BMW M3 review
BMW M3 super saloon gets a new, more efficient & powerful 3.0-litre straight-six turbo, but it’s lost some character
This BMW M3 is the first to ever feature turbochargers under its bonnet. BMW ditched the high-revving naturally aspirated V8 of the old car in favour of a twin-turbo straight-six unit to improve efficiency and give stunning mid-range urge that means out on the road, this M3 is a real weapon that can embarrass much more expensive supercars.
It’s long been the go-to performance saloon of choice, and this M3 is still great to drive. Sharp steering and rock solid body control allow you to take liberties with the chassis and lean hard on the incredible grip levels. Quick steering gives great direction changes too, but be careful, as the spiky engine and sharp throttle also mean it can be a handful in the wet.
The M3 comes in saloon form only unlike the previous generation, and is priced at £56,595. You’ll have to look to the M4 Coupe and M4 Convertible if you want a two-door or drop-top version, as these now slot into the 4 Series range. Still, the M3 has a muscular bodykit, bootlid spoiler, twin-stalk mirrors and quad exhausts to ensure it’s recognisable as the performance variant in the 3 Series range.
The latest M3 ditches the 4.0-litre V8 from the previous car and now packs a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine under the bonnet, but this doesn’t mean sacrifices have been made in terms of power and performance.
In fact, the M3 has 9bhp of extra power over the old car – meaning the latest model boasts 425bhp, a quicker 0-62mph time of 4.1 seconds when fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. And efficiency gains, too. Factor in an 80kg weight loss and the M3 is a quicker performer all-round than its predecessor.
Engines, performance and drive
Fire up the M3’s engine and the exhaust pumps out a guttural roar. However, prod the throttle and the motor doesn’t rasp like previous M3s – instead it drones more out on the road and doesn’t sound quite as inspiring.
Engine and gearbox
There’s only one engine in the range – a 3.0-litre straight-six engine with two turbochargers. While the turbos might be new, the rest is a familiar configuration for the M3 from earlier models. The new layout has its critics, but there’s no denying it delivers stunning performance.
With 550Nm of torque on tap from as low down as 1,850rpm, what the M3 might have lost in aural excitement through its 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six it more than makes up for in performance terms.
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The 0-62mph sprint takes just 4.1 seconds when fitted with BMW’s seven-speed dual-clutch DCT paddleshift gearbox, helped by launch control off the line. With adjustable shift speeds for the transmission, aggressive gear changes mean incredible uninterrupted bursts off acceleration, but you can tone it down and leave it in full auto mode for smoother changes.
You have to be careful with the throttle though – especially in wet conditions – as the responsive engine means the tail will want to kick wide in corners if you’re too aggressive.
Even in the Comfort setting, the adaptive dampers are firm, but there’s enough compliance to deliver decent comfort on long journeys. You’ll want to wait until you hit some super smooth tarmac – or a track – to step things up to Sport or Sport Plus for the suspension however.
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In these settings the M3’s front end sticks to a cornering line and generates immense grip. But with all that power on tap and a deliciously adjustable chassis, you can play with the M3’s balance in corners. Stability control keeps everything nicely in check in the wet, however, and inspires great confidence in the car. Together with fast steering it means you can throw the car into corners and know that it will stick.
It’s one of the fastest four-doors around, but it can’t quite match the new V8-engined Mercedes-AMG C63 for character. However, when it comes to agility the M3 is certainly towards the top of the class.
With optional ceramic brakes and massive 19-inch wheels and tyres, the M3’s braking performance is impressive, too. Hit the brake pedal hard and the car shrugs off speed with ease time after time, resisting fade and delivering huge stopping power.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Real world fuel economy
Manufacturers are turning to turbos to increase power but minimise their cars’ environmental impact – and make them cheaper to run, too. BMW has chosen to follow this route with the M3, which delivers a best of 34.0mpg combined with 194g/km CO2. However, when we tested the car we only managed 21.1mpg, which is some way off BMW’s claims.
