The new M3 Lime Rock Edition has created some debate within the enthusiast community. For some it’s a well specced M3. But to others it’s a bit of a poseur-mobile, especially to Jalopnik and our friend Bill Caswell. Why? It’s an M3 right? It comes down to expectations. Those expectations were set in 2003 with the E46 CSL. And that’s the problem. Outside of the M3 CRT (of which only 67 were made) there isn’t an M3 ever made that really compares favorably to it.
That brings us back to the recently announced M3 LRE. Why does it exist and not a new CSL? As detailed in the last BimmerCast BMW had planned on creating E92 CSL with the engine that ended up in the GTS and CRT as well as a stripped out interior and loads of carbon fiber. However, with the melt-down of the worldwide economy in 2008, the car was unceremoniously cancelled in 2009. Components of it later showed up in the GTS and the CRT but the E92 CSL died at the hands of accountants.
BMWNA has thus had their hands tied. There was an expectation that the E92 CSL would have come to the US and would have filled the gap above the Competition package as the ultimate M car for hardcore enthusiasts. Without it BMWNA has been left to create their own series of well-specced M3s that don’t offer greater performance but instead exclusivity.
So why can’t BMWNA do more and why has there NEVER been a performance version of the M3 brought stateside? Most do not understand the difficulties of homologating a new engine model or a new feature that impacts safety such as seats into the US market. There are loads of government regulations that must be followed, testing procedures completed and all of that adds enormous costs to a model- heck some models won’t even meet the regulations so they can’t be brought here.
Big deal right? BMW could of course charge more money. But it depends on what the “more” is. In the case of bringing the GTS or CRT to the US it would have been hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars depending on what testing needs to be completed. For a limited run car that would make the price ridiculously high and would be difficult to sell. BMWNA is also not in the business of subsidizing limited run cars as a loss leader. It makes little business sense and does not increase sales to other models to justify the costs. That is why we have seen limited editions stateside with window dressing rather than full on performance improvements like the M3 GTS or M3 CRT.
There was one exception to this rule of the US not receiving a performance model: the E46 M3 GTR which sold for almost a cool quarter of a million green backs and was necessary to meet homolagtion rules to keep BMWNA and team PTG racing in ALMS (Even at that price the 10 sold units were subsidized by BMW). (Editor: While 3 M3 GTRs were produced none were ever sold).
But you may be thinking, Mercedes is doing it with the “Black” models and Corvette is doing it as well by offering performance editions. Let’s consider the concept that Mercedes uses the “Black” series cars as part of their marketing strategy for sporty cars. Rather than racing any cars on the continent, MB chooses to subsidize “Blacks” to make them significantly less expensive than they should be so there are more out there and seem more obtainable- they have a history of this with the Maybach (they sold the car for less than they put in to subsidize it). Corvette is a different situation entirely- GM uses Corvette as a tool to sell other products and uses other products to reach economies of scale financially. GM subsidizes the limit run high performance cars by tacking on money to other models, $100 on a Cruze, a $150 on Impala and say $200 on a Camaro (you get the idea). In the GM scenario everyone else that is driving a product supports the person driving that limited edition car- the masses made it easier to afford. GM says it is part of R&D and engineering but none of that tech used in the limited cars a la ZR1 makes it to anything else for many many years if at all. The key is that they show it off as the obtainable sports car that drives the rest of the brand. Let’s also not forget GM just a few years ago took a government bailout because it was so far in the red.
BMW needs to do something different, as there is a market for these products and with others offering such things they can’t be the only one’s not catering to it. The F80 M3 will reach the market next year and according to certain sources in Munich it may usher in a new era of performance editions. It is highly probable for BMW to offer two versions of the M3, a base model and a more performance oriented model. This is an easy way to make more profits and to keep up with the Jones’ while not having to subsidize product. There are some out there that want a more sinister M3 than what is generally ok with the masses and that is not a bad thing but BMW needs to give them something without the need for the aftermarket. With the “IS” models we saw how BMW could take the turbo engines, tweak the software and add cooling to increase the performance aspect while not needing to retest for EPA or crash tests. This is more than likely coming to the M3 in a hypothetical “M Performance Edition”. The investment is less thanks to not needing all the additional testing and the profit margins are steeper.
So now the regular M3 will be watered down and I’ll need to buy the “M Performance Edition” to get the car I would have bought in the past is probably running through the back of your mind. Based on what we know, we can confidently say that that’s not going to be the case. The next M3 in base form will be superior to the current offering and will still be every bit a driver’s car for the street and occasional track excursions. The “M Performance Edition” F80 M3 will be more track oriented with a bit of power boost and a more aggressive exhaust note with a stiffer and lower suspension. BWM is not going to go crazy with this product, it will still be comfortable and luxurious but it will give some wanting more a morsel to nibble on.
While many are concluding that M is on its death-bed, the truth is that our sources are saying a new era is about to begin.