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Click to view road test review picture galleryBMW’s latest M3
  Saloon is a real
  cracker with thrilling
  Practical, too.
  And, at £49,415, you
  don’t have to be mega-
  rich to afford one...”

IT WAS IRONIC that just as the UK motoring media were getting behind the wheel of BMW's latest M model the M3 Saloon last week, so The Chancellor in his Budget was waging financial war on UK motorists with additional 'clean 'n' green' taxes.

From 1 April, nine out of ten motorists now have to suffer higher Road Tax costs. And from 2010 — not as far off as it sounds — all motorists will be further penalised by the Chancellor's 'showroom' tax based on a car's CO2 emissions.

As a manufacturer BMW, with their award-winning EfficientDynamics programme, has done more than most car makers so far to introduce technologies for production cars that lower emissions, implement energy capture systems, research alternative fuel sources — but which still retain the power and performance associated with their products.

Speaking at the media introduction to the BMW M3 Saloon last week, BMW said that in 2008 they expect to sell 700,000 new cars in Europe incorporating EfficientDynamics technologies. And this, compared to their pre-EfficientDynamics versions sold in 2006, will save 33 million gallons of fuel! This also results in a reduction in CO2 of 373,000 tonnes in Europe — enough to provide electrical energy for 190,000 people for more than four years. There are now 110,000 BMW cars on British roads incorporating EfficientDynamics technology, saving 54,000 tonnes of CO2. All but two model ranges — the aging 7 Series and the Z4 sports cars — have it.

BMW UK also said that the latest changes in taxation for cars and — in particular — more powerful models, will hit hardest from 2010 onwards. However, in the real world it is unlikely to be a deterrent for the many people who can afford to pay more to drive more powerful cars.

And when it comes to powerful cars, the BMW M3 Saloon is up there near the top of the list. On sale in the UK from 8 March (2008), it costs from £49,415. BMW will also introduce an M3 Convertible model, priced at £54,760, in May. The M3 Coupe was introduced last summer and it costs £50,830. BMW expects to sell 400 M3 Saloons and 1,700 M3 Coupes in a full year but, at this stage, no figures are predicted for
the yet-to-be-launched M3 Convertible. BMW says production totals can be swapped between the three M3 derivatives, depending upon demand.

Interestingly, it is retail customers who account for 66 per cent of M3 sales in the UK. Last year BMW sold 1,942 M models of all types in the UK and in 2008 they say the total will increase to over 3,500 units.
In non-M spec, the 3 Series is popular with UK customers — in 2007 a total of 58,450 3 Series found buyers in the UK, with the Saloon accounting for nearly half of them.

And so to the new M3 Saloon. This uses the same 4.0-litre, V8 420bhp petrol engine as the M3 Coupe and forthcoming M3 Convertible.
These M cars use a six-speed manual transmission and a variable M differential with drive to the rear wheels.

Top speed is limited to 155mph and zero to 62mph takes just 4.9 seconds. The average fuel economy is 22.8mpg and CO2 emissions are 295g/km giving it a new Vehicle Excise Duty rating of — ironically — Band M. This is the highest there is and, from 1 April this year, means
a £400 annual road tax bill.

A new seven-speed, double-clutch manual gearbox with paddle-shift/ gear lever changes will become available for the M3 Saloon, the M3 Convertible and M3 Coupe. This quicker-changing transmission reduces the M3 Saloon's 0-62mph time by 0.2 seconds, improves average fuel economy to 23.7mpg and lowers CO2 levels to 285g/km — but road tax remains at £400. The M DCT transmission costs £2,590.

BMW says the new four-door M3 Saloon, priced at £49,415 (£52,005 with the seven-speed double-clutch gearbox), is the only performance saloon car on the market that incorporates award-winning specialist fuel-saving and emissions-reducing systems under the banner of EfficientDynamics.

For example, Brake Energy Regeneration utilises the previously lost energy of an engine on overrun to re-charge the battery. BMW claims this feature alone helps the M3 Saloon become one of the cleanest
and most fuel-efficient performance cars ever.

The BMW M3 Saloon has been designed to be the most sporting, yet practical, M3 BMW has ever made. While the M3 Saloon is the most powerful production four-door 3 Series in the company's history, it also has the largest ever luggage capacity. It is this blend of performance and everyday practicality that enables the M3 Saloon to offer the best of both worlds to owners.

Nearly 80 per cent of the parts on the M3 Saloon are new compared
to the standard 3 Series Saloon. The M3 Saloon shares the same front design as the M3 Coupé, and three large air intakes dominate the
front profile below the iconic BMW kidney grille. A prominent power-dome in the aluminium bonnet covers the 420bhp V8 engine below.
Two air vents are situated either side: the one on the passenger side allows for engine cooling; the other visually balances the front of the car.

