After 12 months’ service, Martin waves goodbye to the M3…sort of.
It's pretty obvious from my recent entries on the M3 that I wasn't really happy with the M3. It sounds ridiculous when I think about it; why would a car with a screaming 340bhp straight-six engine, a slippy diff and a chassis that will let you do skids for days not be the most fun you can have in a motor car? What's wrong with me?
I've thought long and hard about the reasons why I didn't get on with the M3, and my conclusions surprised me a little. It turns out that, despite being my dream car for a number of years, the E46 M3 doesn't really give me what I want from a weekend sports car. It's got back seats that I don't need, it's loaded with stacks of optional extras - including a totally useless analogue television system built into the widescreen nav unit - that add a significant amount of weight to the car without doing anything for the driving experience, and it's got the most shocking brakes I've ever experienced on a performance car.
However, the surprise was that I didn't enjoy the handling, and for a reason that some petrolheads might find strange. You see, the M3 wants to go sideways ALL OF THE TIME. A slightly damp junction and a prompt getaway to pull out into traffic? Sideways. A poorly-surfaced motorway slip road and a reasonable amount of throttle? Sideways. A wet track and barely any throttle at all? Puckeringly sideways. And all of these scenarios were experienced with the TC left on. In fact, I don't think I turned it off in the 12 months I owned the car.
Am I less of a petrolhead for not wanting a car that will go sideways at virtually any opportunity? I don't think so, though doubtless I'm going to have my manliness called into question for admitting it. The conclusion I drew from my reluctance to keep the M3 was a revelation on the kind of chassis response and driving experience I want from my car: I don't want oversteer.
I'm not Chris Harris or Tiff Needell. I don't have the skills to drift gracefully through hairpins, and I'm very unlikely to have the opportunity to acquire them. I'm a reasonable driver, I hope, but I'm never going to be a sideways hero. What I want from a car is balance and poise, not skids. To me, the M3 felt like an over-eager puppy dog, anxious to wag its tail at the first opportunity.
So, at the start of the year I resolved to sell the BMW and buy something different. I had a little bit of interest, but January is a bad month to sell a sports car so the car remained on sale for a while. At this point my friend and Drive Cult colleague Chris Ratcliff was thinking about finally replacing his ageing Ford Focus with something a little more rear-wheel drive, and I happened to jokingly mention to him that he could have the M3 at a little discount if he wanted. Much to my surprise, he said yes! So the BMW stays in the Drive Cult family, and hopefully in the hands of an owner who will enjoy its considerable charms more than I. Over to you, Chris...
911, Mclaren F1, F50, M3. And a Delorean.
If I had a list on the wall of cars I wanted to drive before I died, that’d be a pretty good list. Obviously some are more accessible than others, and I’ve already driven a number of 911s at Porsche’s amazing facility at Silverstone, but there’s one that leaps out for accessibility on that list: M3.
And now I own it.
The day before I bought it the newspapers led with ‘Record Fuel Prices!’ and after collecting it, as I got ready to pull away into traffic for the first time, the heavens opened and I was stuck in a monumental downpour. If I believed in such things, I’d think someone was trying to tell me something, but right now I’m just not listening.
I’ll be blogging much more about the M3 as I drive it more and hopefully learn more about driving in the process. Looking at my bucket list up there though, one immediate comparison leaps out, and that’s with the McLaren F1. Both are focussed on driving as a primary function, both have a glorious BMW M engine, and both are full of outdated peripheral gadget tech. Just as my new M3 struggles to find anywhere still broadcasting analogue TV signals, the F1 owners are probably wondering if they still have to plug the modem into a phone line.
And I'm sure when those BMW throttles open, neither of us care.