The looks are debatable but the performance certainly isn’t. We flew to Phillip Island to drive BMW’s sixth-generation M3 and get an up-close look at the brands most controversial design ever. What we found was reassuring, proving once and for all that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
The contentious new look of BMW’s lastest ultimate driving machine becomes less prevalent as you move into the driver’s cockpit. Promptly reaching for the start button, you are soon greeted by the familiar sound of a classic BMW inline 6-cyl. Where on start-up, the engine note is devoid of any artificial cracks and pops, saving it for a loud mode where the exhaust valves open to remind you this isn’t your average family sedan.
We tested the M3 and M4 in ‘Competition’ trim, where the 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder produces a mesmerising 375kW and 650Nm. The new power figures resemble a 44kW increase on the previous model, positioning the M3 and M4 right next to its competitors in terms of raw power.
Competition models drive the rear wheels through the market-leading ‘ZF’ eight-speed automatic transmission. A decision to steer away from the old dual-clutch transmission translates beautifully. The new box is missing all the hiccups and quirks associated with a dual-clutch, all be it, at the sacrifice of quicker gear changes. The drivetrain propels the car to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, and with an all-wheel-drive version predicted to arrive later this year, those times will get even faster.
Impressive Driving Dynamics
Most notable on the new M3 and M4 would be the improvements in stability. The new control systems mean your grandmother could jump in the hot seat and feel overwhelmingly confident as she propels herself down the main straight of Phillip Island at well over 220km/h. While the previous generation acted like a pre-pubescent teenager in its approach to corners, the new model chuffs at the site of such basic expectations. Eating up Phillip Islands tricky double apexes with little turbulence.
Shocking is the car’s propensity to allow you to explore the seemingly endless levels of grip. When sorting through the driving modes, you are guaranteed to find a setting that matches your skill level and expectations for the vehicle. Custom programmable driving modes that are available at the touch of a button seamlessly blend the experience and made the track experience utterly enjoyable.
Starting the day in M1 mode meant we could explore the limits of the vehicle in a controlled manner. When setup like this, the 10-mode M Traction Control system works like no other to make sure you remain planted with little slip as you crest over Lukey Heights and dive onto the breaks into turn 10. The highlight was ending the day in looser set M2 mode where the traction control system allows a perfect amount of slip, letting you experiment with smile-inducing slides and a new level of controlled playfulness for the chassis.
What’s on the Inside Matters
The interior of the latest M3 is phenomenal, there’s carbon everywhere and the touchpoints are supple as ever. Apart from the beaver’s teeth on the front grille, your eyes are next drawn to the optional carbon fibre bucket seats. BMW really knocked it out of the park with these seats and frankly, you’d be silly not to forget the $7,500 premium and option them immediately. Unlike many carbon buckets, they’re heated and you can electronically position them in any way you please.
The interior also features a rather ‘busy’ steering wheel with carbon galore and plenty of buttons. Maybe a few too many buttons. But of course, we were on track, so a road test is really required to experience the plethora of options the M3 presents.
Styling aside, BMW’s M division has made changes to the chassis which are simply outstanding. This is still the best handling vehicle in its class, and now it features a dual personality disorder that is changeable at the press of a button. Yes, some purists will miss the previous generations raw and twitchy nature, but there’s bound to be a CS and GTS model due later in the lifecycle. Furthermore, you can still get a manual, yes, a manual sportscar in 2021. For now, we should appreciate cars like this as before long, we may not see anything like them at all.
BMW M3 Competition Specifications:
Price: From $167,500 drive-away
Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo
Warranty: 3-year/unlimited km
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Fuel Efficiency: 9.6L/100km