When you slobber over an engine that makes 225 hp and 214 lb.-ft. (290 Nm) of torque, what do you do for an upgraded version of the same engine that adds an incredible 108 hp?
You see our superlative-deficit dilemma, then, withAG’s mighty M3 engine.
Like its lesser-powered 3L brother, it enjoys all the straight-6 attributes that have over the years turned our supposedly impartial judges into veritableengine groupies, yet increases horsepower to such an intoxicating level that we can’t even pretend impartiality.
Because of the BMW’s Motorsports Div.-tuned 3.2L DOHC I-6, the 10 Best Engines process has mutated into something like this: nominate 30 or so engines. Test for six or seven weeks. Then select nine of the best, because a win for the M-modified 3.2L is as automatic as blinking your eye.
There’s more power than most V-8s with 50% more displacement. The 262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm) of torque – much of it available throughout the rev range thanks to the double-VANOS variable valve timing – is just the right amount to balance the high-strung ponies with the sort of authentic shove for which power-producing revs just can’t substitute.
And after all that, there’s still the deep satisfaction of BMW’s hallmark inline 6-cyl. refinement, the factor that makes this engine so desirable as an everyday companion. Don’t fancy a thousand runs to the redline today? Troll around with the 3.2L M-engine whirring up front like the piston-driven Rolex that it is.
Like toddler love, this engine can demand attention: Some testers grudgingly admit that when backed by the 6-speed manual, you’ve often got to pay attention to your footwork. From standstill, for example, the high-strung S54 straight-6 doesn’t tolerate a lazy, cell phone-distracted step off the clutch – it will stall.
And if equipped with BMW’s intriguing Sequential Manual Gearbox – which eliminates the clutch and substitutes a sequential-shift actuator for the standard gearlever – the powertrain borders on being termed "high-maintenance," which is exactly opposite of the desired effect.
But we’re not talking gearboxes – we’re talking engines. And whenever you’re talking engines, if you’re not talking about BMW’s stunning 3.2L straight-6, you’re really not talking engines.