Motor Mouth

The BMW M3 saloon's engine can do 200 million calculations a second, but Sathnam Sanghera finds this car fun as well as clever.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I was recently asked whether I consider myself to be British or Asian and, after a short pause, replied that I felt painfully English in all but three respects - in my approach to family, in my love of cars and in my predilection for mathematics.

But it's clear now the response was dur-brained. Ethnic identity is much more complex than that: you feel different according to an impenetrable chemistry of who's around you, where you are, what you're doing - and the predilection for maths and cars is really part of the same thing.

Indeed, whenever I think of any vehicle, there is always an associated statistic. The first car I ever admired - a Ford Granada - was also the first I ever saw with a speedometer that went over 120 mph. The brilliant thing about the new Fiat 500 is that, as well as being cute and classy and funky, it costs only £10,700.

And then there's the BMW M3, the most enjoyable car I've driven all year, reflected in the number of numbers that come to mind when I think about our week together. Which is not to suggest that every one of its vital statistics is titillating. It has a turning circle of 11.7 metres, for instance, which is not something you'd get excited about. Also, the model's slight image problem - it seems to occupy the same space in the mind of Cityboys that used to be taken up by the Porsche 911 Turbo - is epitomised in BMW's admission that more than 90% of M3 buyers are men.

But then there's the fact that the fabulously lively M3 features the most advanced production car engine electronic car unit in the world, capable of 200 million calculations a second. The car's extraordinary stopping power, meanwhile, is evident in braking discs that can bring the whole thing to a standstill from 62 mph in just 34 metres - 21 metres less than the Highway Code figure for a car travelling at 60mph.

But the figure that comes to mind most often with the M3 is the 5,000-to-8,300 rpm range on the rev-counter. The problem with so many performance cars - the M5 and M6 included - is that the performance becomes enjoyable only at speeds that are illegal on British roads. But the more compact M3 doesn't suffer this affliction - it is fun in any gear as long as you are revving between 5,000 and 8,300 rpm.

I drove the car to a stag weekend in Bristol and must have covered a good chunk of the distance from London in second and third gear, just because the sound was so addictive: 30mph and 70mph have never been so much fun.

I'll take one...
Grips tarmac like chewing gum
Thrilling performance
Subtle looks
Thanks but no thanks...
Slight image problem

BMW M3 Saloon £49,415
Engine 3,999 cc
Combined power 420 hp at 8,300 rpm
Torque 295 lb/ft at 3,900 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Fuel 22.8 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 295 g/km
0-62 mph 4.9 sec
Top speed 155 mph (limited).

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