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CO2 and tax
Go for the manual model and that will probably be slightly worse, while CO2 emissions rise to 204g/km. As a result the six-speed manual will cost £290 per year to tax while the seven-speed DCT is one band lower, so will set you back £265 per year.
A 60-litre fuel tank means cruising range is up on its predecessor and on a par with its main rival, the Mercedes-AMG C63. The large tank might mean it’ll cost around £70 to fill, but it’s less frustrating than having to stop every few hundred miles to top it up with fuel again – especially when the five-seat cabin delivers lots of space and comfort, making it perfect for long journeys.
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Company car tax
Although CO2 emissions are now lower thanks to that turbo system, this is still a high performance saloon, so it won’t be breaking any eco records. Combined with the relatively high purchase price, it means company car drivers taxed at the higher rate will pay £8,459 a year in Benefit in Kind tax.
Stop-start helps to cut emissions, but it’s the only nod to helping improve fuel consumption. The M3’s aggressive body design is more focused on helping cool the huge engine than make it effortlessly slip through the air and reduce drag.
At group 45 for the M3 DCT, the BMW is near the top of the tree when it comes to insurance. However, it’s still less than high performance cars like the more expensive Lexus RC F, which is rated at group 48.
As a result it’ll cost our sample driver (42-year-old living in Banbury, with three penalty points) around £530 to insure per year. Both the manual and automatic are rated in the same group, so by specifying the DCT transmission it shouldn’t add anything extra to your premium.
The manual car will actually hold its value better over three years, retaining 51.7 per cent of its purchase price. The DCT auto is just behind, with a residual value of 50.2 per cent. That means the manual will depreciate by £29,275, whereas the auto will lose £29,650.
Interior, design and technology
BMW’s intuitive iDrive system comes as standard, controlling a large screen on top of the dash. It’s a great system that integrates nicely with the standard 3 Series’ interior design – although for this M Division model you can turn the dial up when it comes to sportiness with options such as carbon fibre trim inlays.
More supportive sports seats fix you in place when you’re in the mood for faster driving, while the sportier steering wheel with gear shift paddles on the DCT version also set it apart from the standard 3 Series saloon.
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There’s a head-up display so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, as well as two configurable M Sport modes that tweak the steering, throttle response, gearbox, stability control and suspension to your preferred setting at the touch of a button.
Overall, quality feels great inside, with lots of leather and soft-touch plastics, as well as sportier carbon fibre and aluminium trim if you want to customise your M3 that bit further still. The dashboard is clear to read – which is a great help if you do need to take your eyes off the road at speed – while the technology is easy to get to grips with.
The cabin design may be familiar from other models in the BMW range, but fundamentally it works. It feels at least as special as the older Audi RS4 and easily a match for the newer Mercedes-AMG C63 when it comes to design and material quality.
In saloon form with four doors, access to the rear is easy, and the attention to detail is just as good in the back, with comfortable seats and a few other bespoke M3 features.
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Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The iDrive system is controlled by a rotary wheel located on the transmission tunnel. It’s surrounded by buttons for the radio, sat-nav, so there are plenty of hot keys to quickly jump to the area of the infotainment system you want.
The controller is simple to use, and you can scroll between settings with little fuss. The screen is huge, too, so it’s easy to view sat-nav instructions, for example.
Bluetooth, USB connectivity and a DAB radio all come as standard, so there are plenty of creature comforts to go with the more hardcore track focus the chassis and engine bring. Although the huge tyres and stiff suspension mean there’s a noticeable amount of road roar, the powerful stereo and strong refinement ensure long-distance journeys are still easy to complete.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Even in the Comfort setting the suspension feels firm, but not to the extent that it jars too much on bumpy roads. Be wary of the two stiffer settings though, as it means the M3 really thumps over bumps; try applying full throttle on bad Tarmac here and the traction control will curtail any acceleration. The softer setting means you can make more progress as it lets the car flow with the road.
With four doors, five seats and a 480-litre boot the BMW M3 can take just about anything the average family can throw at it with the ability to travel at incredible speeds round a race track for when you want to explore the car’s performance on your own and in safe conditions.
