BMW M3 Competition review – still the benchmark performance saloon?
It’s bigger and heavier than before, and is now auto-only. So can it copy the new M4’s trick of still being fun to drive? You bet it can
BMW’s M range used to be a straightforward concept to get your head around. There was the small, racy one: the M3. There was the bigger, more relaxed one: the M5. And that was pretty much it. But that was also 30‑plus years ago and it really is time we moved on, isn’t it? After all, BMW M has.
Yet as with any institution there has been controversy with such evolution, but none has felt it with quite so much vigour as this new G80-generation BMW M3 Competition. Debuted with a challenging new look, the use of a torque converter automatic transmission and the lack of a six-speed manual option (in the UK), plus the availability of all-wheel drive and a substantial weight gain across all its forms, the latest M3 Competition had a mountain to climb before it even hit the ground.
And yet, perhaps because of these very changes, this new M3 doesn’t just shut down its critics, but fights back with perhaps the most congruous and superbly engineered package in decades. It’s so good, an inclusion in our 2021 evo Car of the Year test was a given, and riding on the back of some serious form from BMW M its continued evolution into new forms like the incoming Touring and CS have us licking our lips in anticipation.
In other words, the M3 Competition might not have held this form before, but then that doesn’t mean it's not an astounding achievement. It’s not exactly the small touring car-like road-racer we associate with the iconic M3 badge, but as a modern sports saloon there are few, if any, rivals that match it.
BMW M3 Competition: in detail
- Engine, gearbox and technical specs – BMW M’s S58 engine and ZF ’box continue to get better; a recent software update has also yielded improvements
- Performance and 0-60 time – With or without xDrive, the M3 is unnervingly, almost irresponsibly rapid
- Ride and handling – It’s a big car, and with lots of weight to manage, but feel and precision are in abundance
- MPG and running costs – Driven carefully it’ll do good numbers, but consumables all-round are big
- Interior and tech – Superbly built, great tech and materials, and big enough for the whole family, the interior’s a highlight of the G80 M3
- Design – Ahem, it’s challenging, and for mostly the wrong reasons. Spec carefully, though, and it does have a definite menace
Prices, specs and rivals
The G80 generation has brought with it some curious variations in trim and specification that can quite dramatically vary how much your M3 will cost. The base price for a rear-wheel-drive M3 Competition is £75,660 – the non-Competition and its no-cost six-speed manual are not available in the UK, thanks to the almost non-existent take-up of the standard model last time around.
Next up is the M3 Competition xDrive, a model that is specified identically to the rear-drive model, but throws in a couple of front driveshafts that can then also be de-coupled if so desired. The xDrive starts at £78,425, and is totally indistinguishable from the standard M3 Competition from the outside.
Things start getting complicated (and expensive) from here though. In terms of options, most are grouped into packages, starting with the M Driver’s Pack, which ups the top speed from 155mph to 180mph and signs you up for an Advanced M Driver’s Course – yours for £2095. Next up is the M Pro Pack, which bundles the above with a set of carbon-ceramic brakes with gold calipers (blue, red or black calipers are available on the standard cast iron discs) that’ll be £7995.
There’s then the M Carbon Pack; this swaps out various gloss black elements on the door mirrors, side vents and lip spoiler for carbonfibre, while also ditching the standard seats for fantastically supportive carbon bucket ones – an extravagant £6750, but then also very desirable. A further Visibility Pack (£1500), Technology Plus Pack (£1750) and Comfort Pack (£990) are also available.
The good news is that if you want a bit of everything, there’s the Ultimate Pack, which bundles all of the above together for £11,250. But if you want ceramics, you’ll still need to tick the M Pro Pack, though, taking the price up to just under £95,000. Order your M3 in 2022 and you’ll also be able to order the heritage badges for the nose, bootlid and centre caps for £300.
A BMW M3 Competition’s rivals are in something of a state of flux, with AMG’s W206-generation C63 S still to be revealed. We do know, however, that it’ll ditch the M177 V8 engine in favour of a turbocharged four-cylinder paired to an electrified rear axle. While it’ll almost certainly lose some of its character, performance isn’t likely to be compromised, so if you’re into an AMG with a raucous soundtrack, best to start trawling Mercedes-Benz dealer stock to snap up one of the remaining W205s left on the forecourt.
Instead, the M3’s greatest challenger comes from Northern Italy. The £70,299 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio pulls at the heartstrings like few others, and while its powertrain might match the BMW’s, the car as a whole is significantly lighter, making it a quicker car across the ground – if you can get the power down. This lack of weight also gives it a much more delicate character, something doubled down upon with relatively soft spring rates and preference to flow with the road surface rather than pummel it into submission. We love the Alfa Romeo, and while it’s almost impossible to call one better than the other, the two cars’ variability makes the sports saloon market a great place for any buyer.
Audi doesn’t have a direct saloon rival, and while the RS4 Avant and RS5 Sportback are potent, neither is anywhere near the M3 in terms of engagement and ultimate performance. The Lexus RC-F is a similar story – a great nostalgic V8 coupe (with some superb build quality), but ultimately outclassed.
BMW M3 Competition specs
|Engine||In-line 6-cyl, 2979cc, twin-turbo|
|Power||503bhp @ 6250rpm|
|Torque||479lb ft @ 2750-5500rpm|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|