A legend born 35 years ago, the BMW M3 has gone through many changes but it has remained the ultimate driving machine for many

BMW is one of those marques that understand the value of a “halo car”, and the one that particularly stands out among the others in its stable is the M3. This motoring legend traces its roots back to the 1986 M3 (E30). This “street-legal race car” came about because car-racing rules of the professional motorsport field necessitated manufacturers to base or homologate their race cars to a car model that was actually sold to consumers. In other words, “street-legal” versions were created so that their counterparts, which are built for actual racing, can qualify for participation in motorsport races.

The same explanation is behind the numerous “homologation specials” from various car manufacturers, which have collectively lifted the car industry out of mediocrity. These specially prepared cars are far more interesting to own and to drive than what they are derived from. Many examples have become treasured collector’s items and indeed risen in value. For the manufacturers, there is a knock-on “halo effect” that these special cars cast upon their lesser stable mates and BMW has used this to great effect.

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For the 2014 model year, BMW decided that the coupe and sedan should have different names, which explains why the former became the M4 and the latter retained the M3 name. This may be a little confusing for long-time aficionados of the marque, who have always known this exceptional legend as the M3.

The new sixth-generation M3 and M4 Competition are the high-powered versions and use a revamped version of the iconic turbocharged in-line six that has been uprated from 450 hp previously to 510 hp. The twin-scroll, twin-turbo 3.0-litre engine is very impressive, not just for its sheer power but also the fact that it has managed to reduce turbo lag to the point where it is not noticeable during normal driving. It can now sprint to 100 km/h in an impressive 3.9 seconds with a regulated top speed of 250 km/h (limit raised to 290 km/h with Driver’s Package).



Allowing the cars to accomplish this feat is the new transmission. BMW has dropped the previous seven-ratio double-clutch (DCT) gearbox and replaced it with an eight-speed ZF automatic. This might seem like a big step backwards, seeing that there were so many accolades that have been heaped upon the DCT during the launch of the previous M3/M4. But it turns out that transmission manufacturer ZF has been hard at work, developing a traditional torque converter automatic that can rival the DCT.

Admittedly, the previous DCT does shift faster— the latest ZF automatic is not too far off, however, shifting gears in just over a tenth of a second. The packaging is where the ZF automatic gearbox surpasses the DCT. It is more compact than the DCT, but, most importantly, the ZF gearbox can be mated to an all-wheel-drive system that will be offered as another version in future. This is particularly useful in countries that see heavy snowfall during winter.

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One thing’s for sure about the aesthetics of this new duo—you’ll either love or hate the look. Nobody will sit on the fence on this—it is that polarising. Look past its exterior, however, and you’ll realise that the M3 and M4 delivers what their predecessors are best known for—a superb drive experience. Each generation brings with it an update of performance, handling, technology and design to reflect the progress of time. 

The very first impression one gets is that of refinement. The new M3 and M4 ride over city streets with better comfort, especially over repaired tarmac. It is a difficult balancing act because the more isolation there is, the less the driver experiences the connection with the road. This might be good for a family car but in a sports car like the M3, it could be detrimental to the driving experience.

To mitigate this, BMW has developed a better chassis that copes with the additional power and is able to increase stability and allow fine resolution of steering response, all while providing decent comfort. Much of this is due to the excellent Michelin PS4 tyres that come as standard equipment. Thankfully, the driver can still sense some of this acuity of response and efficacy through the electrically assisted steering, which manages to filter out much of the feedback.

BMW engineers were determined to make both coupe and sedan feel and perform identically. Even with two extra doors, the M3’s weight is within a 5kg difference, when compared with that of the M4. So it does come as a surprise that there is a small difference in how the cars feel on the road. I preferred the M3 sedan by a smidgen as it felt more settled while the M4 felt a tad sharper and edgy. Otherwise, they are indeed almost identical. All you have to do is decide whether you want a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan.

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Price from: $461,888 (M3 Competition) $466,888 (M4 Competition)
Engine: Twin-turbo in-line six
Max Power: 510 hp at 2750 to 5500 rpm
Max Torque: 650 Nm at 1600 rpm
Transmission: 8-Speed Steptronic transmission
0-100km/h: 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h (290 km/h with Driver’s Package)
Fuel consumption: 9.8-9.6L/100km

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