BMW unveils a concept so close to the next Motorsport 3-series you won't know the difference
6 March 2007

BMW has just unveiled the car that is, in all but name, the new 414bhp, 155mph, £46,000 M3 coupe. The M3 is the cornerstone of Munich's M-Division range; this one is likely to become the most popular M-badged car on the planet and, if it's as highly-rated as its various predecessors, one of the fastest and finest-handling sports coupes you can buy. These are the first photos of the car, and the very latest information on it.The car you're looking at is, in fact, BMW's M3 concept. It's designed, they say, to provide a strong flavour of the road-going M3, which launches later this year. If, come the time though, the finished M3 differs from this concept in more than a few near-inconsequential details, we'll be very surprised indeed. Remember that BMW unveiled the M5 saloon in exactly the same way, and that car slipped into the production portfolio almost unchanged.

Believe the hype

At this stage, no one's quite sure if the hype piled upon the new M3 since the first prototype appeared more than a year ago is justified, but there's no disputing the M3's pedigree. There's yet to be a bad one. In over 21 years and three generations, the M3 has evolved in a manner fully befitting its motorsport origins, and this new should be more formidable still.According to BMW sources, it'll be powered by a version of the M5's epic V10 cut down by two cylinders to around 4.0-litres, and hooked up to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, or an optional seven-speed SMG. It'll be the first M3 to get V8 power therefore, and with it, say M-Division insiders, about 414bhp and 295lb ft of torque. The latter figure is exactly the same as that of BMW's lesser 335i, but rest assured – the performance figures won't be.Despite weighing slightly more than the old model's 1570kg, the new M3 is capable of cracking 62mph from a standstill in 4.9 seconds. It would also go on to 175mph if it wasn't electronically governed to a maximum 155mph.

Sharper than the average

Although this new M3 will be the biggest and heaviest yet, the M Division have gone to typically enormous lengths to keep the weight penalty low, and to improve upon its already razor-sharp dynamic responses. The car will have front and rear tracks wider than the already-widened standard E90 3-series, reinforced plastic body panels where there might otherwise be steel, a carbon fibre roof just like its bigger M6 sibling, and a chassis packed with lightweight aluminium components that keep masses, both sprung and unsprung, down to an absolute minimum.The car won't want for grip. It'll come as standard with 18in alloy wheels wrapped in specialist Pirelli P-Zero Corsa rubber. If you're prepared to pay extra, BMW has confirmed that you can even have the 19in Y-spoke items this concept wears.And new to the M3 will be the M5's electronically controlled M differential, which allows lurid oversteer at the press of a button. It's inclusion has brought about some big changes at the rear of the car though; the 3-series rear suspension geometry has been altered to accommodate the requisite rear axle assembly, which is significantly wider than the standard one.

On sale in the autumn

It mightn't be as pure bred as the original homologation-special E30 M3, the car which founded the legend, but the new E92 is sure to be faster. With double that car's cylinder count and twice its outright power, this fourth-gen Motorsport coupe just goes to show how long 20 years is in the sports car business. One question remains; will it be as good to drive? The answer will come in the autumn, after the car's official production debut at the Frankfurt motor show. And you can be sure that Autocar.co.uk will be first to provide it.

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