When the M3 CRT was first announced back in July 2011, we dismissed it as yet another superficial special edition with matte paint and carbon fiber trimmings. When we drove it at the Nürburgring, we realized within a few hundred yards that we couldn’t have been more wrong. The M3 CRT is something altogether different, a special edition in which the “special” goes far beneath the Frozen Polar Silver skin. It’s effectively a CSL for the 21st century, but more radical even than its early ’70s E9 counterpart and definitely more rare, with just 67 examples built. It’s also a glimpse into the future of M, offering concrete clues as to what the next M3 might feel like when it’s introduced next year.
The M3 CRT—for Carbon Racing Technology—is where M meets i, BMW’s future-looking sub-brand dedicated to electric mobility for megacities. No, M isn’t borrowing the i cars’ battery-powered drivetrains; instead, it’s picking up the scraps left over from the construction of the i cars’ carbon fiber passenger cells and turning it into innovative parts that reduce weight and improve performance.
The CRT’s hood and the seat backs are made from a cellular carbon honeycomb, which BMW says is “produced in a globally unique process pioneered for the manufacture of body components for the i3 and i8 models.” Unnecessary modifiers notwithstanding, the hood is made from two carbon fiber moldings that sandwich an aramid honeycomb structure, and it undercuts the weight of the standard M3’s aluminum hood by 50%. The seat backs use the same material, but here more weight is probably saved by their slimmer padding and lack of angle adjustment.
The carbon fiber hood and seat backs make the CRT even more exotic than the E92 M3 GTS, the 3,366-lb., 450-hp Clubsport edition whose Fire Orange paint and minimal equipment made it an instant hit among track day enthusiasts. But the GTS was a coupe, one whose roll cage made it strictly a two-seater. What about those who wanted a high-performance M3 with room for four, and with four doors?
“The idea came from the marketing department,” admits BMW M’s Walter Haupt, who’s technically in charge of Functional Integration for the M brand but who took on responsibility for creating the CRT in his spare time, as did the other engineers who worked to make the car more than just a marketing exercise. “A lot of people want to have a car [like the GTS] as an on-road car, and to use it on Sunday on your lieblingstrecke, your favorite road. Some live in the mountains and do a hill climb, some live near the Nürburgring and use this course, or the Lausitzring or Hockenheim. I live in the Schwarzwald, and I have my favorite road there. The idea was to build a car for people who wanted to have something like a comfortable sports car and an Individual car, so we built up the last four-door M3s as a special edition using a lot of the parts developed for the GTS.”
That, of course, begins with the engine, a 4.4-liter version of the S65 V8 that puts out 450 hp rather than 420 and 325 lb-ft rather than 295. As well as more powerful, the larger-displacement engine is livelier, with a slightly raw sound that encourages the driver to seek out the upper reaches of the tach just to hear it scream. It’s usable power, too, torquey enough to propel the M3 CRT from zero to 62 mph in just 4.7 seconds, 0.3 second quicker than a regular E90 M3.
To arrest that forward motion, the CRT borrows its superb brakes from the GTS. They use racing pads on 378mm front and 380mm rear compound rotors, and they work better than any stock BMW brakes short of those on the new M5 and M6.