2009 BMW M3 Sedan Review

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2009 BMW M3 Sedan First Steer

The bellowing V8 engine is nudging 8400rpm as I click the paddle shift to engage sixth gear and the relentless acceleration continued as the speedo needle nudges 250km/h.

- David Twomey

Then it’s a hard stab on the brakes, drop back two gears to fourth and turn into the flowing Turn One at Phillip Island Race Track – no I haven’t taken up V8 Supercar racing but the beast under my seat sounds and almost feels like it could give some of the local racers a good run for their money.

Fact is I’m making the most of BMW’s invitation to try the new M3 Sedan, the first such version of one of the ultimate cars from the Bavarian carmaker, to come to our shores.

The day had begun early with a briefing from BMW executives on the M3 and the differences embodied in the new Sedan version of this iconic BMW sports sedan, then a briefing from the legendary Geoff Brabham, son of the even more legendary Sir Jack, on just how Phillip Island race track could bite you in a car that covers the ground as fast as the M3.

So here I am thundering down Gardner Straight with the bellow of a true high-performance V8 engine providing background music and one of four M3 sedans, three with the dual-clutch seven-speed M transmission and one sporting a six-speed manual, under my backside.

I know, it’s dirty work but somebody has to do it – and hey, Christmas is just around the corner so I’m looking at it as an early gift from Santa!

I have to confess to being a devotee of the six-cylinder M3 with the old SMG gearbox, call me perverse, but I just liked the way the whole thing worked and it was always so balanced.

The first, and last time I drove the Coupe version of this new V8-engined M3 I didn’t really warm to it (it was also at Phillip Island race track) but this time I’m really liking the experience.

Maybe it’s the fact that the morning is open go – jump into a car and just lap, like I said – dirty work!

Powered by a unique V8, 4.0-litre, 309kW engine, producing 400Nm of torque and revving to a stratospheric 8400rpm red line, the BMW M3 Sedan certainly adds the most practical of bodyshells, complete with five seats and substantial luggage capacity, so even more passengers can enjoy this magnificent, race-bred engine on full song.

BMW has never offered the M3 sedan in Australia before. There was no Sedan in the previous E46 generation model range, and in the E36 generation, only Coupé and Convertible versions of the M3 came to Australia.

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The arrival of the M3 Sedan, just weeks after the first M3 Convertibles, means BMW high-performance enthusiasts will, for the first time, have access to the full range of M3 models.

The new BMW M3 Sedan is priced from $145,000 plus dealer delivery and statutory charges, for the manual six-speed model.

BMW says the M3 Sedan does the 0-to-100km/h sprint in just 4.9 seconds and uses just 12.4-litres of petrol per 100 km on the combined cycle in manual transmission guise.

Equipped with the seven-speed M double-clutch transmission with Drivelogic, the M3 Sedan rushes from 0-100 km/h in an even quicker 4.7 seconds and it also manages to use less fuel than the manual transmission car, at 11.9l/100km.

The BMW M3 Sedan rides on special M 18-inch light alloy wheels shod with 245/40 front and 265/40 ZR 18 tyres, although the cars we drove were fitted with optional 19-inch light alloy wheels, running 245/35 front and 265/35 ZR 19 tyres.

For the race track use the cars were also fitted with special M racing compound brake pads, virtually fade free despite dozens of race track laps, but very noisy and something you wouldn’t want to consider for everyday use.

Phillip Island is a very familiar track to me but it’s also a track that can bite hard if you get it wrong and so it pays to take your time on the first few laps to get your eye back in to braking points and apexes.

The six-speed manual M3 proved to be an excellent introductory machine, letting me ‘sight’ the track choose my gears and generally find out how the car felt.

Performance is obviously strong, the V8 pulls hard from low down and revving to 8400rpm means it has a great spread of power through, almost to the redline.

