BMW M3 twins snapped as Munich carries out final stages of development
19 December 2006

BMW’s next affordable performance icon, the new M3, will be available as both a coupe and - for the first time - a coupe-cabriolet when it launches at the end of next year.

Autocar’s spy photographers have caught both E90-generation M3 variants undergoing final testing. As you'll see in our gallery, both are wearing only minimal disguise, and it is clear that there are both regular hard-top and folding tin-top versions in the pipeline.

BMW’s next firebrand 3-series will make its first official appearance as a thinly veiled concept car at the Geneva motor show next March. The final production version is planned to arrive at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2007, just prior to the start of right-hand drive UK sales, according to high-ranking Autocar sources. As tradition dictates, the coupe version will be the first new M3 to hit showrooms, with the coupe-cabriolet likely to make a public appearance shortly afterwards at the LA motor show in November 2007. The unveiling in North America is a clear indicator of where BMW expects the majority of sales for the new open M3 to be generated. The go-ahead to develop the new M3 in coupe-cabriolet guise comes in favour of a classic fabric hood design for the open-top version of the latest 3-series. The new layout promises to provide the open M3 with added stiffness, although its weight is sure to have swelled beyond the outgoing model’s 1580kg. Setting the M3 cabriolet apart from the standard 3-series cabriolet is a host of classic M division styling cues, including a deeper front bumper with a trio of large cooling ducts, a lightweight aluminium bonnet with integral power dome, widened front wheelarches, signature air vents in the flanks, more prominent sills, a reworked rear bumper, four chromed tailpipes and, on this prototype, 19-inch alloys. The big news, however, lurks underneath the bonnet. Gone is the existing 3.2-litre in-line six-cylinder engine that dates back to the early '90s. It is replaced by an all new 4.0-litre V8 boasting four valves per cylinder and all of the German car maker’s latest power-boosting trickery, such as double VANOS variable valve timing, individual throttle butterflies for each cylinder and an in-house-developed engine management system. Essentially a shortened version of the V10 unit found in the M5, M division’s newest powerplant is rumoured to kick out around 410bhp – or 57bhp more than today’s M3. Driving the rear wheels through an upgraded seven-speed version of BMW’s M-sequential gearbox, the new V8 promises to give the M3 supercar performance. There’s nothing’s official at this stage, but despite larger dimensions and extra weight, the coupe version of the new M3 should manage the sprint to 60mph in under 5.0sec, knocking 0.2sec off the time achieved by the outgoing E46 model. Like all M division cars, however, top speed will be electronically limited to 155mph.

Greg Kable

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