- Aggressive, track-inspired looks
- Potent twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine
- Advanced chassis controls
- Ligther weight than predecessor
- The benchmark is back
- Gas mileage is meh
- Still quite expensive, without remorse
- Lighter than before, but still not light
- No more V-8 wail
The 2016 BMW M3 is faster than ever, delivering on-track performance that also translates to the street.
For a car with hefty expectations and the burden of a legendary nameplate, it's difficult to know where to start. Thankfully, from the outside, the 2016 BMW M3 doesn't veer dramatically from the 3-Series formula. There's a power bump on the hood that suggests the muscle underneath, and the nose, sides, and tail get some track-bred cues to go with the flared fenders and low-profile tires. There's even a carbon-fiber roof option to save weight up high and help lower the center of gravity. Inside, the 3-Series shapes are even more clear, with M badges, upgraded sport seats, M-specific controls for the electronics, and racier-looking carbon fiber trim that all add to the high-performance look and feel of the cockpit.
The M3 is both a yardstick and a target, considerably different from its predecessors, but with a clear heritage of performance. It boasts an aggressive face, a turbocharged 6-cylinder engine, a rigid and relatively lightweight chassis, and, most importantly, some astonishing performance.
The M3 was new for 2015 and this year it gets minor trim and equipment updates. The taillights are now LEDs arranged in an L shape. Keyless access, one year of satellite radio, and a Harmon Kardon sound system are now standard equipment. Inside, it gets additional touches of chrome, ambient lighting around the center stack, and new navigation unit hardware that promises faster startup, over-the-air map updates, better overall performance, and more realistic presentation of city details.
With an aluminum hood and fenders and carbon-fiber reinforced-plastic bits, this generation M3 is about 176 pounds lighter than the previous M3, at 3,540 pounds. Extensive use of aluminum, including in the front fenders and hood, as well as carbon fiber in the trunk lid, driveshaft, and roof, help save the weight and keep what weight remains lower and more toward the center of the car for further improvements to handling and balance.
The suspension was also largely new last year, with a double-joint sprung front axle using lightweight components including aluminum control arms, wheel carriers, and axle subframes for a savings of 11 pounds. At the rear, a five-link setup uses forged aluminum control arms, shaving about 6.6 pounds from the unsprung mass.
An Adaptive M suspension system is also available, adding Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes, made possible by variable-rate dampers. The same three mode settings also control the electric power steering in all M3s, raising or lowering the steering force and feedback to suit the mission.
Even the body is optimized for performance, with advanced aerodynamic work done to ensure both minimal drag and maximal cooling and lower levels of lift—hence the Gurney lip spoiler at the rear, the gills up front, and the sculpted side mirrors. All work together to balance these challenges in airflow management.
So what are the key stats for the industry's long-time benchmark sport luxury sedan? The twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6, dubbed S55 internally, spins out 425 horsepower, up from the last-generation 4.0-liter V-8's 414 hp. Unlike many turbo engines, this one revs to 7,600 rpm, and carries its peak output from 5,500 rpm to 7,300 rpm. Peak torque is 406 pound-feet, which is available from 1,800 rpm to 5,500 rpm and 111 lb-ft more than that old V-8. Despite the amazing power, this engine has a droning, artificially generated noise that really underwhelms from the classic BMW inline-6 sound.
Together with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential and the M-DCT 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 2016 BMW M3 hits 60 mph in about 3.9 seconds, according to BMW. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. Should you opt for the 6-speed manual transmission, the 0-60 mph time will rise to about 4.1 seconds. Either way, the M3 is a puller of the top rank. It's really, really tough to catch it napping off-boost, and BMW's Active M Differential system helps maximize the impact of the power by electronic oversight. It adjusts its locking percentage between the rear wheels from 0-100 percent within milliseconds, it is tuned to maximize grip and traction, aiding the car's ability to rotate or accelerate in response to the driver's inputs.
The result is a car that loves quaffing long uphill runs at the horizon with gusto, shaving off 100 mph casually with the available carbon-ceramic brakes, and settling firmly and predictably into uphill 30-degree bends without a knee bent. It's so close in performance delivery to the related M4 coupe, the two are almost indistinguishable on the track, other than the view outward and the sedan's extra padded leather seat. BMW says there's almost no difference in the cars' centers of gravity and weight distribution.
It's tough to call this M a sports car, but few grand tourers come closer to touring-car grip and balance. It's not without its faults, though. The steering works so well on tracks with big, wide, sweepers that it's hard to reconcile with the lack of communication it offers when drilled through tighter curves. The throttle response and shifting are rapid-fire-quick in Sport+ mode, but you'll probably want to avoid this high-strung setting on the street. And while fuel economy is better than the old V-8, the M3's highway figures still pale behind those of even true sports cars like the Corvette or Porsche 911.
Prices for the M3 begin in the mid $60,000s. Some of the most comprehensive safety features ever are fitted to this variant of BMW's core model, but a rearview camera is, unconscionably, an option inside a pricey package that bundles a head-up display with special M functions, parking sensors, heated rear seats and steering wheel, and satellite radio. Another package includes blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and active braking, and for weekend track stars, the carbon-ceramic brakes might actually seem worth the $8,150 you'll spend on them. The dual-clutch transmission is about $2,900, and you can have the adaptive suspension for another $1,000. Both will make you go quicker, but we prefer the purity of the manual and the standard suspension settings.
Fuel economy and performance rarely go together, so it's no surprise that the M3 isn't very efficient. The 6-speed manual is rated by the EPA at 17 mpg city, 26 highway, 20 combined. The 7-speed automatic earns only 17/24/19 mpg.