TESTED: BMW M3 Competition is a show-stopper and all-rounder
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PRETORIA - Some days are better than others and when there’s a BMW M3 Competition waiting in the driveway, well, then it’s a very good day indeed.
Colleague Pritesh Ruthun and I were fortunate enough to be given the keys for first driving impressions of both the M3 Competition and M4 Competition over the same period, so I opted for the M3.
It’s a show-stopper to be sure, with its blistered wheel arches, and while there’s an M model in virtually their entire line-up, it’s the M3 that people tend to look to when BMW assembles a special car.
And look they did, because that front grille still has people shaking their heads or smiling in appreciation.
Some say that it looks better in the metal than in pictures, I’m still not entirely convinced and I don’t think it’s helped by the number plate placed in the middle of it.
You know of course what the Italians would have done in this case.
What is convincing though are the workings under the bonnet, with an in-line six-cylinder high-revving twin turbo pouring out 375kW and 650Nm of torque via a torque converter eight-speed ZF automatic transmission which replaces the previous generation’s dual clutch set-up. Power is sent to the rear wheels and you’ve got to love that, while the M xDrive (all wheel drive) is destined to arrive here in Q4.
The auto set-up is incredibly refined and no matter what mode you’re in power transfer is very smooth and there’s little fuss as it switches gears to get you to a claimed 100km/h in 3.9 seconds and will even out at 290km/h with the M Drivers package. I don’t doubt though that there’s every possibility that it’s likely to be quicker than what BMW says.
In effect you get the best of both worlds with the M3. A four door sedan that will comfortably drive you and the family to your holiday destination or a track car that will put a smile on your face every time you accelerate out of a corner with tyres squealing.
Inside the M3 has the familiar BMW look and feel about it with the carbon interior package which has carbon-fibre inserts scattered around the cabin, including the inside of the steering wheel, transmission-lever surround and in front of the passenger seat. The M3 was fitted with the standard M sport seats while the M4 had the optional bucket seats. The standard seats proved to be supremely comfortable and one could easily sit for hundreds of kilometres on the open road, while the bucket seats provided more support on the track, but if you’re slightly larger than average it could become an uncomfortable ride.
Sliding behind the wheel and pushing the start button, the first thing you need, or rather want to do, is press the exhaust button which opens the flaps and allows a very pleasant burble to fill the air from the four tailpipes.
For daily driving the M3 is easy to live with but it takes a bit of discipline not to want to push it hard on take off and upset fellow road users. Because it’s so easy and smooth to drive and the gearbox shifts effortless, it’s one of those cars that before you know it you’ve left the speed limits far behind without noticing.
Fitted with M adaptive air suspension it handled road imperfection with ease even with the setting in Sport+ but with everything dialled down the front 19 inch and rear 20 inch alloys glided over tar comfortably just like a family sedan ought to.
But because it’s an M car and because we’re responsible citizens some time at the Gerotek testing facility just outside Pretoria was called for.
The M3 and M4 debut with the M Drive Professional software which includes an M Drift Analyser, M Laptimer and M Traction Control with everything dialed up except the steering, we tackled the skidpan with gusto.
The M3 gets it back out easily and you need to treat the power with the respect it deserves because it will have you facing the wrong way in an instant.
It feels almost surreal though sitting comfortably surrounded by exceptional technology and comfort with tyres screeching and the Drift Analyser measuring your progress.
In a drag race M4 just beat the M3 by a whisker. It also highlighted how deceptively quick it is with no fuss at all it hustles to over 200km/h without skipping a beat.
On the dynamic handling track we got to play with the track settings via the iDrive system which includes being able to set the traction control between completely off and anything in between as well as sport braking which proved to be especially effective with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes fitted.
With traction control off you need to keep your wits about you as it tends understeer around the hairpins but once I had found a happy medium The M3 proved exceptionally fast with pin point steering and a lot of fun to drive.
I also drove the M4 and it felt a bit tighter with less work around the track I think partly because of the seats and its elongated two door coupe shape and according to the weight on the disk it’s five kilograms lighter.
Still, as a sedan with four doors and an M badge as an every day drive and an occasional fun outing at a track day, I’d have the M3, but at R1 860 000 M performance is way out of reach of the average enthusiast.