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BMW M3 Competition Pack (2010) long-term test review

Published: 21 July 2011

Goodbye to a great car – 21 July 2011

As most of you know, my beloved M3 actually disappeared back to BMW a while ago, from where in went into the dealer network and was probably bought by some unsuspecting punter who thought it was a great buy and had no idea about its past history as a hard-used press car. Which in a vaguely connected way is why I want to talk about misconceptions…

Despite its reputation as a car to hoon around in, the M3 won’t just slew sideways if you brush the accelerator pedal – it takes proper provocation to make this car slide. Which means in the dry you can give it full throttle without too much worry, and as long as you’re not an arse when it’s wet, then traction isn’t an issue in bad weather conditions either.

And – and this is the important bit – that helps make it a better car than, say the RS5, for the 99% of life when it’s just acting as a regular car. Yes, I know I'm talking about that Audi again, but I want to use it as an example. Why? Because despite the appeal of the RS5's stellar cabin quality and four-wheel drive traction, the M3 is actually a better car when you’re just driving normally.

Both cars feature adaptive suspension (the trick dampers are part of our M3’s £3315 Competition Package, or £1325 if bought separately) but the simple truth is that in the softest of each car’s three equivalent settings the BMW offers a more supple ride. And in the middle setting there’s a set-up that better controls body movement while still being able to deal with a decent, bumpy back road – we’ll ignore each car’s firmest mode as they’re both really just for race tracks.

The BMW’s steering is crisper and more precise too (not up to Merc C63 standards, but much better than was the case when the M3 was launched in 2007). The gearbox is much slicker at low speeds (the RS5’s S-tronic transmission is a real clunker around town). Plus the brakes are easier to modulate, and the seats offer better support and much more adjustability – the headrests don’t move on the Audi.

When we’re all so desperately trying to enjoy our driving, the M3 is a great place to be on a motorway, or just following other traffic through a roundabout, or any other mundane task. It makes you relish the routine. It’s enjoyable at any speed.

And now we’ve been sensible, we can be silly. What a bloodly brilliant car!

From the moment the quad exhausts bark into life you know the 4.0-litre V8 hidden beneath that bulging and vented bonnet is special. Throttle response is crisp, there’s enough low-rev torque to make most overtaking easy, and both Chris Chilton and myself reckon BMW has got the M3’s pace spot on. It’s not so fast (like a GT-R) that you’re forever holding back, but a perfect compromise.

Every howl towards 8300rpm was wonderful, orange and then red shift lights flashing to indicate it was time to grab another gear. Moreover, I reckon the M3 has the best paddle shift action around. This is important. As manual gearboxes die out, we won’t talk about the how good it feels to change gear in a Type R Honda or Porsche, but how good it feels to pull on a paddle. Porsche got it wrong with its buttons, the tiny plastic paddles on Audis and Jags have too short a movement, and McLaren is already tweaking the weighting on the 12C’s system. But BMW has got it right with the M3 – big, real metal paddles, with perfect weighting, and enough movement so it doesn’t feel like you're just pressing a button, but that your actions are actually part of the mechanical system.

Beyond that? A brilliant stop/start system, a super-simple iDrive and multimedia set-up, a front end that steadfastly refuses to understeer, a decent boot, a decent pair of back seats, surprisingly decent fuel economy (20.7mpg over 13,815 hard miles), and an excellent M button that can be programmed to instantly turn off the DSC, stiffen the dampers, and swap the M-DCT ‘box into its manual mode with a more aggressive shift strategy.

Faults? The finish of the Melbourne Red paint wasn’t particularly good, the speaker in the passenger door buzzed (though it eventually cured itself) and the local dealer charged nearly £200 more for the 18,000-mile service than I was originally quoted. Plus we really should have specced a DAB radio.

I truly loved this car. Nothing can replace it like–for–like (lucky Jethro’s about to take delivery of a 1-series M) so as you’ll have read elsewhere, my next long-term test car is going to be very different indeed. I hope whoever bought YD10BZP enjoys it as much as I (we) did.

By Ben Pulman


Good car, bad dealer – 10 June 2011

Noticed recently that the M3 had started using a bit of oil – via the on-board computer’s electronic dipstick, mind. With the 18,000-mile service a little way off I decided to keep an eye on it, but didn’t top it up as what I put in would only get drained out a few weeks later.

