The M3 is something a fixture in the performance car culture, with each iteration bringing an even more evolved and complete package. BMW’s M division takes the sporting but by all means everyday 3 Series and buffed it up in every way possible - and tastefully - resulting in a fast saloon that’s both practical and addictively potent.
Built off of the F30, the 6th-generation 3 Series, the M3 now comes only as a four-door sedan, with BMW splitting the coupe and cabriolet body styles into a new model called the M4, though they remain mechanically similar.
In spite of its two extra ingress points, the M3 remains identically as agile and as quick in a straight line as the M4 in either of its guises, making it a compelling all-round choice and handily living up to the storied name.
Mercedes-Benz and Audi has tried to match the M3’s unique appeal of brutish sophistication, being every yuppie’s dream upgrade from their compact exec saloon, with varying degrees of success. The Audi RS 4 and AMG C 63 represent worthy opposition, and in some cases trounce the Bimmer for metrics, but never really embarrassing it.
Even Jaguar has entered the fray recently with their XE S, and some argue that they come the closest yet to really upsetting the M3 at the game it invented, though the Brit has a ways to go to really make potential buyers brush aside the Munich offering outright.
The M3 is the daddy of the small performance sedan, and this F80-generation car has been lauded as the most accomplished yet, with some caveats. Opinion is split on whether its ride is the best balance of comfort and sportiness, meanwhile the snarl of its turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine somewhat pales against the atmospheric 4.0-litre that preceded it.
But in nearly all other respects, and particularly with the efficiency and sheer punch the new motor offers, this newest M3 has managed to stave off pretenders to the throne at least for another term, through it should be more worried about its incumbency than ever.
“…the M3 benefits immensely from those huge wheel arches, absent on its M4 coupe sibling. And look at the way that carbon-fiber roof sparkles in the sunlight.” - Car and Driver
We’d wager that nearly no one can point to the M3 as being anything but an arrestingly pretty car. There’s a deftness to how BMW M has given it a clearly more aggressive outward persona without treading over the line into garish territory. The body kit is subtle, and applied in a way that accentuates the lowered stance and revised front and rear bumpers with more aerodynamic properties.
The wider body and tapered haunches only hint at the car’s considerable power and ability, which the larger 19-inch light alloy wheels and carbon fibre roof confirm. Apart from that, there’s not much else that’s obviously different enough for the average passerby to take notice of. But that isn’t to say that it’s inconspicuous.
Any onlooker would be able to tell that this car means business, but its through many smaller, more subtle cues that build up to markedly altered first impression. That’s probably something that BMW has spent a good deal trying to perfect, the ability to elicit a knowing respect from just about anyone, in the same way a charismatic person does through body language.
Engine and Drivetrain
“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.” - EVO
Gone is the 4.0-litre V8 that powered the E92 and in comes the 3.0-litre S55. Some purists may applaud the return of the straight six, but that joy is soon dampened by the realisation of the inevitable move to turbocharging.
The new powerplant, with its twin turbochargers, produces 317kW and 550Nm and mated to an M-DCT twin-clutch automatic with 7 forward ratios (6-speed manual is a no-cost option). Power from the longitudinally mounted engine is, naturally, sent to the rear wheels and can launch the car from a standstill to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds.
In terms of sheer pace, the smaller but more powerful inline-6 absolutely trounces the old V8, delivering peak torque at just 1,750rpm and endowing the M3 with precise and ample levels of power that’s easily modulated via a sharply calibrated throttle.
The linear nature of the engine is a joy when matched to the lively chassis rear-drive chassis, but a fairly uniform criticism levelled against it being its lack of effervescence that its predecessors had in spades. A tingling soundtrack is expected from forced-induction cars, leaving the new M3 as a particularly high profile casualty. It doesn’t sound bad, but lacking that special something, and the artificial engine noise piped through the speakers, while quite believable, is something of a dishonour.
“The M3 is not as flashy as some alternatives but many drivers will prefer its more restrained look and feel.” - What Car
In the same vein that subtle but effective hints pepper the M3’s exterior, the interior is very similar to that found in any F30 3 Series. Honestly, through, it isn’t like BMW really needed to change all that much, what with the base car already being quite sporty in its own right and built very well.
As usual, the layout is simple but elegant, with every instrument and surface tuned slightly toward the driver. The excellent M Sport steering wheel is a highlight here, and following the M3’s premiere, the design has permeated to lesser sportier trims of the 3 Series.
Other notable additions include the unique rounded M Sport gear lever and front sports buckets upholstered in Merino leather, as is the rear seats. There’s also carbon fibre and black chrome accents scattered around the cabin trim.
