BMW 530d Road Test: The Driver's Seat
- Apr 26, 2018
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The BMW M3 has always been a special car right from the time the E30 M3 broke cover in the late eighties. It was first and foremost a racing car built to road-use. Group A racing car rules in Germany allowed adaption of road-cars with a minimum annual production of 5,000 units for participation only. And thus was born a legend that set the bar high for future generations to come. A compact family sedan in the 3-series under M-division’s scalpels formed a coupe and convertible that was a power-packed performer with racing pedigree. Focus on small capacity high output engines, aerodynamics, light-weighting and braking systems like ABS at the time drove the M3 straight into the hearts of enthusiasts and bedroom posters of children growing up.
The new M3 is in its fifth generation now and has to live up the expectations that go with this moniker. From this car though, the M3 will only be available in sedan form while the M4 takes on the coupe and convertible baton. The car you see in these pictures in the sedan - hence the M3. Now it’s not the young aristocrat’s car but only one for the family man who has a hooligan for an alter ego.
And going by its factfile, I was quite excited as this car is lighter and faster (the best combination) than its predecessor on paper. The M3 packs a rowdy little 3-litre in-line six petrol engine under its hood. Yes M-division nutters have gone back to the in-line format from the second and third generation as it is smaller and lighter compared to the V8 mill the 4th generation M3 had. To compensate for the reduced displacement, two mono-scroll turbochargers take charge of thrust in a very un-turbo like manner (more on that later). This bumps up power to 437PS and torque to 550Nm. The engine development team also considered a V6 in the initial planning stages but finally preferred the in-line format. To throw another fact at you, the M3 with its 3.0-litre mill is faster than a 4.4-litre V8 M5 to a ton from standstill – the M3 does it in 4.1 seconds while its 500kg heavier brother takes 4.3 seconds.
Purists have been skeptical about the turbocharged engine as a naturally aspirated unit provides more linear power delivery. Here credit must be given to the development team who have ensured the power delivery is as linear as possible. There is hardly any noticeable surge from the turbo and you get maximum torque all the way up to 5,500rpm where power takes over and gives it a strong top end till the 7,300rpm redline. The surge isn’t felt as the turbos stay on half their delivery rate even when you aren’t stepping on the gas. That immediate response as you stick your right foot down again will give you only the faintest clue of the turbocharger’s existence.
All the 437PS sent to the rear wheels though can make the M3 a handful with the ESP turned off. The tail wags like a happy dog so you need to have nerves of steel and very skilled reflexes to drive with that switch off. It’s quite a leash around the M3’s neck when it comes to spirited driving. Once you set into a smooth rhythm tackling a set of corners, the ESP gets into frantic overdrive as it helps you lay down maximum power to the tarmac. Mechanical grip is fantastic from the optional 19 inch wheels and available suspension settings. When the M3 comes to India (within the next six months), the standard 18 inch wheels with higher profile tyres it comes with should be the back-saving option to choose.
You can switch between comfort, sport and sport + modes in its suspension settings. Comfort is ideal for Indian road conditions at most times, Sport makes it firmer and Sport + is best suited for track days. Set the suspension and steering in Sport (the electromechanical steering has the same three modes as well making it progressively heavier), and the car transforms from a relaxed cruiser to an agile M car. It sits firmly without any body-roll as you fling it into swooping corners and catapults out of them with impressive control. You don’t get intimidated by how quick the car is and often tend to forget that it’s a family sedan you might take to drop your very lucky kids to school the next day.
Brakes are progressive and bite hard when the need arises courtesy massive optional carbon ceramic perforated discs all round. The M3 gets two choices of gearboxes internationally, a six-speed manual and a 7-speed DCT. The former is majorly a demand in the USA while most of the world including India will get the DCT. Choosing a slower manual ’box reminds the Americans of their masculinity according to those who do not wish to be named. I am perfectly fine with the dual clutch unit – it saves me the trouble, is quicker by 0.2 of a second to the ton, the shifts are seamless and predict even before you know of the gear you want to be in and lastly helps me play around with the paddle shifters.
I’ve completely ignored all those swoops, flared wheel arches and stunning lines I admit. The M3 is just that much fun to drive that you tend to forget that it’s also quite a head-turner, especially in this blue shade. The gaping front bumper with fangs on its sides gobbles up air and channelizes them to cool the brakes and spit them off the sides. Underneath, drag is kept to a minimum as well yet some of the essential parts like the transmission and carbon-fibre driveshaft are exposed to air to cool them. The M3 sedan now gets a Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) roof and tailgate, aluminium bonnet and side panels and also parts like the front end strut brace are made of CFRP in an endeavour to keep weights in check. The exposed CFRP bits finished in high-gloss also add a touch of contrast to the design besides reducing weight and improving stiffness as structural members. On the inside, the leather steering is something you can’t get your hand off from. You get light grey sports seats and a dash on carbon fibre on the dash and centre console and anthracite lined roof.
The design and the luxury though are quite frankly at the fringes of the M3 buying decision. It’s the joy of driving one that leaves a lasting impression. I’ve hadn’t had the chance to put 98 Octane petrol to such good use since a long time.