One of the biggest problems for today’s sports car fans is one of practicality. Many of us want a full-bore driver’s machine, but we really need a sensible family sedan. Well, the folks at BMW, builders of the fabulous M3 coupe, have a solution.
And what a solution it is. In fact, the cure is so simple it can be described in two words: M3 Sedan. That’s right, for 1997 BMW is offering a 4-door M3 for the first time, and in one brilliant stroke has eclipsed all other sport sedan pretenders.
All 3-Series models receive a re-shaped kidney grille for ‘97, and subtle detail changes all around to bring the design more in line with their 5- and 7-Series siblings.
Inside, luxury and sport are artfully blended to yield a driving environment like no other. The interior is hardly roomy, but the space is well laid out and functional in the finest BMW tradition. Seats are sports car firm, and manually adjusted. Leather surfaces hint at luxury, but the omnipresent “M” logos are a constant reminder of the car’s true purpose.
But what has always set the M3 apart visually is its menacing stance, a look that translates easily to the sedan. The low front spoiler and side cladding visually glue the car to the ground. While the wheelwells are stuffed with M-Edition 17-inch double-spoke forged alloys. Keeping it all off the ground, but just barely, is a fat set of Michelin 225/45’s up front, and 255/40’s in the rear.
The boy-racer appeal is matured somewhat by traditional doors, but grown-up or not, the M3 Sedan looks ready to play. And, as always, the M3 plays for keeps. Under the hood is a raucous M-power 24-valve inline-6. Horsepower output is 240 at a rev-happy 6,000 rpm, while the torque peak of 236 pound-feet is accomplished at a lower 3,800 rpm.
That good bottom end punch allowed our car to sprint from 0 to 60 in a brisk 5.9 seconds, and trip the quarter-mile lights in just 14.3 seconds at 98 miles per hour. Our test car kept us entertained with its precise-shifting 5-speed manual transmission. A 5-speed automatic can be had on the sedan for an additional $1,200. Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock slowed our car from 60 in a short, arrow-straight 120 feet.
Since the sedan keeps the same wheelbase and near perfect weight distribution as the coupe, our handling exercise was equally enjoyable, also. The M3 attacks the slalom like a downhill skier—always picking a perfect arc, and responding to the driver’s inputs like it has nerve endings of its own. High-speed maneuvers give no pause either. Lateral transitions are precise, with minimal body roll, and excellent steering feedback.
You won’t find a more nimble sedan at any price. Speaking of which, the base price for the M3 Sedan, $39,380, is the same as the Coupe. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’d be hard-pressed to tell the two apart from behind the wheel. The added practicality of four doors is just a pleasant bonus when you want to take your friends along for the ride.
The BMW M3 Sedan is a serious sports car that just happens to have four doors. But, keep it quiet … if word gets around, carpooling will never be the same again.
Engine: M-power 24-valve Inline-6 Cylinder
Torque: 236 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.3 Seconds @ 98 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet