The 2018 BMW M3 has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it mostly delivers.
With the M3, BMW has a car that's been a poster on the wall of car enthusiasts for decades. It established its bona fides in the 1980s and 1990s with brilliant high-revving cars with beautifully progressive handling. The cars that followed didn’t disappoint. This generation of M3 is, without a doubt, the best performing to date, though those enthusiasts may not love it as much.
The 2018 BMW M3 delivers on the promises it has always made. It’s fast in a straight line and around a track. It has the room of a sedan, the menacing looks of a performance car, and more than a few BMW luxuries. We rate it rather highly at 7.4. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The only changes BMW has wrought for the new year are electric. The M3 now has LED headlights, a new iDrive infotainment touchscreen, and a newly standard rearview camera.
Today’s M3 taps into M3s of the past in some ways and breaks that tradition in others. Like some prior M3s, it has straight-6 power, but it is turbocharged and therefore doesn’t make its power up high and isn’t as rev happy.
With 425 horsepower on tap, plus an Active M Differential, adjustable dampers, and big brakes, the M3 is undeniably a performance machine, but some electronic controls have introduced a sometimes digital feel that enthusiasts bemoan. We are enamored of the M3’s on-track capability and we have experienced for ourselves that it can outperform the last-generation model, but we can also sympathize that the feel behind the wheel isn’t always there.
Inside, the M3 offers great sport seats, one of the better infotainment systems on the market, and room for five, though with a small back seat. BMW makes plenty of creature comforts standard, including 10-way power adjustable heated front seats, Bluetooth, navigation, and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. In typical BMW fashion, though, there are lots of options for performance and comfort features. Performance options include carbon ceramic brakes and a Competition package that ups to horsepower to 444.
On the safety front, a rearview camera and adaptive cruise control are standard, and BMW offers a package with blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings, a surround-view camera system, speed limit info, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
BMW began with the 3-Series sedan and optimized it for performance. The result is a menacing, low-slung sedan festooned with gills, ducts, and spoilers. We think it’s serious and sinister, but it doesn’t go too far, and we give the M3 an 7 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The M3 features twin nostrils up front that flow into cat’s eye headlights. Below that you’ll find a large central cooling duct, flanked by two others.
Behind the flared front fenders are the aforementioned gills and they are part of a character line that flows back over the flared rear fenders.
The greenhouse is pure sedan; there is no mistaking this for the M4 coupe. At its rear is the famed “Hofmeister Kink,” a rear window shape that cuts off at its trailing edge and leads into the rear door cutout.
The M3’s advanced aerodynamic work is done to ensure minimal drag, 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 look isn’t as aggressive on the inside. Like other BMWs, the infotainment screen juts out from a dash that is conservatively styled. Carbon fiber trim and a dark headliner are sporty touches that help distinguish it from a run-of-the-mill BMW 320i.
The 2018 BMW M3 is a dedicated performance machine that some feel puts lap times ahead of feel from the driver’s seat. It has all the parts to go fast, including a turbocharged inline-6, big brakes, and an Active M Differential, and BMW offers options to make it perform even better. We rate the M3 at 9 for performance, giving it points for power, transmission performance, handling, and braking. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The M3 employs several weight-savings measures to keep weight down to 3,540 pounds. It has an aluminum hood and fenders, and carbon-fiber reinforced-plastic for the trunk lid, driveshaft, and roof. These bits also keep what weight remains lower and more toward the center of the car for further improvements to handling and balance.
The M3’s power is generated by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that combines elements from the brand’s past with its future. Known internally as S55 internally, the engine revs up to 7,600 rpm, with its 425 horsepower peak arriving at 5,500 rpm and continuing through 7,000 rpm. The turbo gives it low-end grunt that M3s of the past lacked. The 408 pound-feet peak begins at 1,800 rpm and stays on boil all the way to 5,500 rpm. Previous M3s were famously naturally aspirated and made their power up high in the rev range.
The M3’s power is unending. It makes the 0-60 mph run from a standing start in 3.9 seconds with the optional dual-clutch transmission, and speed just keeps building well into the triple digits. The Competition package ups the dosage to 444 hp and shaves a blink from the 0-60 mph run.
The sound rumbling the quad-tipped exhaust is equal parts menacing and unnerving, but not always endearing. It's not entirely comfortable at full song. The piped-in engine noise muddled the M3's melody for us quite a bit.
