Although most of the time we like to do our comparison tests in the UK, just occasionally (when a car is not expected to land on UK soil for some time) we go to the trouble of taking a comparison car to the launch of a new contender.
Just such an occasion came about this week. While Mr Chris Harris was flying into Frankfurt for the launch of Mercedes’ C63 AMG, I was heading southbound in a BMW M3. Talk about lucking out; three day, 1000-mile round trip, the perfect opportunity to really get to know the M3.
This car's story-so-far hasn’t run to the script BMW would have liked: slightly lukewarm reception on the international launch, slightly better reports back in the UK but still not totally convincing.
Well, having now done some serious mileage in one, I recon it’s an absolute belter. A brilliant long-distance tourer (decent mid-range torque, brilliant refinement) and some real elements of theatre (engine note on start-up, the M button, well-judged aggression in the styling) which will make it a really appealing long-term ownership proposition.
You could say, of course, that all that is very nice to have, but not the essence of an M car, and I’d agree with you. But the reason I’m an M3 convert is that it can do all these things and yet, when you really want it to, it responds.
Ok, so the steering is not quite what it should be, but the chassis and engine are supreme; the V8 may be smoother and more flexible than the old six, but if you’re prepared to work it, it's just as characterful. And then, as Chris mentions in the story, if you want to be a hooligan the M3 will play ball, something the Audi RS4 simply won’t do, however hard you try.
Given the task of driving an M3 to Frankfurt and back it would be almost criminal not to stop by the Nurburgring; the route takes you practically past the gates.
Round the most demanding track of the lot, the M3 proved a faithful companion, fun and forgiving where there’s room to play, and secure where there isn't. There are cars that would be more fun to drive (a Porsche GT3 by some distance), but few that would match the M’s ability to knock off the miles in comfort, entertain and challenge to quite the same extent.
One thing’s for sure – given the chance to do the same trip again in M3, RS4 or C63, it’d be the Beemer every time.