This has to be the most emotive badge in the BMW range. The M3 was built for the track all the way back when Group A Touring Cars required a minimum number of road vehicles built with track modifications.
So the hallowed E30 M3 of 1986 made its debut on a lightweight 3-Series coupe. Stripped of all luxuries and featuring the classic 1980s design cue of blistered guards, it swept all before it, winning the 1987 World Touring Car Championship and etching the M3 name in stone as the hero model of BMW’s sports car range.
That was the only M3 that had to comply with racing rules, though, which meant subsequent models were free to capitalise on the legacy without being burdened by weight limits. So the M3 continued adding more luxuries, which equaled more weight that was off-set by more power.
Now here we are, with this latest G80 Competition version, 36 years later delivering more than two-and-a-half times the power of its 200hp world champion ancestor, but also carrying more than twice the weight as well.
The M3 may have started life with a 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine in the E30, but these days the G80 packs BMW’s most potent six-cylinder engine measuring three litres with two turbochargers. In the case of the Competition model The National is testing, 504hp, 33 more than the regular M3 with 600Nm of torque from 2,000 to 6,200rpm. For the first time in the M3’s history, power now also drives through all four wheels instead of the usual rear-wheel drive.
While the new M3 is rear-wheel drive, this Competition version has exclusive access to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system to handle the extra grunt. If the purist laments this, it also has the ability to switch to a two-wheel drive mode, which sends 100 per cent of its power to the rear wheels.
Engineers redesigned the M3's front axle geometry, retuned its steering ratio and adapted its oil system to accommodate the rear-biased, torque-vectoring drivetrain. The xDrive system offers three drive modes comprising the default four-wheel drive, four-wheel drive Sport (which sends more torque to the rear for track days) and the two-wheel mode. It also features adaptive dampers and adjustable brake-pedal feel, and can be ordered with even stronger carbon-ceramic brakes hiding behind 19-inch front and 20-inch rear forged rims.
For driving enjoyment all the big points are complete, with huge power from a flexible engine and a chassis set up that is supremely well-balanced. The front end is planted and neutral, and the steering is kart-like direct with minimal to nil oversteer or understeer. It may have gained a few kilos, but this latest model is worthy of the M3 badge.
BMW says it can hit 100kph in 3.6 seconds with a governed top speed of 250kph, which many believe is closer to 320kph without the restrictor. Thankfully it’s loaded with safety equipment including lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams. Ours was also fitted with the Driving Assistance Professional Package that adds adaptive cruise control and lane centring.
Larger inside than the previous model, the latest M3's rear leg-room is compromised slightly by the front carbonfibre shell seats available for the Competition, though for the driver and front passenger, they are supremely supportive without being overbearing on longer drives.
There is carbonfibre and micro-suede throughout the interior, while the driver faces a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that switches to M View in the sportier drive modes with the traditional rotary knob and buttons remaining in the centre console. The infotainment system boasts both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and includes a 16-speaker Harman-Kardon surround sound system.
Its aggressive stance, helped by its wide rear guards and rear diffuser, is offset by the faux bonnet louvres and that enormously large, toothy grille that, sadly, tends to dominate discussion about this car. With so much to love about the new M3, public opinion invariably comes back to looks that, admittedly, only a mother could love.
Thankfully, in this case, beauty is only skin-deep and the new M3 continues the legacy set by the original, which is now commanding enormous money on the collectors' market, so adding weight to the current car’s valid performance credentials.