A 6-speed manual is standard and buyers can opt for a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT). Choosing the manual will add fractions of a second to the 0-60 mph time, and, surprisingly, we prefer the DCT. It offers seamless shifts and programmable modes that can help the car settle down for day-to-day commutes.
The suspension features a double-joint sprung front axle with 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, basically variable rate dampers, is standard, adding Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes. 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.
BMW's Active M Differential 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 out of a turn in response to the driver's inputs.
The end result is a car that loves to run toward the horizon with glee, or slay a twisty canyon road or racetrack. Its carbon-ceramic brakes scrub speed with alarming enthusiasm, and the competent chassis stays neutral at nearly every input—no matter how wild.
Like the 3-Series sedan it is based on, the M3 has a comfortable front row, with especially supportive buckets, and a rear seat that can become tight on space. The materials are of high quality, though a bit stark in appearance.
Given these considerations, we rate the M3 a 6 for comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The M3’s sport seats are designed to support the front-seat occupants during performance driving and they do their job well. They also offer everyday comfort, even for those who are long of leg.
Rear seat space, however, suffers if anyone up front is taller than the average, and the trunk has a rather small 12 cubic feet of cargo space.
The 2018 BMW M3 hasn’t been crash tested, but it offers many of its safety features as options. We can’t give it a safety score without crash ratings. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
We suspect that many M3 buyers will opt for the Driving Assistance package that adds blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings, a surround-view camera system, speed limit info, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. We think those are worthwhile additions.
The 2018 BMW 3-Series has been crash tested and is structurally similar to the M3. Federal testers give it five stars overall, and five stars in all tests but the frontal impact test, in which it earned four stars. The IIHS named the 2018 3-Series a Top Safety Pick, giving it its top rating of "Good" in all tests, an "Advanced" rating for frontal crash prevention, and an "Acceptable" rating for its optional headlights.
The M3 is built and equipped to be a performance car with some creature comforts, and we find it meets those goals quite well. We rate it an 8 for features, also recognizing its generous set of available options. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, 10-way power adjustable front seats with driver’s seat memory, heated front seats, keyless ignition, adaptive cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, BMW’s iDrive infotainment system with navigation and a new touchscreen for 2018, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, HD radio, auto-dimming rearview and exterior mirrors, and new LED headlights.
The mechanical features include the Adaptive M suspension, a sport exhaust system, 18-inch alloy wheels, enhanced cooling, a 6-speed manual transmission, big ventilated disc brakes, and the Active M Differential.
The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is optional, and it should should warrant consideration for those chasing lap times or 0-60 mph times as it includes a launch control program. Carbon ceramic brakes are an expensive but effective option for track driving.
Those who plan to track their cars will also want the Competition package, which adds 19 horsepower, a quicker steering ratio, blacked-out badges and grille, lightweight seats, tuned suspension, new settings for the stability control and Active M Differential, and 20-inch wheels.
BMW doesn’t make it easy on buyers, as even adding a lick of color to your M3 will cost more. All colors other than plain white add cost. Cloth upholstery is standard, which is odd for this price point, and leather is a pricey option.
An Executive Package adds a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and parking sensors.
With performance as the main goal, it’s not a surprise that the BMW M3 doesn’t make fuel efficiency a priority. With the 6-speed manual transmission, the M3 is EPA rated at 17 mpg city, 25 highway, 20 combined. With the 7-speed automatic, those numbers fall slightly to 17/24/20 mpg. Based on those ratings, we rate the M3 a 6 for fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
While the M3 isn’t overly hard on gas, V-8 sports cars like the Chevrolet Camaro are just as efficient.
- 2018 Mercedes-Benz C Class
- 2018 Audi S4
- 2018 Cadillac ATS-V Sedan
- 2018 Porsche 718
- 2018 Porsche 718 Cayman
The BMW M3 has long held the crown of ultimate sport sedan, but its lead is slipping. The Mercedes-AMG C63 is a brutal natural rival with V-8 power that is arguably more fun. The Cadillac ATS-V is a sleeper pick here. It’s chassis is superb and its 3.6-liter turbocharged V-6 is fantastic, but its interior and ropy manual transmission can spoil the fun. The updated Audi S4 is a road-holding machine, but it doesn’t have the power or track capability to match the M3, and there is no RS 4. Porsche's 718 twins are performance rivals, but neither has a second row to can carry your in-laws (we didn't say that was a bad thing) or anyone else for that matter.