BMW M3 review

Category: Performance car

The BMW M3 and M3 Touring are staggeringly capable performance cars

BMW M3 Touring front right driving
  • BMW M3 Touring front right driving
  • BMW M3 Touring front left driving
  • George Hill test driving BMW M3 Touring
  • BMW M3 Touring boot open
  • BMW M3 Touring interior infotainment
  • BMW M3 Touring right driving
  • BMW M3 Touring front cornering
  • BMW M3 Touring front left driving
  • BMW M3 CS right driving
  • BMW M3 CS front driving
  • BMW M3 Touring rear right static
  • BMW M3 Touring alloy wheel detail
  • BMW M3 Touring interior dashboard
  • BMW M3 Touring interior front seats
  • BMW M3 Touring interior gearshift detail
  • BMW M3 Touring badge detail
  • BMW M3 Touring front right driving
  • BMW M3 Touring front left driving
  • George Hill test driving BMW M3 Touring
  • BMW M3 Touring boot open
  • BMW M3 Touring interior infotainment
  • BMW M3 Touring right driving
  • BMW M3 Touring front cornering
  • BMW M3 Touring front left driving
  • BMW M3 CS right driving
  • BMW M3 CS front driving
  • BMW M3 Touring rear right static
  • BMW M3 Touring alloy wheel detail
  • BMW M3 Touring interior dashboard
  • BMW M3 Touring interior front seats
  • BMW M3 Touring interior gearshift detail
  • BMW M3 Touring badge detail
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Introduction

What Car? says...

Don’t worry: this M3 review isn't about a road from Surrey to Southampton. In fact, the BMW M3 couldn’t be more different to the motorway it shares a name with.

Since the mid-Eighties, the M3 has been the fastest and most exciting version of the BMW 3 Series executive car, building up a cult following among performance car fans – and now there’s the BMW M3 Touring to broaden that appeal even further. 

In fact, the versatility of the estate car version will be perfect for lots of people, because it allows you go for a couple of quick laps at Brands Hatch at the weekend, then fill its huge boot with furniture on the way home. That’s something you can't do with the rival Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

This review covers both versions – the four-door M3 saloon and the M3 Touring estate car – but if you want a two-door coupé, you'll need our BMW M4 review.

So, what are the BMW M3 and M3 Touring like to drive, and how do they stack up against the thrilling Giulia Quadrifoglio and the rapid but practical Audi RS4 Avant? Read on to find out...

Overview

Whether you go for the saloon or the Touring version, the latest BMW M3 is a brilliant performance car that’s far more capable (and fun) than its main rival, the Audi RS4 Avant. Yes, it's expensive, but if you can, you absolutely should.

  • Staggering pace and grip
  • Surprisingly comfortable ride
  • High-quality interior
  • Doesn't sound that special
  • Pricey to buy
  • As expensive to run as you'd expect
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Most modern performance cars give you some control over settings, but the BMW M3 takes that concept to extremes.

Next to the stubby gear selector you’ll find a button that's actually labelled "Setup". Prodding it brings up a list of options on the infotainment screen, letting you change everything from the sensitivity of the brakes to the loudness of the exhaust.

The sheer number of possible configurations can seem a little overwhelming at first, so it’s handy that BMW includes preset modes that work well straight out of the box.

Once you get more familiar with the car, you’ll appreciate being able to fine-tune it to better suit your own tastes. You can leave the steering in its lighter Comfort mode, for example, while having the engine at its most responsive.

With everything in Comfort mode, the M3 is a surprisingly relaxing and refined daily companion. The turbocharged six-cylinder engine remains hushed at low revs, and the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox shuffles through its ratios smoothly (there’s no manual alternative).

Meanwhile, the standard adaptive suspension allows the car to flow gently along the ups and downs of a subsiding B-road, only showing a hint of brittleness over the very worst sections.

Despite its compliant ride, Comfort mode still manages to keep body lean in check, but if you really want to push on, the firmer Sport setting is better for making the most of country roads.

