For a car with hefty expectations and the burden of a legendary nameplate, it's difficult to know where to start. BMW starts with a 3-Series, then sends it to the gym. A power bump in the hood is the first identifier than the 2016 BMW M3 has muscle. Its nose, sides, and tail get modified treatment from the regular 3-Series that hint at its track-bred heritage. The low-profile tires and optional carbon-fiber roof take it further. It's meant to be a clear signal that the M3 is something special; if the mountain of M badges, M-specific controls, and racy carbon fiber treatment don't convince you first.
The M3 has a bullseye on its back. It was the first sport sedan, and its been a yardstick for others like it—and for itself. This year's version has a turbo-6, aggressive look, and a competent chassis to keep it all together. Performance was already in the bag.
New last year, the M3 this year 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.
The current generation M3 is 176 pounds lighter than the previous generation thanks to an aluminum hood and carbon-fiber bits and tips the scales at 3,540 pounds. Aluminum was used extensively in the front fenders and hood, and carbon fiber was used in the roof, trunk lid, and driveshaft to help save weight and move mass lower to the ground, further improving handling and balance.
Also new last year were revised suspension bits including a double-joint sprung front axle that uses aluminum control arms, wheel carries and axle subframes that shave a grand total of 11 pounds off the curb weight. In back, a five-link setup made with aluminum control arms saves 6.6 pounds from the unsprung mass.
An optional Adaptive M suspension can toggle the setup among Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes that determine the dampers' behavior, electric power steering heft, and throttle behavior to suit the mission.
The M3's body has been shaped to cut a smaller hole in the wind while keeping the essential elements cool. The Gurney lip spoiler at the back, gills up front, and side mirrors all do the delicate dance of airflow management for the M3.
The numbers speak for themselves. The twin-turbo inline-6 spins 425 horsepower, up from the last-generation's V-8 that made 414 hp. The turbo-6 spins up to 7,600 rpm, and its peak output is between 5,500 and 7,300 rpm—in other words, it loves to rev. Peak torque is 406 pound-feet, but that's between 1,800 rmp and 5,500 rpm, which means grunt is copious across the range—more than 100 lb-ft than the outgoing V-8. The power from the turbo-6 is prodigious, but the sound isn't entirely satisfying: the artificially generated noise sounds worse than the biblical inline-6 by itself.
Mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the 2016 BMW M3 hits 60 mph in under 4 seconds, according to the automaker. Opting to row your own gears doesn't net a performance bump: the 6-speed manual hits 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. In either configuration, the M3's top speed is limited to 155 mph—on a track only, please. Regardless of where you're going, the M3 pulls toward the horizon with immediacy thanks to turbochargers that aren't ever napping. BMW's Active M Differential offers electronic oversight to keep the rear wheels in check by shifting power within milliseconds, powering out of a corner or helping the car plant, pivot, and rotate on a track.
The byproduct is a car that loves to run toward the end of the line, scrub 100 mph off with optional carbon-ceramic brakes, and pivot confidently around 30-degree bends without breaking a sweat. The M3 is so close to the related M4 coupe in performance that the two are nearly identical on the track other than the outward view and the sedan's extra padded leather seat. According to the automaker, our observations should be right on; there's no difference in the cars' centers of gravity and weight distribution.
We pause before calling the M3 a sports car, but only a handful of grand touring cars come to this level of grip and performance. The M3 has a few faults: the steering works so well on broad, wide-open sweepers that it's hard to reconcile with the lack of feedback we're getting when drilling the car through smaller, tighter curves. The throttle is a killer in Sport+, it's shifts and responses are rapid-fire and not meant for street detail. Fuel economy is better in the turbo-6 than the outgoing V-8, but it falls behind other more-efficient sports cars like the Chevy Corvette or Porsche 911.
The price for an M3 starts in the mid-$60,000s and runs toward the sky almost as fast as the car. BMW asks for more money to equip a rearview camera, which we find unconscionable at this price, and its bundled inside a pricy options package that includes a head-up display, parking sensors, heated rear seats and steering wheel, and a satellite radio. Other options such as carbon-ceramic brakes, blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warning, and active braking run an astounding $8,150—probably worth it for weekend track stars. The dual-clutch auto is $2,900 and adaptive suspension is another $1,000, both of which will help you go faster. If you're not in the mood to measure lap times, the manual and standard suspension worked just fine for us.
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.
- 2016 Mercedes-Benz C Class
- 2016 Audi A4
- 2016 Cadillac ATS
- 2016 Porsche Boxster
- 2016 Porsche Cayman
Rivals are gunning for the BMW M3, and it's lead as the ultimate sport sedan is dwindling. The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is most often considered as the front-runner, and its new engine and styling make it a head-turner and just as fun to drive. Audi's S4 isn't as sharp as the M3, but if you don't require that hard of an edge, the S4 could be more refined. The new Cadillac ATS-V offers arguably more driver involvement, but may not be quite as fast. The Lexus RC F, a more appropriate rival for the M4, offers a V-8 that sounds great, but it isn't as quick as BMW's trend-setter.