Thankfully the planets aligned and the M3 homed in on 18k before the oil level got too low, so I booked it into Sycamore Peterborough, and after being passed around a bit, was quoted £248. All good so far…

… And when I arrived to collect YD10BZP: my M3 was clean inside and out. Then I was presented with the bill. Besides the Castrol, and the cost of the service, BMW Sycamore had fitted the pollen filter without clearing it with me, and changed another filter too. £128.21 of parts, plus a chunky £239.32 of labour, add in the VAT, and I was suddenly down £441.04. Not good at all.

By Ben Pulman


BMW Performance – 5 May 2011

BMW’s aftermarket Performance arm offers everything from black kidney grilles to a whole range of carbonfibre parts, including bumpers, strut braces and intake systems. More minted? Then you can pick from brake upgrades, suspension kits and sports exhausts, or fit out your car’s interior with bucket seats, steering wheels with integrated shift lights, and short-shift gearsticks. Spec the lot on a 135i Coupe and you’re looking at a fifty grand car.

But until now BMW Performance hasn’t offered any upgrades for M cars, the thinking being that these cars were perfect when they left the factory and don’t need any tampering with. Luckily, times have changed and there’s now a short list of optional extras available for the M3…

In the interests of research I’ve raided the catalogue and picked out a few visual upgrades. So YD10BZP is now sporting a set of black kidney grilles (£37.20 each), a set of carbonfibre front splitters (£273 each) and a little carbonfibre boot spoiler (£350). All in that’s £933.20, plus another £10.21 for the pot of adhesive needed to stick everything in place. And 1 hour and 45 minutes of your nearest BMW dealer's (certainly expensive) time. 

But I’m rather chuffed with a result. With the car cleaned, the Melbourne Red paint really shines, and suddenly the M3 Competition has a M3 GTS vibe. It’s suitably beefier without looking like a chavvy upgrade, I reckon – I ignored the carbon door mirros caps for exactly that reason. Neither BMW or the CAR office were initially sure about the upgrades, but having polled the two people currently at their desks (assistant editor Chris Chilton and designer Alex Tapley) both would order their theoretical M3 with the visual extras.

That’s the outside sorted, but I’ve left the interior well alone. The only options that caught my eye were the bucket seats and Alcantara steering wheel. But the standard chairs are comfy and supportive, and while everyone used to complain about overly fat M Division wheels, no one’s said that about the rim of my M3. Plus you lose the tricolour stitching as well.

Alas, the new M Performance sports silencer (with titanium tailpipes and a 40% lighter chromium-nickel silencer) had only just been announced when my car had the work done. Something you'd consider, hu11y?

By Ben Pulman


The economy of a 414bhp 4.0-litre V8 – 15 April 2011

’m not the biggest fan of forced-induction engines. Yes, they mean more power and torque, but the improved fuel figures they also promise are often only achievable in laboratory tests. Obviously it’s the same for all official fuel figures, but I reckon turbocharged and supercharged petrol engines over promise more than most.

Take the super- and turbocharged 1.4 in Jethro’s old Ibiza Cupra long-termer – it was almost always on par with the naturally aspirated 2.0 in our Clio Cup. And the lovely revvy lump in the latter was no doubt a lot cheaper to produce. The naturally aspirated, 2.5-litre straight six in our old Z4 long-termer vs the much lighter 2.0 TFSI Scirocco long-termer? The BMW was better on fuel. And Audi’s supercharged 3.0-litre V6 in the latest S4 is no better than the old V8 car – and when I tried it recently in the A7, it couldn’t even match our RS5’s mpg figures.

So, with the next M3 destined to have a turbocharged six pot, just what can the current V8 manage? It’s currently hovering just below 21mpg, which isn’t bad considering the track time, high-speed autobahn blasts and group tests it’s been through. But if I’m really, really good for, say, a day or two…

My best result came on a trip that saw me trundle down the M1 and around the M25 under the watchful eye of 50mph average speed cameras, down towards the south coast, and then re-trace the route. Over 220 miles I managed 28.5mpg at an average speed of 39.2mph – the computer claimed more, but I was shifting into neutral and freewheeling when I could.

The trick is to accelerate slowly, lift off whole miles before you need to stop, and act like you’re on a racetrack through the corners, never slowing down and looking and thinking ahead as far as possible. But life like this is frustrating, especially when everything is overtaking you. With the M3 still showing a range of 193 miles I couldn’t take it any more: I filled up with 98-octane and blasted the last miles home.

The glorious engine exacerbates the problem: a twitch of your right foot and a V8 bellow fills the cabin. You want to be good, you must be good, but there’s an overtaking opportunity and you clack, clack, clack the left paddle, and bwrrraaaaarr, click, bwrrraaaaarr, and you’re past four cars and have a big grin on your face.

