About 80 per cent of the M3’s parts are unique, and it’s faster and more efficient than its predecessor.
There’s more to creating a new M3 than simply dropping a big engine into a 3-Series Coupé. While the hot version shares the same profile as the standard two-door, BMW claims it’s different enough to be considered a separate model in its own right.
Not least because so few parts are carried over. Externally, all the M3 has in common with the basic Coupé are its lights, doors and bootlid, and thanks to a wider track and flared arches, the new flagship is 22mm broader and a little longer.
But although the lines aren’t ostentatious, the M3 doesn’t appear particularly sophisticated. It’s not as elegant as the Cayman S or the S5, and simply doesn’t look like a £50,000 machine.
However, in typical M car fashion, the money has been spent on the engine. Tucked away under the bonnet’s power bulge, the 4.0-litre V8 is essentially the V10 from the M5 with two cylinders lopped off – although BMW’s engineers wouldn’t be too keen on that description, and it’s true this unit has a character of its own.
Mounted lower and further back than the straight-six in the previous generation, the 202kg powerplant is 15kg lighter. But it packs a punch. At start-up first thing in the morning, the highly tuned V8 sounds like a bag of bolts, yet once the engine management system lets you use all the 8,250rpm on offer, no opponent stands a chance.
The M3 sprints from 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds – that’s half-a-second quicker than any rival – and by the time the needle swept past 100mph at the test track, it was ahead by more than 1.5 seconds.
But you expect mighty top-end punch from such a rev-hungry engine. What’s arguably more impressive is the coupé’s ability to surge forwards from little more than 2,000rpm. Even though the BMW engine trails the other V8 cars for torque, with its 400Nm output, neither the Vauxhall nor the Audi was as quick in-gear.
The power is accessible, delivered instantly and accompanied by a V8 howl. What’s more, thanks to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics programme, the new M3 puts out 295g/km – that’s 28g/km less CO2 than before. Its engine is easily the best here.
But the trouble is, the V8 overpowers the rest of the package. While the gearchange is robust, it’s largely carried over from before, and on the road the driving experience never really takes off.
It’s not that the new car handles poorly – far from it. The M3 turns in more incisively than the Cayman S, has colossal grip and great poise and agility. But you don’t feel part of the experience as you do in the Porsche. It’s as if the engineers have focused so hard on delivering a technically impressive machine, they have forgotten that it needs to be fun for the driver first and foremost.
Numb steering is partially to blame, plus the M3 is snappy close to the limit and doesn’t flow down rough roads as effortlessly as it should. It’s brutally fast, but hard edged, even with our car’s optional £1,295 EDC damping in its softest mode.
It’s a different story on main roads, where the ride was impressive and the BMW rivalled the S5 for refinement. Body control is sensational, too. But the cabin isn’t that special. While there is plenty of space for four adults and their luggage, the sporty detailing is rather clumsy; the steering wheel is too thick to grip properly and the bulging bonnet dominates the view out. We can’t fault the quality or comfort, yet the design is simply too plain. That’s not a mistake the S5 makes – so could it be the second Audi to embarrass the M3?
Price: £50,625Model tested: BMW M3Chart position: 2WHY: Does fourth-generation model live up to the super-coupé legend?
In the previous M3, 27mpg was possible when driving gently. The best we achieved in this model was 23.6mpg; over the course of 1,500 miles, our average was only 18.6mpg.
The lengthy waiting list means early used M3s will change hands for over list price. But in three years, values will settle down at around 53 per cent. That’s a drop of £24,000.
BMW doesn’t offer its Service Inclusive package on the M3, and final costs haven’t yet been released. But the hi-tech V8 won’t be cheap to maintain – budget £1,500 for three checks.
The necessary data is not all in place yet, but our experts say running the M3 will cost £1.31 per mile. That’s a vast amount, although it’s in line with the high asking price.
In this review
- 1IntroductionIn what promises to be one of the most explosive tests of the year, we see if BMW’s new M3 can beat supercar rivals from Audi, Porsche and Vauxhall...
- 21st Porsche Cayman SWe see how two-seater scores as an everyday car
- 32nd BMW M3 - currently readingAbout 80 per cent of the M3’s parts are unique, and it’s faster and more efficient than its predecessor.
- 43rd Audi S5With its stunning looks and powerful V8, A5 is a strong contender
- 54th Vauxhall VXR8V8-engined saloon looks the part – but is that it?
- 6Facts and figures