BMW M3 image
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It helps the car feel even more tied down, while also giving the steering a little more heft, so you can gauge your inputs more accurately – but without it feeling unnaturally heavy. 

That’s handy, because when you deploy all 503bhp, the M3 fires you up the road in an almost alarming manner.

Indeed, plant your foot and you’ll fire from 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds in the four-wheel-drive (xDrive) saloon – or 3.6 seconds in the M3 Touring. On a fairly cold day at our test track, the BMW M4 (the two-door version of the M3) managed to slingshot itself from 0-60mph in just 3.8 seconds.

Whichever version you go for, the M3 takes a bit of getting used to before you can really explore what it's capable of through corners. There’s so much front-end grip and rear-end traction you have to chip away at the limits before you feel truly confident to grab it by the scruff of its neck.

Happily, once you get there, you’ll find the latest M3 far more involving than the Audi RS4 Avant (and more predictable than the previous-generation M3).

If the rear wheels break traction in a corner, the resulting slide is easy to manage. Plus, thanks to a clever 10-stage system, you can fine-tune how much wheel-slip is allowed before the traction control cuts in. That's a big boon over the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, in which the traction control is either on or off.

The regular M3 saloon (badged M3 Performance) is offered with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, while the M3 Touring estate car version gets four-wheel drive as standard.

The four-wheel-drive system is brilliant, allowing you to make the most of the car's power even in poor conditions, while still allowing you to play if you want to. It even allows you to put the car into a rear-wheel-drive mode.

Whichever version you go for, regular steel brakes are standard, with carbon-ceramic ones available as an option as part of the (very expensive) M Pro Pack. Upgrading isn't necessary, though. The standard brakes can be a little grabby around town, but the rest of the time they're progressive, consistent and massively powerful.

The impressive braking of the M3 helped it to get round our test track (a 0.9-mile circuit designed to simulate a fast B-road) quicker than any other performance car we’ve tested.

Driving overview 

Strengths Involving to drive; loads of grip; surprisingly comfortable 

Weaknesses Doesn’t sound that special

BMW M3 Touring front left driving

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

In traditional M-car fashion, the BMW M3 is very similar inside to any other BMW 3 Series.

That’s mostly no bad thing, because the 3 Series has one of the highest quality interiors in the executive car class, and the M3 is different enough that you feel like you’re behind the wheel of something special.

For example, you get heavily bolstered and supportive sport seats with integrated headrests, seatbelts in M Division colours, a bright red starter button, some carbon-fibre trim and a sports steering wheel with contrast stitching. Depending on your tastes, you can choose from interior colour schemes that range from black on cream to bright blue on day-glow yellow.

The driving position can be adjusted to the nth degree. Our pictures show the stunning M carbon bucket seats (BMW expects more than half of buyers to pick these). In their lowest setting, they almost place your backside on the floor of the car – particularly handy for taller drivers who plan to attend track days, giving enough head room for a crash helmet.

The standard head-up display beams plenty of information on to the windscreen, and the 12.3in digital instrument panel can be set up in a range of configurations.

The 10.3in centrally mounted infotainment touchscreen can also be operated with a dial between the front seats, which is much less distracting when you’re driving than trying to find and press an icon on the screen. With its super-intuitive layout and responsive operating system, we much prefer it to the finicky system in the Audi RS4 Avant.

The only disappointment is that when the 3 Series was face-lifted, it lost its simple-to-use physical climate control switches. You now have to adjust the temperature using the touchscreen or the voice control.

More positively, the M3's many gadgets also include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, wireless phone-charging, a DAB radio, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, a wi-fi hotspot and a (slightly gimmicky) gesture control function.

Front and rear sensors, and a reversing camera come as standard, which is handy because the chunky front and rear pillars can obscure your view out when parking.

