Earlier reports suggested the new M3 would be powered by a petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain with a gearbox-mounted electric motor providing additional performance via an extra driving mode. However, sources at BMW M say those reports were wildly speculative. The latest word from M division’s Garching headquarters is that the M3 will stick with a conventional combustion engine in the form of an upgraded version of BMW M’s twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder unit mated to either a standard-fit six-speed manual or an optional eight-speed automatic.
Details remain scarce, although a combination of both mechanical and software developments are claimed to raise power by nearly 10% beyond the evolution of the engine used by today’s M3 at around 465bhp. That’s 21bhp more than today’s M3 Competition and 9bhp more than the new M3 CS.
Opinion: will BMW's expansion affect its key cars?
Sources have told Autocar that the next M3 is likely to remain rear-wheel drive, with earlier plans to provide it with a fully variable four-wheel-drive system similar to that offered on the new M5 now ruled out because of cost and weight.
The sixth-generation M3 will, like the current car, be joined by a mechanically identical sibling, the second-generation M4 Coupé and Cabriolet. It is tentatively scheduled to make its world debut at the 2019 Frankfurt motor show, prior to the start of UK sales in early 2020.
It will then effectively open the M floodgates for a raft of new models, set to boost both the volume and reach of BMW's high-performance division - an illustration for the growing appetite of consumers, particularly in emerging markets, for ultra-hot variants.
The architect of the plan to broaden the M line-up is Frank van Meel, the 51-year-old Dutch-born engineer poached from Audi Sport (formerly Quattro) in 2014 to lead BMW’s performance car division. Van Meel described the new M3 as a linchpin in BMW M’s plans to match Mercedes-AMG with combined global sales of M and M-Performance models of more than 100,000 per year in the longer term.
The plan also includes the introduction of several more slightly softer M-Performance models, with the overall aim of clawing back the sales advantage currently being enjoyed by the performance divisions of its arch-rivals, Mercedes and Audi.
“Along with the M5, the M3 is a crucial car for BMW M,” he said. “It wasn’t the first fully-fledged M car but it continues to stand for everything the brand is based upon.”
Full-blown M variants of the recently introduced third-generation X3, second-generation X4, upcoming fourth-generation Z4 and resurrected 8 Series feature among the hot new BMW models already undergoing development at BMW M’s workshops. The new 8 Series is set to sire two new M models in coupé and cabriolet body styles that will act as upmarket replacements for the existing M6 Coupé and Cabriolet.