For me, BMW's M3 Competition is the perfect blend of looks, performance, handling and practicality, as well as being loaded with all the latest mod-cons to make life comfortable.
Let me put this out there from the outset – the 2016 BMW M3 Competition is not only a giant killer, it’s the performance bargain of the year, bar none.
Standard road-going M3s have always been quick and desirable, but none more so than the current F80-generation four-door rocket with the must-have Competition package from BMW’s formidable M GmbH subsidiary.
The M3 comp-spec Sedan will cost you exactly $5000 more than the entry-level M3, priced from $139,615 plus on-roads. But the long list of improvements, both mechanical and kit-wise are worth twice that, if not more.
For starters, there’s a host of tasty styling enhancements on the outside that give the regular M3 a more sinister, more complete look, especially when combined with the car’s trademark pumped-up guards.
Consider BMW’s take on the ever popular ‘black pack’: The grille is black, so are the side mirror caps, side gills, quad exhaust tips and even the rear badge. It’s not overt, just enough to signify to BMW fans and enthusiasts in the know that it’s an extra-special version and not to be messed with.
That said, the new-look wheels have got serious visual appeal. Uprated from the standard 19-inch alloys, the 20-inch forged BMW M light rims shod with low-profile 265/30 and 285/30 series tyres not only make a statement, but they’re also 10mm wider.
Inside, there’s even more to get excited about. Fresh lightweight sports seats are heavily bolstered, beautifully comfortable and look the business. The flush-mounted M-badge (in the front pews) also lights up at night when you hit the unlock button, which I kind of like. Subtler, are the very cool seatbelts, woven with M-coloured stripes.
And let’s not forget that even the standard M3 is loaded to the hilt with luxury kit like adaptive LED headlamps with high-beam assist, head-up display, comfort access, DAB+ digital radio, Surround View camera, Harman/Kardon audio system, heated front seats and surround view camera.
You also get BMW’s benchmark iDrive infotainment system and Navigation System Professional, with its 10.2-inch high-resolution screen. It’s still not as good as Audi’s 12-in-plus Virtual Cockpit, but functionality-wise, iDrive remains the most intuitive for first-time users.
All of this alone would be enough to convince most M3 buyers to dig a little deeper for the extra bucks, but this M3 is much more about dynamic performance than about stealth and style.
The Competition package gives it a slight bump in power over the stock M3 (up from 317 to 331kW), as well as a blisteringly quick sprint time of 4.0 seconds-flat (0-100km/h) for the twin-clutch auto, or 4.2 sec for the manual, like our tester.
To put that into perspective, it’s a tenth better than the current-generation 991-series Porsche 911 Carrera S can manage even with its quick-shifting PDK transmission.
Make no mistake; this in-house tuned M3 is a ferociously fast bit of kit. And it’s not just acceleration-out-of-the-gate-quick either, mid-range punch is guaranteed to pin your torso to the seatback – and hold it there for as long as you’ve got the throttle jammed up against the firewall.
Overtaking power is phenomenal, with all 550Nm of torque on tap from just 1850 rpm – and that back-pinning shove doesn’t let up until the tachometer hits 5500 rpm.
Turbo lag doesn’t really exist in the traditional sense either, especially if you ease into the throttle rather than putting the proverbial boot in, as tempting as that may be.
Even then, the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six only pauses for a split second before the turbos spool up and you’re hurtling towards the horizon at a positively furious pace.
The M boffins have also tuned the M3’s sports exhaust system, so there’s more depth to the engine note, and it’s less metallic in nature. All the better for it, too. Hit the starter button and there’s that mandatory throttle blip as the engine fires, then it settles into high-tempo burble.
Truth is, it doesn’t have that same soulful roar of the V8-powered E90 series M3 – how could it? – but there’s still something unmistakably exciting about this engine, particularly as you punch it in the midrange and rejoice in the relentless go this motor dispenses.
These days, I’m a fully-fledged convert of the twin-clutch auto (and BMW’s version is one of the best) but our tester was equipped with a six-speed manual 'box – a no cost option for those purists who crave the old-school ways.
The penalty for choosing such an option is two-tenths-of-a-second, at least to 100km/h, but some would say it’s naturally more involving than paddle-shifting. Would I choose it? Not a chance. There’s nothing quite like banging through the gears at full throttle. It’s really quite intoxicating.
Big, progressive stopping power is also part of the M3 package, and you need it to rein in the silly speeds that this thing is capable of. Buyers can also option carbon ceramic brakes, too, though unless you intend tracking the car regularly, we’d suggest you stick with the steel rotors.
It grips as hard as it goes, too, thanks to an enhanced version of the M3’s standard-fit adaptive suspension and active rear diff. Right from the outset, it feels a lot more bolted down than the standard model, thanks to the rejigged rear differential. Not at all tail happy like its hooligan M4 sibling certainly is.
The front end feels sharper as well, especially on turn-in, though I can’t say that there’s any more feedback through the steering wheel.
Up the ante further, and there’s still plenty of bite from the appropriately fat Michelins down back – to the point where you’ll want to get on throttle early out of those sweetly-cambered corners, such is the M3’s stellar body control and directional stability under load. There’s absolutely no squirminess from the rear end, as you power out of a chicane. It all feels nicely and positively balanced now.
It’s a firmer ride than the standard M3, though, as the software for all three suspension modes have been reconfigured for enhanced handling, but I still found the M3’s ride (at least in Comfort) to be surprisingly adept at soaking up the bumps. It’s impressive, given its stupendous all-round performance and flat cornering behaviour.
That said, there’s a noticeable and instantaneous transition from compliant to stiff ride, the moment you dial up the Sport setting. The same goes for the throttle and transmission mapping – both significantly more responsive to pedal pressure in this mode.
Sport+ is a bigger leap again – auto shifting on redlines, but with double the intensity. Save this setting for the track, would be our advice.
The M3 with Competition package is a deal too good to refuse. Even your accountant will agree with us on that front, either on a cost benefit basis or resale value.
The lightweight forged alloy wheels alone are worth the additional asking price, but then tack on the all the go-fast and handling bits and it’s a dead-set no brainer.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.