BMW's iconic M3 has long been the go-to model for drivers looking for a car that can do the mundane day to day of school runs and commuting, but which can also make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. For this fifth generation model, BMW has abandoned its long-standing fixation with naturally aspirated engines, opting instead for a turbocharged unit to make the M3 greener. Can it still offer the same driver thrills, particularly in the face of its increasingly talented German rivals? Motors headed to the Austrian Alps to find out.
What is it?
The latest iteration of the celebrated M3, a model line that is widely considered the benchmark in the performance saloon sector. Gone is the screaming naturally aspirated 4.0-litre V8 of old, replaced with a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder motor. The change has proved beneficial; the new M3 is not only cleaner and more fuel efficient, it is now boasts much more torque, making it faster than the outgoing model both in the benchmark 0-62mph sprint (which takes 4.3 seconds) and in real world driving conditions. Elsewhere the recipe is much the same: room for four, a large boot and an extremely well sorted chassis, all wrapped up in a handsome and subtly aggressive saloon body.
What's it like to drive?
Five minutes behind the wheel is all it takes to appreciate why the M3 is so highly regarded. Everything, from the driving position, the response of the engine, to the accuracy of the steering instantly puts a driver into the right frame of mind. However, despite its raw ferocity and on-tap performance, the M3 never feels intimidating and can be driven quickly with relative ease. The chassis balance is obviously biased to the rear, but it never feels like it's going to bite. What's more, there is a halfway stage to the traction control system that allows you to explore the car's fun side, but doesn't let you over cook things and have an accident. This car really does make you feel like a hero behind the wheel.
What's it like inside?
The M3's cabin is near identical to that of the 3 Series saloon on which it's based (and all the better for it), but with some sporty design touches to remind passengers they're in something special. Overall material quality is very high, though buyers can optionally specify a leather trim for the dashboard and door cards for added opulence. Unique to the M3 are a pair of excellent sports seats in the front, new dials, and a fabulous 'M' steering wheel, which create some classy sporting overtones. Standard equipment is generous and includes all the executive toys you'd expect, such as an excellent stereo and sat nav system, driven trough a large flatscreen infotainment display; Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and parking sensors front and rear, to name but a few. Those wanting the latest gadgets will find such niceties as a head-up display, rear view camera and full LED headlamps on the extensive options list.
Is it practical?
The M3 is competitive with its key rivals, namely the Audi RS4 and Mercedes C63 AMG, in terms of offering plenty of passenger lounging room. The boot is also well-shaped and commodious at 480 litres. Overall it is a well thought out product that makes no compromise on its practicality in its pursuit of performance. Indeed, when compared to more overtly sporting machines that offer similar levels of speed and ability – normally low-slug two-seater affairs – the M3 is positively cavernous, and could well be the answer to the driving enthusiast who's look for a more accommodating car for family life, but who doesn't want to give up his weekend thrill machine.
Should I buy one?
We should have known BMW was never going to drop the ball with its most hallowed model. The new M3 has a depth of talent so impressive, you question why anyone in the market for a fast four-seater would buy anything else. A new version of its key rival, the C63 AMG, is forthcoming, and will be worth a look, particularly if you're a fan of V8 engines. That said, it'll have to be otherworldly to match the all round appeal of the M3 – it really is that good.
If you'd rather buy second hand, you can browse Motors.co.uk for a used BMW M3 here.
Model: BMW M3
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
MPG: 23.5mpg (urban), 40.9mpg (extra-urban), 30.2mpg (combined)
Emissions: 204g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars