- / 2016 #BMW-M3-F80 Competition With more power, reworked suspension and cosmetic upgrades is this the best M3 yet?
Upping the Ante The M3 Competition offers more power and rehoned suspension, but is it a winner?
BMW’s Competition pack-equipped M3 has arrived but does it justify the £3000 premium over the standard car? Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Dave Smith.
There’s something about the launch of a new M3 that seems to encourage criticism and every time a new version comes to market there always seem to be those who can’t wait to fire a salvo across its bows. We won’t go through every single one of these, but the E36 was criticised for not being an E30, the E92 was initially lambasted for not being an E46 CSL and the hardest challenge faced to-date has been for the latest incarnation. For starters it’s turbocharged, which hasn’t gone down well in some quarters, and some folk are still struggling with the idea that the Coupé version now goes under the M4 moniker.
While the new F8x M3 and M4 garnered much praise on their international launch debuts – at a race track and on roads that were warm, dry and relatively well-surfaced – their reception in some quarters, once subject to more in-depth tests in colder, damper climes (i.e in the UK), have been less enthusiastic. It’s probably fair to say that the car has split opinion – some love its low-down torque-rich turbocharged grunt, while others are blaming it for the lack of traction, especially in lower gears in the cold and wet.
Others seem to put the blame down to a chassis that perhaps lacks a little bit of ultimate control, or that’s slightly lacking in finesse. You need the softer setting for the dampers for our broken-up roads, yet when pushing on it doesn’t provide enough body control, yet the stiffer settings can have the wheels pattering over the surface and losing traction again. The bottom line is that the M3 or M4 can be a handful to drive quickly in less than perfect conditions, but shouldn’t that be part of the challenge of driving a powerful rear-wheel drive sports coupé or saloon? Maybe it’s simply a reflection on a generation of drivers who are being brought up on point-and-squirt machinery looked after by an electronic nanny that will intervene when the driver’s talent level has been exceeded? Or perhaps more to the point should you really be driving that fast on a public road?
Those are probably discussions for another day, but the fact of the matter is that BMW has already launched a revised M3 and M4, or rather launched a Competition package that can be spec’d when you order your M3/4. This was a pretty successful move on both the E46 and E92 M3s, although on these two models the Comp pack was added towards the end of these cars’ lives to help in re-establishing interest in machines that were getting a little long in the tooth. The current cars are still pretty youthful, so it could be argued that the Competition package is a bit of an early arrival.
Whether its arrival has been brought forward is a moot point though, and quite frankly we doubt it – these things tend to be planned years in advance – but it’s here and after having done the best part of a 1000 miles in an M3 Competition we can report that it’s actually rather good. The Competition pack costs an additional £3000 on top of your M3 or M4 and it has to be said that you do get an awful lot of kit for your money. For the first time on this model the Competition pack comes with a power upgrade – not huge at an additional 19hp (bringing the total up to a nice, rounded 450hp) – and while the torque output remains the same at 406lb ft the additional grunt is sufficient enough to bring the 0-62mph time down by 0.1 seconds for both manual and M DCTequipped cars. Thus the headline figure for ‘our’ M3 with the DCT ‘box is now just 4.0 seconds. One of the changes for the S55 straight-six is a new bedplate design that’s been stiffened to cope with the additional output and this modified bedplate will have been fitted to all M3 and M4s from Mach production, whether equipped with the Comp pack or not.
The most obvious external change to the M3 are the fitment of a set of even larger alloys – Star-spoke Style 666M as fitted to the M4 GTS but without the lurid Acid orange highlights – and these measure 9x20-inches at the front and 10x20-inches at the rear and are wrapped in 265/30 and 285/30 tyres front and rear respectively. You’ve probably clocked that our car isn’t fitted with these but we’ll get onto that in a minute. To go with the wheel upgrade are a comprehensive set of changes to the suspension which features new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars as well as recalibrated settings for both the Active M Differential and the Dynamic Stability Control in both the fully on and MDM settings.
Other external distinguishing features include kidney grilles and side gill covers finished in Individual high-gloss shadowline trim, and this extends to the window surrounds, the mirrors bases and even the M3 badge. The exhaust continues the dark theme with tips in black chrome and the rear exhaust box to which they’re attached has also come in for some attention, being redesigned with a modified exhaust flap arrangement to bring out more of the straight-six’s vocal character. There are a couple of interior upgrades too, but we’ll come to those in a minute. Our first task for the car is to drive it back from Geneva where it’s been ferrying journalists around at the motor show and as a result it’s sitting on a set of 19-inch winter wheels equipped with winter rubber.
While this might not initially have seemed like the best start as we’ll ideally be wanting to sample the complete Competition package, it soon looks like an inspired choice by BMW’s press folk as when we spear off into the gloom on a late night dash back to the UK the on-board computer is indicating that it’s minus four and the snow is soon strobing across the powerful LED lights ahead. In fact, in the week we spent with the car the temperature didn’t rise much over five degrees which made the tyre choice just about perfect.
