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BMW M3 (2014-2018) review - Engines, performance and drive

Huge power and torque in a compact saloon means the M3 is a rocketship, but it'll also cruise in comfort

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

4.7 out of 5

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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 unit 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.

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There's 550Nm of torque on tap, whether you go for the regular M3 or add on the Competition Pack, and it's produced from just 1,850rpm, so at low revs and into the mid-range, the motor is explosive. In anything other than dry conditions, it’ll fizz the back tyres with a flicker of the traction control light.

Helped by a launch-control system, the 0-62mph sprint takes just 4.1 seconds when the car is fitted with BMW’s seven-speed dual-clutch DCT paddleshift gearbox. Thanks to the adjustable shift speeds for the transmission, you can have aggressive full-throttle gearchanges that mean incredible uninterrupted bursts off acceleration, which are accompanied by a distinctive grumble from the exhausts. But you can also tone it down and leave it in full auto mode for smoother changes.

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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 on the throttle with even a slight amount of steering lock added.

Opt for the dual-clutch only, 174mph M3 CS (Club Sport) and power rises to 454bhp, while torque is raised to 600Nm. The latter increase brings a healthy extra slug of propulsion in the engine's mid range, and the CS feels happier when revved to the limit. Acceleration improves slightly, with 0-62mph taking 3.9 seconds, and the CS feels grippier than the standard car, while the steering is more precise.

Ride

Even in the Comfort setting, the adaptive dampers are firm, but there’s enough compliance to deliver decent comfort on long journeys, even with the big wheels. You’ll want to wait until you hit some super-smooth tarmac – or a track – to switch the suspension into Sport or Sport Plus modes, 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. 

No matter whether you’ve got the ESC on or off, the M3’s balance is beautiful. When fitted with sticky Michelin rubber, the wide front track means you can really lean on the front axle through fast, sweeping bends, although this makes the mushy, lifeless steering all the more disappointing. Only high-speed direction changes cause the car to struggle, while a lift or a brush of the brakes helps to load the nose and extract a bit more bite from the front end.

All in all, the M3 is one of the fastest four-doors around, but it can’t quite match the V8-engined Mercedes-AMG C 63 for character and subtlety. However, when it comes to agility, the M3 is certainly towards the top of the class. And, while it's not as sharp as the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio, it’s still practical and composed, with lots of performance for the price.

Braking

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.

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