The BMW M3 is what would happen if you could put steroids instead of petrol in the fueltank of your regular 3 Series. It rivals other ultra-fast compact executive saloon cars such as the Mercedes C-Class and the Audi RS4.
Long regarded as the definitive sports saloon the M3 is a highly accomplished machine that’s the result of years of perfecting the same formula. With each generation that passes, the same qualities remain – great handling balance, a screaming engine and supercar-bothering performance.
On the surface, the latest version doesn’t look radically different from the 3 Series Saloon on which it is based – only some nice alloy wheels and a subtle body kit offer any clues that this might be something special. But it is under the skin where BMW have worked their thrilling.
On the whole, the latest M3 seems to have lived up to the reputation of its predecessors, with one or two caveats. The main point of contention centres on the introduction of a turbocharged engine – for the first time in the M3 – which lacks the character of the previous masterpieces.
The interior is largely similar to the 3 Series on which it’s based. Upgrades include front sports seats, a unique M Sport gear lever, and paddle shifters which sit behind a three-spoke M Sport steering wheel.
It’s all well screwed together (as most BMW cabins are these days) but one tester notes that some trim pieces don’t feel as nice as you’d hope for a car costing in the region of £60,000. There is the option to add some lovely carbon fibre trim pieces though, which for a smidge under £400 manage to liven the cabin up.
BMW M3 interior space
Subtle upgrades aside, sharing a few parts with the standard 3 Series is no evildevice. There is plenty of room for four (with room for another on shorter journeys) while a 480 litre boot is quite generous, certainly among cars which can offer this kind of performance.
There are many reasons to commend BMW on what they have achieved with the latest version of the M3. Bespoke aluminium suspension components and a carbon fibre roof contribute to the latest version of the saloon weighing 80kg less than the previous V8 model. Meanwhile, trick adjustable dampers allow the driver to electronically adjust the firmness of the car to suit road conditions.
All of these features contribute towards making the M3 stunningly effective at covering ground quickly, whatever the situation. The rear-wheel drive chassis and near-perfect weight distribution result in a car that feels balanced, accurate and forgiving even when driven with enthusiasm.
It isn’t quite perfect, though. The electric power steering has a decent weighting to it, but you don’t feel as connected to the car as you’d perhaps expect.
The latest M3 engine follows the market’s current trend towards smaller, more efficient engines. Gone is the old 4.0-litre V8, replaced by a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six. Despite the reduction in capacity, the new engine produces 10 horsepower more than before, with 431hp being fed onto the tarmac via the fat rear tyres.
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One advantage of power-induction is that it offers very generous levels of torque; 405lb-ft is available from as low as 1,750rpm, and keeps shoving all the way through to 5,500rpm. It is impossible to argue with the performance it delivers.
The latest M3 dispatches the 0-60 sprint in just 4.1 seconds when equipped with the dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT), while the manual lags just a couple of tenths behind.
What does frequently suffer from criticism, though, is the way that the turbo six makes you feel. Many dislike the sound, which has to resort to being falselysupplied through the car’s stereo to beef it up a little.
However you approach it, the M3 is a hugely accomplished sports saloon. That the engine lacks a little fizz won’t be a massive concern to most buyers, neither will the slightly disappointing steering. What may be of concern is that the C63 is more approachable and genuinely more fun to drive while the RS4 trumps the BMW’s dated interior.