At some point this year, most likely in the autumn according to the rumour mill, we will officially bid farewell to the old M3, when BMW takes the wraps off its latest hot 3-Series.
This is an exciting moment for any petrol-head: there has always been something uniquely appealing and exciting about the M3, possibly because it’s so far removed from what the 3-Series represents. The small BMW saloon is the default car choice for someone who wants a good badge and a decent car, the hottest version is (or always has been) a genuine enthusiast’s vehicle and a bit of a hooligan. We like that.
But the forthcoming version represents something unique, the definitive end of an era for BMW M-cars: the last line of the final chapter in the book of ‘natural aspiration’. The death knell for M-badged cars never having forced induction rang with the X5M, a hot version of the X5 SUV that was powered by the motor that would eventually make its way in to the latest version of the M5, whose predecessor was powered by a monstrous (non-turbo) 5-litre V10. Between the X5M and M5 we saw the universally acclaimed 1-Series M, with a twin-turbo six cylinder mill, a configuration that will almost certainly be shared with the new M3, making the new car the final piece in the turbocharged ‘M’ jigsaw.
‘So what?’ I hear you ask. Well, there’s something uniquely appealing about a naturally aspirated engine and the V8 in the outgoing M3 was deliciously bonkers and one of the best ever. The noise and the power delivery, the technology, the purism: all these things appeal. But should we mourn its passing? I don’t think so. Yes, the new generation will never be able to match the sparkle of the old and the noise of every M3 and M5 will forever be counted amongst the finest to escape an exhaust; but what of practicality or, more pressingly, usability? Ultimately, this specific category of car (the super saloon) is designed to be a ‘do anything’ vehicle and, in the pursuit of ever increasing power outputs with a determination to steer clear of forced induction, you could argue that remit was lost. Both the old M5 and M3 required real commitment to get the best from them, which probably isn’t something the owners want.
Moving to turbocharging will offer far greater flexibility and more power and torque for less fuel consumption, cleaner emissions and a smaller VED bill. These are all good things – if you want a pure sports car, buy a pure sports car. Personally I can’t wait, and when I see ‘turbo’ on the spec sheet, I won’t be thinking of a diesel Golf, I’ll be remembering Sierra Cosworths and Ferrari F40s.