From the rear, an aerodynamically-efficient diffuser emphasises the M's trademark twin double exhaust pipes protruding from beneath the valance. The boot lid also features a discreet rear spoiler that provides an additional degree of downforce.

The BMW M3 Saloon also has slightly larger dimensions when compared to the standard car. The M car's wheelbase has increased by 1mm;
the rear section of the car is 44mm longer; and the front section of the car is 5mm longer due to tweaks in the aerodynamic styling. Due to
the diameter of the wheels and the bespoke suspension configuration, the M3 Saloon is also 26mm taller than a 'standard' 3 Series Saloon.

The new M3 Saloon features 18-inch double-spoke light alloy wheels
as standard, although 19-inch forged and polished wheels (costing £1,265) are available as an option, and it is predicted that nearly 80 per cent of customers will specify the larger wheels. Both wheel options are shod with 'standard' tyres (not Runflats) which can be repaired in the event of a puncture.

The interior of the BMW M3 Saloon features deeply-contoured M sports seats with full electric power adjustment. To give a sporting and luxurious finish to the cabin, the headlining is finished in Anthracite and the seats, arm rests, gear stick gaiter and door trims are upholstered in Novillo leather as standard. The M three-spoke, multi-function leather steering wheel has its seams stitched in BMW M's trademark purple, blue and red colours.

Facing the driver is a white, back-lit M-specific instrument panel, com-prising a 200mph speedometer, oil temperature display, red needles and variable warm-up lights on the rev-counter. To the driver's left and finished in brushed aluminium is the M iDrive controller that is used to access the infotainment systems. It also serves to control the MDrive Manager function that enables 'personalisation' of the M3's driving characteristics.

The M3 Saloon can also come with the option of a 60:40 split fold rear seat with ski-bag through-load system, adding an additional tier of practicality to the 450-litre boot — already capable of holding three sets of golf clubs. Also available is a luggage compartment package that includes a cargo net, a bag holder and a 12-volt socket in the boot, storage nets on seat backrests and two 12-volt sockets located in the rear centre console.

All BMW M3 Saloons come with a navigation system as standard, pro-viding the driver with a colour map and arrow display for directions. Eight programmable 'Favourite' buttons are located below the radio and these can be customised and used as shortcuts to the most frequently visited parts of the complicated iDrive system, such as navigation, radio stations or, in combination with Bluetooth, telephone contacts. Customers can also choose to upgrade from the standard-fit Hi-Fi to the LOGIC 7 Professional 13-speaker Hi-Fi system.

It will, for sure, be the user-friendly four-door layout that will appeal most to some M3 owners. A fast and muscular business car during the week in some cases needs to double up as family transport at week-ends with a boot to match. On that designation the M3 Saloon wins easily. However, the M3 Coupe looks a more elegant high-speed performance machine and will still continue to be the best-selling M3 model overall.

The 4.0-litre, V8 petrol engine's 420bhp (and 295lb ft of torque at 3,900rpm) serves up acceleration and instant response in virtually any gear at any speed, and whilst it is a high-revving (8,400rpm) unit, it certainly doesn't need to be thrashed to perform.

On most roads the engine will be operating quite happily at quite low revs so it has the potential for reasonable fuel economy — 24.1mpg during our test drive on quite busy roads in Spain last week. But, as
I found out last year with the M3 Coupe, fuel consumption can get down to around 12-14mpg if pushed really hard.

Customers also need to consider the new £400 road tax bill from 1
April because of the high 295g/km CO2 emissions and the implications for much higher levels of company car tax. About the only criticisms one can come up with mean next to nothing to somebody with over £50,000 to spend on a car: high fuel costs; high road tax costs; high company car tax bills. The rich, as they say, are different.

What can you say about a family-sized saloon car, which has a top speed limited to 155mph and in which zero to 62mph takes just 4.9 seconds, except 'stunning'! The transfer of this power through the
rear wheels is taken care of by BMW's variable M differential.

While this provides 100 per cent of the power to the wheel with the most grip, care is needed when it's wet or on broken road surfaces — this M car will bite. However, exactly the same can be said about its main competitor — the equally stunning to drive but, to me, better to look at, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG four-door saloon.

The M3's steering is beautifully weighted and the car well balanced so the driving experience is exceptionally high in every respect. Plus you get EfficientDynamics technology, thrilling performance, fine handling,
a comfortable ride, roomy cabin with practical four-door access and a large boot.

The quality and design of the interior, the comfort of the seats and
the accessibility that comes from having four doors is icing on the cake. Now where did I put that winning lottery ticket? — David Miles

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BMW M3 Saloon | £49,415
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 24.1mpg | Power: 420bhp | Torque: 295lb ft

CO2 295g/km | VED Band M £400 | Insurance group 20
Visit BMW's website Click to go there now

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