My route to work doesn’t help either. It’s only ten miles, but the 4.0-litre V8 warms through in time for the final country road stretch. And coming home everything is up to temperature just as I reach a few decent straights and can blast past the dawdling commuters.

You can get help though. My missus lends a hand by being half-awake in the mornings, gently percolating on the way to work with her coffee, and then becoming very angry when I jolt her and her hot drink around with an overtake.

BMW’s stop/start system is good too. As long as the temperature is above 3-deg it works all the time. It unrealistically improves the mpg figure in laboratory tests, but every time I’m in a car that doesn’t shut down at a standstill I now feel horribly guilty.

And I’m discovering how the gearbox’s ferocity settings adjust the shift points as well. Opt for the slowest setting and the M-DCT ‘box will swap cogs early and only shift down if you bury the throttle; pick the fifth setting (the sixth is only available with the DSC off) and it’ll hold onto gears for longer and drop down at the merest hint of throttle.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle, I know there’s CO2 and all the other emissions to consider as well, but I don’t want the next M3 to have a turbocharged six-cylinder engine. It’s going to have one, but I don’t want it.

By Ben Pulman


Light and dark –  29 March 2011

The clocks have gone forward and I’m rejoicing. In part because it means no more depressing commuting in the dark, but mainly because it means no more driving the M3 in the dark. Why? Because the headlights are crap.

Bi-xenons are standard, but they’re not bright enough, their range is woeful and the step from light to dark is too abrupt. Any driving in the dark (slow or fast) is a bit scary unless you’ve got full beam on; when I hit 160mph on an unlit section of the autobahn last month I was using the trucks ahead on the inside lane as guidance.

If you’re buying an M3, best spec the £250 Adaptive Headlights – which my car doesn’t have. I don’t care for the swivelling cornering lights that are part of the pack, but you do get a variable headlight range control system which should help cure my car’s fault.

N.B. Also glad the facelifted M3 sticks with yellow LED daytime running lights, rather than the brash white DRLs that appeared on the regular 3-series Coupe and Convertible in line with last year’s mid-life nip ‘n’ tuck.

By Ben Pulman


M3 vs Cayman R vs GT-R vs Evora S –  22 March 2011

Is the BMW M3 the best £50k coupe on sale today? After six months living with my Competition Pack-spec car I certainly think so, especially as it’s already battled and beaten the Audi RS5. But just a few weeks ago Porsche launched its new lighter, more powerful Cayman R, a mid-engined sports car with the potential to best the M3. List price: £51,728.

Having secured a brand new Cayman R in Germany, it seemed only right to send our M3 off to meet it, with a few other rivals in tow. The obvious adversary for the Porsche was another mid-engined coupe, the Lotus Evora, which bested the Cayman S at our 2009 Performance Car of the Year test – and then took the overall PCOTY title. Now available in supercharged S guise – and a firm five-star car – it too is a tantalisingly prospect. And then there’s the revised Nissan GT-R, which in its previous less powerful, less refined form placed second (behind a Lambo) at our 2008 PCOTY event. A pretty special line up, then.

Did my long-termer win the group test? You’ll have to read Chris Chilton’s verdict in the new April 2011 issue of CAR to find out, but the result wasn’t clear cut: myself, Chris, Ben Barry and Georg Kacher are still arguing over which car should have won…

But regardless of the result, over three days and 1570 miles the M3 reinforced just how versatile it is. Neither the Cayman nor Evora have back seats (okay, the Lotus has back seats but they are useless), and neither of them (especially the Lotus) can match the M3’s luggage capacity. The GT-R comes closest, but it’s still poor in comparison – its boot is shallow and the low roof means only the shortest kids can travel in the back. The M3 swallowed my bags and snapper John Wycherley’s gear with ease on the way out, and on the way home John, Chris Chilton and designer Alex Tapley travelled three-up in comfort with all their kit.

Of course such a big, heavy car didn’t flow across our mountainous test location as smoothly as the sublime Evora, but it’s grippy and beautifully balanced when you want to just get on and go fast, or happy to slide when you properly poke it. It blasted to an easy 160mph on the autobahn too, and although it gobbled through £543 of fuel on the trip, despite high-speed commutes to and from Germany, and being driven even quicker when it was there, overall it averaged a decent 20.1mpg.

Downsides? Ben Barry (in the GT-R) and I tried a few impromptu drag races on the French autoroutes on the way to Germany, and no matter what gear and what speed we were doing the twin-turbo Nissan just waltzed off into the distance. It’s the difference between a really quick car, and a GT-R. Then again, the M3 sounds so much better, and the bonkers Nissan actually means you have to spend a lot of time restraining yourself – the M3 strikes a great overall balance. 

