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Adventures in BMW's feisty pitbull M3

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Oliver Hirtenfelder

Our long-term M3 with Competition Package clocked exactly 250km/h at the Kalahari Desert Speedweek last year.

Anybody with an energetic dog as a pet will know exactly what it’s like to own a BMW M3 in Johannesburg.

You have to get it out into open expanses for frequent runs or else all the pent-up tension will explode into a blurry, high-speed, living-room-lapping ball of fur.

This is a performance car and, just like your average whippet or greyhound, it doesn’t like being kept indoors or on a leash. Traffic jams are like cages for the beast, and a string of red robots could cause mechanical apoplexy for a car that’s set up to charge with butterflies wide open down Döttinger Höhe and test tyre adhesion at the Caracciola Karussell. Those are famous parts of the Nürburgring racetrack in Germany in case you didn’t know. Most M3 drivers will.

Not that I don’t enjoy terrorising minibus taxis and hot hatches with sporadic first and, sometimes, second gear bursts at every given opportunity – lord knows there are plenty in a city that hasn’t yet learned the advantages of traffic-light synchronisation.

The addition of an R82 000 optional Akropovic exhaust system that pumps power up to 323kW and 435Nm, all whilst shouting like Beelzebub at a cock fight, only heightens the goosebump experience.

SPEEDWEEK

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Image: Oliver Hirtenfelder

It’s just that to really appreciate all the good stuff engineered into an M3 you have to stretch its legs once in a while, and thankfully over the course of our long-term test period we’ve managed to work some interesting trips into our schedules. Since Motoring took this long-term test car out of its wrapper last September we’ve taken it on a some serious highway expeditions from Jozi to Durbs and back, as well as a 2000km round trip journey to Speedweek at Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape where we officially pegged the M3’s governed top speed of 250km/h over a 5km stretch of flat clay.

Fast German cars like this are designed to gobble up straight roads at high speed. Suspensions are tuned with loads of caster for missile-accurate stability, and in this particular Beemer seventh gear at 120km/h (or thereabouts) is ratioed to bring revs down to a calm and efficient tick-over (3000rpm is tick-over with a V8 that redlines at 8000). Basically, long trips in this car have been a pleasure, and for a high-strung four-litre V8 fuel consumption’s been respectable, lingering around the 13 litres per 100km mark.

But as mentioned earlier, M3s aren’t only about straight-line speed. They’re meant to be handy at racetracks too, especially when fitted with a R39 500 Competition Package consisting of a tweaked Dynamic Stability Control system and a special sports mode for the shocks within the Electronic Damper Control (EDC) settings, as our car is. And just to prove it means business there are exclusive Y-spoke, 19-inch M light-alloy wheels, and 10mm lower springs.

HITTING THE TRACK

Of course we don’t have a Nürburgring with any hard-to-pronounce corners at our disposal, but we do have Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria that offers public weekend track days. So I laid my 400 bucks down and took our M3 for a proper leash-less run.

Understand that this car revels in full-on track-attack mode. Many a high-performance road car will give up the ghost after repeated torture sessions – with spongy brakes, overheated gearboxes and easily provoked failsafe modes being common track-day ailments. But not here. Lap after lap the M3 soaks up abuse, with an enduring energy like a hyped-up pit bull terrier chasing its own tail.

Turn-in happens immediately. So quick in fact that you need to be prepared for instant oversteer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because drifts are easily controllable via the throttle.

The M-DCT gearbox slams through gears with nice kicks that you can feel in your bum. Sometimes with a helmet on, it’s hard to hear gearchanges in these modern automatics, so it’s nice when you can actually feel them happening. And the brakes are awesome. Zwartkops’ back straight’s 50-metre board before turn four is deep braking territory, normally for proper race cars (or very slow ones) but the M3 can start its slowdown here, no problem.

The only real issue with using your road-registered M3 as race car every weekend, besides possible Motorplan implications, is tyres, and not only because you’ll leave a portion of them ingrained into the track’s surface on each outing. Factory fitted and DOT-approved road tyres just aren’t designed for this degree of punishment, and after just a lap or two they’re prone to overheating.

Not a huge problem really, it’s just that they then give a greasy feedback and lap times will get slower as sessions go on. Invest in a spare set of alloys and fit them with semi-slick race rubber if track days are your thing.

In the end I’d finished up with a best lap of 1min 13 seconds, which is very respectable for a road car that can drive home at the end of the day.

And besides its tortured tyres, our pet Beemer’s happy we’ve relieved it of some canned aggression.

For now anyway. -Star Motoring


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