Oh, the power and the passion.
This is a lazy-journalism love letter to a car I spent just 15 minutes with. But when Cupid’s arrow hits hard, watcha gonna do?
On a grey afternoon at Waikato’s Hampton Downs motorsport park, I drive the best car ever. Maybe that’s because I’m allowed to go fast, or maybe it’s because of the whole razzamatazz craziness of BMW’s race-day promotion, M Town.
But the new BMW M3 Competition drives how I had imagined a car should go when I was a 10-year-old playing with Karl Willis’s slot-car set back in Paparangi, Wellington, in 1985.
Technical details: M3 Competition sedan with 375kW of power and 650Nm of torque. It takes 3.9 seconds to hit the speed limit.
That’s all very impressive, but the steering is the thing. Its rail-track-like ability to go in any direction at any speed is exceptional. Call it point and shoot. Or point and speed.
BMW had booked Hampton Downs for a week to show off its fastest (and weirdest) cars. Two sessions a day to let potential buyers and media behind the wheel of cars that push the boundaries of possible.
We take SUVs over a 4WD course. (I don’t care how good a car is, I do not like driving on a 30-degree tilt. It is wrong. It is not fun.)
Then we get to do hot laps and slaloms in the new 330 and 440 range. The trick with driving between cones seems to be simple: never brake. I try not to do that generally, so I seem to do OK.
But the main course is over on the main course. BMW has three grades of its high-end M series:
M – cars with a badge and cosmetic changes.
M Sport – cosmetic and performance enhancements.
M Competition – batshit crazy.
About 20% of BMWs sold in New Zealand have the M badge on them, making us far and away the biggest market for M cars on a percentage basis. Globally, it is more like 5%.
I get into the new M3 Competition. This is a car with a design that has been described as divisive. It is ugly-pretty. The M3 is an iconic Beamer, and a new release is a big event for people who care. I am now one of those people.
The racing seat is the first indication in the cockpit that this is not a normal vehicle. As an optional extra it features a carbon bucket seat with a large wedge between, erm, where my legs go. I can’t think of a functional reason for it, but the seat is pretty comfy.
Then, we’re off. Slam. Put your foot down, Matthew, and try to remember to breathe. Whoosh. After a first lap, I’m looking at this car and wondering how the hell they’ve done it.
In the second lap, I’m confident enough to brake late and floor it out of the corners. Without a helmet on, we’re told not to exceed 160km/h. A trained driver is setting the pace to keep us in check.
Ideally, we stay two lengths behind the car in front. At speed, this feels excitingly perilous. It feels a little Fast and the Furious (side note: They’ve now destroyed more than $1 billion in cars making the nine movies).
Coming up to the second-to-last corner doing 152mh/h. Brake hard before the bend, get the angles right and go round fine. I speed into the straight and take my foot off at 160km/h. I’m frustrated. I know the car can do much more.
In three quick laps, I fall in love, then have the car ripped from me so someone else can drive it as we rotate through the M series vehicles BMW is promoting. Is it possible to be jealous of a car’s new driver? Yes.
The Z4 Roadster, a two-door convertible with a three-litre engine generating 250kW of power, now doesn’t feel particularly special.
Later, BMW NZ’s head of driver training hands me a helmet and takes the wheel of the M3. He comfortably hits 220km/h on the straight, and shares my enthusiasm for this new version.
The car has a drift analyser, and the professional drivers egg each other on to get the five-star maximum drift rating as they take corners in ways that make me ill.
As my driver gets 4.5 on one corner, I squeal with delight.
The drift analyser is going to cause many, many accidents as idiot owners try to reach the near-impossible five-star drift.
This M3 is an anachronism. While every other car coming on to the market has a homogenised slick-back-and-sides exterior, the M3 just says, f*** you, I’ll party on my own. Its design is fussy and unnecessarily complicated. The rear-view mirror alone has three different surfaces. The angles are copious and wrong.. The front grille is monstrous.
The 2021 M3 is definitely divisive. It generates strong emotions. You either love it or it can bugger off. There’s no half-heartedness in anything about it.
As we crest the hill and I hope to get airborne, Pink is going through my head. Her most excellent pop anthem Raise Your Glass could have been written for this mongrel beast of a car.
“So, raise your glass, if you are wrong
“In all the right ways
“All my underdogs
“We will never be, never be, anything but loud.”
The M3 retails at $168,990 and its bigger sibling the M4 goes for $172,900 with similar specs. I’m buying Lotto tickets again.