The List




The List




It is left hand drive only, has a dogleg gearbox that makes stop start driving seem like a particularly arcane form of torture, and possesses the sort of boxy styling that would not look out of place on a Lada, but the BMW M3, in its original E30 guise is a true modern icon and has earned a place on The List through a combination of sublime handling and uncompromised road racer appeal.


Conceived as an homologation special for Group A Touring Car competition, the original M3 was much more than merely a souped-up version of the standard 3 series. The 2.3 litre 16 valve engine was unique to the car, as were much of the bodyshell, the high ratio steering rack, the wider track and the suspension setup. The end result was a car that swept the board in touring car races internationally, winning, amongst other things, the World Touring Car Championship, the DTM and the European Touring Car Championship.


There are a number of models to choose from, but, in our opinion, the best is the rare, Sport Evo model, with its larger capacity engine (up to 2.5 litres) and adjustable spoilers. This model benefited from all of the incremental improvements made during the M3’s lifespan, and feels marginally quicker than the earlier models both in a straight line and through the corners.


Step into any M3 and the first thing that strikes you is the odd angle of the steering wheel, which is canted away from the driver in the style of a Routemaster bus. The gearbox, which, of course is on your right - M3s being unavailable in right hand drive - features a dogleg first gear, which enables second, third, fourth and fifth to be arranged in an H pattern. This takes a little while to become accustomed to (which inevitably results in a spate of embarrassing stalls at junctions) but, once mastered, gearchanges become smooth and intuitive, as the box has a nicely sprung, positive action across the gate.


Straight line speed is comparable with an early Elise – the power and torque to weight ratios of the two cars are very similar – and, like the Lotus, the M3 is in its element when being hustled through a combination of corners. There is some body roll, but the ride/handling compromise for fast road use is close to perfection; the suspension is soft enough to allow for rapid progress on less than perfect surfaces, but not so soft that it detracts from the car’s cornering abilities.


Up your speed and the M3 reveals the benign playfulness that has earned it such an illustrious reputation as a driver’s car. The onset of loss of grip, whether at the front or back of the car is clearly communicated through the steering, and there is always the feeling that the M3 is doing its best to help you out. Beyond the limits of grip, it still provides you with options; throttle position as much as steering input being able to dictate the direction of travel. Lift off gently to quell understeer or oversteer, or get on the throttle early to enter into an elegant drift – the choice is yours.


The real beauty of the M3, though, is its accessibility; its modest power and tyre dimensions mean that it can be driven close to its limits more easily than say, an M3 CSL, with its sticky tyres and ultra stiff suspension. And isn’t it far more fun to drive a slower car at 10/10ths than to never reach the limits of a quicker car?