BMW M3 Review

Find out more about the BMW M3 in the latest Motors.co.uk Review

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4
Out of 5

Pros

  • Top-end performance
  • Aggressive looks and standing
  • Manual gearbox as standard

Cons

  • Interior design rather dull
  • Poor economy
  • Noise isn’t that great
  • MPG

    0 - 0

  • CO2

    0 - 0 g/km

Model Review

If you’re after a practical and fast saloon, many look no further than one of the BMW M Series, with both the M3 and M5 offering great performance as well as the same versatility as their standard siblings.

The original M3 was the sixth model to be produced by BMW M and has been the most popular M car during the brand’s history.

With the model now in its fifth generation, the M3 has been modelled as a saloon, a coupe and as a convertible, with all proving popular among petrol heads.

To add even more performance, BMW has offered the M3 with a competition pack that further enhances the model’s dynamism and makes the car even more aggressive.

Latest Model

As the standard models are so similar, both the M3 and M4 share the same chassis, mechanical setup and wheelbase, with the main differences being the M3 is slightly heavier, taller and isn’t as streamlined.

Released three years after the standard 3 Series in 2014, the M3 does look much more aggressive with the sporty M-specific bodykit and you can tell from how it looks that it can handle itself on the road and on the track if needed. The M3 received a mid-life restyle in 2017.

Fitted with a turbocharged, 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine producing 425bhp, the M3 gets up to 60mph in just over four seconds and goes on to a limited top speed of 155mph. The Competition Pack adds a further 19bhp and even more assertive performance.

Something you may want from a day-to-day saloon is economy, but don’t expect that from the M3 as despite being turbocharged to offer the same performance as the previous V8 model the fuel consumption is about the same, so the M3 is definitely not going to save you money compared to the older model.

 

Value for money

As a sporty saloon, prices are inflated from the get-go and the £57,905 starting price is what you would expect when compared to its closest rivals like the Mercedes-AMG C63 and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. However, between the facelifted model and the original fifth generation you won’t find much difference in spec and overall performance, so it could be worth your while looking for a pre-owned model.

The current model comes with an M body styling kit, active M differential and adaptive M suspension, drive manager, M-specific front and rear seats and BMW ConnectedDrive services.

Despite the sporty nature, it is still a capable everyday car and comes with all mod-cons like automatic air-conditioning, satellite navigation, heated front seats, Bluetooth with wireless charging dock and Wi-Fi hotspot, electric windows and parking sensors with on-screen display.

Used models can sometimes be even more expensive than a new model due to their pedigree, condition and the extras added. But with some of the latest generation’s models coming in cheaper – despite little difference between the two versions – you can find some bargains.

One example with only 4,000 miles on the clock comes with plenty of extra kit to enhance the overall experience, but is priced at £54,949 – almost £3,000 cheaper than a new model. Fitted with rear and side view cameras, adaptive LED headlights, carbon fibre trim, head-up display, high beam assist and rear sun blinds. With those extra accessories, you also get the DCT automatic gearbox, which in a new model adds £2,495 to the OTR price.

 

Looks and image

Despite looking more aggressive than a normal 3 Series, the M3 isn’t the best sports car on the market and with the kidney grille and rather standard saloon silhouette that isn’t going to change. But relatively speaking it does look sporty with the flared wheel arches, accentuated bonnet lines and added fins on the front bumper and rear end.

The interior outlook is actually quite underwhelming considering the car’s performance and it looks like most other BMWs. Despite the M designation throughout and carbon fibre detailing in some circumstances, it looks plain and very safe. That being said, everything is where it should be, is well made and is of a high quality – something that you should expect from a £50-grand sports saloon.

But what you really buy the M3 for is how it drives and when pushed it has spades of character and excitement that can be difficult to match. After going on a rather drastic diet since the previous version, the fifth generation has lost around 80kg compared to its predecessor and along with improved electronic aids you can really tell the difference through the corners. It is agile, well-balanced and can stay very stable through the corners – even if a bit of understeer does kick in if you push slightly too hard.

Body roll is also pretty limited and it just goes away if you tauten the suspension right up in sport and sport plus damper settings. Comfort works very well for everyday driving – where you will be mostly in the M3 – and that can even reveal some performance if you go for it on twisty roads.

Directional and road feel is pretty good through the steering wheel and you get enough feedback to know where to pick up the throttle or where you’re struggling for grip.

Over bumps and undulating surfaces, the rear axle can feel slightly unsettled at times and only gets in the groove on a smoother surface, but the front set can really counteract that with lots of sticking power and great turn-in feel.

Surprisingly the optional Competition Pack can further improve the ride comfort as well as – unsurprisingly – furthering the dynamic feel. The adaptive suspension offers much more comfort and can cruise very capably with the settings most certainly in ‘Comfort’.

It can be said the ride is on the firm said, but not enough to turn you away from the M3. The 19-inch can send some shakes and jitters through into the cabin, but what do you expect? It’s a sports saloon after all.

