operated “M Drive” which has many different set-ups to alter the vehicle’s character.
BMW set the pricing at $57,275 for the coupe (includes $775 destination charge) and $54,575 for the sedan (includes $775 destination charge). The M3’s $1,300 gas guzzler tax is not included. But bring your grocery list because everything in the kitchen is optional or included in one of the three packages which have their own tabs: Cold Weather, Premium or Technology. But remember, the M3 is a special car for special people. After all, it’s a legend!