Being based on the standard 3 Series, despite the more aggressive styling the visibility is great – just like the standard car – so with parking sensors and a reversing camera available, manoeuvring the relatively compact 3 Series body is simple.
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Sports seats give a great driving position, so you can get nice and low in the car to feel what it’s doing underneath you. The big, leather chairs are supportive, too, so if you’re going to be cruising for miles you’ll have no worries about a bad back when you reach your destination.
The advantages of taking a standard BMW 3 Series body are easy to see when it comes to storage as well. A large glovebox, big doors bins, two cupholders and plenty of trinket trays ensure your change and gadgets like mobile phones won’t go flying around the cabin the first time you turn into a corner on road or track.
Fundamentally, the M3 is a great balance between performance and practicality, continuing the trend that BMW has established with its sporty executive saloons.
The M3’s closest rival is the Mercedes-AMG C63, as it’s the only performance exec available as a saloon body style. The Audi RS4 and RS5 come in estate and coupe form only.
At 1.88m the M3 is a little wider than the 1.81m Mercedes. However, at 4.69m the C63 is marginally longer than the 4.63m BMW. These differences are only small though, so in day-to-day driving and other manoeuvres, you’ll be hard pushed to tell the difference in size between the two cars.
With a similar length wheelbase there’s roughly the same amount of rear legroom inside, too. Although there’s more headroom in the C63.
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Leg room, head room & passenger space
An ample amount of leg and headroom in the rear means there’s plenty of space for four. Being rear-wheel drive, the M3 has a big transmission tunnel, which means if you’re carrying three rear passengers things in the back might get a little more cramped – although it’s still fine for short to medium journeys. Isofix points help if you’ll be installing a child seat in the rear.
Unlike the two-door M4 coupe, access to the rear of the four-door M3 is much easier.
With a large 480-litre boot and a relatively small loading lip, the M3 is just as practical as any other 3 Series saloon. There are points to help secure loads and you can even get a luggage net to stop bags rolling around in the boot.
Being a saloon the opening isn’t as big as on a hatchback, but the aperture is still a good size and it’s not hard to pack.
Reliability and Safety
By uprating the M3’s brakes and fitting massive, sticky tyres, the high-performance saloon’s stopping power is even better than the regular 3 Series’ braking ability. On top of this you can add carbon ceramic brakes for even stronger braking capability.
Being based on the 3 Series the M3 retains its lesser siblings full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, so there’s plenty of peace of mind if you’ll be strapping your family in. Adaptive headlights and adaptive LED headlights are available as options, as is forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, preventative pedestrian protection and high beam assist.
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Basically, the M3 will warn you as much as possible if it thinks you’re going to have a crash, intervening with autonomous emergency braking to prevent an impact if it senses the driver hasn’t done anything to avoid the hit.
At the basic level there’s ABS and a sophisticated ESP system to keep all that power in check – especially in the wet.
As mentioned, there’s a reversing camera with 360-degree capability optionally available to help when manoeuvring.
Unfortunately for BMW, it didn’t fare to well in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming in 14th place. That’s a four-place slip on last year. Of the three big German premium brands, it’s BMW that finishes lowest.
However, the M3 should prove reliable, as the interior tech has proven itself across the rest of the range, while the M Division developed engine has done countless testing and should prove strong.
Build quality feels good, reflected by BMW’s 7th place in our build quality section of the Driver Power survey. The solid materials throughout the cabin reinforce this image. Driving the car hard you also get a sense that the mechanicals have been properly engineered to withstand some punishment, which gives you the confidence to push harder.
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BMW’s warranty is on a par with its rivals. The M3 gets a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty as standard – and if anything should go wrong BMW also throws in three years’ of roadside assistance breakdown cover.
As a performance model, maintenance costs for the M3 are more expensive than for a regular 320d. However, £1,050 for the five-year/50,000-mile servicing package is decent value and on a par with its rivals.