Space and practicality

What the M3 can do that most other sports cars can’t is be practical, and the 480-litre boot is excellent considering the amount of performance on offer from the BMW.

The rear seats can be folded down to allow for even more space and there are other cubby holes and bins through the cabin for water bottles and odd bits and pieces. Rear passenger space has been cut down because of a wider transmission tunnel, but you won’t be carrying three passengers in the back most of the time.

After being tested in 2012 by Euro NCAP, the M3 gained a five-star score for safety and got high ratings in all the categories.

For families it can be considered thanks to the Isofix points in the rear for child seats and large boot to store equipment in, as well as the great safety rating. For assistance systems, however, BMW’s normal policy still applies and many of them are only available in packs or as individual additions on the options list.

The Driving Assistant pack is the one most likely to be added most often as it includes lane departure warning, forward collision warning, city collision mitigation and pedestrian detection systems, which comes at £370 premium. You do get cruise control with speed limiter and parking distance control as standard.

 

Engines

The 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six is a completely different animal to the one that used to reside under the M3’s bonnet – as it’s replaced the 4.0-litre V8 brute from the fourth generation. Paired with a six-speed manual from standard spec, you can choose to add the expensive seven-speed DCT semi-automatic box – which will prove to be more popular despite the price.

Many true petrol heads will stick with the manual, which provides a much more visceral experience and isn’t as jerky as the auto transmission can be. Back to the engine and the 425bhp is quite intoxicating when all in use, but lower down the rev range it can seem a bit subdued.

However, the further you get round the rev counter, the more it comes alive and although the noise may not be as addictive as in the V8 before it, it can still give you plenty of excitement. One point down on the model, however, is that BMW pump the exhaust note through the speakers, which makes it feel synthetic at times and can sour the experience a bit.

 

Running costs

As you would expect from a sports saloon, running costs can be quite extortionate. As the car costs over £40,000, the government add £310 onto the annual rate of £140 per year, totalling £450 of total road tax from the second year onwards. The first year – due to the model’s 194g/km CO2 and 204g/km CO2 ratings – is £1,200 for road tax. Quoted mpg isn’t that great either with the manual models achieving 32.1mpg and the DCT versions claiming 34mpg – but in the real world that is highly unrealistic. Not matter what gearbox you use, the M3 fits in insurance group 45.

Things to look out for

Despite BMW’s patchy reliability history, the M3 has done rather well to stay away from that and has rarely befallen any real malfunctions. However, one major problem that has occurred some of the most recent generation is that the driveshaft has been known to fail, although that was with very few productions. The previous generation did suffer from the engine cutting out at low speeds, although that was again with a limited number.

 

Rivals

The M3 has three major rivals, although it really should be four with the absence of an Audi RS4. The Mercedes-AMG C63, Alfa Romeo’s new – and very pretty – Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Jaguar XFR are the major competitors in terms of practicality, size and performance, although the M3 has been seen as the class leader for some time. None of the others can come close in combining performance and practicality, but if standing out is more your thing, then the Giulia Quadrifoglio could be the car for you.

 

Depreciation warning

Due to its reputation and desirability, the M3 can do rather well on the used market and depreciate slower than you might expect. The manual model will do slightly better though than the DCT auto, holding roughly a percentage point more over the first three years at around 51 per cent. It does mean that adding additional tech may not be as good a value in the long run, however, as it won’t really affect the sell-on price.

Trims Explained

Due to the rather limited selection of trims, you can choose between the ‘basic’ M3 and the Competition Pack.

M3

With the standard M3 you get a lot of good tech for your money, such as cruise control with brake function, BMW ConnectedDrive, sat-nav and iDrive infotainment system with 8.8-inch colour display, park distance control and sensors, wireless charging cradle and Wi-Fi hotspot function. You also get a lot of M-badge designation inside and out, M-specific heated front sports seats, Bluetooth, xenon headlights, leather interior trim and two-zone automatic air conditioning.

As well as all the usual BMW tech you would expect, the M3 with the standard manual gearbox starts from £57,905.

Competition

At a £3,000 premium you can add the Competition pack, which includes a power upgrade of 19bhp, pack-specific adaptive M suspension to replace the standard set-up, the active M differential, driving modes, dynamic stability control, 20-inch ‘star’ alloys, the BMW Advanced loudspeaker system and M sports exhaust with black chrome finishers. BMW also adds lightweight sports seats and M-stripe front seatbelts.

Competition pack models start from £60,550.

Summary

  1. One of the best ‘drivers’ cars
  2. Expensive to buy and keep
  3. Addictive performance
  4. Rivals are closer than before
  5. Good reliability history
  6. Good safety rating and options – although they are expensive
  7. Manual box as standard
  8. Auto box can feel jerky
  9. Lots of quality accessories as standard
  10. Practical sports car

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