The problem borne by the BMW M3 is that it has to live up to its reputation, and given today’s requirements for new cars, it doesn’t have the visceral feeling that fostered a generation of fans. But it doesn’t abandon its roots; the 2017 BMW M3 is a version of the car that 30 years ago did burnouts in young men’s hearts and on their bedroom walls. (The lighter and nimbler BMW M2 might be seen as the spiritual successor to the original M3.)
The 2017 BMW M3 is in the third year of the current generation.
The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine is turbocharged, and it revs to 7600 rpm. It may be less visceral because the engine doesn’t scream like it used to (the exhaust note is piped in), and the car is heavier, but you can’t fault the performance.
The 2017 M3 offers a Competition package that brings 444 horsepower and a tad quicker acceleration, as if the standard 425 horsepower and zero-to-sixty time of 3.9 seconds weren’t enough. There’s heaps of torque, something the old beloved M3 didn’t have; 408 pound-feet drops your jaw early, at 1800 rpm, and continues up to 5500 rpm. The sound splayed out of the quad-tipped exhaust is menacing and unnerving; combined with the piped-in notes, the classic melody seems unfortunately muddled.
Also new, the Active M suspension is now standard on 2017 M3 models (last year it was a $1000 option, as the sticker price of the 2017 M3 goes up by $1500). The electronic system includes Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes that vary the stiffness of the dampers in instantaneous time. The modes also alter the steering resistance.
Standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, but we like the 7-speed DCT, a twin-clutch automatic manual with seamless shifts and programmable patterns that work for daily driving. It’s the DCT that scores the fastest 0-60 time. It gets one less mile per gallon than the 6-speed manual, at 17/24 mpg City/Highway, 19 mpg Combined.
Although the M3 hasn’t been crash-tested by the government or insurance association, the BMW 3 Series with the same structure has been. Its scores were okay, although just Marginal on the IIHS small overlap test on which so few cars score Good.
The 2017 BMW M3 ($65,990 including destination) comes with the 6-speed manual transmission. Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, 10-way power adjustable cloth front seats, sports exhaust, keyless ignition, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, navigation, BMW iDrive infotainment, and 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound.
That’s in plain refrigerator white. If you want your M3 in any other color, it will cost you, from $550 to $1950 depending on the color. The Yas Marina Blue is stunning. We didn’t ask the cost but we bet it’s the ticket item. That’s also with cloth bucket seats. Leather can add another $3000. Depending on the color.
The 7-speed DCT automated dual-clutch transmission is a stand-alone option ($2900).
The Competition Package ($5500) that brings 19 more horsepower also adds suspension tweaks, 20-inch wheels, lightweight seats, and a black grille and badges.
At 3540 pounds the M3 is relatively svelte. The hood and fenders are aluminum, while the roof and trunk lid are carbon fiber. These lightweight pieces improve balance and handling, by lowering the center of gravity.
The Gurney lip on the rear spoiler makes us smile.
Inside are flashes of chrome and ambient lighting around the center stack. A rearview camera isn’t standard, available only for $3500 with an Executive Package that also includes a head-up display, heated steering wheel, and parking assistant.
There’s also a $1700 Driver Assistance Plus package that adds blind-spot monitors, surround-view cameras, and active driving assistant.
The M3 handles well but isn’t as nimble as the lighter M2.
The front suspension is a double-joint sprung axle with aluminum control arms, wheel carriers, and axle subframe. When the M3 was redesigned for 2015, those aluminum pieces shaved 11 pounds off the front suspension. It means a lot to handling. The five-link rear suspension uses forged aluminum control arms that shaved 6.6 pounds of unsprung mass. The driveshaft is carbon fiber, to save weight and reduce loss of horsepower between the engine and the wheels.
In the wind tunnel, advanced aerodynamic work focused on cooling and lift, not just aero drag. That rear spoiler with a Gurney lip reduces the lift, so if you’re on the Autobahn at 250 kilometers per hour, the car won’t fly. As for cooling, that’s what the gills in the body are for. And the sculpted side mirrors reduce drag.
The three tweaks work together to symbiotically and successfully manage airflow. Another way of putting it is to say that the M3 runs to the horizon with glee.
The electronic Active M Differential system is all about grip, namely the grip of the tire at each corner, measured and responded to within milliseconds. It helps the car rotate in the turns and accelerate positively. The competent chassis stays neutral no matter how wild the input of the driver in the turns.
The 7-speed DCT has a launch program that provides quick getaways, no burnouts. Efficient but not as much fun.
At the stopping end, the available carbon-ceramic brakes lower the car’s speed with alarming enthusiasm. They are available for $8150, if your enthusiasm can stand that much alarm.
In so many ways the latest M3 is better than the visceral car that made M3 famous. Dazzling 3.0-liter inline-6 with turbocharging gives 425 horsepower and 7500 thrilling revs. The 7-speed DCT shifts sharply and optimizes the powerband. Active suspension standard. Aerodynamically fine-tuned. The sound needs further tuning, could be a dealbreaker for some. There’s a lot of competition in the $70,000-range, quite a few other great performance sedans.
Sam Moses wrote this review, with staff reports by The Car Connection.