BMW, with that model 2002 and the subsequent corporate mushrooming into a full line of Q-ships and not-so-Q-ships, is now one third of the German troika (Audi and Mercedes-Benz being the other two) that flaunts its prestige in huge advertisements and lavish showrooms. It’s the car of lawyers, doctors, captains of industry, Hollywood moguls; it’s also the car that, in some quarters, is looked on as the ride of the rich and arrogant. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Now that its reputation (for better or worse) is cemented in the American consumer consciousness, it’s also worth noting that BMW has its own in-house hot-rod division that makes the M-series cars. And today’s Exhibit A of M-prowess is the 2013 M3. First, and most obvious note from this longtime BMW observer: a Q-ship, this is not.
Frozen metallic paint job
The M3 is the go-fast, hard-riding version of the softer (if that word applies to BMW) 3-series car. The car we tested screamed “Look At Me,” with its black 19-inch wheels with wide tires, its “frozen white metallic” paint (part of the $15,400 “frozen white edition” package), the four exhaust tips erupting from the rear, and its low stance over the suspension. A crouching Munich tiger. The M3 has a heavily breathed-upon 4-liter V8 engine, pumping out 414 horsepower through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (but hardly docile) transmission. This is a no-nonsense race car/rally car that has been civilized enough for the street, but will do competition duty at the drop of an Audi RS4 or a Benz AMG. If the M3 had been born back in the American West of the 1870s, it would be Jack Palance in “Shane,” Clint Eastwood in “Pale Rider.” It’s looking for trouble. It’s that kind of car.
On the road, this car is simply a cut above most of the other fish in the sea. Essentially, it’s a four-place coupe that will give a Corvette (at least, a prior-to-the-C7 Corvette) a fierce fight, especially in the twisties. The suspension is taut – if I called it hard-riding, it’s because it’s so much tighter than the rest of the fleet out there, including the stock BMW 3-series. The M3’s V8 will get the car from zero to 60 mph in less than five seconds. Top speed is electronically governed to a mere 155 miles an hour. Taking this car out for just a 15-minute ride to the hardware store transforms you: each corner becomes a challenge that you think you should take at full tilt. Don’t try it – you’ll lose it, and crash into that silver Corvette parked at the curb. (How embarrassing.) But take it up in the hills and use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to saw through the seven gears. You will quickly find that the M3 will outperform whatever skills you thought you had. At least, that was my experience.
Nearly $82,000 out the door
Yes, you could call it a race car for the boulevard, and it also comes with the usual boulevard comforts. Our version (sorry, our Frozen Limited Edition) had all the mod cons – carbon fiber roof (it reduces weight and it lowers the car’s center of gravity); 825-watt stereo, with 16 speakers scattered around the interior; electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. All of this comes at a price. The base car starts at $61,000 and with all the options and destination cost ($925) and gas guzzler tax ($1,300; the car gets 14/20 mpg, city/highway), the bottom line is $81,725. That’s a hefty tag for a coupe, considering that those back seats will be a bit cramped for those other two passengers, and you could easily buy a spacious four-door sedan for less money. But that’s not the point. The point – if there is any point in buying an $81,000 car that will exceed most speed limits in the United States, by a factor of two – is that it’s the kind of car that’s not so much necessary as it is desirable. It’s a fixture in our aspirational economy.
Today’s caveat, however, is that they’re running out of them. This is the last go-around for this particular M3 and, as a BMW rep told me, it’s now in “pipeline” supply to dealers, which means that when they run out of the few cars left in the supply chain that will be it.