BMW M3 Competition Review
With sports car performance and a good dose of family car practicality, the M3 will let you have your cake and eat it
Strengths & weaknesses
The BMW M3 is an impressive machine. This is a car that can genuinely handle the daily rigours of life as a family vehicle and yet is pretty much as fast and entertaining to drive as anything this side of a full-on exotic supercar from Ferrari or Porsche.
Based on the same body as the regular 3 Series Saloon, but with sporty-looking styling add-ons, plus the distinctive vertical twin grille also found in the M4 Coupe, the M3 is a high-performance car for those who still need four doors, rear seats and a decent-sized boot. It’s an alternative to the Mercedes-AMG C63 S and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio - as well as the two-door BMW M4 Coupe, which is mechanically identical under the skin.
With this iteration of the M3, only the high-spec Competition version is available in the UK. This means you get an enormous 510hp from its 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. There is a 480hp non-Competition version with the option of a manual gearbox available in some markets, but BMW chose not to offer this in the UK.
It’s a tech lover’s paradise inside the BMW M3 - you can adjust everything from suspension settings and the way the accelerator responds to how the brakes feel and even what the exhaust sounds like. Fortunately, there are several ready-made preset modes if that all seems a little overwhelming.
For example, Comfort mode makes the standard adaptive suspension softer, and smooths out the gearshifts, while Sport setting firms everything up and makes the car’s responses feel more immediate. There are also two customisable buttons on the steering wheel - labelled 'M1' and 'M2' - that allow you to set up your own personalised presets.
The effect of all this out on the road is that the M3 is simply one of the most entertaining cars to drive - at any price point. And that’s true whether you opt for the rear-wheel-drive car or the four-wheel-drive model.
Unfortunately for BMW, one area where the M3 has taken a step back is its weight. It’s put on around 150kg compared with its direct predecessor, weighing in at 1,730kg, even for the lighter rear-wheel-drive version. As a result, it’s only a tenth of a second quicker from 0-62mph in rear-drive form than the older M3 model. Mind you, that’s still a genuinely rapid 3.9 seconds, while the four-wheel-drive M3 will perform the same feat in a supercar-fast 3.5 seconds.
Inside, the M3 gets off to a great start thanks to the elements it shares with the regular 3 Series Saloon. This means there’s a smart-looking, solidly built and well laid out dashboard. There’s also a 12-inch central information screen that can be controlled both by touch and with a usefully intuitive 'iDrive' rotary controller, as well as a configurable display behind the steering wheel. A head-up display is also standard.
There are enough touches to differentiate the M3 from the rest of the 3 Series range to make it feel special, however. Seatbelts in the signature colours of BMW’s ‘M’ division, a starter button that’s bright red, and seats with significant additional side support and integrated headrests. Many M3s will be specified with the optional M carbon bucket seats, which are lighter than the standard items and position you lower in the car, adding to the sporty feel.
Should I get a BMW M3 Competition?
✔ Hugely fast and entertaining to drive
✔ Eyecatching looks
✔ Reasonable everyday practicality
✘ Significantly heavier than previous M3s
✘ Rivals have a better engine and exhaust sound
✘ Quite pricey when new
On the road, the M3 feels lightning fast and has so much grip that you’d have to be on a race track to truly - and safely - explore its performance capabilities. Yet it achieves this while still being a car that’s practical and usable for everyday duties.
It is more expensive than its main rivals, but it’s also well equipped, and expected to hold onto its value well, which will mitigate the initial cost if you’re buying outright (as you'll get a decent amount of money back when you come to sell) and make it cheaper in monthly payment terms if you’re paying for it via PCP finance (as monthly payments essentially cover the difference between the car's initial price and what it's expected to be worth at the end of the contract).
If you don’t really need the rear seats, then the two-door M4 Coupe is essentially the same car as the M3 but provides a sportier feel without the rear doors, and if you need more boot space and flexibility, then an M3 Touring estate model is on its way, too.
|BMW M3 Competition||From £27,490: There is only one spec of M3 available in the UK: the Competition. It gets high-end kit such as a head-up display as standard, plus a 510hp engine, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Aside from various options packs, your only choice is whether to go for rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive.|
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The most direct rivals for the BMW M3 are the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. But both the Alfa Romeo and the Mercedes are a little long in the tooth in terms of their designs compared with the new-for-2021 M3, and don’t feel quite as accomplished as the M3. That being said, the Alfa Romeo is lively and exciting to drive, if not quite as confidence-inspiring as the BMW, while the C63’s V8 engine makes an enchanting noise.