Interior overview 

Strengths High quality interior; great driving position; intuitive infotainment system

Weaknesses Lack of physical climate control switches

George Hill test driving BMW M3 Touring

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

One of the best things about the BMW M3 (or any performance car for that matter) is that you get sports car performance and handling in a package that’s as practical as a regular saloon – or, in the case of the Touring, estate.

To that end, there’s enough space in the back for a couple of six-footers (three at a push). True, the optional carbon-fibre front seats have a hard back, so they're not as comfortable to rest your knees against as the standard ones, but this is mitigated by the fact they're so slim that they free up a bit more space.

In the saloon M3, the boot opening is small, but there’s enough room inside for up to seven carry-on suitcases. As you might expect, the M3 Touring estate version is the most practical, adding an extra 20 litres of space beneath the luggage cover and taking the total number to 500 litres. 

Usefully, both versions come with 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats for those occasions when you need to carry extra paraphernalia.

The M3 Touring also gets a powered tailgate as standard, with a window that can be opened independently, allowing you to quickly drop in light items – such as shopping bags – without lifting the whole tailgate. A powered tailgate is optional on the saloon, which misses out on the opening window. 

Practicality overview 

Strengths Versatile rear seats; surprisingly practical especially in Touring form; plenty of interior space

Weaknesses Saloon has small boot opening

BMW M3 Touring boot open

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

The BMW M3 looks rather expensive when compared with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio but the Touring version is priced in line with the Audi RS4 Avant Vorsprung.

The thing is though, the M3 is predicted to depreciate more slowly than the Quadrifoglio and the RS4, so it might be worth more if you decide to sell in three years. Be sure to check out our new BMW deals to get the best price and sweeten the deal even further.

Don't expect the M3 to be a cheap car to run, though – in our Real MPG tests it averaged 26.3mpg. That’s not bad for something with more than 500bhp, but it’s hardly parsimonious either.

You’ll also need deep pockets to run an M3 as a company car because its hefty CO2 emissions place it in the top 37% band. The electric Porsche Taycan and Taycan Sport Turismo are much cheaper for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax. 

On the plus side, the M3 is well equipped. It has 19in alloy wheels up front and 20in ones at the back (what BMW calls a staggered set-up), a leather interior, a carbon-fibre roof and heated seats. The one surprise is that you have to pay extra for keyless entry. 

There are loads more options, many of which can be bundled into trim packs. For example, the M Carbon Pack lumps together carbon-fibre exterior highlights and the fantastic carbon bucket seats, while the Ultimate Pack adds those plus laser headlights, keyless entry, a heated steering wheel, a more advanced parking function and additional safety kit.

The M3 hasn’t specifically been appraised for safety by Euro NCAP but we suspect it would perform very well. That’s because it’s very closely related to the 3 Series saloon, a car that scored the full five star rating when it was tested by safety experts.

You get plenty of safety kit as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assist, an attentiveness alert and a rear crossing-traffic warning.

While the M3 as a model didn’t feature in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, BMW as a brand claimed 12th place out of the 32 included manufacturers. That puts it above Alfa Romeo and Audi.

Costs overview 

Strengths Slow depreciation; lots of standard kit; plenty of safety features

Weaknesses Quite expensive; costly to run

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BMW M3 Touring interior infotainment

FAQs

  • Compared with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the M3 saloon looks rather pricey. The M3 Touring, meanwhile, is priced in line with the top-spec Audi RS4 Avant Vorsprung. For the latest prices, see our New Car Deals pages.

  • With a 503bhp engine, the M3 Touring is mighty fast, officially sprinting from 0-62mph in just 3.6 seconds. The four-wheel drive M3 Performance saloon is even quicker (3.5 seconds). The M3 CS is faster still, but that's sold out in the UK.

  • Yes – the M3 Touring. It has performance that more than matches the saloon version but with the added practicality of an estate car.

At a glance
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RRP price range £82,535 - £105,655
Number of trims (see all)2
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 28.2 - 28.8
Available doors options 4
Warranty 3 years / No mileage cap
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £5,981 / £7,641
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £11,963 / £15,282
Available colours