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First drive: 2008 BMW M3 Coupe

Laura Burstein takes the new V8-powered BMW M3 for a spin. And she likes it.


As a fan of the predecessor to this current M3, the e46, I was skeptical about driving what some called a heavy, underpowered car that didn't quite live up to its ancestors' legacy. A few die-hard enthusiasts, amid cracking tired Bangle jokes that are oh-so-five-years-ago, called it the MPIG, bemoaning the addition of more sensors and high-tech gadgets that added weight and deterred DIYers. And I almost bought into it.

Sure, I'll never love the look of the car like I love the e46. But the new M3 is, for better or worse, one of those cars you have to drive to truly appreciate.

On a recent press trip in Monterey, we had the opportunity to drive the M3 as it should be driven: On empty, windy roads. And later, even better: Madza Raceway Laguna Seca.

The 2008 M3 is powered by an all-new, 4.0-liter V8 engine. This is a drastic departure from the inline six used on the previous generation of the 3 Series cars. The bigger motor catapults the output to 414 horsepower at 8300 rpm, with 295 pound-feet of torque. But the sound of the car remains refined. The engine sounds big, but still reminiscent of M3s past. Sure, there are bigger engines out there, but the M3 is powerful without being raucous. Acceleration is still plenty fast, and the engine revs so high, you could drive around town without changing gears -- if you really wanted to.

On the road portion of our drive, my driving partner and I were amazed at how soft the ride was while driving over uneven pavement. This was due to an optional Electronic Dampening Control (EDC) feature on our car which has three suspension settings: comfort, normal, and sport. But even in "comfort" mode, softness didn't equate to mushiness. The car still felt dynamic and responsive, even while going over potholes and railroad tracks.

The steering was about as tight as I'd ever felt on any BMW. Although faced with a slew of considerably sharp turns as we wound our way through the hillsides, I never had to take my hands off the three-and-nine position. And the nice thick M wheel was comfortable and pleasurable to grip.

At the track, it was time to take it to a whole other level. My manual coupe really let it rip when I got on the throttle, and the brakes bit down hard and fast before the turns. Even though I was only on stock Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the car stuck like glue through the apexes, and the car's back end came around nicely as I gave it more gas out of the turns. Only a few times did I push it hard enough to get those tires to "sing," but I never felt out of control. Admittedly, I did the whole track in third gear, but even so I never lacked for power or torque.

That said, the 2008 M3 is not a "track car" in the true sense of the word. But that's not the point. The beauty of the e92 M3 is that it can be a sensible, dignified daily driver, and still tear it up on track days. And although I am coupe-biased, I think the re-introduction of the M3 sedan will even further the M3's image of an all-around car that can serve many purposes and still be a thrill to drive.

Oh, and about that heaviness thing; BMW lightened the new chassis up quite a bit to compensate for the weight increase. An aluminum hood and suspension, as well as a carbon-fiber roof, shave some weight off, although the "unladen" weight of the coupe is still 3704 pounds, with the sedan weighing in a tad heavier at 3726 pounds. By comparison, the e46 M3 coupe is 3415 pounds. So just imagine the kind of horsepower boost the 2008 M3 could get if it were 300 pounds lighter. But if you're the kind of person who's bothered by that kind of heft, you're probably better off buying an old M3 and ripping all the seats out.