Though hugely functional, German automotive design can sometimes lean toward the antiseptic. Fortunately, Germany's close proximity to Italy has offered access to the best stylemeisters in the world. Names like Giugiaro, Bertone and Micholotti have lent their skilled hands to their northern neighbors with impressive results.
For the last 20 years the Milan-based team of RD Sport has devoted its talents toward the machines from Munich. Twenty years ago we first sampled their E36 M3. It was fast, looked great and attracted the right sort of attention. It was a car worth remembering, largely for its restraint and understated simplicity. Oh yeah, it was hellaciously fast too.
This latest release from RD Sport is based on the new E92 M3. Like its older sibling, the RS46, it's been massaged in all the right places. It's a car you want to remember.
"We think BMW builds fantastic cars," says Federico Pavoncelli. "We don't need to reinvent them, but rather take them to the next level, a level that adheres pretty close to what the factory might do."
While there are cheaper methods to extract more performance from a BMW, none offer the level of reliability of increased displacement.
"For a time, BMW considered turbos and superchargers as somewhat 'cheap' methods to increase performance," Pavoncelli says.
"BMW prided itself on the design of its normally aspirated engines. If they wanted more power, they'd simply build a bigger engine."
Ironically, BMW has begun to embrace turbocharging while Audi has gone the big block route. Perhaps a supercharged BMW isn't such a bad idea after all.
As RD Sport explains, the real problem with aftermarket forced induction is that such technology was never intended for certain engines.
"You have no idea what's happening inside the cylinder head," Pavoncelli adds.
"If BMW builds a turbocharged engine they don't simply strap on a turbo to a normal motor. There's a bit more to it than that.
"That's why we prefer to stay close to factory parameters and develop cars the way BMW does itself."
Should BMW ever develop an M3 Plus version, chances are it would resemble the RD Sport car featured on these pages. With a more powerful engine, reworked suspension and understated styling, it's an M3 for the performance-minded purist.
We've brought the car to a favorite location in the high desert. Lots of open roads and nary a cop in sight means it's perfect for all sorts of high-powered shenanigans.
No one has been here for weeks and the road is covered in a light coating of dust. I learn how slippery it is on the first 90-degree corner as the rear end steps out big time and tries to overtake the front. A quick stab of the gas and the car straightens itself. The engine has virtually instantaneous throttle response-it can go from relaxed idle to full-tilt scream in a few tenths of a second. And remember, this is a V8 engine spinning to more than 8000 rpm. Try doing that with a small block Chevy.
The RD Sport engine-tuning program includes a longer stroke with a new, forged crankshaft that serves to increase torque some 28 percent (if we had any complaints about the M3 it would be its low-end performance). The bore remains stock but the compression ration is reduced from 12:1 to 11.4:1 with total displacement rising from 3,999 to 4,620cc.
While it's simple to ascertain the uprated performance by looking at the numbers, it doesn't really tell the whole story. The RD Sport M3 feels as though it's been amplified the way a microphone enhances a guitar. The entire car feels more alive and responsive. The engine note has a deep growl with racecar-like overtones-simply revving the engine is fun in itself.
The RS46 program includes a full stainless steel exhaust developed with a combination of CAD software and many hours of dyno time.
"Right now we can design an optimum exhaust system on the computer," says Pavoncelli.
"The software tells us pretty much the exact parameters-all that's left for us is the packaging and sound tuning. An RD Sport car has got to have emotion in its voice. It's got to grab its audience by the heart and balls."
The RS46 rides on a suspension 25mm lower than a stock vehicle. RD Sport's main objective was to lower the car's center of gravity for better handling."BMW did a great job with the M3 suspension," says Pavoncelli. "We saw no reason to mess with the rates. We support both the standard suspension and the optional Sachs-based EDC suspension."
The M3 featured on these pages was equipped with the standard suspension modified with RD Sport's lowering springs. For street use, it's an excellent solution, providing the necessary yet restrained levels of chassis movement. The ride quality is on a par with a stock M3 which is near perfect in its street or track usability. More importantly, it's fantastic for daily driving, an ideal mix of firmness and complicity.
The RS46 wears a power suit fabricated from carbon fiber and it replaces the front and rear bumper caps. The stuff appears to be as factory correct as it comes with excellent fit and finish. I guess looking great is simply a bonus.
RD Sport sets the chassis on its split-spoke RS45 wheels, a variation of their classic five-spoke design. Shod with Pirelli P-Zero tires (245/35-19 and 305/25-19), the car has a massive footprint and pretty much goes where it's pointed. Getting the tail-out photos required several shovels full of sand. Even then it wasn't easy. The RS46 wants to make the most of its 525 hp and 414 lb-ft of twist.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of the RS46 is its rock solid nature. No high-strung turbos, skittish suspensions or grabby brakes nonsense. There is a purity in the RS46 (and all RD Sport cars for that matter) that makes driving them a genuine pleasure. If you're into that sort of thing, give RD Sport a call.av
RD Sport RS46 M3
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.6-liter V8, RD Sport ECU, RD Sport intake, RD Sport exhaust
RD Sport lowering springs, Bilstein shocks and struts
Brembo six piston calipers/15-in rotors (f), Brembo four-piston calipers/14.2-in rotors
Wheels and Tires
RD Sport RS46 alloys, 9.5x19 (f), 11x19 (r)
Pirelli P-Zero 265/40 (f), 305/25 (r)
RD Sport aerodynamic package
Peak Power: 525 hp @ 8200 rpm
Peak Torque: 414 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm
0-62 mph: 4.1 sec.
Top Speed: 190 mph