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BMW's M3 carries an illustrious badge but that doesn't appear too big a burden for this 510hp powerhouse. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The MK6 'G80'-series generation BMW M3 ups the ante in a number of regards. It's quicker, cleverer, better looking and offers more equipment. You even get the option of AWD for the first time. It's offered in saloon guise (though you can also ask your dealer about a Touring estate version) and it keeps to an enhanced version of the classic straight-six engine configuration. What's not to like?
If you've an ounce of petrol flowing through your veins, you'll probably know quite a lot about BMW's M3. It's a name that evokes a rich history of competition, tyre smoke and unremitting motorsport development over thirty five years and six generations of the Munich maker's practical, power-packed performance car. Welcome to the MK6 model. You'll might still remember this car as a coupe, a body shape BMW's M division still makes but designates the 'M4'. When the fifth generation 'F80'-series model was launched in 2014, the more familiar M3 badge was restricted to the four-door body style and that theme continues with this 'G80'-series car. That old 'F80' model swapped the previous 'E90' version's thirsty high-revving 4.0-litre V8 for a 3.0-litre twin turbo straight six, a format that continues on here though, inevitably, with a little more power. In 'G80'-series form, the M3 has evolved from hairy-chested racer to cultured street supercar. It's a matured, though still magnificent prospect. Does that make it fit to wear this famous badge? Let's find out.
So here are the key things you need to know. Power from the latest version of BMW's twin turbo 3.0-litre straight six (codenamed 'S58') is up 60hp to 510hp. That's in M3 Competition form, which is the only M3 variant our market will get. The standard M3 with 473hp won't be coming here, which is a pity as it alone can be had with a manual gearbox option. The M3 Competition has to be had with a freshly developed paddleshift 8-speed torque converter automatic with M Drivelogic software; this transmission replaces the previous model's 7-speed dual clutch auto. The possibly more important news is that this M3 Competition variant will be the first model in the line to be fitted with the option of 4WD - BMW's fully variable M xDrive system. AWD will certainly make this BMW more seasonably usable; it offers three driving modes - '4WD', '4WD Sport' and (with the Dynamic Stability Control system disabled) '2WD', in which form most of the torque goes to the rear. As for performance, well basically, this M3 Competition model is as fast as the old M3 CS was. Which means rest to 62 mph in 3.9s for the rear-driven model, 0.2s quicker than before. Top speed is still limited to 155mph, mainly to give BMW an opportunity to sell an optional 'Drivers Package' which lifts it to 180mph in combination with Z-rated tyres.
For the first time in its history, the M3 has a front-end look distinct from the 3 Series it's based upon - which ends a 35 year tradition with this model line. Instead, this car gets the latest 4 Series look, which sees a large vertical grille featuring seven double horizontal louvres and a front number plate mounting point. This appendage differs from that on the 4 Series by being two separate elements, rather than a single frame design. This is a slightly bigger car than before, 108mm longer, 26mm wider and 8mm higher. The classy carbon fibre-reinforced plastic roof is carried over, with two lengthwise 'rails' that optimise airflow back to the boot-mounted spoiler and the multi-channel rear diffuser, which incorporates a pair of chrome tailpipes on either side. Inside, there are newly developed M Sport seats which can now be cooled. There are M-specific graphics for the bigger head-up display. If you're wanting this M3 Competition, then rear seat space is possibly quite important to you because otherwise you'd probably have chosen the alternative M4 coupe version of this car. In the back, there's certainly more room to stretch out than was the case with the previous 'F80'-generation M3 model, the distance between the front and rear seats having been extended by 11mm. There's slightly more headroom than before too and BMW says that this cabin's now wide enough to take three child seats side by side, though only the two outside positions come with Isofix attachment points. Out back, there's a 480 litre boot.
The M3 Competition retails at around £75,000, which is around £1,300 cheaper than its two-door M4 Competition stablemate. You'll need a little more (around £77,000) if you want the optional xDrive AWD system, which BMW expects around 80% of M3 customers to choose. Of course, as the M3 and M4 models are mechanically identical, it's only fair to see them priced so similarly, although historically, that hasn't stopped BMW pitching cars that are broadly similar under the skin at vastly different prices. M5 and M8 anyone? Nevertheless, around seventy five grand might seem quite a whack for a fast BMW 3 Series and some will ask whether this M3 is really worth all the extra over the quite extravagantly talented M340i xDrive model. Of course, you get a lot for the asking figure, particularly inside where signature M details include red accents for the M buttons on the M leather steering wheel and the start/stop button on the centre console. The selector lever with-Drivelogic switch is leather surfaced with an embedded M logo and stitching in M colours. An anthracite-coloured BMW Individual headliner and interior trim strips in Carbon Fibre High-gloss are standard. Fine-grain Merino black leather trim is standard as are M sport seats, which are electrically adjustable and heated. These seats have pronounced side bolsters, integrated head restraints and an illuminated model badge. A highlight of the options list is the new M Carbon bucket seats for the driver and front passenger, which include CFRP in their construction and save 9.6kg over the standard M sport seats. These can be specified on their own or within the M Carbon Package.
BMW has made great strides in improving the M3's economy and emissions and to put those figures into perspective, let's wind the clock back a bit to the previous six-cylinder M3, the E46 generation. That car, which was only retired in 2006, emitted 287g/km and managed a combined fuel economy figure of 23.7mpg; this from an engine that developed 340hp. This current G80 generation M3 develops a massive 510hp yet can see 27.7mpg and 234g/km in rear driven form. The xDrive variant manages up to 28.2mpg and up to 228g/km. The M3 Competition's BiK Benefit in Kind taxation rate is a lofty 37%. Insurance is as expensive as you'd expect from a car with that sort of potency under the bonnet, so younger drivers ought to ensure they can get halfway sensibly priced cover first. Residual values should hold up well too. This isn't a tired old platform that's being rolled out for one last hurrah. Used demand for this generation M3 should prove very healthy indeed.
Without doubt, this M3 is the most accomplished member of its long, iconic model line. That doesn't mean it'll be the most sought-after or fondly remembered design in the M3 portfolio of course. Purists won't like the fact that, for our market at least, manual transmission is unavailable. These were the same people who dismissed the first full-M car to go all drive and all-auto, the current M5, which is arguably the best performance machine the Munich manufacturer now offers. But perhaps now this M3 is more deserving of that title. You can customise the drivetrain for tail-out antics on the track. But enjoy its outstanding xDrive traction in all weathers on the road. For decades, the M3 has only been a confection you could really fully enjoy on the public highway for a portion of the year. That's changed now, plus there's a fresh level of interior luxury to cosset you when the need for speed is absent. Which leaves us with what: quite simply this. The most complete M3 ever made.