I like difficult cars. I like turbo "moments," dramatic weight distribution, low-grip, peaky power delivery, and overly quick steering, along with ultra-short wheelbases and any number of other non-racecar-perfect dynamic foibles. I love the newest generation of BMW cars and engines – all turbo'd up with tons of torque and power everywhere in the rev range, too. But what I think the enthusiast community will miss when this 2013 M3 Coupe becomes the 2014 M4 Coupe – replacing its idiosyncratic, small-displacement, revvy V8 for something like a triple-turbo, directly injected, inline six-cylinder powerhouse in the process – is the work it takes to drive the car fast and perfectly. Sometimes small flaws just make things better; my mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun, and all that.
The idea of this E92 M3 going away then, magnified by the loss of the M3 badge for the coupe, is at best bittersweet for me. This generation of M car is already surpassed in terms of raw thrills by the better-than-ever Mercedes-Benz C63, a car that doesn't ask its driver to sacrifice low-end grunt or the very latest in amenities in return for stellar backroad performance. Yet any time I've been lucky enough to lap a track in the M3, it has quickly become clear that the Bimmer is the better on-edge tool. With the freedom to wring the neck of the 4.0-liter V8 and room to exercise the lovely balance of the car, the E92 is hard to match (even six years after its debut).
Still, when the 2013 BMW M3 Coupe Lime Rock Park Edition rolled into my driveway, its Fire Orange bodywork flashing over gloss-black 19-inch rolling stock, the car had me a little crossed up. BMW has been tossing out special edition M3s for the last few years now, all asking thousands of dollars extra for the limited production-run vehicles. I knew that the LRP was more than a mere trim and tape package, but would it be an appropriate send off for a spectacularly departing sports car legend, or just $10,000 down the drain where a stock M3 Coupe would have happily sufficed?
It's helpful to understand at the start just what your ten large buys, over and above the typical M3. Perhaps the most important component of the LRP suite is BMW's Competition Package, which lowers the suspension by 0.4 inches, includes 19-inch Y-spoke wheels and electronic damping control. That EDC system ("Dynamic Damper Control" in the BMW options catalog), offers three settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport. The three settings give the car a truly malleable range of ride characters, with the Sport button doing the automotive equivalent of a boxer bouncing up onto the balls of his feet. Engaged at speed, the sporting damper setting is immediately palpable, and allows for heightened mid-corner response from an already very good suspension setup. Combined with the hyper-sticky Pirelli P-Zero rubber (245-section tires in front, and 265 in the rear), the Sport setup makes the LRP M3 a stabbing weapon with which to stick curvy roads.
The Sport setup makes the LRP M3 a stabbing weapon with which to stick curvy roads.
Of course, one of the beautiful things about the M3 is that is doesn't always have to be completely punishing. I put a fair few hundred of highway miles on the coupe while I had it, and I'm not ashamed to admit that a lot of them were spent with the Comfort setting selected (as well as having the shift speed turned down, and the rather plebian "D" engaged... more on that later). That tamest suspension setting doesn't magically transmute the ride of the car to that of a 7 Series, but it does tame the otherwise chatty road feel via the floorboards.
The Lime Rock Park Edition also offers a lightweight exhaust made from the comic-book-sounding "Inconel-titanium," from M Performance. The pipes shave an impressive 20 pounds from the undercarriage of the car. M says they also reduce backpressure and optimize exhaust flow, but makes no claims to increasing output past the standard 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. (Bimmerfiles with the Inconel kit fitted and a penchant for dyno runs should tell us in comments if power increases have been found... we have our suspicions.) In any event, the resultant exhaust sound is brutally, wonderfully lurid. Like Yo-Yo Ma Pete Townshending his cello across the back of your head – loud and a bit weird, but special all the same.
Like Yo-Yo Ma Pete Townshending his cello across the back of your head.
The potent heart of the M3 imperfection that I love so much is, of course, the high-strung S65 V8 engine. This motor, specifically its relatively short torque output, has been earning qualified praise since its introduction in 2007. Kept on boil, the engine is downright spectacular, with throttle response razor sharp as long at the V8 is spinning over 5,000 rpm and the driver at the helm is keeping close attention to the task at hand. The lower torque output means that the M3 never does feel rocketship quick out of the gate, but rather must be approached like the proverbial "momentum car," albeit one that can maintain spectacular velocities through even very twisty bits of road. I've driven standard M3 coupes on racetracks and seen how the car and motor come absolutely alive in those settings; I only drove the LRP car on public roads, but I got the sense there's even more goodness here.
Road and track experiences also codify the optional DCT transmission. The Lime Rock car can be had with either the dual clutch or BMW's six-speed manual, but my test car was optioned with the former. I found that, as ever with this 'box, it punishes low-speed driving with jerky shifts, whether you've chosen to shift yourself or let the computer select the ratio. Creeping around in city traffic is far from smooth.
Turn up the pace quite a lot, however, and the DCT comes into its own with ultra snappy shifts via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, or even by letting the system pick its own gear. In a way then, the dual-clutch trans is well-matched for the lovely 4.0-liter, with both pieces of hardware asking the driver to fully commit to have the very best experience.
There are few cars that have such a gulf between what they're like at their best and at their worst.
If it sounds like I'm overselling the bitchiness of the M3 as a daily driver, I might be a little guilty. Dostoevsky said "Man is a creature who can get used to anything..." and I think even old Fyodor could have swallowed a bit of herk-and-jerk around town for the reward of driving the magical M3 on country roads outside of Moscow. It's just that there are few cars that have such a gulf between what they're like at their best and at their worst, which is yet another little piece of character that makes this coupe one of my all-time favorites, even with a less-than-perfect transmission.
Skip Barber is the current owner of Lime Rock Park, the jewel of a track in Connecticut that lent its name to this end-days M3, as well as being the first place that the car was evaluated. The LRP M3 did some shakedown laps at the track before being offered to the public, and the result was (and is) a BMW that suits the high standards of the racing guru, as well as the undulations of one of our country's best circuits. I've got to guess that the extra money spent on this limited edition car is well worth it, if the owner has any intention at all of doing track days or otherwise participate in motorsport. (Besides, being 1 of just 200, it's likely to make up the difference in long-term residual values as a collector's piece). The tuning may not show as dramatic a change over the base car as, say, a Boss 302 over a Mustang GT, but a lot of that comes down to just how competent the M3 is right out of the box. But I suspect that anyone tracking the LRP will find it quicker and more competent on a lap-by-lap basis. In other words: this is a really good car for the M3 Coupe to go out on.
A special car, in perhaps its best ever specification, that's leaving us all too soon.
BMW's own 335i is almost a perfect car, if you like to drive but don't care to work at it mile after mile. It's still very fast and sweet-handling and offers a better big-picture balance of ride and handling than does the very firm M3. The 335i is also a lot less expensive to start, never mind how much more of a value it is versus this $71k-and-up Lime Rock Park Edition. But... in the moments where road and engine speed and steering feel and suspension response come together just perfectly, there's hardly a car on the planet that can reward as richly as the M3. That's the God's honest truth. A special car, in perhaps its best-ever specification, that's leaving us all too soon – the Lime Rock M3 is an imperfect car for the ages. Glory fades, but the memory of this car will hang with me for a while.