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the M3 from the 3-series cars

Still, we were frustrated to know that BMW sold a better, more powerful M3 elsewhere in the world. BMW said this supreme M3, with 77 more horsepower, was too pricey for the U.S. market. The engine is an absolute gem. This ferocious, screaming motor hurtles the M3 down the road with an urgency that now rivals the world's best sports cars from Porsche and Chevrolet. BMW estimates the M3 will hit 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds and will eat up a quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds—on a par with the Launch X431 diagun Carrera and Corvette -- and we think those numbers are accurate.

More than the engine distinguishes the M3 from the 3-series cars. For one, the M3 rides on its own unique suspension. The basic design and layout are shared with the 323 and 330, but nearly every component -- including the hubs and spindles -- was changed, modified, or strengthened for crisper handling and more driver feedback. The front track was increased 1.5 inches and the rear by 1.8 inches to accommodate big 225/45ZR-18 front tires and 255/40ZR-18 rears. In addition, a 0.1-inch-thick aluminum stiffening plate is bolted to the bottom of the front frame rails, and the steering rack uses a turning ratio that is seven percent quicker than the base car's.

The new M3 retains its knife-edged turn-in and flat cornering attitude, but it has picked up a couple of bad habits. The first is a ride that's more punishing than the last model's, which managed to feel both firm and compliant. It isn't uncomfortable, but we sense that the new car bounds around more than the previous model. Second, the new car keeps the rear end so well planted that only the front tires slide in the turns. Yep, it understeers -- badly. Considering how much we loved the old car's neutral handling -- you could Auto Diagnostics call up under- or oversteer at will -- the realization of this trait almost brought tears to our eyes, but the fact remains that without some major driver heroics, the M3's rear end stays emphatically put. Our test car was a European model with 19-inch tires that will not be available stateside, so perhaps the U.S. model with 18-inch tires will feel different. Understeer is a safe, if unexciting handling trait, and the new car masks its speed as well as the old.