The fourth generation BMW M3 is the largest, fattest M3 ever created.Yet it ‘s also the fastest and most tenacious while being entirely livable as a daily driver. In creating this new generation of M3, BMW has built a car that is as close to everything to everyone as anything on the market. Whether it be at the track, on the highway or making a coffee run, the M3 handles it all with ease. But can a car that is all things to all people be a true M3?

The moment I pushed the start button and laid eyes on the M menu in the iDrive I knew that this M3 would be dramatically different than all those that came before it. For better or worse, a different kind of technology is at play with this car. From M Dynamic mode, to the much celebrated M Differential Lock, BMW has given the new version of this iconic car the tools to help the typical M formula of performance reach new heights.

Our day started out with some track time at the famed Laguna Seca racetrack. The track is home to one of the most famous turns (or series of turns) in the world. The corkscrew (as it ‘s reverently known) drops six stories in the matter of seconds all while trying to send you through the seat of the car. If you ‘ve driven it on a video game or even the reproduction at Ascari, you haven ‘t really driven it. Nothing really prepares you for the combination of braking, dropping and accelerating that it demands.

Yet the M3 made it deceptively easy. With the M Differential, EDC and DSC set to their highest levels, the car flatters even the most ham-fisted driver. A 414 hp car doesn ‘t have a right to be as easy to drive and forgiving as the M3 can be. Reigning in the car from a drift in turn four was effortless. And when I found myself pushing the car through turn five a little too hard (a turn much different than any video game portrays it) the M3 used its processors to bring the car back into line so subtly that no one but the driver knew a mistake had been made.

Some purists may scoff at the notion of fine tuning suspension and throttle settings via a large knob in the center of the console but the results speak for themselves. Through this, the M3 was able to power out of Laguna Seca ‘s corkscrew as easily as it was able to soak up road imperfections on the road. Cars equipped without the optional technology package (including EDC and a host of other ways to fine tune your M3) didn ‘t feel composed in the corners and thus wasn ‘t quite as fast around the track.

The M3 now features a 4.0L V8 rather than the inline six found in the last two generations. But don ‘t expect the wizards at M to create a burbling V8 like everyone else. High revving and exceptionally light weight (at 331 lbs it ‘s lighter than the inline it replaces), the engine has exceptional character. While it ‘s down on torque to its rivals, the power builds to a crescendo at redline that is nothing less than addicting.

Managing it and all the other technology is a new CPU that was developed in house at the M division. The V8 also has double Vanos and individual throttle bodies – both slightly different in concept than the previous engine ‘s same technology. And to help the engine get the enormous amount of oxygen required, BMW has created a number of scoops and air-inlets (including one in the hood itself) that help deliver 600 ft of air a minute.

The car is also differentiated from the more pedestrian 3 Series (and even the mighty 335i) by a suspension that, save for one component, is entirely new and made from aluminum. Elsewhere the M3 has added structural bracing and, in turn, more torsional rigidity for better control, response and performance. Specifically M has added a reinforced strut plate and thrust plate to the front of the car and a V strut in the rear. This is not just a 335i with a different engine. The M3 is a completely new car focused on ultimate performance.

Outside the car only carries over the doors, glass and rear light cluster from the 3 Series. The effect is an M3 that ‘s a little less subtle than the E46 M3 without looking too boy-racer like.

In order to save weight (and to prevent the first 4000lbs M3 coupe or sedan) the M3 coupe uses several key weight saving measures. The most noticeable is a carbon fiber and plastic reinforced roof that saves 12 lbs, helping to bring the center of gravity lower for improved handling. The car also has a lighter aluminum hood, lighter brakes and wheels and an engine that is moved even further back than the 335i.

On the aero side of things the bottom of the M3 is completely covered helping to reduce lift at high speeds. Even the redesigned mirrors lend a hand producing 3lbs of downforce on each side.

All this helps the M3 differentiate itself from the already excellent 300hp 335i. So extensive are the modifications to the M3 that comparing the two cars is almost pointless on the face of it. Where the 335i is meant to appeal to the public at large, the M3 is a much more focused machine. The M3 revs quicker, shifts quicker, steers more precisely and overall feels much more special. While the 335i is a quick car that handles well (it is 130 lbs lighter), the M3 is a fast car that handles exceedingly well.

And the sound. The glorious sound of the M3 ‘s 4.0L V8 coming down the front stretch of Laguna Seca is tattooed on my brain for eternity. The V8 ‘s soundtrack is addicting to the point of absurdity behind the wheel. And the sound isn ‘t like a typical V8. Instead it has a motorsport like mechanical quality to it that gets increasingly frenetic has the revs swell to redline.

The M3 isn ‘t without fault however. It ‘s 3700 lbs for God-sake. And while the brakes had begun to fade towards the end of my track time with the car, I don ‘t consider that too surprising considering the cars were all using street pads and stock fluid. However the most noteworthy issue beyond the excess weight is a slight (most won ‘t notice it) loss of steering feel as compared to the E46 M3. And, as much as I love the new V8, there was just something overtly visceral about the previous inline six made for such a great package. However antiquated it might be, I ‘ll miss it. All of this adds up to the new M3 feeling slightly less involved than the previous iterations.

But these downsides are forgotten the moment you go from 3rd to 2nd while blipping the throttle. This car, on the right road, is like an automotive symphony and you ‘re conducting. You ‘re in control of everything and there are no surprises. The car is always there and ready for more. More grip, more power, more brakes and what seems like a super computer behind it all invisibly helping you look like the next Lewis Hamilton.

The M3 ‘s limits are so high that you quickly come to terms with the fact that you can ‘t possibly approach them on public roads. Instead, it ‘s best to just head for your favorite road and settle in for what will surely be a profound experience.

My time in the M3 driving down West Carmel Valley Rd. just east of Laguna Seca was one of those kinds of experiences. A beautiful day on an exceptional road with no traffic can be a rare thing. And in a car like the M3, it can be nothing less than moving.

Bringing it all back to earth is the price however. The four door rings in at $54k while the two door (the lighter of the two) is just a hair over $58k. That ‘s two well equipped MINI Cooper S ‘s. Or one nice 135i plus a used E36 M3. But this new M3 almost defies those kind of comparisons. Instead you should think of it as a 911 competitor with more power, two extra seats and a real trunk.

And it ‘s when you consider it in that regard it begins to make sense. This new M3 is one of those rare cars that is as at home on the track as it is on the road. It ‘s exceptionally comfortable without being soft. It ‘s wickedly fast while still being accessible to drivers of all skill levels. And on top of it all, it still has the intangibles that makes an M3 the car that so many lust after.

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