Owner Review

2009 BMW M3 review

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M3 drivers have no friends." – Jeremy Clarkson

"[The] M3 is one of the most perfectly balanced machines ever created by man." – also Jeremy Clarkson

It was the same old story, told many times before...

Young man buys Porsche.

Young man finds girlfriend.

Young man marries girlfriend.

Young man sells Porsche.

But there is an addendum – a postscript, if you will. It reads like this: "Young man becomes an old man, still married, but divested of children. Old man buys BMW E92 M3."

The E9x M3 spans three models: the E90 (4 door); the E92 (coupe); and E93 (convertible). At launch people seemed to be divided. Gone was the old inline six with one of the most glorious engines and, in its place, a 4.0-litre V8. A glorious racing V8 that revved to 8400rpm. How could one not like that?

The old car handled exceptionally well and, despite the new car being heavier, it handled with remarkable equanimity. For the coupe, there was a carbon-fibre roof to save some thirty-odd kilos and, of course, all models came with a power dome (or pimple – depending on who one spoke to) plus the now iconic quad pipes. Even for the critics, the new dual clutch transmission (DCT) was lightyears better than the sequential manual gearbox (SMG) that preceded it.

So much for the brief history. Fast forward to 2017.

Cars have moved at an insane rate over the last half-decade. The E9x M3's straight line 0-100km/h in 4.6 (coupe DCT form), which was blistering fast in 2007, is still rapid but well off the pace of the new breed of twin turbo monster hatches and coupes that can be bought today.

Today, if your car is unable to do a 0-100km/h run in sub-4.0 seconds, it's just not quick in the eyes of those who quibble of those fraction of a second. With the increase in power comes the need for AWD systems that can plant that power down without spinning the rear, or front, tyres.

In this adrenaline fuelled, tyre smoke filled, smorgasbord of supercar performance with pauper pricing, the E92 stands as a relic. A pitiful 309kW, naturally aspirated, with peak torque of 400Nm at about 4000rpm – yet flat until about 8000rpm – it has no instant gratification. No instant zip. Instead, a driver had to work the rev band to extract the maximum performance.

But to some, that is the point of the M3. Driving it at howling revs around a track sideways whilst laughing manically when you accelerate out of the corner. If it is a relic, it's one belonging to the times when you had to wring the car to extract every last drop of performance.

The interior is comfortable, albeit slightly dated, and the double hump – one for the instruments and one for the LCD screen – seems, for me, to be better than the stuck-on iPad like devices we see in some cars today.

The seats not only are electric and heated, but have adjustable bolsters so you can make sure you're being gripped well as you corner. Climate control works well and the parking sensors (there's no camera) operates well enough. My model has voice commands, although the conversion is more like talking to a hard of hearing person:

Me: "Telephone"
Car: "Telephone"
Me: "Phone directory"
Car: "Phone directory. Say a name or..."
Me: "John Smith"
Car: "Joanna Simula selected"
Me: "No no no! Not Joanna. John. John Smith"
Car: "Noah Nutella selected. Dialling number..."

Voice recognition is much better in the newer models, such as our 2016 BMW X3.

The expense of the car is not, though, in its creature comforts but more in the many guises of how it drives. My car has electronic damper control (EDC) which gives you comfort (aka hard), normal (aka bloody hard) and sport (aka fuse your vertebrae); dynamic stability control (DSC) off or, via iDrive, in a halfway mode called multi-dynamic mode (MDM), which allows some tyre spin, and finally 10 drive modes, plus launch control.

The driving modes are S1...S5, which is where you change the gears using the flappy paddles or the gear stick, or D1...D5 where it changes the gears for you. The higher the number, the sharper the gear change. Launch control is the 11th drive mode and one I have yet to engage... soon, though, soon.

Rewind. It's 1989 and my Porsche is in at the mechanic for the second time that month. I was learning a very important lesson. It's one thing to buy a sports car; it's another thing to maintain it. In this instance, the fuel pump had trashed itself. I was purchasing its replacement and noticed the size of the bill was, to put it mildly, quite more than my expectations. My mechanic was arguing I should be using Porsche parts and not aftermarket ones. I was wondering how I was going to juggle the monthly bills after paying for this.

So what are the kryptonite points of the E92 M3? Well, if you believe the hype, rod bearings affect about one per cent (internet estimate) of cars. If you spin one of these little beauties you can prepare to fork out $25,000 or more for a reconditioned engine from BMW, or perhaps a little less if you can find one online.

A cottage industry from VAC and BE Bearings has emerged around the rod bearings, which is normally a sign the manufacturer erred in the, um, manufacture. The cost of replacing rod bearings, as I've done as a preventative measure, is about $3000. It hurts, but it's less than the cost of a new engine.

Even changing the rod bearings doesn't make the engine immune from liberal self-destruction. Although much, much rarer, there have been instances of main bearings giving up the ghost and (as far as I know) two instances of fuel injectors being open and flooding the engine, causing a hydrolock.

Of course, other running costs are also high, such as fuel (98RON), oil (10W60), brake pads and rotors. This is not your ordinary Toyota. This is an M car.

Expense aside, what's the whole ownership proposition? The car is a blast to drive, there's no two ways about it. It looks a bit like a sleeper, and has enough oomph combined with track-focused handling to bring out a smile. Finally, and this is the important question for me: did I recapture the feeling I had back in the 1980s with my front-engined Porsche?

The answer. Almost. As close as I could ever get, I suppose.

The truth is that that first car, one buys for the car itself, as opposed to simply the act of driving. And it is often remembered more fondly than what follows; akin to your first passionate kiss, or first time riding a bicycle, or whichever first you, dear reader, has etched in your mind.

For me, it was that Porsche and, although the M3 captured much of the feeling, it was like chasing a will-o-wisp. You could get to where it was, but you could never grasp it. You can never rewind the video of life.

Best Friend: "You bought a Porsche?"
Me: "Yup. Yesterday. Not a 911, though. Maybe next year" (laughs).
Best Friend: "Can we go for a spin?"
Me: "Sure!"