We did initially have concerns that the exhaust might make the M3 a tiring companion on a long haul back to London, but it’s perfectly judged – quiet and unobtrusive when cruising, but deliciously vocal as you sprint away from the Peage booths on the French motorways, eliciting a delicious rumbling on every up-change. The temptation to simply keep the throttle pinning to the floor and just flex your right fingers to change up a cog every second or two until you hit the speed limiter at 155mph is hard to bear and it’s possible we might have strayed a smidgen over the speed limit every now and then while doing this, but France has such draconian speeding penalties these days that the spectre of a colossal fine and a driving ban really does focus the mind, especially when travelling on your own. The possibility of being stranded on an autoroute in the middle of the night with an M3 for company and a French copper telling you you can’t drive it any more just doesn’t bear thinking about.
Thus it’s a pretty tedious slog which in no way is a reflection on the M3, just simple circumstance. Spending seven hours in the M3’s cockpit does, however, allow you to become pretty familiar with its fixtures and fittings. There’s lashings of gorgeous carbon fibre trim in here and even under dim ambient light conditions it exhibits a lovely lustre and the leather-clad and hand-stitched dash looks superb too, adding a touch of class to what would otherwise be a large expanse of black plastic. The main change for the Comp pack in the interior is the fitment of a pair of lightweight front bucket seats which look utterly sublime with high backs and extensive wings to hold you in place. A nice touch is seat belts with the M tricolours stitched into them in a subtle strip along one edge. However, after a long time in the saddle those seats do ultimately seem to be a little lacking in lumbar support for your lower back and if you’re broad of beam, especially across the shoulders, you can feel like your upper back is being a little pinched by the chairs. They’re more comfortable than the fixed buckets in an E46 CSL, but not quite as comfy as the normal M3 seats as far as we’re concerned, but we should stress that this is something you’re only likely to encounter if you’re a larger-sized individual, and if you have a slightly dodgy back the seats won’t do it any favours.
Once back in the UK and suitably rested it’s time to get to grips with the M3 in a more challenging environment. The blat back from Geneva has proved that it can still be a very refined and, seats aside, a comfortable and relaxing long distance cruiser. It also returned a smidgen over 30mpg on the trip which is pretty decent economy for a 450hp monster. But let’s face it if all your driving is going to long distance motorway slogging you’d be much better off with a 320d. Presumably you bought an M3 to have a bit of fun behind the wheel too, before cars with a human steering them are banned to be replaced by autonomously driven connected bubbles.
There’s no doubt that the M3 can still dole out the driving thrills like few other machines. We don’t care what anyone says about the latest M cars losing some of their aural edge with the move to turbocharging, they still sound pretty awesome to us, even if the sound has a different character it’s not less intoxicating. Those delicious baritone burbles are there on the over run, and it’s tempting to accelerate hard to the redline and then just back off to hear the brooding symphony coming from the quad pipes.
The M DCT transmission is still a great piece of kit with changes being of the seamless variety until you’ve really put the hammer down when you can still indulge in a bit of thumping between cogs if you like that sort of thing – a momentary lift takes the edge off the severity of the changes – the choice is up to you.
But what of the extensive chassis revisions? We certainly felt they made the M3 significantly more confidence inspiring and even on winters the rear end seemed to be much more connected with the Tarmac. You can now tackle a set of challenging corners without the feeling that the car is about to get caught out by a sudden crest or dip and that the suspension will need to catch up with the car’s body before things are back under control again. The new anti-roll bars seem to help here and the way the front end resists the temptation to understeer makes the M3 a hugely entertaining companion on a spirited drive. Yes you can still have the DSC light dancing a demented flamenco in the dash pod if you’re not measured with your throttle inputs in the lower gears, but the trick is to either change up the ‘box faster or be more measured with your throttle inputs. It remains one of our favourite ways to drive fast and the chassis upgrades simply make it a slightly less fraught experience. The optional carbon ceramic stoppers fitted to our car are massively reassuring too, offering stunning retardation when required.
We’re sure the naysayers will still be able to find fault with the Competition pack-equipped M3 and M4 though, but ignore them – BMW will never build another E30 M3 – it’s time to move on and get over it. For us, though, the Comp pack brings more aural stimulation, a slightly different look and an enhanced driving experience, especially when really pushing on – at £3000 you could almost call it a bit of bargain. Our only dilemma is which colour to choose…
There’s no doubt that the M3 can still dole out the driving thrills like few other machines.
The way the front end resists the temptation to understeer makes the M3 a hugely entertaining companion.
TECHNICAL DATA #2016 #BMW-M3-Competition-F80 / #BMW-M3-F80 / #BMW-F80 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW
ENGINE: Twin-turbo, 24-valve, straight-six, #Valvetronic , double #Vanos , direct injection / #BMW / #S55 / #BMW-S55 / #S55B30 / #S55-tuning
COMPRESSION RATIO: 10.2:1
MAX POWER: 450hp @ 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 406lb ft @ 1850-5500rpm
0-62MPH: 4.2 seconds (4.0)
50-75MPH (5th GEAR): 4.2 seconds (4.3)
TOP SPEED: 155mph (limited)
ECONOMY: 32.1mpg (M DCT 34.0)
EMISSIONS (CO²): 204g/km (194)
WEIGHT (DIN): 1535kg (1560)
TYRES: Michelin Pilot Super Sport
FRONT: 265/30 ZR20
REAR: 285/30 ZR20
PRICE (OTR): £59,595 (£62,240)
Figures in brackets refer to seven-speed #M-DCT
The suspension features new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.