The more cosseting front seats are larger than usual and do impede on legroom slightly, but not enough for any practicality concern, though visibility for rear passengers is reduced. Three passengers should be able to fit just as well as in any other 3 Series, and the unchanged 480-litre boot is still very commodious and nearly unbelievable in a car that serves up this level of performance.
Behind The Wheel
“Where the BMW M3 impresses most is with its ability to be fast and vivid one moment, and comfortable and relaxing the next. The inherent practicality of the four-door body and a 480-litre boot only adds to its everyday appeal.” - Autocar
BMW cars are always pointed to at being the sportier of any bunch they’re compared against, and this is by design, so it comes as absolutely no surprise that they know a thing or two about how a car should handle. Traditionally, the M3 has been the ambassador for their supremacy at this craft.
With the amount of chassis and suspension work put into the M3 in addition to all the new components, the M3 can almost be considered an entirely different car to a 3 Series below the belt. The car can be driven precisely but is up for a play whenever the driver is, the degree to which is adjustable via the Adaptive M suspension modes.
Despite a fair amount of racing expertise being infused into the car’s DNA, the M3 is quite easy to manage when driven at or near the limit and can be forgiving if the line is overstepped thanks to its clever systems and standard Active M differential to manage power delivery.
Speaking of which, if used to its properly, the M3 is one of the most effective cars to cover ground quickly. Turn in is crisp and understeer is nearly imperceptible with the rest of the car staying planted and keen to pivot on a whim.
However, to keep up with the times this newer version has had to adopt turbocharging, which sapped some of the direct interface between man and machine, then there’s the fact that most buyers will choose the quick-shifting 7-speed DCT transmission, ceding even more control.
The F80 M3’s electrically assisted steering does feel quick and direct in isolation, but doesn’t offer the same ‘organic’ sensation as it once had.
Safety and Technology
“Inclusive tech includes Harman Kardon surround sound system, rear view camera, (best-in-segment) navigation via iDrive, digital radio, and surround view monitor.” - CarAdvice
Like the 3 Series, the M3 shares the 5-star Euro NCAP and near-full ANCAP ratings (36.76 out of 37) due to it using the same structure. Further, it has a full complement of front, rear, and side airbags for all occupants as well as lane change warning, 360-degree camera, reversing camera, and cruise control.
Also standard is the BMW’s iDrive infotainment and vehicle management system that comes with the Navigation system Professional suite with an 8.8-inch display. BMW Connected Drive fills in the assistance portion of the equation with 1 year’s free access to a 24/7 concierge service, and audio is piped through a premium Harman/Kardon 16-speaker 600W loudspeaker array.
The BMW M3 is still, arguably, the world’s most accomplished performance saloon. The engine may have lost some of its zing but its abilities are unquestionable. And in tandem with a very impressive chassis, there are few cars this practical that are also this sensational to drive.
It’s also quite comfortable, all things considered, and styled in such a way that you’re not going to be laughed at for having the most juvenile looking car in the parking lot. Rather, it’s one of the most athletically elegant cars on the outside while also being very talented under the skin.
The only thing that may be stopping a potential buyer is the lure of the left. By this point, the M3 is the go-to standard, and with good reason, but rivals have been steadily chipping away at its lead. The AMG-fettled C-Class is still the more powerful bruiser, the Jaguar XE S comes sorely close to unseating it as the driver’s choice, and the Audi RS4 has all-weather ability the M3 can’t touch.
Car and Driver - “As they say on the street, “Haters gonna hate.” If you happen to own a new M3, maybe let one of those haters into yours. That’ll shut ’em up.”
What Car - 5/5 - “The best four door saloon you can buy. It’s quite frenetic, though, and only comes alive when driven hard.”
Autocar - 4/5 - “The only caveat with the M3 is that it may be hugely entertaining when its unleashed on the track and equally comfortable and civilised at all other times, but the new twin-turbo, straight six engine may lack the charisma…”
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - “The latest generation feels very much like a junior M5. But where the change of philosophy made to the bigger M car could arguably be justified by the older demographic it typically attracts, applying the same approach to the M3 seems less convincing.”
EVO - 4.5/5 - “Tweaks throughout its lifetime have made the F80 M3 a more approachable and, in turn, a more fun car to drive.”
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “Those who want a single car that will allow them to combine their passion for driving with the convenience of a small-medium four-door sedan should seriously consider the new BMW M3.”
Jalopnik - 79/100 - “Sometimes, you don't have room for three cars to do multiple things. In fact, most times you don't have the room for that. So that ability to make your family hauler, daily driver, weekend, car, and track car into one car is a steal.”