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In a recent interview with Top Gear, BMW design head Domagoj Dukec explained that the company is well aware that new 3 and 4-Series nose job has not received universal praise. “Now, this is a special time. It is different and distinguished. I think this is something we are used to. It is not our goal to please everyone in the world. You can’t make a design which pleases everyone. But you have to please your customers.”
And he followed that assertion up with this. “Not all our products get the same critics. You can see that on something as polarizing like the kidneys on the 4 Series; twenty percent of people are liking it. That fits to the type of customers we are targeting.”
It may seem like an odd stance to take, but consider Ford’s use of the Mustang name with the Mach-E. Without attaching the pony car moniker to that EV, discussion about the new crossover amongst the general automotive public would likely have fizzled out quickly. Instead, Ford’s decision to call it a Mustang created months of heated online discussion that continues today – proof in and of itself that it was ultimately a shrewd marketing tactic. Controversy breeds attention.
And the M3’s design certainly is distinctive – you have to admit, it doesn’t look like anything else on the road today, and that has an inherent appeal for a certain set of enthusiasts. For better or worse, I’ve personally become desensitized to the nose. It’s no longer visually offensive to me, it’s just what a G80-generation M3 looks like. I’d also add that if it weren’t for the front fascia, this might be the best looking M3 since the E46.
Solutions for those who can’t deal with schnozz are on the way, but it’s important to note that if the 3-Series, 4-Series, iX electric SUV, and i4 electric coupe are any evidence, the kidneys aren’t going anywhere. BMW isn’t backing away from this design language – they’re leaning into it. At least for now.
Fortunately for the BMW faithful and fans of fast sport sedans everywhere, the new M3 is noteworthy for more than just its breathing apparatus. To prove that point, the Bavarian automaker handed us the keys to this tester and told us to have at it.
Ignore the front fascia and the M3’s design is actually quite handsome. Angular yet somehow more streamlined than its predecessor, the side profile and rear end nail the subtly aggressive vibe that the M Division built its reputation on.
The debut of an all-new M3 has been a momentous occasion ever since the M Division decided to make a homologation special out of the E30 back in the mid-1980s. That car – along with some help from the E28 M5 – established the template for M vehicles, and although some of the rules have changed over the years, the core mission of delivering serious performance in a practical package remains the same today.
Despite the fact that BMW has become pretty apathetic about M badge-worthiness in recent years, there’s no mistaking the new M3 for a garden-variety 3-Series. It’s 2.4-inches wider thanks to its expanded track and the flared out fenders it wears, while the unique hood, side skits, front and rear fascias, and quad-tipped exhaust system significantly ramp up the visual aggression.
Every new M3 will roll out of BMW’s factory on a staggered set of wheels – standard issue consists of 18-inchers up front and 19s in the back, but this particular machine wears the optional M Double-spoke bi-color wheels, which expands the diameters to 19 and 20 inches, respectively. Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires which measure 275mm-wide at the front and 285mm in the rear make contact with the pavement.
Even in base configuration the 473 horsepower 3.0-liter S58 inline six shoves the M3 forward with plenty of authority.
The new M3 is available in two primary configurations. Base models like this one deliver 473 horsepower and 406 power-feet of torque by way of the 3.0-liter S58 twin-turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine, and that power is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission as standard. Spring for the M3 Competition and output jumps to 503 HP and 479 lb-ft, but the extra grunt comes with the stipulation that it can only be had with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Both configurations are electronically limited to 155 mph by default, but adding the optional M Driver’s Package raises that limit to 180 mph.
The cabin accoutrements don’t stray far from the standard 3-Series, but that’s not really to the M3’s detriment. BMW’s iDrive 7 infotainment system is paired up with a 10.3-inch touchscreen that can also be controlled by way of a rotary knob and hard buttons on the center console. In classic BMW fashion its menu systems seem needlessly intricate at first glance, but it’s partially forgivable due to the wide range of tech features on offer, which include gesture control as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The M3’s system also gains an M Drift Analyzer mode that records telemetry and scores your best powerslides, a feature which will no doubt be a boon for body shops everywhere. The sport seats in this tester are standard fare for the M3, but for $3800 you can opt to outfit the car with BMW’s fixed-back carbon buckets for serious lateral support.
Pricing for the standard M3 starts at $70,895 including $995 for destination. This tester, which is outfitted with a range of options packages, rings up $90,295 when all is said and done.
