The M3 is a legend in the world of performance cars, causing enthusiasts to gush when given the
chance. Under the hood is a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six that makes 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque; it makes glorious sounds all the way to its 7500-rpm redline. For more power, the competition package offers 444 hp and 20-inch forged wheels. A six-speed manual is standard and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional. The M3 comes only as a sedan; coupe and convertibles wear the M4 badge.
BMW baked this automotive version of a German chocolate cake to celebrate the M3’s 30th birthday: an M Competition package containing a 444-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six (a 19-hp upgrade over the standard M3), 20-inch wheels and tires, a retuned Adaptive M suspension, revised exhaust plumbing, and a few distinctive exterior-design touches. This delicacy is available on both the M3 and the M4 coupe for $4 750; because the seats are not included in the M4 convertible, the cost of the competition package drops to $4 250.
The M3 was born in 1986 as a limited-production racer, the ideal gambit for BMW’s motorsport division (later shortened to the M division) to advance its tuning expertise in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) racing series. Major power upgrades, handling and braking gains, and lighter body parts ensued through five design generations. Starting with 16-valve four-cylinder engines, the M engineers stepped up to 24-valve inline-sixes in 1992. A hellbent 32-valve V-8 arrived in 2007, followed by a twin-turbo six for the current (fifth) generation in 2014.
Countless journalists have proclaimed the V-8–powered E92 M3 coupe, which was sold from 2008 through 2013, the best car in the world. The loss of natural aspiration and two cylinders, not to mention the move to electrically assisted power steering, are major setbacks for the current 3- and 4-series in general and the M3/M4 in particular. Consider this new comp(ensation) package the M division making amends. Keeping Up in the 4.0-Second Club BMW had little choice. With Cadillac’s two V-cars, overpowered Chevrolet Camaros, the Shelby
Mustang GT350R, and the Mercedes-AMG C63S all cracking the 4.0-seconds-to-60-mph barrier for less than $100,000, the boys from Bavaria had to put up or go home. Give BMW extra credit for assaulting V-8 enemies with its supremely potent twin-turbo straight-six.
The M3 and M4 are BMW’s double-whammy gifts to owners willing to sacrifice some suppleness during regular driving for razor-edged reflexes on the occasional track day. The adaptive M suspension and a wealth of steering, damping, throttle-response, and transmission-calibration settings give this pair flexibility unmatched by any competitor. Our experience with these M&Ms during routine commuting, on visits to the test track, while hammering our favorite back roads, and while lapping Chrysler’s 10-turn, 1.7-mile closed circuit in the M3 convinced us BMW has definitely not lost the scent.
Kudos go to the M3 for topping the M4’s value. The sedan’s $64,495 base price is $2200 cheaper, and you get two more doors and a third seatbelt in back, which the M4 lacks. This may be all the ammo necessary to convince a skeptical spouse that the M3 is, in fact, a dual-purpose “family sedan.” Also, a four-door tends to draw less attention in traffic than a slinky, fast-moving coupe.
A basic test car can be equipped with a $550 Yas Marina Blue Metallic paint job and six options beyond the competition package: carbon-ceramic brakes for $8150; a $3500 Executive package containing a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, a rearview camera, a backup warning alarm, and headlamp washers; a $2900 dual-clutch automatic transmission; top- and side-view cameras costing $750; and a $350 enhanced USB port for easing smartphone connection via Bluetooth. (The car tested here was a late-2016 model; for the 2017 model year, a slight shuffling of standard equipment results in a $500 rise in the base price of an M3, nicely offset by a $750 reduction in the cost of the competition package.)
The total tab of $88,095 is steep in comparison with the Camaro and Mustang alternatives but on par with super sports sedans offered by Alfa Romeo (the Giulia Quadrifoglio), Cadillac, and Mercedes-AMG.
By Kudzi Marega