BMW M3 review - still the sports saloon king?

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

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.

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> 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.

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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.

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> 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

£59,860 affords you the base car in standard trim equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox; specify the optional dual clutch transmission and BMW will ask another £2,500 of you. However, we recommend spending that premium, and a little more, elsewhere (the manual transmission is a goodun).

Competition Package trim may cost £3,000, but it’s worth the sum of its parts, and some. A power bump of 19bhp, bigger and wider wheels, a revised chassis and recalibrated LSD soften the sharper edges of the standard car; the DCT is available here, too.

> Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio review

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Unlike its forebear’s, this generation of M3 benefits from good brakes, but should you make a track companion of yours, it's worth considering the carbon-ceramic brakes, priced at a hefty £6,250.

The M3’s status as the default sports saloon of choice has been brought into question by competent competition. Audi’s new RS4, only available as an estate, demonstrates the virtues of four-wheel drive, and with the right chassis options, is a rewarding drive, too.

Intensifying the German rivalry is Mercedes-AMG’s C63 S, which has both the BMW and Audi licked for power thanks to its stonking 503bhp 4-litre V8. While it betters the BMW in the powertrain department, it’s not as dynamically sorted.

> Audi RS4 review

Our pick of the bunch though is the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, our eCoty sport saloon champion. Not only does its turbo motor offer more performance than the M3’s, but it’s more responsive and tractable, too. Equally impressive is the chassis which is expertly judged.


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