When it comes to high performance sedans, the BMW M3 is hard to beat both in terms of performance and stature.
The previous-generation BMW M3 sedan struggled to find the fanfare of its coupe equivalent, but with the 3 Series now reserved exclusively for four-door sedans, will the M3 nameplate stand the test of time or will the M4 take the mantle as the emerging icon?
Before the launch of the new 2014 BMW M3 and M4, codenamed F80, the ideal scenario was to buy a BMW M3 Coupe if you wanted a two-door high-performance car, or a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan if you needed the extra practicality.
Though both manufacturers challenged the sedan and coupe segment, the proportions of the M3 sedan never really tested the aggressive lines of its AMG rival, and vice versa for the coupe. In many respects, this is due to BMW introducing the M3 coupe long before the sedan and Mercedes taking the opposite approach for the C63 AMG.
Regardless of the past, the status quo is set to change with the arrival of the new M3 sedan.
BMW’s designers were clearly given the task of bringing more emotion to the new M3, as it’s now far more sophisticated than a beefed-up 3 Series. With a hyper-aggressive design for both ends, the new M somehow blends the four-door shape into a sporty-looking silhouette that doesn’t scream compromise.
Compared with its M4 sibling, the two additional doors add only 23kg (thanks in large to the sedan also sharing the carbon roof) while the M3 sedan measures 7mm wider and 41mm taller. The height difference is actually not all that obvious and, side by side, the two cars are very similar.
They also share the exact same drivetrain: a twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine that pumps out a healthy 317kW of power (between 5500-7300rpm) and 550Nm of torque (1850-5500rpm) to the rear wheels.
Like the M4, the M3 will go from 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds when coupled to a seven-speed double-clutch transmission, or 4.3 when equipped with a six-speed manual.
Step inside and the M3 impresses with a modern cabin bursting with the latest in-car technology and creature comforts. The highly adaptable and hugging sport seats are much appreciated, as is the chunky M-sport steering wheel. BMW has upped the ante with its interiors with the new 3 and 4 series, but Audi’s RS4 still has the edge here.
The practical point of picking an M3 over an M4 is the back seats, and although they are more than usable they do suffer slightly from leg room and given the relatively generous proportions of the M4’s two rear seats, if your rear-passenger-carrying requirements are occasional only, the M3 might not make much sense.
The car’s character can be altered using a few simple buttons that switch between comfort, sport and sport +. These changes can be applied to the engine and transmission, suspension and even the M3’s unique steering system – all independently of each other.
Out in the countryside of Faro, Portugal, where we had come to review the new M cars, we found the M3 impressive beyond our expectations – which were rather high.
The car’s ability to hug corners and remain planted during the process is similar to its predecessor, only now there’s more balance and poise in the art. BMW engineers have found a near-perfect compromise between a sporty ride and the comfort requirements of a daily driver.
The suspension is capable of settling the car over rough roads, even mid corner, while the high levels of body rigidity combine to ensure a body-roll-free experience around bends
On the racetrack, too, we found the BMW M3 prove itself as a credible race car, ready to go out of the box. Simply engage MDM mode and the M3 turns into a drifting champion or go-fast sedan that’ll find few similarly priced cars standing in its way.
Though not exactly a German trademark, BMW engineers have shown some humour and added in a mode called “smokey burnout”, which lets you destroy the rear tyres at will – an ideal way to end an action-packed track session.
Most impressive, perhaps, is the power delivery of the engine throughout the rev range. In S mode there’s never a lack of pull at any revs, but switch to manual mode and grab the paddle shifters and you’ll be grinning like a Cheshire cat as the gears blip from one to the other. Better still, the downshift sound as the M3 brakes hard into a corner is the noise of happiness for any true car enthusiast.
Speaking of noise, the new BMW M3 struggles to match its predecessor for audible enjoyment. The roar and bark of the naturally aspirated V8 of old is replaced with an artificial sound that’s like a Dyson sucking in the universe for its power extraction. Can you live with it? Absolutely, but you won’t necessarily grow to love it as owners did with the last V8 and the six-cylinder of the E46 before it.
The Michelin tyres, too, are noisy beyond logic, but can be forgiven given their unparalleled levels of service.
BMW expects that out of its M buyers, more than 8/10 will pick the M4, which may mean the M3 turns into a bit of rare beast. It’s also worth noting that at $156,900, the four-door costs $10,000 less and comes with, well, two more doors. So you kind of get more for your money.
In many ways, if you want the practicality of a family car, with the performance to boot, the Audi RS4 wagon seems a more logical choice given the extra boot space (if you can live with the hard ride).
As good as the new BMW M3 is, we suspect it will do a Mark Webber and reluctantly give way to the M4 as the new German performance kid in town.
Read: BMW M4 Review