The orange to red shift lights that illuminate the rim of the tacho are a nice touch, but in truth on a race track, don’t really work as your hands are almost always in the way and for serious use a set of lights at the top of the instrument shroud would work a lot better because you are sure to want to ring the aural experience out to the last few engine revolutions!

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The brakes on this thing are awesome, as I said at the end of the front straight I was indicating about 250km/h and it was one hard stab on the brake pedal, down two gears and get back on the loud pedal to clip the apex through turn one.

Even more hard braking for the challenging Southern Loop meant the big BMW was working hard but again the car was up to the challenge, feeling balanced and controlled on the throttle as I accelerated out of the corner and up through the gears for the run to the second gear Honda Hairpin.

And so it goes, this really is a five-seat executive express that you can change the brake pads and tyres on and take to the racetrack.

On the road it would be truly awesome, although on our speed limit strangled roads it’s only at the racetrack that you are going to really experience the M3’s true capabilities.

The chassis plays a superb supporting role, grippy, poised and transparent in its responses. Fitted with the optional EDC dampers, you can tailor the M3’s ride and body control depending on the road and how you want to drive.

The middle setting is perfect for taking on a tricky road but it will retain its body control in the soft setting should you want to pamper your passengers. In the hardest setting it really does feel track-stiff, though.

Tweaking the M3 to your needs can take some time. The iDrive not only allows you to determine your preferred default settings for the dampers, steering weighting and engine response but also enables you to choose entirely different settings that are activated when the ‘M’ button on the steering wheel is pressed.

Switching to the paddle-shift gearbox is quite something, not only do you have seven gears to play with but with the ‘M’ button depressed you enter the realm of race car quick gearshifts and throttle response.

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I did try a few corners with the stability control off completely but it was just so much sideways that common-sense dictated we return to some form of electronic control, after all at CarAdvice we don’t subscribe to the ‘demolition-derby’ form of car testing used by some other media organisations.

The car feels very quick and despite being 25 kilograms heavier than the Coupe, it doesn’t get the carbon-fibre roof plus the extra structure of a four-door body, it still accelerates with lightening speed.

Essentially the body of the M3 Sedan is the front and rear of the Coupe blended with a four-door bodyshell.

I’ve driven the Mercedes-Benz C63 in some anger around the famous Mount Panorama circuit and more recently the Lexus IS-F on the road and while each do some things better than the M3 Sedan I’d have to say that I’m leaning towards it being the best of the three – we really need to have a full comparison between these cars before finally making that decision.

The ability of the M3 Coupé to tailor the driving experience exactly to the driver’s needs, or the demands of the road or track, is also available in the M3 Sedan. Some of these features are only available on BMW M3 models and not available elsewhere in the market, such as Electronic Damper Control and MDrive.

The BMW M3 Sedan is not only a high-performance sports machine, but comes exceptionally well equipped with luxury features such as Professional Navigation with an 8.8-inch full colour monitor, TV, Voice Recognition, preparation for Bluetooth mobile connection, LOGIC7 HIFI system, Novillo Leather upholstery, powered and heated M Sport seats with memory functions, and backrest width adjustment and lumbar support.

A unique feature of the M3 range, and available for the first time on a BMW Sedan in Australia, is Brake Energy Regeneration, similar to that which will be applied to Formula 1 race cars in the 2009 season.

Brake Energy Regeneration collects energy on overrun or under braking to recharge the vehicle’s battery, allowing the absolute maximum engine power be delivered to acceleration rather than being diverted to power electrical systems.

“The arrival of the BMW M3 Sedan in Australia is a win for drivers who have longed for the practicality of a four-door/five seat sedan that delivers the punch and excitement of the M3 Coupé,” said Tom Noble, General Manager, Marketing, BMW Group Australia.

I’d have to say the M3 is one of the most balanced, well-engineered performance sedans on the Australian market, it will be interesting to see how it fares in a competitive market against its major rivals.

BMW M3 Range

BMW M3 Sedan: $145,000
BMW M3 Coupé $162,901
BMW M3 Convertible: $176,142