Standard M3 not extreme enough? Try the new M3 GTS. The one and only color scheme – Vivid Orange – prompted BMW M division chief engineer Albert Biermann to give the hardcore coupe the codename "Jagermeister" in deference to the German distillery's legendary 1980s racecar livery, which is entirely appropriate because no road-going M3 since the original E30 homologation special has been quite so focused, quite so inherently athletic as this. Think of it as BMW's 911 GT3 RS.
The final act for the current E92 M3 before the arrival of an all-new model in early 2012, the GTS is essentially a track-day car that happens to be road legal.
The idea to create a hardcore version of the fifth-generation M3 originally took hold in July 2009. "We discovered we had some development budget that had not been allocated," recalls Biermann. "That is when we started the process that led to a decision to construct a prototype M3 without all the usual creature comforts."
Almost a year to the day later, I'm waiting impatiently in the pit complex of the Ascari Race Resort in southern Spain as members of Biermann's engineering team carry out some last-minute changes to the M3 GTS's suspension before I get a chance to drive one of the three examples built thus far.
Of course, this isn't the first time BMW's M division has turned out a hardened M3 for those looking to take to the track, the last and perhaps most memorable being the E46 CSL. But the GTS shouldn't be considered a direct successor to that car; it's even more sharply focused.
The GTS occupies higher performance ground than the standard M3. At 3,373lbs, it's 165lbs lighter for a start. The weight loss is achieved, in part, by the adoption of titanium rear silencers and 19-in. light alloy wheels. The rest of the exterior remains pretty much intact, although, in true race car practice, the glass rear side windows and rear screen make way for lightweight polycarbonate panes.
Further reductions come by way of a pared-down interior. It has been liberated of just about all of its comfort-orientated features, including much of the switchgear and rear seats, and the front seats have been replaced by one-piece carbon fiber buckets. Items that remain have also been simplified, and there's less sound deadening material. Surprisingly, though, buyers can choose a radio and air conditioning as no-cost options – something Biermann says is a direct result of lessons learned with the earlier M3 CSL, most of which were ordered with such luxuries despite its circuit-bred nature.
The aerodynamics have also been altered. Up front, there's a modified version of the standard M3's bumper, with three ample cooling ducts and an adjustable front splitter that can be extended by 30mm to adjust the amount of downforce acting on the front axle. It is offset by a large, adjustable rear wing borrowed from BMW's 320Si WTCC racers. Together, they endow the car with a more functional appearance fully in keeping with its track-led brief. It's not pretty, but with front lift claimed to be all but dispelled at speeds beyond 100mph, it appears to get the job done.
More than anything else, though, the basis of the GTS's added performance is its unique engine. This is no mildly tweaked version of the M3's naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8. Rather, BMW's M division has developed what amounts to a whole new powerplant with a race-grade block (but, oddly, no dry-sump lubrication). The bore remains at 92mm but the stroke has been extended by 6.8mm to 82mm, resulting in a capacity of 4.4 liters. With the increase in swept volume comes a 30hp boost to 444hp at the same 8,300rpm. More significant, however, is the increase in torque. It jumps from 295lb ft to 325lb ft and is developed 150rpm lower at 3750rpm.
Fire up the new V8 and you're instantly aware of all the tinkering. There's no strain of the starter motor, just a momentary pause as the electronics are triggered, followed by a loud clap as the engine catches. Beyond that, it settles into a lumpy idle, overlaid with a pulsating exhaust note that is full of purpose and fantastically naughty.
Channeling the new car's added reserves is a beefed-up version of the M3's optional Getrag-engineered 7-speed M DCT (dual-clutch transmission). Moving the stubbly lever to the left engages Drive. One notch further and you've got Sport. A power button and toggle switch alter the characteristics of the engine's power delivery in five distinct steps.
Moving off on to the circuit, it's the added torque that makes its presence felt more than anything else. At lower revs, the M3 GTS feels more muscular than the standard M3. The acceleration is stronger and not so heavily weighted toward the business end of the rev range, providing it with added flexibility and a more determined feel. Still, there remains a considerable incentive to run the engine all the way to its 8,500rpm cut-out, and not only to revel in the heady sound – an industrial-strength, bass-led bellow – it makes up high.
The response is something else. M division has retained individual throttle butterflies for each cylinder and full variable valve timing, endowing the new V8 with sensational pick-up. It's not quite as rabid as similar-sized engines with a flat-crank design, but it is still mightily impressive. All of which gives the impression of added speed right throughout the range.
Less mass helps, of course. At 290hp per ton, the M3 GTS's power-to-weight ratio is sharp enough to make the standard M3's appear blunt. The M DCT makes light work of the engine's added reserves, providing rapid shifts in manual mode. It's definitely the right choice for the car.
Overall, this hardcore M3 goes faster, feels faster and, most of all, sounds faster than any road-going versions of Munich's legendary coupé before it. Biermann says it hits 62mph in 4.4sec – 0.3sec inside the time quoted for a standard M3 fitted with an M DCT gearbox. But it's only just warming up at that point. The M3 GTS establishes a 0.8sec lead over the standing kilometer, at 22.5sec. With the splitter and rear wing in their most neutral settings, it will also hit 190mph at the read line in seventh gear.
Still, there's more to the M3 GTS than its pure straight-line speed. What sets it apart most from the standard M3 is its inherent sharpness. Everything you ask of the new coupe is carried out with greater immediacy, added response and heightened accuracy – something that becomes apparent on the very first corner of the Ascari circuit. The steering is heavenly – heavier than the standard hydraulic setup, but with rewarding precision. Turn-in is instant.
With less rubber within the suspension – the rear subframe is bolted directly to the body – there's loads more feel, too. Even slight variations in the road surface are relayed back to the driver, both through the wheel and seat of the pants. Makes you wonder why the standard M3 is denied it. Even at high cornering speeds, the M3 GTS remains wonderfully flat and neutral.
Its soft-compound Pirelli PZero Corsa tires are used on only a handful of road cars and offer a seemingly endless amount of grip. Arrive too fast in a corner, though, and the new BMW will eventually understeer. But with a good deal of commitment and DSC switched off, you can drive around it. The limits are so high, though, that you'd be unlikely ever to get near them on the road.
I initially worried about the brakes' ability to cope with the typical pounding of competition use; the standard M3's stoppers tend to drone quite dramatically with repeated hammerings on track. However, the upgraded units are will up to the job, providing firm and solid retardation. Granted, we didn't run many laps, but the pedal action remained strong and there wasn't any obvious sign of fade.
Twelve laps is not enough. I absolutely ache to spend more time with this car. The M3 GTS possesses a singularity of purpose that is utterly intoxicating. After enthusing with Biermann at the back of the pit garage about its delectable rawness, I quietly walk across to the bright orange coupe and slide behind the wheel while no one is looking for one final blast.
At this stage, I can't say with any real conviction what it would be like on the road. Firm, for sure. But with adjustable dampers, the default road setting with which it will be delivered to customers is claimed to offer a good deal more compliance than the race setting. It also provides 13mm more ride height to avoid expensive scrapes on unaccommodating driveways and the like. Just what effect the changes have on the handling remains a mystery right now, although it's safe to say that it will be uncompromising in terms of comfort.
Whether we'll ever get to find out what the M3 GTS is really capable of on the road is far from certain, though. With production capped at 150, every car has been sold in advance. "The response since we went official with it has been absolutely amazing," says Biermann.
Extreme, it seems, sells. It's an M3, after all.