By Ben Pulman


How to fix a kerbed BMW M3 alloy wheel – 15 March 2011

I still judder when I think about it. Which is quite appropriate with hindsight. I was driving Ben’s E92 M3 along a narrow Northamptonshire lane when I crawled over a pinched humpback bridge. I’d just crested when an oncoming Ford Mondeo screeched up, forcing me to swerve left into a kerb to avoid an expensive ding. Grrrrauuunnnch. Uh-oh.

The damage was painful to observe: smooth strokeable alloy swapped for deep gouges and pitted jags along nearly a quarter of the circumference. Several dollops of humble pie and a full five minutes of apology later, I promised Ben I’d fix his wheel for him. It’s the unwritten code of conduct among road testers, see.

I’d heard of Perfection Alloys in Leicester, within an hour of CAR’s Peterborough HQ. We hadn’t tried it before and headed over to have the front nearside rim repaired while I waited. I met MD Simon Gudgeon who talked me through the set-up; turns out main dealers turn to the Perfection Group when they refurb trade-ins (always a good sign).

Fitter Kenny Lovett gave a running commentary throughout his work. He removed the 19in Competition Pack rim and sanded back the damaged area until it was smooth, starting with coarse paper and rubbing away the evidence with ever-finer paper until the rim looked smooth but raw. The last time I repaired an alloy, they used filler to build up the rim to restore its previous shape, but Perfection reckons that filler tends to degrade over time, in the worst cases falling out in chunks. Now I’ve seen how back-to-mint the simpler sanding process returned the wheel, I’d recommend this treatment. You really wouldn’t notice a few millimetres had been shaved off the rim by the time it was finished.

Next the wheel was prepared for painting to match BMW’s original silver. Base primer was applied, followed by layer after layer of paint until Kenny was satisfied it was returned to its showroom spec. He then sealed it with a coat of lacquer. Kenny dried it under a mobile wheel ‘sunbed’ in his mobile van (they’ll do this at your home or office too) and 90 minutes later the wheel was back on the M3.

They knew the BMW belonged to CAR Magazine so we had excellent treatment. But Perfection Group did such a great job refurbing our kerbed alloy wheel that we wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it. Paying £50 plus VAT is way preferable to the £505 quoted by BMW for a new Competition Pack 19-inch alloy wheel.

By Tim Pollard


New rubber all round – 8 March 2011

Over the past few months an office outing to Wales with all our long-termers, a group test against an Audi RS5, Merc C63 and Lexus ISF, and most recently two intensive learn-to-drift sessions have finished off the rear tyres on the M3. I originally planned to swap all four corners for a set of winter tyres, but despite the best efforts of BMW’s press office we just couldn’t source the requisite rubber. Fate (or rather, Chris Chilton) then forced my hand, catching the right rear tyre on the gatepost of his new house and slashing open the sidewall…

No amount of get-you-home foam was going to help, so Chris called BMW Assist and got them to recover the M3. The obvious option was to send it to our local dealer, BMW Sycamores in Peterborough, and play out the scenario incognito. But – and it was a expensive but – they a) only had the same Michelins in stock that were currently fitted to the car, and b) quoted £330 per fitted new front tyre and £401 per fitted new rear tyre.

The other BMW-approved tyre for the Competition Pack-spec M3 is a Continental SportContact 3. The CSC3s were excellent on my old Renaultsport Clio long-termer, and of course the rubber for a rear-drive V8 coupe and French hot hatch are rather different, but I was keen to try some new tyres so had the M3 delivered to CAR HQ and started the internet search.

KwikFit came out cheapest at under £1000, including the hassle-free and time-saving mobile fitting service – and the Contis were cheaper online than the Michelins – so one morning a man with a van arrived in the office car park and set about removing the ragged old tyres. On went four pristine new Continental tyres and now my M3 is back on the road and back to feeling its pointy, agile best.

By Ben Pulman


The Comp Pack saloon – 4 March 2011

Many months ago, when I originally asked BMW UK for an M3 long-termer, it was for a facelifted saloon – a facelifted M3 saloon sporting the new Competition Package. Alas, although such a car exists it’s not on sale in the UK; I had to settle for the M3 Coupe (tough, I know) but as you can see from these pictures it does look very sweet indeed.

Those with a keen set of eyes might have noticed the carbonfibre bits of body addenda that the Comp Pack saloon is also sporting, and that the same accessories are on the white coupe below. And as super-sighted CAR Online reader Hu11y has spied, my M3 has also been sporting a few carbon additions in recent reports. You’ll see them in all their full glory in the April 2011 issue of CAR, but the M3 sitting on BMW’s stand at the recent 2011 Geneva motor show will give you some idea of how my car now looks.

I haven’t got all the aftermarket BMW Performance accessories that M3 has, but I do have some it doesn’t. Unfortunately, what I definitely don’t have is the M Performance sports silencer, which has a 40% lighter chromium-nickel silencer and titanium tailpipes and will only make the amazing 4.0-litre V8 sound even better.

More soon, but first I’ve got a puncture to fix, and Tim Pollard has an alloy wheel to repair…

By Ben Pulman


Rising fuel prices – 21 February 2011

With rising prices the M3 doesn’t always get fed with super unleaded – I know, we should treat it better. However, it’s been busy this month (you’ll find out why in next month’s mag) so I treated it to a tank of the good stuff last night. And was absolutely stunned by the cost: £82.02 for just 55.46 litres! Had the 63-litre tank actually been completely empty, the bill would have been pretty close to £95. I feel the prospect of an economy run coming on.

Meantime, some of you may have watched a tall man talking about the M3 on TV last night. Ignore his detrimental comments about the Competition Pack. Yes, I’ll agree it makes little difference to the way the standard car handles – the CAR office reckons steering tweaks since the M3’s launch have made the biggest difference – but the 10mm suspension drop (from the M3 Edition) makes it look better. And as pretty much every owner opts for 19s, the CSL-alike alloys you get with the Comp Pack help it stand out from the crowd.

As for the electronic dampers, which you get as part of the Comp Pack and which the tall man referred to as a ‘Sport’ button, once again almost everyone opts for them. And the beauty of adjustable dampers is that those of us in the UK can set them to the Comfort mode for the majority of the time and be comfortable, but when you’re on a smooth track or on mainland Europe’s better roads they can be usefully stiffened up.

Bought separately the dampers and 19s are £1325 and £1290 respectively, or the Competition Package is £3385. If you’re lucky enough to have the cash for an M3, whichever one you’ll get you’ll be in for a treat – as CAR Online user hu11y is about to find out. I agree with the tall man’s comments about the RS5 though.

By Ben Pulman


Attempting to drift an M3: part 2 – 16 February 2011

Off to Oulton Park with designer Alex Tapley to continue my glorified arsing around at one of Motor Sport Vision’s Introduction to Drifting days. Got a rear-drive car? Then this day is ideal for you: taking part was everything from a Toyota MR2 to a Honda NSX, plus a plethora of E36, E46 and E92 BMW M3s.

We weren’t on the circuit proper, but the low-grip tracks that inspired Porsche’s own slippery surface at its Silverstone Experience Centre. There are two tracks: one is tight and twisty, while the other is faster and more open. Alex and I agreed to start on the slower circuit, and also decided not to try and get the M3 sideways through one particularly narrow gauntlet between two Armco barriers. Our decision was vindicated when an E46 Convertible crashed there early on in the day – it was the first accident at the venue in over a year, but credit to the driver who removed the damaged front bumper and kept on drifting until the sun went down.

Having witnessed the E46’s accident we both struggled at first, taking things cautiously as beyond the aforementioned barriers were tyre walls and grass banks waiting to punish any untidy exuberance. We swapped every three laps, but as you have to queue between goes it takes a bit of time to build any rhythm – I only finally got the hang of things and got my confidence up when I did a few repeated and uninterrupted runs for Alex’s camera during the lunch hour. Don’t know what to do? Then Oulton’s instructors will happily sit alongside to give pointers, and because it’s an all-day event there’s lots of time to practice what they preach.

Compared to Porsche’s compact little circuit at Silverstone there are loads of different corners at Oulton, requiring different speeds and angles of attack to get things right. And because the locals don’t like tyre squeal (why move to the area then?) the track has to be wetted throughout the day, which changes the grip levels so you’re constantly learning and re-learning each corner. As with all things drift-related it’s about confidence, and you can get your car sideways at the exit of each turn, or try harder, get out of shape before the corner and string the bends together while also drifting down the straights as well. Any bit of the track can be taken with the arse of your car hanging out, but only if you’ve got the balls – and skill.

It’s all safe and enjoyable, and the low grip levels mean you can be in second gear, completely crossed up and foot flat-to-the-floor, but barely above walking pace. We were there in a £60k M3, but others were in £600 MX-5s and having just as much fun. The Introduction to Drifting day is only £125, much less than any track day, and I’ll guarantee you’ll enjoy it more. 

