Everyone knows the M3 raised the bar in the overpowered junior executive market. And without the unwelcome bells and whistles that dominate its big brother M5's driving experience, the only downside was that it still lost out to the bigger Bimmers in the game of boardroom Top Trumps. With the ACS3 Sport, though, Schnitzer has fixed that.
Because with a few subtle tweaks they have produced the 475-hp, torque-driven missile that could just be the logical alternative for the keen enthusiast who doesn't equate high technology with driving fun.
Quote all the figures you like about gearchange speeds, notional seconds shaved off a lap of the Nrburgring, 375-way adjustability and more. It doesn't change the fact that SMG is nowhere near as entertaining as the perfect blend of throttle, clutch and gearstick and one good suspension setup is more than enough. Add the fact that the M3 is smaller, more chuckable and more entertaining than its bigger brothers, and this suddenly becomes a performance bargain.
There are still plenty of gadgets in the M3, but unlike the techno-fests higher up the price range these actually feel plugged in to the driver's seat. And with a performance kit consisting of a new stainless steel exhaust, new intake, and an engine remap, the Aachen firm has pulled out another 55 hp from the 4.0-liter V8. So even though they don't claim it's any faster than the standard car's 0-to-60 dash of 4.8 seconds that comes with all the sincerity of a pre-election promise. It's faster throughout the range and comes with a 330 km/h (205 mph) clock and no limiter. It near as makes no difference a 200-mph car. There's nowhere you'll miss that extra 5 mph; there isn't even a circuit where it will make a blind bit of difference. You'd need an airport runway and even then it would be close.
The added punch comes the whole way through the rev range with this car feeling faster than the figures suggest, thanks to the dirty, guttural bassline courtesy of the V8 and Schnitzer's own sport exhaust. Schnitzer went to work on the suspension, too, which was perhaps a little too clever for its own good and left the driver oddly out of touch with the goings-on at the front wheels. Electronic Damper Settings and all that jazz are all well and good and the hydraulic steering is a nod in the direction of driving feel, but it's not the borderline race car that first gave the M3 its name. Even the E46 felt more direct, more natural at the helm.
Once pitched into slides, the E92 can hang all day, but it doesn't cut as keenly as previous generations due in part to the constant maturation of the car, the price and the target customer who demands a certain level of ride comfort in his 414-hp road warrior. That left a car that took several bites to turn into a bend.
Not any more. With the short handling circuit laid on at Mendig we found a fluid, complete M3 that inevitably edged back toward the performance side. The racing suspension was developed on the Nordschleife that lies just down the road from Schnitzer's Aachen base. It's fully adjustable too.
Other tuners have done a similar job, but Schnitzer is widely regarded as the benchmark thanks to three decades of motorsport dominance as the in-house race team. Schnitzer was largely responsible for the dominant streak running through the 3 Series' history and it's fair to say they know about performance parts-and a global dealer network now shifts them by the crateload.
Schnitzer doesn't make everything, instead working with suppliers like Bilstein and Remus, as well as BMW's bodywork supplier, to provide the best of the best at every stage. The end result is the very best materials assembled and set up by a race team-it was never going to be found wanting, now was it?
The front end cuts into a bend more decisively now, wheels following your fingertips, while the back end can be coaxed out of line just as easily as you'd expect from 475 horses. Driven within its limits, the Schnitzer ACS3 offers prodigious grip from Michelin Pole Position 2 tires clothing 20-inch forged wheels front and rear. The initial tendency toward understeer and uncertainty is gone and the car just cuts in.
BMW's traction control system remains relatively unaffected by the shenanigans going on under the hood, so the car will head through any bend as tight or loose as you want.
Visually, the M3 was brave in the first place, so Schnitzer has limited itself to a carbon front lip spoiler, a rear spoiler, diffuser mirror covers, and the rather snazzy vitro labels for the side panels. That organic, muscular plastic patch at the bottom right changes the whole look and gives the design a start.
Inside, it comes with the usual baubles: kickplates, drilled pedals, gear lever, and a fair helping of carbon fiber on the sport steering wheel. The M Drive wheel also comes with its own touch, a five-spoke cover resembling the wheels themselves, which I have to confess you could cope without.
I could leave the new vents in the bonnet, too, but the diffuser, side skirts, roof and lip spoilers, and Type V wheels all give the car a finishing edge that the more androgynous E92 couldn't quite manage, even in pumped-up M3 form.
Schnitzer has gone much further with this chassis, fitting the M5's five-liter V10 and then converting that to run on LPG. But this is the honed and sharpened V8 M3 conversion that will form the volume sales, and it's as good as any car on the road.
The E92 has progressed so far beyond the realm of the original E30 M3 that it has almost taken the place of the old M5 in style and become a fire-breathing luxury saloon, albeit with a wicked bad look straight from the factory. Schnitzer simply gave the new car a fighting chance against its bigger brothers, and made a way more entertaining car in the process.
AC Schnitzer ACS3
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. ACS sport exhaust, intake and software.
ACS/Bilstein springs and dampers
*Wheels and Tires
ACS Type V, 10x20 (f), 9x20 (r)Michelin Pole Position 2265/30 (f), 295/25 (r)
Carbon front lip, rear spoiler, mirror covers
ACS sill plates, drilled pedals, sport steering wheel
Peak Power: 475 hp0-60 mph: 4.8 sec.*AC Schnitzer data
Claus Ettensberger Corp.