I pretty much don’t care how a sports-car’s powered - by normal aspiration, turbo, supercharger, or even hybrid (yes, really) - as long as it makes the right power and a proper noise.
Up here in Gauteng’s thin air force-fed engines usually rule the high-performance roost, and most fire-breathing cars these days are going the turbo or supercharged route. It’s called progress and I’m all for it, but it will be with a lump in the throat that I’ll bid adieu to the normally-aspirated V8 that powers the current BMW M3.
With its outputs of 309kW and 400Nm - and ability to rev to a roaring 8400rpm - the M3’s charismatic four-litre is one of the finest prime movers ever to grace the space beneath a bonnet. To prove it, it has won its class in the International Engine of the Year award six times in a row.
Production of the current E92 M3 recently ended and next year, when the fifth generation goes on sale (the two-door will be called the M4 and the four-door will be known as the M3), there will be a turbocharged inline six-cylinder three-litre under the bonnet with predicted outputs of about 335kW and 550Nm.
It marks the end of an era as it will be the first turbo in the M3’s 28-year history. High-revving, normally-aspirated engines have been part of the M3’s DNA since day one – as has a good power-to-weight ratio – and the 2.3-litre four-cylinder in the original E30 M3 launched in 1985 made its max output at 6 750rpm in a car weighing just 1 200kg.
No doubt the new turbocharged M3/M4 will out-accelerate the outgoing one, but my biggest wish is that it retains some of the vocal charisma. An engine can have a gazillion kilowatts of power but if it lacks a soulful soundtrack it waters down the driving experience - and turbo engines, which rev lower, aren’t generally known for their rousing acoustics.
We’ve spent a lot of time with this charmer of a V8 in the E92 M3 coupé that’s been our long-term test car for a year and one of its highlights is its acoustic charm, especially since we fitted it with a BMW-approved Akrapovic exhaust system which liberates a spine-chilling growl that could scare a hadeda off a lamp post at 500 metres.
Hearing that V8 howl at 8400rpm is like being in the front row at a Metallica concert, and always causes a pleasant buzz in your nether regions.
The E92 M3’s been a successful car for BMW, with more than 40 000 units of the coupé sold in addition to about 10 000 sedans and 16 000 convertibles. All three versions were built on a special lightweight platform that kept the weight the same as the previous model, while carry-over features such as the M diff lock were joined by electronic damping control, a double-clutch transmission that was smoother and quicker than the previous SMG, and Dynamic Traction Control that allows some tail-sliding fun before the electronics save your butt.
The E92 was also the basis for a special limited-edition model called the M3 GTS, with its engine bored out to 4.4 litres for an increased output to 331kW. It was a track-day special (albeit street-legal) with uprated suspension and aero kit, as well as a roll cage and a giant boot spoiler that could make a Subaru STI blush.
The GTS never made it to SA, which instead offered home-grown M3 Frozen Black and Frozen Grey Editions tweaked to 330kW.
I was lucky enough to drive the GTS - along with all four generations of the M3 - at Spain’s Ascari circuit when BMW staged a “25 years of M3” media event there in 2010.
TECHNOLOGY IMPROVES THE BREED
Driving all these M3s back-to-back underlined how technology improves the breed and, as much as the first three generations were giant performers in their day, the latest E92 was still the undisputed pick of the bunch. Not only could it set the quickest lap-times but it still prickled the senses with its raw and hooliganistic nature.
Hopefully the next car in this iconic family line will continue the passion. I suspect that the new turbocharged M3/M4 won’t be quite the hedonistic high-revving beast that is the E92, but I hope BMW finds a way to give it a rebel roar.
We’ll find out when we get behind the wheel sometime next year.- Star Motoring
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