Engine: 4-litre naturally-aspirated V8
Power: 420bhp and 295lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 4.8 seconds and 155mph (restricted)
Fuel economy: 22.8mpg (combined)
C02 emissions: 295g/km
STARING out over the bonnet of the new BMW M3 coupe there is one imposing, empowering sight that leaves you in no doubt that you are in a car blessed with serious performance.
Like the defined legs of a top sprinter the M3's bulging bonnet wreaks of muscular intent, poise and the potential to burst off the start line in an explosive display of sheer, focussed aggression.
Depressing the right pedal is like pulling the trigger at the Olympic 100-metre finals.
The bonnet rises as the rear of the car hunkers down, pressing 420hp onto the tarmac through specially developed 265mm-wide Michelin rubber, and a surge of acceleration pins you into your seat.
This intense explorative rush is a vivid illustration of how far BMW's ballistic saloon has come since its introduction as their two-litre, four-cylinder, 200bhp performance flagship more than twenty years ago.
Now equipped with twice the cylinders, twice the power and the ability to accelerate to 62mph faster than most Ferraris of the mid-eighties, the M3 has become a very different being.
An exposed carbonfibre roof lowers the car's centre of gravity, every element of the dynamics can be adapted by the driver using the same controls as the stereo and climate control and that four-litre V8 engine is probably the world's most advanced engine–this is automotive high technology for the masses.
...Or those with a healthily packed wallet. This is the most expensive M3 to date with prices starting at £50,325.
BMW's first M3 would now struggle to keep up with modern hatchbacks–which boast considerably more than 200bhp–but, bulging at the seams with new technology and with an engine barely contained within its engine bay, the E92 (as it is known) can stand toe-to-toe with supercars.
The bare stats are staggering–0 to 62mph in 4.8 seconds and a heavily restricted 155mph top speed–but when you discover the character of what is probably the finest normally-aspirated engine in production today, that performance becomes all the more impressive.
Achieving an astonishing 105bhp-per-litre, the 3,999cc V8 delivers its 420hp peak at a dizzying 8,300rpm, 400Nm of torque at 3,900rpm and makes 85 per cent of that torque available between 2,000rpm and 8,400rpm.
Astonishingly BMW have managed to improve efficiency and emissions through developments of their Double VANOS valve timing system and advanced engine management which is capable of 200 million calculations a second.
CO2 emissions stand at 295g/km, reduced from 323g/km, and fuel consumption averages a genuine 22.8mpg.
There's also Brake Energy Regeneration which creates electric energy and allows the alternator to be shut down–thus improving efficiency further still.
So the technology has made the M3 greener as well as faster but it's how it performs on the road that most buyers will be concerned with when they shell out for such a focussed piece of machinery.
Focussed but still drivable at lower speeds and with your ideal settings for suspension, the M-differential, steering and accelerative responses available to be be set and saved via the iDrive in-car control system, much of the cars character lies in the palm of your left hand.
The 'Comfort' suspension setting suited my posterior best, the stiffest 'Sport-plus' setting proving track-day stiff, but beyond that I was able to back-off the stability and traction aids and sharpen the throttle to allow what is a fantastically balanced chassis to be more vividly exploited.
Like M3's of old the balance leans towards oversteer. BMW claim the car will understeer at the limit but few drivers, myself included, will push that far–the limits are high.
Through most corners the M3 turns in keenly and, once past the apex, strikes a fantastic rearward balance, the tyres digging for traction as you're carried out of the corner on a wave of torque.
It's a car that rewards a smooth driving style but still has more than enough of the hooligan about it to satisfy the most enthusiastic driver. Just watch that licence–this is one seriously rapid device.
It's hard to emerge from the new M3 with anything but admiration. Packed with technology it might be but there is nothing of the Playstation about it. The driver feels right in amongst what's going on. BMW's performance icon is as visceral, responsive and compelling as ever.
Can a car in excess of £50,000 really look like a bargain. When it provides the performance of a supercar, technology borrowed from Formula One and the comfort of a luxury coupe, I now believe it can...