BMW M3 saloon

Does the performance 3-Series make more sense in four-door guise?

  • The V8 engine is a masterpiece; interior quality is superb.
  • Steering feedback could be better.

The C63 AMG has the power advantage here, but neither it, nor the RS4 and IS F, can match the M3’s heritage. After all, this is the car that single-handedly sealed BMW’s reputation as a maker of some of the best drivers’ machines.

The flagship arrived as a coupé last year, and the saloon version is the most powerful production four-door 3-Series in the firm’s history. Not that you’d know it from the styling. It doesn’t look as sporting as the two-door, and does away with the carbon fibre roof.

Still, there are hints at the pace on offer. The bonnet bulge helps accommodate the 4.0-litre V8, while flared arches, side skirts, 18-inch alloys (our car has the £1,265 optional 19s) and quad exhausts are all M trademarks. Even in the subtle Silverstone II paintwork, our test car attracted its fair share of attention, and we think BMW has got the balance of sportiness and subtlety just right.

Inside, it’s equally understated. Aside from the chunky steering wheel, leather trim and M badging, there’s not much difference from a standard 3-Series. This is no bad thing – it’s easy enough to get on with, neatly laid out, fuss free and very well built. Rear passengers will also like the BMW; it has the most space, with 715mm of legroom.

They’re also likely to enjoy the great soundtrack delivered by the superb V8 engine. At idle, it’s got a higher-pitched note than the rumbling Merc, but it’s equally hard to resist blipping the throttle.

The 4.0-litre has the smallest displacement of the powerplants in this test, and can muster only 400Nm of torque – so we weren’t surprised that it thrives on revs. However, the M3 is every bit as rapid as the Lexus through the mid-range, and delivers an even more addictive top-end rasp.

As with all its rivals, the M3 is incredibly fast. It has far superior initial traction and needs fewer gearchanges, and so pulled out a slender lead over the Lexus during our sprint tests. And even though it trails the IS F’s torque output by 100Nm, it held its own in-gear, too.

The manual gearbox is robust, delivers fast shifts and is better than the Audi’s when pressing on. But at lower speeds, the opposite is true, as the sudden clutch action and sharper throttle make the M3 tricky to manage. There are no such flaws to the exceptional brakes, which were both the best to use and the most powerful here.

And then we come to the way it drives. BMW is cagey about the precise differences between the saloon and the coupé, but it won’t deny the four-door is a bit more yielding. We reckon it makes all the difference. Although the ride is still hard-edged, it’s not as solid as the C63’s, while in the softest of the three modes provided by the optional £1,295 Electronic Damper Control, comfort is almost on a par with the RS4.

Whether you’re driving on the road or track, the M3 is superbly balanced – not only in terms of its chassis, but also the way it all works together. It’s amazingly poised, and takes everything in its stride. The trouble is, it’s almost too capable; the BMW doesn’t feel as special to drive as the Merc, and its limits are simply too high to safely explore on public roads.

Still, it’s the cheapest car here, and the tweaks over the coupé make a noticeable difference. The question is, can it restore BMW’s honour by winning this test?

Details

Price: £49,415Model tested: BMW M3Chart position: 2WHY: We’re not completely convinced by the coupé – can the four-door prove more impressive?

Economy

As you’d expect from the world’s leading engine builder, the V8 in the M3 blends power with decent economy. It was the best performer in our cruising comparison, with a 23.1mpg return. But over the mixed roads of our 650-mile test route, that fell to 16.6mpg.

Residuals

EVEN though it’s cheaper than the £50,625 coupé, the M3 saloon depreciates by nearly three per cent more. A figure of 53.6 per cent is virtually identical to the Merc’s, although the BMW’s lower list price means it loses £1,000 less.

Servicing

As with its Mercedes and Audi rivals, the BMW runs on a variable servicing schedule. Yet M models aren’t covered by the excellent Service Inclusive package. As a result, three check-ups add up to a rather expensive £1,700.

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