For more information on MSV’s Introduction to Drifting sessions visit www.clubmsv.co.uk/drifting or call 0870 850 5014 

By Ben Pulman


Issues of tactility – 7 February 2011

Drve the M3 home last night and noticed a couple of things in the dark:

1) The paddle-shifts nestling behind the wheel show the way it should be done: shapely slivers of cool aluminium (I assume). Cool to the touch and lovely to hold. Makes Jaguar's cheap ribbed plastic paddles feel decidedly cheap in the XF, XJ et al.

2) But the 3-series cabin is otherwise beginning to feel its age. The tech feels years behind that in the 5-series and the layout and materials need a shot in the arm.

This should be addressed in next year's new 2012 Three. Yet the M3's dynamic prowess is unabashed: it's frankly difficult to see how this car could be improved, as a high-performance saloon that steers, handles and drives like the clappers.

Mind you, you feel a bit of a dinosaur, driving a high-capacity V8 when you're surrounded by 316/320d models. I guess the dawn of the electrical age means it's only a matter of time before we see a BMW M-EV...

By Tim Pollard 


 

Attempting to drift an M3: part 1 – 17 January 2011

Despite appearances, CAR’s staffers don’t live their lives on racetracks: the chances to drive on a circuit, even in this industry, are few and far between which means we have to sate ourselves in our own time. And while I’m in the very lucky position of having an M3, sliding it around on the road is a) anti social, but more importantly b) difficult when the limits are so high, and c) very intimidating when there’s a lot to hit in a £60k car that’s not yours. 

Both Chris Chilton and Jethro Bovingdon learnt a lot of their car control skills in previous lives as road testers on others mags that did live at tracks or test circuits, but for better or worse that’s not the way CAR works. So I signed up for the second instalment of the YouDrive@Porsche course. If you complete the initial session (as I did in Tim’s 5GT) then you get an invite back again, but rather than following a set format, for £95 you get to set your own agenda for the hour-long session. Mine? Attempting to string together a few corners sideways.

My Porsche driving consultant was Richard Bott, who also moonlights as the safety car driver at all of Oulton Park’s race events. We started with a few laps of Porsche’s B-road-aping track, complete with blind and off-camber corners, and soon Richard was encouraging me not to brake and then turn, but turn in on the brakes so the weight transfer forward would aid grip.

Once everything was warmed up we moved to the low-grip surface, and tried a few laps of the twisty little track. Result: a few half-spins when I prodded the throttle a too much, and a few waggles of the tail when I booted it but then backed off and caught the slide when the self-preservation instinct kicked in.

It’s all about having the confidence to get your car out of shape, then push its angle even further if you can, so we moved back to the skid pan which lets you play around without the fear of running off the track and into a grass bank. Despite all the theory, it’s the practise that’s so important and at least on the low-grip surface everything came together instinctively so we were soon completing 20 sideways laps.

Another trip onto the track was used to cool the tyres a little, and then we moved back to the slippery surface. Richard was keen to keep me away from the open expanse of the skid pan, and get me sliding the car out of corners where you have to be accurate to stay on track. We worked on getting each corner right first, and as you sort each one and slide out it soon becomes obvious where you need to link the set together – it’s keeping the car sideways until the time to flick it from one lock to the other that’s the difficult bit.

I started to get there, but more often than not it was two great corners with nothing sideways inbetween, or the perfect link between the two, only for the final exit to become a scrappy tank slapper. Much work must still be done, but the intense tuition at Porsche is a great place to start.

And the M3? It needed its adaptive dampers in the firmest setting to bring its weight under control, but despite being naturally aspirated with an 8000rpm-plus redline it’s surprisingly torquey low down and was happy to complete the course in second gear. And I never tired of it sitting between 6000rpm and 8000rpm for the majority of the hour, howling and bellowing as its exited each corner sideways. It’s the little things too: both Richard and I were also impressed by the fact that the ESP OFF button needs to be depressed for just a few seconds to sedate the electronics – there’s no three-stage protective blanket or need for a ten-second stab. Next up: more practice...

For more information on Porsche’s YouDrive experiences visit: http://www.porsche.com/silverstone

By Ben Pulman


Why sometimes a C-Max is better than an M3 – 7 January 2011

Despite the best efforts of BMW and a few contacts at tyre companies, I just haven’t been able to get hold of a set of winter tyres for the M3. Solution? CAR is currently lucky enough to have a Ford C-Max in the office (on loan while we await delivery of our long-term Grand C-Max) so with snow forecast over the Christmas holidays I put the pot of brave pills aside, didn’t man up, and elected to take the front-wheel drive Ford for the annual trek around the country to visit friends and family.

