BMW M3 review - has the definitive super saloon still got it?

Will Beaumont
18 Jul 2017

The latest updates to the this performance car icon have improved it greatly, it now has the composure to match its mighty performance

Evo Rating: 
Tough looks and incredible performance
Snappy DCT 'box

Despite being based on BMW’s mid-sized, practical 3-series the M3 has become a fundamental part of the performance car world. A trackday or Nurburgring tourist day wouldn’t be complete without at least one M3. Only the first of the breed, the E30 M3, had any real racing pedigree but in the intervening 31 years the M3 has become faster and more impressive. Now, irrespective of its saloon underpinnings, the M3 has the performance and handling poise to worry any unprepared supercar driver.

However this model, know as the F80, is different in many ways to the M3s of old. To begin with it’s the first M3 to be a four-door only. That’s because BMW’s model range has changed, and what was once the 3-series coupe has become the 4-series. Consequently, the M3 coupe is now the M4.

> Read our review of the BMW M4

Also, this is the first of the generation to be powered by a turbocharged engine. That means the high-revving, highly charismatic engines that M-cars – especially the M3 – have become known for have gone. Instead the F80 has an effective sledgehammer of a motor that turns the M3 into a brutal B-road and autobahn weapon like never before.

The performance and pace of the early versions of the F80 was never in doubt, but they weren’t suited to the UK’s very bumpy and undulating roads. Poor body control, particularly at the rear, made the car feel difficult to control and predict. The situation was exaggerated by the spiky nature of the M3’s drivetrain.

Tweaks throughout its lifetime have made the F80 M3 a more approachable and, in turn, a more fun car to drive. The 2018 model year is a significant step up in terms of composure and the Competition Pack (an £3000 extra over the standard M3) improves things even further.

BMW M3 in detail

> Performance and 0-60 time – Massive torque has made the M3 an astonishingly fast car. It will go from 0-60mph in 4.1sec and onto 100mph in just 8.6sec.

> Engine and gearbox – The omission of naturally aspirated motor might have upset M3 purists, but the F80 M3 has one of the most exciting and intense turbocharged engines on sale.

> Ride and handling – The F80 might lack the finesse that the M3 has built its reputation on, but it’s still fast and fun to drive.

> MPG and running costs summary – The turbocharged engine might look more economical on paper, but in reality it’s just as expensive to run as any performance car.

> Interior and tech – The M3 uses the functional, but not particularly glamorous, interior from the 3-series. A sprinkling of carbonfibre is really the only difference.

> Design – A bonnet bulge, flared arches and deep spoilers give the M3 a very aggressive look.

Prices, specs and rivals

Prices, specs and rivals

The basic price for the M3 is £58,580. For that you get 425bhp and 406lb ft of torque, a manual gearbox and satnav. The optional DCT, twin-clutch gearbox is another £2645 – however, from our experience, we’d stick with the basic manual gearbox. The Competition Pack, with retuned suspension, 444bhp, dark exterior trim, costs another £3000. That though, is worth the extra money.

Older M3s weren’t known for being blessed with impressive brakes, far from it. The F80 is far better though, but if you intend to subject your M3 to a lot of time on track then the carbon ceramic brakes (an £6,250 option) might be worth considering.

Until Audi releases a new version of the RS4 – something we’re expecting to see later this year – there isn’t a huge amount of choice when it comes to small, fast saloon cars.

Mercedes’ latest C63 S Saloon is more powerful than the M3; its twin-turbo V8 puts out 503bhp. Despite having a mightier punch, the Merc gets from 0-62mph in 4sec, only 0.1sec faster than the M3. However, the C63 also lacks the same precision and engagement that the M3 offers.

> Read our review of the Mercedes-AMG C63

The M3 finds its biggest challenge in the form of Alfa Romeo’s new Giulia Quadrifolglio. The Alfa matches the more powerful Merc with 503bhp, but can hit 62mph from a standstill in 3.9sec. Where the Alfa really excels though is in the way it drives. Yes, it feels fast, but the suspension is supple enough to allow the Giulia to stay composed on rough and craggy UK roads. Its fast steering and exploitable rear-drive chassis make it incredibly fun and approachable, too.

> Read our review of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifolglio

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