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First drive: BMW M3 Competition. Image by Mark Fagelson.

First drive: BMW M3 Competition
This is a fantastic new entry into the long and distinguished lineage of BMW M3s.


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BMW M3 Competition

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

The sixth BMW M3 has arrived. It's bloody terrific. Rejoice!

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW M3 Competition
Pricing: 3 Series range from 32,590, M4 Competition from 74,755, car as tested 84,145
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive with Active M Differential, eight-speed M Steptronic automatic
Body style: four-door supersaloon
CO2 emissions: 234g/km (VED Band 226-255: 1,850 first 12 months, then 475 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 27.7mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited, option to raise to 180mph limited with M Pro Package)
0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
Power: 510hp at 6,250rpm
Torque: 650Nm at 2,750-5,500rpm
Boot space: 480 litres

What's this?

It's the new BMW M3, based on the seventh-generation 3 Series and usurping the 374hp M340i to take its rightful place as the performance flagship of the current Three's family. Now, it's only the sixth M3 so far, as we never gained an M derivative of the original E21 3 Series of the 1970s and early '80s, but it's still following in the footsteps (tyre treads?) of some pretty damned astonishing cars.

It launches alongside the M4 Competition, so if you want a full technical rundown on these cars, then have a look at that review for the details. Beyond the slightly altered alphanumeric badge, then despite the M3 having a few extra doors and more practicality, the other main point of differentiation is that it's a tiny touch cheaper than the two-door variant at 74,755, a saving of 1,300 on the M4.

There's also no doubt it's the nicer-looking of the pair. Yes, of course it has those front grilles and the recessed bonnet to go with it, an item that seems as if it's going to have a couple of vents in it but then it transpires that no, it doesn't. However, from the front wheels backwards, it's simply finer to gaze upon than the M4. The M3 doesn't have the weighty rear flanks, because it has doors and tauter cohesion to the way the roofline segues into the boot; also, its flat lower window line, rather than the M4's rising item which only accentuates the amount of metal between the glasshouse and rear-mounted 20-inch wheel. Furthermore, the M3's rear end is less visually weighty, too, so the overall appearance is one we heartily approve of. Inside, it has much the same cabin as the M4, except there's more space for adults in the back, more room in the boot (an additional 40 litres for 480 litres total) and the 6,750 M Carbon Pack as seen on the M4 which equips those magnificent, magnificent front seats.

One final nice touch: BMW personalises the graphics on the centre screen to whatever car you're driving, right down to a tee. So we drove a dark blue M4 and then a red M3 on the same day, and on the M4's central display the car shown when you deactivated the traction control was dark blue; in the M3, it was bright red. Typical attention to detail from the Germans, there.

How does it drive?

Everything that holds true about the way the M4 Competition drives carries over to the M3. The difference in weight between the two of them is a mere 5kg in favour of the coupe, but in reality on the roads they are identical from behind the wheel. Which means the M3 Competition is an absolute dream to steer.

It has the same busy, detailed ride quality at low speeds and the same unnecessary Comfort setting to its three-stage dampers, yet in general unless you're deliberately banging it through every savage pothole you can see then you'll get on perfectly well with the M3's comfort levels. Once rolling at anything in excess of 30mph, it might never quite let you fully forget the size of the alloys nor the seriousness of its overall set-up but it's more than bearable for long-distance duties. If anything, it feels the slightly more refined car of the pair, maybe due to its subtly different weight distribution to the M4.

Similarly, the M3 Competition is indecently rabid. It hammers round the dial to the 7,200rpm rev limiter with an unrelenting eagerness that is quite breathtaking. There are those who say the twin-turbo S58 doesn't feel special enough for a BMW M car, but we're not quite sure what they're getting at. It certainly sounds more exciting than the S55 in the old F80, which could be prone to boosty hissings and flat exhaust blare. And we'd also say its got more charisma than either the E30's S14 unit or the S50 found in the E36-generation M3s. Admittedly, from the outside the G80 M3 is subdued by emissions regs in terms of the noise coming out of its quad tailpipes, while the S58 can sound a trifle rattly at idle, but when you're in the cabin and the engine is working hard, we think it has a great voice - even if there is some augmentation of its natural symphony going on.

However, even if you don't accept it's an all-time-great S-coded M drivetrain, you won't be disappointed with the way the BMW handles. The M3 Competition has majestic steering, one of the crispest and most invigorating front axles on any production car we can recall, an Active M Diff-equipped rear axle that's playful and forgiving and astonishingly tractive in equal measure, and body/wheel control from the highest echelons of engineering know-how. Hooked altogether, there's nothing in the M3's make-up that makes it even one iota less scintillating or devastatingly talented than the M4 Competition.

That there could be any more dynamic ability to extract from this set-up, in something possibly wearing a CS badge, is an almost-impossible-to-fathom idea at the moment, because supersaloons are rarely as superb as this BMW. Aside from the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, you're not going to get a much better driving experience from any other extant four-door right now. In fact, there are plenty of dedicated coupes and sports cars that don't drive anything like half as well as the BMW M3 Competition.


Astounded once more by what BMW M has served up here, the M3 Competition fills us with equal joy and hope. Yes, yes, the manufacturer has metaphorically slapped us all in the face with that crazy front-end styling, which kind of means we'd be buying one and immediately looking for an aftermarket company to graft on the nose of an M340i instead, but you cannot argue at all with the chassis that sits beneath the bodywork. As supersaloons go, it's one of the finest to wear the M3 badge and one of the finest in the wider canon of fast four-doors. When the long-awaited M3 Touring arrives, it could very well be as close to five-door performance car perfection as we've seen yet. The grilles notwithstanding, of course...

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 11 Mar 2020    - BMW road tests
- BMW news
- 3 Series images

2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.

2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.2021 BMW M3 Competition UK test. Image by Mark Fagelson.


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