The M3 is also only a few thousand pounds short of the Porsche 911 in terms of its basic price tag, and the Porsche is certainly a more rewarding car to drive, so may well be a tempting option if you don’t need full-size rear seats or a big boot.
BMW M3 Competition practicality: dimensions and boot space
The BMW M3 is 4,794mm long, 1,903mm wide (2,068mm if you count the door mirrors) and 1,433mm tall. This makes it very similar in its physical dimensions to the Mercedes C63 AMG and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
As such it’s quite a large car, but standard parking sensors and a reversing camera make it easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces. Also standard is a ‘parking assistant’ that can effectively park the car for you, providing the necessary steering inputs to automatically guide you into a space.
|Length 4,794mm||Width 1,903mm|
|Height 1,433mm||Weight 1.805kg - 1,855kg|
You’ll find the same 480 litres of boot space in the M3 as you would in any other 3 Series, which makes it an utterly practical proposition as an everyday family car, You can even fold the rear seats flat if you want to carry longer objects, and these split-fold in a 40/20/40 three-way format so you can mix and match between extra boot space and rear passenger capacity.
|Boot size 480 litres|
There’s no specific reliability data for the M3, but the 3 Series range overall came out as the top BMW in the 2021 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Despite this, it still only finished in 31st place of the 75 models surveyed - perhaps not what you’d expect of a manufacturer with a premium reputation.
That being said, the 3 Series did perform well in the ‘reliability and build quality’ section of the survey, so an M3, based on the performance of the 3 Series range as a whole, should prove to be reasonably reliable.
With a BMW, the manufacturer warranty from new has no mileage limit, but it is capped at three years. That’s more impressive than the likes of Mercedes and Audi, which cap their three-year warranties at 60,000 miles and on a par with Porsche - whose three-year warranty cover also has no mileage limit.
If you want a longer warranty cover, you should look to manufacturers such as Hyundai and Renault, which offer five years of cover. MG and Kia, meanwhile, offer seven years, although they have nothing in their model ranges to compare to a car like a BMW M3.
|3 years||Unlimited miles|
AVERAGE REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £721
The M3 is not cheap to buy - in fact, it’s more expensive than its key rivals from Mercedes and Alfa Romeo - but it is a highly desirable model, and so can be expected to hold on to its value as a used car better than both the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Mercedes-AMG C63 S.
The consequence of this is that, if you’re buying on PCP finance, then your monthly payments could be relatively affordable compared with those two alternatives, since finance companies use the predicted future value of a car to work out monthly payment costs for PCP finance.
What’s more, if you want a car with significantly more performance, you’ll most likely have to go for something much more exotic, less practical and less cost-effective when it comes to finance arrangements or the cash cost.
Until the M3 Touring estate model becomes available, the BMW M3 Competition is easily the best choice if you want a practical, fast car with a BMW M badge on the boot. If you want an exciting car to drive and don't need huge levels of practicality, the M3 is really all the car you’ll ever need - unless what you need is diesel or hybrid levels of fuel economy.
If you don’t need rear doors or such a big boot, then the otherwise identical M4 is perhaps a more rakish, stylish choice, but it is a little more expensive in outright terms than the M3.
SUV-based M models such as the X5 M and X6 M are much larger and more expensive (as is the M5 Competition saloon), and even though they are more comfortable they ultimately provide a less visceral experience than you’ll find in the M3, as they are far bigger and heavier.
*Representative PCP finance - 2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0 ST-Line Hatchback:
|PCP representative example||APR rates available|
|Cash price £12,000||APR 7.90%||Value of loan||From|
|Fixed monthly payment £218.12||Annual mileage of 8,000pa||£25,000+||6.9%|
|Total cost of credit £2,755.55||Term 48 months||£12,000-£24,999||7.9%|
|Optional final payment £4,285.79||Loan value £12,000||£8,000-£11,999||8.9%|
|Total amount payable £14,755.55||Deposit £0||<8,000||9.9%|
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.