The 2017 BMW M3 always has to catch up to its nameplate—even before its engine has started.
The legendary name has a world of superlatives to live up to, and that's just within the last decade. The iconic cars from the 1980s and early 1990s also famously adorned posters and fostered a generation of enthusiasts for BMW. Thankfully, the new BMW M3 doesn't stray far from the formula that catapulted it into our hearts and onto our bedroom walls.
For 2017, the M3 adds (along with the M4) a Competition package that ups the dosage to 444 horsepower and shaves a blink from its sub-4-second 0-60 mph run. In standard spec, the car isn't a slouch either: its prolific 425 hp makes the standing start run up to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds when equipped with an automatic.
We rate the M3 at 7.8 out of 10, for its astonishing performance, mostly. We're imperfect vessels. We like its front seats too. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
That power is generated from a mashup of the company's heritage and its near future. The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, dubbed S55 internally, revs up to 7,600 rpm, but its power peaks between 5,500 rpm and 7,000 rpm. Like most turbocharged engines, the engine's 408 pound-feet of torque comes on early at 1,800 rpm and pushes all the way to 5,500 rpm. It's a departure for many M3 aficionados—its cars were famously naturally aspirated with more cylinders. The sound rumbling from this generation's quad-tipped exhaust is equal parts menacing and unnerving—it's not entirely comfortable at full song and piped-in engine noise muddled the M3's melody for us quite a bit.
Power is shifted to the rear wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT) or 6-speed manual. Opting to row your own gears will add fractions of a second to the 0-60 mph time, but it also skips the best transmission option for the car in our opinion. We like the 7-speed DCT thanks to its seamless shifts and programmable patterns that can help the car settle down for day-to-day commutes.
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.
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 setup was largely new for 2015, 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 standard this year, 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.
The end result is a car that loves to run toward the horizon with glee. Its carbon-ceramic brakes scrub speed with alarming enthusiasm, and the competent chassis stays neutral at nearly every input—no matter how wild. It's nearly identical to the M4 in performance and BMW says there's almost no difference in the cars' centers of gravity, even with the sedan's extra padded leather seat.
Quality, safety, and features
For 2017, BMW added roughly $1,500 to the entry price for an M3 sedan, but most of that is in the now-standard Adaptive M suspension, which was a $1,000 upgrade last year. Prices for the M3 start at $65,990 (including destination) that includes enhanced cooling, a 6-speed manual, 18-inch wheels, 10-way power adjustable front seats, sport exhaust, keyless ignition, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation and BMW's latest infotainment system (which it calls iDrive), and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.
For many buyers, even adding a lick of color to their M3 will cost more. All swatches other than plain white—including the stunning Yas Marina Blue—cost $550 or $1,950. Cloth buckets are free, while leather upholstery can add more than $3,000 to the bottom line depending on your favorite shade.
Annoyingly, BMW buries a rearview camera in a $3,500 Executive Package that adds a head-up display, heated steering wheel, and parking assistant. We'd rather have the option of adding it alone.
We suspect that many M3 buyers will also opt for the $1,700 Driver Assistance Plus package that adds available blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, and active driving assistant. We think those are worthwhile additions that add advanced safety features to a car that hasn't been—and probably will never be—crash tested by major safety rating organizations. (It's worth noting that the related 3-Series has done OK on crash tests, with a "Marginal" score on the IIHS' small overlap crash test.)
The 7-speed DCT is another $2,900 upgrade that should warrant consideration—it's the best transmission for the car and includes a launch program that transforms the car into your own personal roller coaster. Carbon ceramic brakes are an eye-watering $8,150 and to quote an episode of "Seinfeld" we'd say "They're real, and they're fantastic," but if they're worth it is another matter entirely.
The new Competition Package, which adds a few more horsepower, blacked-out badges and grille, lightweight seats, tuned suspension, and 20-inch wheels, is an additional $5,500.
Fuel economy and performance rarely go together, so it's no surprise that the M3 isn't very efficient. The 6-speed manual was rated last year by the EPA at 17 mpg city, 26 highway, 20 combined. The 7-speed automatic earns only 17/24/19 mpg.
- 2017 Mercedes-Benz C Class
- 2017 Cadillac ATS
- 2017 Porsche 718
The BMW M3 has held the crown of ultimate sports sedan for some time, but its lead is slipping. The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG has long been a natural rival, but lacked the BMW's taut controls in favor of brutal—sometimes savage—power. The Audi S4 is a road-holding machine, and we're eager to see what Ingolstadt has in store for 2017, so stay tuned. The Cadillac ATS-V is a sleeper pick here, and its 3.6-liter turbocharged V-6 is a force of nature, but its ropy manual transmission and interior spoil the fun. Porsche's 718 twins are performance rivals, but neither can carry your in-laws. (We didn't say that was a bad thing.)