26 November 2004

Autocar's spy photographers have caught the hottest, fastest and most eagerly-awaited metal planned to emerge from Munich over the five years - and it's all here. These pictures exclusively reveal clues to the final appearance of BMW's M-Sport versions of the 6-series coupé and forthcoming 3-series saloon; they also confirm that the maker will produce an M-Sport branded Z4 roadster, and a new 3-series Sport model marketed to exploit the untapped demand that exists immediately below that of the M3. BMW M3

These pictures (above) prove BMW is planning a four-door M3, which will sit alongside the traditional coupé version when the cars are launched in around three years from now. The early 1990s was the last time BMW sold its performance legend in both two- and four-door bodystyles.

The M3 prototype pictured above and given away by its twin tailpipes, is based on new 3-series saloon, but with unique styling reminiscent of the 6-series coupé’s. This is most noticeable up front, where a rounded leading edge and flared wheelarches dominate. A coupé M3, which on early prototypes was disguised to appear like a cabriolet with a folding hard-top roof, has also been seen running around Germany’s Nürburgring track. The current M3’s 343bhp 3.2-litre in-line six is replaced by a new 400bhp 4.0-litre V8 engine derived from the M5’s 90-degree 5.0-litre V10. It is the first time BMW has fitted a V8 into the 3-series. Peak power is claimed to be around 405bhp – 62bhp up on today’s M3 and enough to ensure it meets BMW M-division’s traditional 100bhp-plus-per-litre specific output. Drive will be through the same seven-speed SMG (sequential manual gearbox) seen on the new M5 and an updated version of BMW’s M-differential. Expect 0-60mph in 5.0sec and a standing quarter mile in under 14sec. Top speed will be limited to 155mph.

BMW was planning to name the coupé and cabrio ‘4-series’, but has changed its mind after market research, and will now stick with the 3-series moniker across the range.

BMW Z4M

This rip-roaring prototype (right) is the long-awaited Z4M, which Autocar’s spies say shares its V8 engine with the upcoming M3 (above). The car will have the task of lifting the image of the whole Z4 range, especially with an all-new Porsche Boxster just gone on sale. The Z4M is also BMW’s riposte to the new Mercedes SLK 55, which has a 355bhp (non-supercharged) AMG-fettled V8 engine. There’s no news yet on whether the Z4M will have the V8’s full 400bhp. Although it would be a logical move, this sort of wallop would make it hugely more powerful than any rival (the new Boxster S has just 276bhp) and almost as grunty as today’s 911 Turbo.

The car undergoing tests here at the Nürburgring circuit is distinguished by the classic quad exhaust pipes, new wheels and a revised suspension set-up. BMW’s Z4 got off to a strong start in the important US market, but has faded since. Dealers have complained that it is substantially more expensive than the old Z3. This means that the Z4 is less likely to be bought as ‘fun’ second car, limiting its sales potential. At the opposite end of the market to this V8 prototype, BMW is thought to be trailing a cheaper four-cylinder version of the Z4. This would be powered by the second-generation version of the company’s UK-built 2.0-litre Vanos engines. It was originally thought that the Z4 would have a cheaper sister car spin-off, badged Austin-Healey. BMW’s US Designworks studios completed extensive styling work on the concept in the late 1990s.

BMW M6

BMW’s M6 will make a spectacular return to the performance car ranks early next year after a 16-year absence. The new model, pictured during final tests (see gallery), will make its public debut at next year’s Geneva Motor Show, with UK sales planned for late 2005. Prime target is the new Porsche 911 Carrera, although with power from the new M5’s 5.0-litre V10, it may set its sights higher. It packs 500bhp, not the rumoured 550bhp, and 383lb ft of torque at 6100rpm – 172bhp and 51lb ft more than the current 6-series flagship, the 4.4-litre V8 645i. With drive going through BMW’s latest clutch pedal-less seven-speed SMG gearbox and trick electronically controlled M-differential, this should mean 0-60mph in around 4.5sec and a theoretical top speed close to 180mph. BMW is also developing a convertible version of the M6.

BMW 3-Sport

BMW’s vital new 3-series is still some months from UK showrooms, but these scoops show that an extravagantly-styled body kit is already being prepared by BMW engineers. It will probably by sold under the M brand and will be available with these bigger, wider alloy wheels and lowered and stiffened suspension. BMW has already rolled out a very striking body kit for the new 5-series, doing much lift to the car’s controversial looks, but the 3-series will probably have the option from the start. And it could be that this kit is rather more than a styling exercise, considering that BMW engineers are spending valuable time pounding this prototype around a test track.

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