The next generation M3 is still at least 3 years from its debut, but it’s never too early for speculation, particularly about its powerplant.
Hower we have something almost official.
The naturally aspirated M-car is dead – or rather it soon will be. During a recent media interview session, Ludwig Willisch, the CEO of BMW’s M Division, let slip that the next-generation M3 will ditch the current 4-litre V8 in favour of a turbocharged six-cylinder engine.
It’s already an open secret that when the M5 dies, the 500bhp 5-litre VIO will die with it, to be replaced for the next generation by the twin-turbo V8 from the recently announced X5M and X6M – the M SUVs that were never supposed to happen. But the news that the M3, the lynchpin of the M range, is to move to turbocharging may be seen by some as the final nail in the coffin. Natural aspiration was the one thing that separated BMW’s M-cars from the often less focused engines of AMG Mercs and RS Audis. Not any more.
So why is BMW taking this approach! For the altogether predictable reason of emissions – tough new regulations are coming into force in both Europe and America in the next few years. But moving to smaller-capacity forced- induction engines will also improve packaging and lower weight.
The logical step would be a development of the 302bhp twin-turbo 3-litre straight-six from the 335i, but Willisch has confirmed that the next M3 will in fact get an all-new unit.
“And I’m not saying whether it is a twin- turbo,’ he added. ‘It will be a turbo six- cylinder engine. That is, I’d say. almost sure. We’re really at the very, very beginning of the project. M3 hasn’t started yet.’
Nor is it guaranteed to be a straight six. BMW’s traditional layout would result in a lighter unit, but a move to a V6 would mean a more compact powerplant, one that could be butted up against the bulkhead to improve weight distribution. But it’s not just the weight of the engine that the M Division is concentrating on. Reassuringly, Willisch went on to say,
‘Engines don’t necessarily have to be more powerful for the next car. As long as you have lighter weight, you have better performance. If you have a lighter car, you need the power somewhere in the neighbourhood of the current M3.’
So when will the naturally aspirated M-car finally disappear? In about four years’ time. The current x. 3-series is up for * replacement in 2012, with the new M3 due a year later, possibly followed shortly afterwards by a new M Coupe.
So, in five years the naturally aspirated M-car will be history. But we shouldn’t be too despondent if we get turbo petrol replacements: at March’s Geneva show the M people admitted they were also looking at diesels and hybrid technology…