2008 BMW M3 coupe
2008 BMW M3 coupe; photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

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2008 BMW M3

Toronto, Ontario – For those who hold a deep affection for the gasoline-fired internal combustion V8 engine (and that could be a dangerous confession these days), I would strongly suggest cobbling together about 70 large and scurrying down to your local BMW store poste haste. Nestled beneath the bulging aluminum bonnet of the 2008 M3 is a 4.0-litre 414-hp version of said engine that is certainly one of the finest ever screwed together by homo erectus modernus.

Yes. I know what you’re thinking: a V8 in an M3? Wasn’t that 333-hp 3.2-litre straight-six in the previous car about as good as it gets? Won’t the extra weight turn this newest M3 into a handful of understeer? What about fuel consumption?

2008 BMW M3 coupe
2008 BMW M3 coupe. Click image to enlarge

Fear not, those who worship at the altar of M. First off, this all-alloy wonder is actually 15 kg lighter and 10% more fuel efficient than the one it replaces. Secondly, once you’ve ripped up through the gears a few times, the last thing rattling around the cranium will be nostalgic musings for the old six. Your senses will bask in the feral howl and thrill to the furious thrust as this marvelous V8 charges to its lofty 8300 r.p.m. redline. Peak torque of 295 lb.-ft. arrives at 3500 rpm, although 251 lb-ft is available from just 2,000 rpm.

Damned addictive, this car is.

Like the previous M3 (and the current V10 in the M5/M6), this V8 has a throttle butterfly for each cylinder, actuated by one electronic servo per bank that’ll pop those puppies open in 120 milliseconds – as fast as your foot can mat the happy pedal, says BMW. The block is manufactured in the same plant as the BMW F1 engines, using the same process and materials. It incorporates the latest double-VANOS variable valve timing.

2008 BMW M3 coupe
2008 BMW M3 coupe. Click image to enlarge

This bent-eight does act like a living entity. Wake it up on a chilly morning and, like my teenage son, it’s a tad surly. The idle is coarse and it’ll stumble and spit when you pull away. Quite clearly it sends the message, “Give me a few minutes to warm up.” As a reminder, the tachometer has a variable red-line that gradually reaches 8300 r.p.m. as all those expensive internal oily bits get warm and happy with each other.

The 2008 M3 is more than just a great engine plonked into a 3 Series – the car has been extensively reworked both inside and out. To save weight, the roof is multi-layer carbon fibre (if you don’t spec a sunroof) and the power-domed hood and deck lid are aluminum. The front subframe is aluminum as well.

Further separating the M3 from the base 3 Series are swelled wheel arches that accommodate 19-inch footwear. Out back, four manly-sized exhaust tips broadcast the sonorous soundtrack.

Although the visual cues are subtle, they give the all-ready fetching 3 Series coupe an extra helping of mojo. My Melbourne Red tester drew stares and verbal praise whenever I went.

2008 BMW M3 coupe
2008 BMW M3 coupe. Click image to enlarge

Inside, your butt will appreciate the comfortable yet firmly embracing sport seats that are trimmed in grippy Speed Cloth – only the side bolsters are leather. The meaty M steering wheel feels great in the hands too. While the six-speed shifter doesn’t operate with the mechanical precision of a Porsche, it is still very satisfying and is perfectly paired with the firm clutch.

New for 2009 is a seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission ($3,900) that, via paddle shifters, whips off shifts smoothly and with lightning speed. A brilliant transmission that proved a formidable mechanical asset to the M3’s track prowess during testing at this year’s AJAC TestFest. While the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and Lexus IS-F were hugely impressive, the M3 was my fave out there.

The M3’s $71,300 entrance fee (unchanged for 2009) includes BMW’s iDrive interface. This tester had the $3,200 MDrive Package which gives access to three different settings for the stability-control system, two settings for the Servotronic steering system and three settings for throttle response (or “power”) via iDrive. Once you’ve got it the way you want it, the combo can be called up using the M button on the steering wheel. MDrive also includes navigation and voice control.

2008 BMW M3 coupe
2008 BMW M3 coupe. Click image to enlarge

With the throttle response set to stun, you will be convinced the gas pedal has a direct mechanical connection to the tachometer, such is the instant response of the engine. The pedals are ideally placed for heel-and-toe downshifting too, and every bend, whether on a winding back road or on the way to the mall, invites you to practice this technique.

What most will find surprising about the M3 is its compliant around-town ride that barely hints at the coupe’s sublime balance and leach-like grip.

It’s above 5000 r.p.m. where the M3 transforms from luxury coupe to balls-out stormer. With all that juice coming on in the upper rev range, it’s not hard to break the rear end loose in a tight bend, and if you’re quick, you can catch it before the stability control steps in. Great fun. Of course, the electronic driver’s aids can be switched off.

This is the fourth generation M3, and it is light-years away from the original 1986 E30 M3 with its 200-hp 2.3-litre four – a car that was homologated to compete in Group A touring car races. In fact, this 2008 edition is a fair distance from last year’s E46 M3 too, which was harder edged, raspier and more involving. BMW “softened” this M3 to appeal more to the mainstream (read: American) buyer. Yet even with its rounder edges and higher luxury quotient, it is still one of the most exhilarating rides out there.

The 2008 M3 takes the intangible attributes of the BMW 3 Series man/machine interface and turns them up to eleven.

Pricing: 2008 BMW M3 Coupe

Base price: $71,300
Options: $7,500 (MDrive Package, $3200; Audiophile Sound Package, $1200; 19-inch Double Spoke Alloy Wheels, $2000; Adjustable Seats with Lumbar Support, $1100)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,995
Price as tested: $80,895
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: TBA

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