BMW M3 Review - Mostly Scalpel Sharp

Text by James Wong; Photos by Clifford Chow
23 Nov 2021
 

The car on test is an M3 Competition, which means 30 hp and 100 Nm more than the standard M3...

Since launching E30 M3 in the late 1980s, the BMW M3 has always been the flagbearer for sportiness in its segment, while its competitors either leaned towards comfort or attempted a blend of both. Built upon a class-leading 3-Series platform already famed for dynamics, the M3 has always been ‘the’ M car. 

With each iteration, BMW seems to push the envelope further to rile purists up. With the E9x M3, BMW ditched the iconic straight six for a V8. The F8X M3 ushered in an era of turbochargers, while the G8X M3 introduces a torque converter as well as a vertically long - very long - kidney grille. But BMW M is less concerned about purity than about keeping up with the times, which is essential if the M3 was to keep its throne safe. So far, it’s a formula that has worked.

Coming back to that kidney grille. Apparently so designed to allow maximum cooling for the engine, it is therefore much larger and virtually unrecognisable when compared to the trademark BMW kidney grille. 

I think that is a good thing. The M3 has its own distinct look, carves its own niche, and say what you will, it is definitely a talking point. The rest of the car is far more conservative, with a conventional rear end with quad exhausts, standard fare flared arches and a CFRP roof that we already saw in previous M3s.

Inside

A generous serving of premium Merino leather across the doors and dash makes a great impression of a luxury sports car, while you may notice the illuminated ‘M3’ badge on the seat head restraints which is a rather cool touch. Red accents like the engine start button and M1/M2 buttons hint at a race-bred machine beneath. 

It’s standard 3-Series fare brought up a notch, which just works. It feels well put together, high quality and easy to use. If you choose the more daring colour combinations, it really does feel quite special. 

The Drive

With the M3 its settings are paramount to how it drives. You can set up the transmission, chassis, steering, brakes, engine and traction control. It is all rather geeky but worth the effort if you want to extract the best out of the car. For instance, I preferred the transmission in its more benign setting because it was just holding gears too aggressively in Sport. Yet, I wanted a sharper engine response, while keeping brakes at their normal setting for easier modulation. It may be different to what you desire, and that’s the beauty of it, you can decide precisely what suits you.  

The car on test is an M3 Competition, which means 30 hp and 100 Nm more than the standard M3, as if it wasn’t already enough grunt from the 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six dubbed ‘S58’. In practice it feels absolutely brutal (especially in its most aggressive setting) and always raring to go. It doesn’t quite like being stuck in traffic although it attempts to put up a reasonable act of being civilised when placed in Comfort mode. 

What helps to make the G80 M3 easier to live with compared to its predecessors is the 8-speed M Steptronic, which is essentially a torque converter. It is smooth in Comfort, but a little jerky in Sport perhaps to make it feel more engaging. Make no mistake though, it is definitely not as precise nor as snappy as the DCT which it replaced, no matter how ‘manual’ it attempts to feel. 

The gearbox is the one last odd piece that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the M3, for the whole package is just scalpel sharp to drive. The handling is terrifically telepathic, the engine monstrously powerful and the ride decidedly firm no matter which mode you choose. It simply feels like it drove straight off Sepang. Since everything is already set up to be race-ready, I had wished the gearbox would also play to the same tune.  

Our Thoughts

The M3 has definitely kept its reputation held high with its highly strung persona, which is thrilling. I appreciate that it isn’t quite the jack-of-all-trades car and that is fine. It may take a while for me to come around to the gearbox though - yes, I am one of those aforementioned purists!

In Summary

We Like

Breathtaking sharpness speaks volumes about the engineering that has gone into the M3. It feels more like a race car than what you think is possible. Ridiculous amount of power and yet the chassis shines with it rather than being overwhelmed.   

We Don't

The gearbox just isn’t quite suited to the character of the car, as good as it may be.  

Verdict

The M3 reign is set to continue, but hopefully we get the DCT back in the LCI.   

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