The BMW M3 kindly loaned to me by Rybrook BMW Warwick was a 2017 model fitted with the Competition Package. The M3 starts at £59860 otr with the Competition Package adding a further £3000 to that price in exchange for a further 19bhp, 20 inch alloy wheels, M-Performance Exhaust and Adaptive Suspension as well as lightweight sport seats, . The car tested featured the M-Double Clutch 7 speed transmission which costs an extra £2645 over the standard manual transmission. With options, the test car retails at around £70000 new.
The 3.0l twin turbo straight six engine produces 444bhp and 406 lb/ft of torque and sends it all to the rear wheels. This gives the car a 0-62mph time of 4.0 seconds with the DCT gearbox and a top speed limited to 155mph . With the turbo’s on full boost the car feels every bit as quick as the figures would suggest with second gear leaving you holding on somewhat. Whilst the engine is responsive and quick to react there is some turbo lag and I found it hard to exploit the performance of the engine on anything but completely straight roads due to the boosty nature of the power delivery, particularly when in sport plus mode. This did improve as confidence grew with the car however. Where the car excels is when short shifting and riding the wave of torque on offer where you can make satisfyingly brisk progress without the risk of pirouetting through the nearest hedge.
After hearing many stories of the M3 being a lairy animal in anything but the driest conditions I was somewhat wary of putting any of the power down in the frankly atrocious weather conditions presented to me when I collected the car but in sport mode the car was surprisingly manageable and had substantially more grip than I was expecting. If you are ham fisted and stamp on the throttle this isn’t a car that will reward you even in the dry but gradually feed the power in and you can deploy a large amount of the performance even in wet conditions.
There are three engine modes to choose from; efficient, sport and sport plus. Efficient drops the engine performance back a little and dulls throttle response but in a car with this much power it is more than usable especially around town or in traffic. Sport steps up the sound a bit. It’s never a quiet car which for me makes it an experience even when you aren’t in a hurry. Everything works well in sport. Decent traction, nice sound and good but smooth performance can be had. Dial it up to sport plus and the sound, particularly outside the car get’s louder and there are pops and crackles a plenty. Approaching the red line it makes a hugely satisfying gravelly bark which adds character to the turbocharged thrust it has in spades. The throttle is ready to propel you whenever you command and the power is released in a way that’s, well, savage and requires care in the wet.
Which brings me on to the traction control. I didn’t try turning it off, it isn’t my car after all and thanks to the cold and sometimes wet conditions I didn’t try sport traction either but in full traction on, the way it cuts power is quite disconcerting. A couple of times it kicked in with such savagery that I thought the engine had either stalled or broken before it shot off again. My intuition says the sport traction would make this transition more gradual but I couldn’t try it out for myself. Around town and doing maneuvers sport plus is jumpy and difficult to be smooth with but then this is your mode for getting a shift on not doing the school run.
Economy was surprisingly good as well. Officially on the combined cycle, it is recorded as doing 34mpg and whilst I was cruising dual carriageways and A roads with a few bursts of acceleration I was averaging around 28mpg. With some more stop start traffic mixed with some more spirited driving it did drop to 21mpg but for a car with 444bhp is more than acceptable.
Ride and Handling
The biggest surprise to me was the ride in the M3. With the adaptive MSport suspension it was composed and comfortable in all modes but particularly in comfort without losing anything in the way of agility, on the road at least. Sport plus mode did stiffen things up a little but there was no jiggling of parts you’d rather keep still considering it’s a car with such performance. Most of the time I simply left in in comfort mode because here it seemed to have the best of all worlds. The ‘middle’ sport mode I really struggled to notice any difference compared to comfort.
The steering has, yes you guessed it, another three modes and this one is where I cannot understand why anyone would use anything other than comfort which is precise, a nice weight and accurate. Sport mode made the steering very heavy an it didn’t feel natural at all. I was never sure how much the wheels were going to turn come each corner and dialing it up to sport plus that sensation multiplied it further. Comfort is wonderful, leave it in that!
Thankfully you can save your favourite settings to the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel so you don’t have to fiddle with each different variable individually every time you want to change driving styles. I did find it a little frustrating that each time you started the car up the settings reverted back to sport everything and I couldn’t find a way to change that in the idrive menu.
The M3 is a wonderful car to drive down a twisty road and is more than livable as a daily driver even if you regularly frequent broken, uneven b roads.
Clearly, the way a car looks and particularly whether you like it is very much subjective. The M3 is very much a 3 series saloon and particularly in the light colour of the car I drove, fairly subtle. My mother in law was quite underwhelmed when dropping off my daughter. To her it was just a saloon car and to many it would be just a 3 series but that carries a lot of appeal to certain people. There are plenty of bold colour choices available should you want to make a statement and in some of these colours the body kit looks far more pronounced. For me, the carbon fibre exterior MSport options that weren’t fitted to this car make the car a seem a lot more special and add to the sporty look especially when paired to a light contrasting paintwork. The carbon roof is stunning. The competition pack brings with it a black grill and accents around the car which look modern add to the sporty feel as do the black quad exhaust tips of the MSport exhaust. The M3 looks an aggressive car with its extended wheel arches, lips and spoilers when configured in the right colour with the right options.
If the exterior if the car shouts ‘normal’ 3 series, the interior does so even more but is that really a bad thing? It is made from good quality materials, is well put together and has some of the most intuitive infotainment out there. Everything is easy to find, easy to use and looks as good as you would expect from a premium vehicle. This car was fitted with the optional carbon fibre interior pack which did give a sportier look over the less performance oriented 3 series models as did the competition packs lightweight sports seats with M logo and the M stripe detailing on the seatbelts is a stunning touch. It isn’t the most flamboyant interior out there but it is a lovely place to spend time and the seats are extremely supportive when pressing on. There is plenty of room in the rear and you have the all important rear doors if you have children or regularly carry passengers in the back which you lose with the 2 door M4 and with a 480 litre boot there is plenty of room for a families luggage.
The M3, particularly in Competition Pack guise is a fantastic one car fits all proposition. It is an excellent weekend, one last blast B road kind of car and keen drivers will find it an involving and exciting drive. The sound from the engine whilst not necessarily as charismatic as its V8 rivals or its E92 predecessor, makes even mundane journeys an event and I struggle to see where the criticisms it has received for its soundtrack in some other reviews come from. The performance is stomach turning especially for the passengers, just ask my wife. At no point did I wish it was quicker, just a little more linear in its deployment of its horses. For all this performance it is as practical as any other saloon car with plenty of space and a decent boot for all your luggage. At £70 000 it isn’t cheap even when you consider its impressive fuel economy for such a car but when you start browsing nearly new examples that can be had for considerably less than £50 000 it starts to look a bit of a bargain, providing you are happy to let somebody else run it in for you. You would struggle to find a more complete car for that kind of money.
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A huge thank you again to Rybrook BMW Warwick for loaning me the car. Contact Jon Wilkinson directly for this or any other BMW.