Since its was introduction in 1986, the BMW M3 has been considered to be embodiment of the German automaker, the ultimate “Ultimate Driving Machine.” In the world of BMW owners, there are no casual M3 fans, and with each new generation, every important change is scrutinized with extreme prejudice, lest BMW do something to change the fundamental greatness of the car. When the E/90/92/93 M3 debuted in 2007, the purists nearly revolted when BMW replaced the car’s iconic inline-six with a V8. It’s probably not a coincidence that when the F80 car debuted in 2014, the well-reviewed V8 was replaced with a new twin-turbo inline-six.
So if the prospect of two extra cylinders sent the faithful into a frenzy, just imagine what will happen when the next car comes out. Because according to sources within BMW, the next-generation M3 will be a plug-in hybrid. Yes, the next M3 and M4 cars (the M3 coupe was renamed M4 in 2014) will feature tech gleaned from the company’s i-Division, and the success of both the i3 electric city car and i8 hybrid sports car. And to put an even finer point on it, when asked for comment, BMW’s North American CEO confirmed that the rumors are true, telling The Detroit Bureau “We have to go that way.”
But don’t expect the M3 to start competing with the Prius in the next few years, or even the futuristic i8 for that matter. The M3’s system is likely to be the best of both worlds – think more along the lines of Tesla P90D meets La Ferrari than Toyota Prius meets BMW i3.
With the hybrid system, the new M3/M4 cars are likely to make over 500 horsepower, a jump of 75 ponies from the current car, as well as a big torque boost, somewhere along the lines of an extra 73 pound-feet, bringing the total up to around 480. All power from the engine (likely to still be a turbocharged inline-six) will be delivered to the rear wheels, with the possibility of an all-wheel drive setup thanks to dual electric motors for the front wheels.
And for the ecologically sensible, the M3 could travel up to 20 miles on battery power, and use a Formula 1-style Kinetic Engine Recovery System (KERS) to recoup some power under braking. To compensate for the added weight from the lithium-ion battery pack and electric motors, the company is looking to use a suite of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials á la its new 7-Series, which shed 300 pounds over the last generation despite growing in length. But if the thought of a greener M3 still churns your stomach, don’t worry. According to company insiders, the next-generation car won’t arrive until around 2020, so there’s still time to get your hands on an old-fashioned gas-powered M3.
With each successive M3 generation, BMW fans have collectively held their breath and asked “is this the one they’ll screw up?” And so far, Bavaria’s best haven’t missed a beat. In 30 years, the M3 has grown from a naturally-aspirated four-banger, to an inline-six, to a V8, and back to an inline-six (albeit turbocharged) without so much as a stutter. With each iteration, it’s continued to be the the right car at the right time, all the time. With the way the automotive world is evolving, it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that a hybrid M3 is coming. Chances are in 2020, you’ll still want one pretty badly, no matter what it’s running on.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS
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