RAZOR sharp handling, great engines and blistering pace have turned BMW's M3 into a super-saloon icon.
Created by BMW's M Division - the company's motorsport branch - the M3 has for some time been the performance flagship of the 3 Series range.
The latest fifth generation of the M3 has just been launched and I drove it from Frankfurt to Scotland over a weekend to sample the delights of this magnificent saloon.
In a bold move BMW have dumped the raw power of a V8 4.0-litre in favour of a twin turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit and combined with a substantial 80kg weight reduction that makes the new car 25 per cent more efficient than the car it replaces.
That means fuel economy of 34mpg and reduced CO2 emissions of 194g/km.
Don't start worrying about any reduction in performance - the new M3 produces 431bhp - and is quicker than the old model. It sprints to 62mph in just 4.1 seconds and the top speed is restricted at 155mph but is capable of much more.
Honed by BMW's professional race drivers at the Nurburgring the M3 comes with adaptive dampers and a limited slip differential to make sure that it is superb fun to drive.
Any M3 model is judged on its ability and this car is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Select your choice of settings to make it as aggressive as you want and get ready to enjoy its power.
It is blisteringly fast and the grip is sensational. And if you try too hard and get things slightly wrong the electronics will sort things out for you.
You can adjust the suspension, the steering feel, throttle response and gear shift points or just leave the car to its own devices. If you are not in the mood you can just opt for comfort mode and the car will be as easy to drive as a normal 3 Series and just as comfortable.
If you use its full might on unrestricted German motorways fuel consumption will plunge into the teens but you can almost reach the claimed 34mpg if you try really hard. On the route to Frankfurt to Rotterdam - mostly very fast motorway - and then from Hull Port to home, I averaged just over 24mpg.
As usual the M3 features a number of visual changes from the family saloon on which it is based and these give it a much more aggressive look, although they all have a purpose and are not just for show.
Cloaked in a muscular bodykit, there is also a bootlid spoiler and the expected four exhaust pipes. A power bulge features on the bonnet and the roof is made from carbon fibre. Twin-stalk wing mirrors and large air intakes complete the looks along with standard 19-inch alloys. You can upgrade to larger wheels if you fancy them.
The interior features standard electronically controlled and heated sports seats which are surprisingly comfortable on long journeys. The cabin is pretty much the same as in any other 3-Series but there are some nice M3 touches thrown-in to make it feel more special.
At £56,190 the M3 saloon is a shade cheaper than the M4 coupe which starts at £56,650 but if you start ticking the options you can easily add another ten grand. The automatic gearbox will add £2,645, the excellent head up display £825 and the carbon brakes a further £6,250.
To justify the price you have to think of the M cars as completely different models rather than 3-Series extensions. They are superbly built and engineered performance models and are now also much more refined.
An M4 convertible will arrive later this year with an asking price of £60,745 but for me the M3 will remain the most usable and practical model of the M cars.