Electric BMW M3 will follow hot on the heels of the 2025 electric 3 Series
Electric M cars will use Heart of Joy driving controller, which can distribute more than 1300bhp across all four wheels
The long-mooted electric BMW M3, arriving in 2027, will use “crazy” chassis control software in a bid to offer dynamic performance “far above” that of today’s hot BMWs.
Confirmed by BMW development boss Frank Weber at a recent event, the electric M3 will be based on the firm’s Neue Klasse (NK) platform – as previewed by a radical concept of the same name at the recent Munich motor show – and will arrive shortly after the next-generation, electric BMW 3 Series.
“The next M3 will be battery-electric – full battery-electric,” Weber told reporters, but clarified that “there will be a coexistence” with the current petrol M3 for a period, “which is necessary”. The S58 six-cylinder engine used by today’s M3 is scheduled to remain in production beyond 2030.
Giving clues as to what to expect from an electric M3, Weber explained that BMW’s new ‘Heart of Joy’ control unit – a fundamental component of Neue Klasse-based machines – will be instrumental in providing a distinct driving character for electric BMW performance cars – and helping to mitigate any loss of character from the absence of a powerful petrol engine.
“This is a controller that has taken the last 20 or 30 years of our experience into a control unit. Everything that is driving-performance related, chassis-control related, propulsion- [and] powertrain-related is now in one integrated control unit,” he said.
“It’s almost the history of how you control a vehicle that is in that thing. We do it ourselves – we don’t buy it. The software is proprietary. This is why we talk about it. We say, see, this will enable driving-dynamics functions that you will love. Some of you have an interest in ‘the ultimate driving machine’ – you will see functions in [the Heart of Joy] that are crazy.”
The Heart of Joy – a successor to the ‘Hand of God’ control unit that BMW first used in the i8 hybrid sports car – has been developed to support quad-motor drivetrains, with variable amounts of power delivered to each wheel as required. Weber said the unit can deploy up to one megawatt (1341bhp) of total power, but stopped short of revealing a target for the electric M3.
BMW previously revealed it was testing a quad-motor drivetrain in a bespoke prototype based on both the BMW i4 and M4, as part of a development programme for the first electric M cars.
Weber said: “We want to come with something where we show that NK is already very ambitious, but this [performance model] is doing something far above what people are used to today. This will come not too far away from the initial launch of the NK as a product line, and we’ve said we want to have it early and close to the SOP [start of production] of the core model, because people want to have what M can do next also in the battery-electric world.
“We see this clearly from consumers. Some come to me and say ‘no, the M guys don’t want this’. I say no, be careful, because we do a lot of customer studies here. M customers want, simply, the best and highest performance you can get.
“And the moment you get into a car that is one megawatt in performance and you can control every individual wheel, I can guarantee you there might be something wrong with the engine sound if they still miss this, but not in how the car behaves. It’s incredible.”
Weber’s sentiments echo those of BMW M boss Frank van Meel, who told Autocar last year that, when revealing any electric performance car, he wants customers to say: “This is crazy, I didn’t see that coming.”
“The story of the M3 is everlasting,” said van Meel. “Every time we change the story of the engine, from four-cylinder to six-cylinder to eight-cylinder to six-cylinder and a turbocharger, the story continues.
“Maybe it will go electric – but if it does, it will always be an M3. Whatever the powertrain, you should always be able to drive our cars and know they are M cars. We have stood the test of time for 50 years and will continue to do so.”
His comments suggest BMW bosses are not concerned about the appeal of its high-performance products waning as they go electric, Neither, it seems, are its customers. “We’ve just been talking to customers and the feedback is that 90-95% don’t care what direction we take on powertrain. They just want an M car. Yes, some say that if we don’t do V8s, they’re out but that’s okay: I respect that,” said van Meel.
Intriguingly, BMW sales boss Pieter Nota, speaking to Autocar at the Munich motor show recently, hinted that electric M cars may not use the same names as today’s petrol equivalents: “With Neue Klasse, we set benchmarks and we will certainly also have high-performance versions of those cars which we now call an M3 or M4. M is also going electric, which we see with the success of the i4 M50 and the i7 M70. So M remains at the core of the brands into the electric future. These M products have a great halo effect for the brand, which is aspirational.”
Although the M-fettled versions of BMW’s current EVs – the BMW i4 M50 and BMW i7 M70 – have power outputs that are on a par with those of today’s BMW M4 and BMW X5 M, for example, they are positioned more as the electric equivalents of M Sport cars like the M440i.
But a dedicated M EV would be a much more focused proposition, Autocar understands. Van Meel suggested the priorities will be minimising weight – a common preoccupation of electric sports car engineers – and maintaining the dynamic flair for which M cars are known.
“We just need to keep investing in lightweight technology. We already do a lot of carbon,” he said, on the subject of EVs being inherently heavier than combustion equivalents. “But electric cars do have some advantages. You can take some of the sound insulation out, for instance, and having the weight of the battery so low is interesting for engineers.”
Some of these techniques are being refined on production cars already. “The body control of the XM is amazing because the centre of gravity is so low,” said van Meel. “That allows you to soften the springs and dampers and still have no roll.”
Enticingly, he also spoke of the real-world applicability of technology developed through BMW’s newly expanded racing efforts.
Like the XM and upcoming M5, the firm’s new LMDh racer features a hybridised V8 – and while the powertrains are not identical, van Meel suggested development of the race car will inform future M road cars: “You can see that long-distance racing goes hand in hand with drivetrain technology.”
He added: “On the [LMDh] prototype, there are a lot of lessons, from aerodynamics to cooling, as well as the V8 hybrid drivetrain being linked to the one we have in the XM.”
Talking about the opportunities afforded by electrification to an M car, van Meel said: “What the engineers really like is that once you get electrified components in your drivetrain, the control of your torque and horsepower is much better, faster and easier than a combustion engine – especially in racing.”