It was the sensible decision. Not because it snowed, but because the sheer amount of stuff me and the missus packed for just a few days away – the M3 wouldn’t have taken it all. Beyond the usual array of presents and our luggage, there was cold-weather gear for playing out and snowman-making (or snowcat, in the case of the girlfriend), a shovel, and because we deemed we could sleep on the Ford’s folded back seats if we got stuck, our duvet and pillows too. No doubt if we’d had the BMW I’d have been stricter on what we took, but if there’s space we always fill it – we loaded a Discovery to the gunnels last year. 

In the end it didn’t snow at all, and we could have taken the M3, but the C-Max impressed immensely – Ford continues to make family cars that steer sweetly and reward in a way that utilitarian vehicles are never expected to. It makes me wish BMW made an M3 Touring, but from what I hear they’ll only be Coupe and Convertible versions of the next-gen car. A shame, but then the Coupe’s the best version and mine’s brilliant. 

As for not going anywhere, if I’d started hunting out winter tyres in the summer I might have had a chance. And I reckon rear-drive and a switch of rubber when the weather gets cold is a better solution than one set of tyres and four-wheel drive. For a start there’s the frictional loses and fuel consumption impact, plus those four wheels are only as good as the tyres on them and can do nothing if you’re braking on snow, whereas winter tyres worked better if it’s below 7deg, snow or no snow.

By Ben Pulman


Look at that monstrosity – 30 November 2010

No, not the X6M in the background, but the M3 Coupe without a carbonfibre roof – this sunroof-sporting car was on display at the LA Auto Show. Still, guess I should be thankful it wasn’t the convertible. Thankfully BMW UK is eminently sensible and the sunroof isn’t even an option in our cold country on the M3 Coupe. Hurrah!

In other news, someone else pinched the M3 over the weekend so I’ve yet to experience it in the snow, but I’m off to Heathrow now, so time to see exactly how it copes…

By Ben Pulman


Coming back to my BMW – 25 November 2010

It’s CAR’s policy that for an airport run you take the runt of the long-term litter to leave in the car park. But editor McNamara keeps insisting I take my car…

And after a 10-hour flight back from America, and an exhausting week at the LA show, I can think of few better vehicles to climb into for the long drive back from Heathrow to Peterborough. For a start the M3 sticks out amongst the general detritus so it’s easy to spot, and within a minute of clambering inside the heated seat is having a welcoming effect on my chilly buttocks. Once the engine’s warm the it dispatches traffic with ease, taking long lunges to blast past dawdling commuters, with a wonderful V8 howl as your accompaniment. It’s refined too, the seats are comfortable, and the dual-clutch ‘box means your leg never need ache in stop/start traffic. Thankfully the M25 was flowing freely, and I got home in record time…

But there’s snow predicted this week, so could the M3 about to be undone?

By Ben Pulman


iDrive – 18 November 2010

Not everyone loves iDrive, but I’m a fan. Audi’s MMI system is intuitive, but I can never remember which of the eight buttons around the central controller is which without taking my eyes off the road. Plus they’re spaced too far, there are no programmable buttons, and the touch pad on the A8 has made all the lesser MMI systems seem outdated. Merc’s Comand controller is good, but conversely there are too few buttons, and there’s not enough weighting to the dial.

Of course it’s each to their own, but I find iDrive wonderfully simplistic – it was anything but in its first iteration – and the eight programmable buttons just below the sat-nav screen let you store anything you want, from radio stations to sat-nav destinations. It’s just simple and easy to use. I like.

By Ben Pulman


The spec –  8 November 2010

The M3 doesn’t have the most extensive options list, but it just seems rather nicely specced. For a start I love the (no-cost) Melbourne Red paint, which helps pick out the muscular lines rather better than the matt grey and black colours that BMW now offers – and the bright colour contrasts very well with the carbon roof (standard) and (£355) black gloss exterior trim around the glasshouse.

You may have noticed the 19in CSL-alike wheels too, which come as part of the £3315 Competition Package. Also included in the Comp Pack are electronic dampers, a 10mm suspension drop, and a specifically tailored ESP setting, but as everyone always specs 19-inch alloys (£1265, but not in the CSL style) and dampers (£1295) the extra outlay is worth it for the improved stance and more attractive wheel design.

