Throughout its four previous generations, the BMW M3 saloon has been powered by everything from a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, through to a 3.2-litre six-cylinder and a 4.0-litre V8.

But every single one has been naturally aspirated. Which brings us on to this latest fifth-generation BMW M3, which breaks with tradition and goes turbocharged for the first time. So it may be downsizing, but this is downsizing BMW M-style, which means compared with the old V8, the new 3.0-litre six-cylinder has 9bhp extra, taking the total to 425bhp.

Add in a total weight reduction of 80kg and you’ll find the BMW M3 sprints from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds with the six-speed manual – that’s six-tenths quicker than the old car. Most BMW M3s will be bought with a seven-speed dual-clutch, though, so that’s the one we’re driving here. With Launch Control and super-quick shifts, it knocks the 0-62mph time down to 4.1 seconds and helps to immediately dispel any worries we’d had about the new turbo engine.

Turbo-lag, if you can call it that, only really exists below 1500rpm and then you get all the torque (550Nm) this engine has to give right up until 5,500rpm, before you’re forced to shift up at 7,600rpm. That huge spread of torque and high redline give the BMW M3 a nice dual-character.

It’s happy cruising quietly around town, with enough punch to make it feel quick even if you’re in the wrong gear but it can also be rung out in each ratio, with a deep growling note – albeit a slightly artificial one – pumped in to the cabin. Set one of the M buttons on the steering wheel to turn the suspension, gearbox and dampers to their least aggressive settings and the BMW M3 is a great cruiser.

The ride never feels too firm and comfort levels are genuinely not too far removed from a standard 3 Series. Meanwhile, set the other M button to keep everything in Sport Plus and the throttle becomes instantly more responsive, the suspension feels more solid and there’s a little bit more give in the traction control.

The switch from luxury saloon to sports car is stark and you can tweak the suspension, steering and powertrain separately if you want razor sharp throttle response with soft suspension, for example. Keep the steering in Sport – Sport Plus feels a little too heavy – and it darts in to tight, quick bends with keenness that is bordering on the unnatural for such an executive saloon.

The way the front end grips, it feels like this car will never understeer and the clever traction control system lets you explore the limits of grip without ever getting in to trouble. Obviously, you can turn off the traction control if you want – at which point the M3 feels more communicative and easier to exploit than ever.

It’s easy to tell exactly when it’s going to slip in to oversteer and it’s easy to bring everything back under control, too. And all of this performance comes from a car that is 25 per cent more efficient

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