Around town, in the M3’s default Comfort drive mode, the suspension is surprisingly forgiving for an M car, absorbing pavement imperfections with very little drama and handling larger suspension events with more compliance than we had initially expected. After a few minutes of driving on Los Angeles surface streets, we actually started to wonder if the suspension tuning would be too daily driver-friendly to keep body motions in check out on the fast canyon roads of the Angeles National Forest. When dialed to its most sedate settings, the M3’s steering is nearly effortless, the cabin is luxury car-quiet and the wide range of adjustability of both the sport seats and the steering column make for a very comfortable drive. Even the Kyalami Orange leather interior is impressive, though we doubt many buyers will have the courage to pair it with this killer Isle of Man Green shade of paint.
Manual transmissions are becoming more and more of anachronism every day, but there’s something about an M3 with three pedals that just feels right. The clutch has a good amount of weight to it and a clear engagement point, but BMW continues to lose some points for its shifter feel. We don’t necessarily mind a notchy shifter, but the transition between gates has an oddly elastic resistance to it that makes gear shifts feel rubbery rather than mechanically precise. The automaker wins back some praise for its automatic rev-matching, though, which ensures perfectly rev-matched downshifts every time without the need to heel-and-toe your way through the daily grind. The feature can also be disabled if you’re looking to score extra style points.
Upgrading to the M Carbon Ceramic Brake package scores you these snazzy gold calipers, which contrast particularly well with our test car's Isle of Man Green hue.
On the way out to Angeles Crest Highway we pressed M1, one of the two steering wheel-mounted buttons that allows the driver to cue up a range of configurable vehicle parameters with one command. Here we had programmed the M1 button to be more or less like a traditional Sport mode setting, with throttle response and suspension stiffness dialed to their mid-level settings. Steering effort only has two settings, so we opted for the more-aggressive Sport mode. M Sound Control is also part of the deal and affects the volume of the active exhaust by controlling valves within the system, but in Sport and Sport Plus modes, the engine tone heard in the cabin of the car is augmented by Active Sound Design, which ups the aural drama by way of the audio system for the sake of the vehicle’s occupants. The combination of the two features together sounds synthesized, but we never had a hard time hearing the engine revs over road noise, which is useful for a manually-shifted car.
Confusingly, the M3 also has an M Mode button on the center console, but rather than affecting the vehicle’s performance parameters, it changes the layout of the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster as well as the heads up display. There’s a lot of systems in this car that seem more complex than they need to be, but if you’re someone who likes to dig into minutiae, the M3 is probably right up your alley.
Hustling the car out in the mountains we quickly discovered that Sport Plus suspension setting suited the road and the pace perfectly, keeping body motions in check while providing just enough compliance to prevent the car from getting unsettled over bumps at speed. The steering, however, felt over-boosted regardless of which setting we chose. It’s a speed-sensitive, variable-ratio rack, and we noticed that at higher pace the ratio felt almost supercar-quick. That probably sounds like fun, but combined with the light steering effort, it ultimately resulted in dartiness and more mid-corner corrections. Considering the fact that BMW nailed the steering in the M2 CS, it’s a surprise to find that they still haven’t quite honed in on winning formulas with their other platforms.
The M3’s sport seats are very comfortable during normal driving, but they really didn’t have enough thigh bolstering to keep us securely planted in the seat during spirited jaunts out in the canyons.
Less-than-ideal steering calibration aside, the M3 is an absolute riot on a good road. We are convinced that BMW is significantly underrating this engine because it pulls this 3900-pound car out of slow corners and down straight stretches of tarmac like a freight train. The automaker cites a 4.1 second sprint to 60 mph with the six-speed manual gearbox, and we have no doubt that many owners will be able to handedly beat that.
The chassis is another big highlight – additional bracing throughout the M3 provides significantly more structural rigidity than a standard 3-Series and allows the suspension to work as efficiently as possible, making the car precise, predictable, and easy to set up for a corner when the steering rack isn’t distracting from the proceedings. When the time comes to scrub off speed, the M3 uses a brake-by-wire system that offers Comfort and Sport settings, but we couldn’t discern any significant difference between the two. Pedal feel is pretty natural and the optional carbon ceramics offer a ton of consistent stopping power, but personally we would pocket the $8150 cost that they command and put more aggressive pads on the standard brakes if I were heading out to a track day.
There’s quite a bit to like about this car, but in some ways, the M3 is its own worst enemy. Whether we’re talking about performance, technology, or aesthetics, many elements of the car seem to come with either substantial self-imposed caveats or unnecessary convolution. None of it breaks the deal or ruins the experience outright, and on the whole, the G80 M3 is indeed a substantial step forward from its predecessor. It’s just a bit of a shame that BMW felt the need to shoot themselves in the foot on the way here.