Monday, 8 July 2013

The BMW M3 Coupé is Dead, Approximately 12 People Care

BMW M3 (E92)
BMW have recently stopped production of the "E92" and "E93" chassis 3-Series coupé and convertible models. This, in turn, means that the BMW M3 is dead, as the "E90" and "E91" saloon and estate 3-Series have already been replaced by the all-new F30 and F31. The outgoing M3, with it's 4.0 V8 producing 414bhp and a heavenly roar as the needle soared as high as 8500rpm, will be the last and only generation of the legendary sports car to feature eight cylinders, thanks to a trend for downsizing and turbocharging.

The M3 Coupe has had a long and illustrious history on both road and track, with strong connections in each direction. Originally conceived as a homologation special back in the days when the rules of sports car racing stipulated that the cars entered had to be based on a road car of more than 250 examples, the original E30 had a naturally-aspirated 2.3-litre "S14" inline-4 that made nearly 200bhp and revved high with a metallic edge, few creature comforts and the steering wheel resolutely on the left side of the interior, as well as distinct changes to the bodywork for improved aerodynamics. Initial reviews were actually mixed, something you wouldn't realise if you looked at the floods of admiration it now enjoys 28 years later. It was like a touring car for the road, and the actual Group A touring car it homologated enjoyed huge success in German, British, Italian, Belgian, French, and Australian race series. In fact, E30 M3s in their various specs and evolutions won twelve touring car titles, five Nürburgring 24H races, four Spa 24H races and even a win at the Tour de Corse in the World Rally Championship. From 1987 to 1992, if you wanted to win in Touring Cars, the BMW was your best bet.

The E36 added a bit of luxury to proceedings on the road (as well as a four-door variant), and a bit of silverware in BMW's trophy cabinet, while also adding a proper BMW engine, the "S50" straight-six displacing 3.0 and latterly 3.2 litres as it took the world by storm across the rest of the 1990s. With 280bhp it was the first German performance car to be limited to 155mph (250km/h) as part of a gentleman's agreement to avoid the sports car arms race getting out of hand on the autobahn. One E36 touring car was painted by Sandro Chia as part of BMW's Art Cars series, which also included an E30 or two. Various limited edition models showed the popularity of the E36, which is still strong today in particular because it's the cheapest generation you can buy used. The only problem with that is that some of them are very, very used...

The turn of the century saw the E46, with a new "S54" 3.2 straight-six making 343bhp. As you'd expect it was heavier and more powerful, but it was no less successful on either side. By this point it wasn't homologating a racing car, more giving the people what they wanted, but E46 M3s competed well in GT racing anyway. In the ALMS they used a version with a 4.0 V8 not seen in the road car, so after complaints from Porsche that it wasn't in the spirit of the regulations, an M3 GTR Strassenversion was made, with that engine, a unique widebody aero kit and a stripped-out interior. The full-blown racing version featured (with a special blue-on-white paint job) in Need For Speed: Most Wanted, which is how many gamers remember the GTR. Adults with money, however, are most fond of the hardcore CSL version, whose only real flaw (besides having dry-weather-only tyres) was the SMG semi-automatic machine gun gearbox. A car like that shouldn't really be weighed down by flappy paddles and stuff, should it? The weight loss could've been even more than the 110kg it did lose to the regular M3 (making it 1385kg). There was no four-door version of the E46 M3, but there was, for the first time, a convertible for young tanned women with rich dads/husbands.

Then the E92 came out in 2007, with the saloon variant returning. With its hefty 1580kg kerbweight and V8 power, the M3 was almost turning into a muscle car, but for the fact that it had the kind of balance and poise to keep Porsche up at night (thanks in small part to a carbon fibre roof to lower the centre of gravity and improve roll stiffness, à la CSL). The racing car also competed well in various GT series - peaking with a 1-2 in the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring - and the latest Art Car also being an M3 GT2, done this time by Jeff Koons. It raced and sadly retired at Le Mans. The M3 GTS version was BMW's answer to the 911 GT3... in their minds. The often-orange track special packed a 4.4-litre version of the S65 V8 making 444bhp (450PS), plenty of oomph to shift a car roughly 135kg lighter, thanks to a stripped interior. The GTS also had a rollcage and a carbon fibre rear wing that never really looked big enough, and therefore looked a bit silly. Not as silly as the orange woman approaching her 40s driving a white, automatic coupe-cabrio, though...

And now here we are. But Michael, why would "only 12 people care" about this legendary sports car being consigned to the history books?

Well, because really it isn't. Only the coupé and convertible variants, and even then only if you're being pedantic.

See, BMW is overhauling its naming system to add consistency. To match up with the fact that two-door versions of the 5-Series are rebodied and called the 6-Series*, the Bavarian outfit are now doing the same to the 1- and 3-Series, turning the coupé/convertible versions thereof into the 2- and 4-Series. As well as adding consistency, it pulls the same trick that Audi have done with the A5, making the two-door version* of a fairly ordinary four/five-door executive car seem more special by having its own place in the range rather than a mere variant. So that means that the M3 Coupé's replacement next year will be called the M4. Same car (as it were), different name. But fear not! The four-door will still be the 3-Series and so a BMW M3 will still exist. It will just only be a saloon, previously a mere variant of the M3 Coupé, ironically. All signs point towards a 3.0 straight-six boosted by no fewer than three turbochargers, perhaps due to the kind of love for numerical precision that gave the M3 GTS 444bhp from a 4.4-litre engine. 3 litres, 3 turbochargers. How German.

*6-Series GranCoupe and Audi A5 Sportback [5-door fastback] notwithstanding. Bloody Germans and their niche cars...

Nerd's Photoshop Artist's rendering of what the M4 could well look like, based on the 4-Series Concept
So the only 12 people that care will be people pedantic enough to be irked by the change in their naming system. While I admit it might be a weeny bit more than just 12, it won't be many, as most people will just get over it and enjoy the new, more easily navigable naming system. Until you factor in niche cars like the 6-Series GranCoupe, which is a four-door version of the two-door version of the 5-Series. Eh? Did a thousand people really look at the new 6-Series and think "d'you know, what that really needs is more doors" out loud so BMW could hear them? And does said car really need to be a staggering ~£20,000 more than the 5-Series it effectively is? I suppose it also acts as a Mercedes-Benz CLS and Audi A7 Sportback rival, but it's not a coupé, and it's not for grans, so it shouldn't be called GranCoupe. Mind you, BMW also call their five-door school-run crossover a Mini, so maybe there's just no understanding them after all......

1 comment:

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