Inside the M-DCT dual-clutch ‘box is another £2590, but everything else is pretty cheap. Leather and climate control and sat-nav are standard, as is cruise control, rear-parking sensors, electric seats, a tyre pressure monitor, and a 12Gb hard drive. To that we’ve added front parking sensors (£365 – we don’t want to scuff that nose), heaters for the front seats (a reasonable £295), and folding mirrors (£225, but they really should be standard).

There’s also the infamous carbonfibre-look leather trim, a snip at £335 as it really helps differentiate the cabin from lesser 3-series.  Finally we’ve got sun protection glass (£220), Bluetooth, (a pricey £535, and I’ve yet to ever make a phone call from a moving car), and the £90 extended storage package, which comprises a whole load of straps and nets. Total? £61,630, up from £52,275

The only thing I really miss is a DAB radio (£320) and if experience with our old 7-series long-termer is anything to go by, it can’t be retrofitted.

By Ben Pulman


Seatbelts and door pockets – 5 November 2010

My mother always told me to be polite, and it seems the M3 has learnt the same lessons. Climb in and it passes both you and your front passenger their seats belts. It always elicits a thank you from my other half, and impresses other passengers – granted, it’s nothing new or unique, but it’s the little details that make or break a relationship and so far the M3 is a keeper.

And the door pocket is great too! There’s no silly little aperture through which you can push mobile phones and the like, but then can’t fit your hand through afterwards to fish them out. Instead a big cubbyhole folds out of the M3’s door, and with three compartments it’s perfect for the fuel log book, my personal belongings, and an odd bit of red bodywork that was in the back seat when the car arrived – I can’t figure out where it’s from, whether it’s even from my car, but I feel compelled to keep it. And as it's lined nothing rattles about either.

By Ben Pulman


BMW M3 hello – 25 October 2010

I’ve never really gelled with the BMW M3. There, I’ve said it, what essentially amounts to sacrilege in the CAR office, because while everyone else seems to adore the M3, I’ve never really gotten on with it. I first drove the Coupe just a few weeks after joining CAR, but it was only on a boring motorway slog, and it was the same story with the M3 Saloon a year later – decent cruiser, nothing else discovered. And then when CAR put the Coupe up against the Evora and 911, I thought the BMW came across as big and heavy and cumbersome in comparison. And there you have it, the same line I used on the editor to persuade him to let me be keeper of the M3’s keys for the next six months: I'm the unbiased soul who needs convincing...
 
But really, why are we running an M3 when it’s been around for three years – in fact on the day I joined CAR, Chilton et al were in Spain testing the new M3 Coupe against a 911 GT3, R8, RS4 and Golf GTI. Three reasons really...

Reason number one – the new Competition Package, which is essentially a sop to those who wanted a CSL but can’t afford the new £120k GTS. £3315 nets you 19-inch alloys (that are particularly reminiscent of those sported by the E46 CSL), a 10mm suspension drop (nicked from last year’s M3 Edition), electronic dampers and a tweaked DSC system. And as BMW claims most M3 buyers actually opt for the dampers and bigger wheels anyway (18s are standard), the Competition Package is supposed to represent good value. It’s debatable whether the CP actually makes much difference, but it’s excuse number one for running an M3 anyway.
 
Two, and at the same time that the more focussed Comp Pack was revealed, BMW conversely announced that all M3s would now be fitted with its stop/start system to shut the thirsty V8 down in traffic. The M3 already had the misleading named Brake Energy Regeneration – it’s just a trick alternator that only charges the battery under braking or on the overrun, rather than any real hybrid-style recuperation – but the stop/start system does improve the fuel consumption and CO2 figures. A seven-speed DCT Coupe is now claimed to manage 25.2mpg and emit 263g/km (from 23.7 and 285). BMW’s stop/start tech is one of the best out there, but a boffin at Lotus once told me that sports car drivers tend to turn off any stop/start system, so will it work or will we just turn it off?
 
And the third and final reason for running an M3 is that you really don’t need an excuse to run an M3. When there’s the chance to live with a 414bhp 4.0-litre V8 I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t shout YES! More importantly, with the new hot 1-series packing a forced-induction straight-six, and the next M5/M6 set to get a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, the M3 is now powered by M Division’s sole naturally aspirated engine. The way things are going, it may be the last high-revving engine we ever see them make. That’s excuse enough for having an M3 on the fleet, but then there’s also the looks (from the shotgun exhausts, to the bonnet bulge) that carbon roof, and much, much more.
 
By Ben Pulman

 

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