The latest BMW M3 test ‘mule’ has been spied testing at the Nürburging Nordschleife, less than a week after the official reveal of the new-for-2012 BMW 3-series saloon.
When the new BMW M3 is launched in late 2013 it will be part of a major shake-up of the Munich manufacturer’s line-up of hot M-badged variants, with a new naming convention, greater differentiation between models and earlier launches.
A new badging system will introduce the 4-series name for the two-door coupé and convertible versions of the F30 platform — so there will be a new M4 name for the performance models.
At the same time, BMW will make the two-door M-badged models more driver focused than the four-door models. That means ‘sport plus’ suspension settings, with a stronger bias towards outright grip and steering responsiveness rather than a compromise towards everyday driving.
The latest M5 has already taken a step in that more relaxed direction, while the forthcoming M6 is tipped to deliver a sharper drive.
BMW has also been impressed by the speed at which Mercedes introduces AMG versions of its new models, which can lag behind by just six months.
This also beefs up the business case of the AMG models. They are on sale over the complete lifecycle of the model, bringing in cash over a longer period and lifting the image of the standard donor car for longer.
In the past, BMW has been limited to launching M derivatives later in the lifecycle because it had to wait for the coupé version of the 3-series to be launched, and then there was a further gap before the halo car M3 appeared. The E36-generation M3, for example, was launched two years after the saloon and the E46 M3 three years later.
So, breaking new ground for the 3-series with the latest F30 model, the M3 badge will appear first on a four-door car. BMW still won’t be able to match AMG’s six months interval, but the M3 will be launched about 18 months after the regular saloon.
But there is still a big question mark over one key part of the M3: its engine. The M3 is widely tipped to use a turbo six in place of today’s V8, a move that repeats the M5’s shift to a V8 turbo from a V10.
However, it’s unclear if the M3 will feature a straight six or a V6. BMW currently has no V6 petrol in its range, although it has recently published a patent for a turbo V6.
Greg Kable and Julian Rendell