by John Tallodi
The current BMW M3 sedan has been on sale in the USA for a number of years now, and its once-dominant position in the performance luxury sedan sector has come under fire from a range of new and very capable competitors. For 2018, the BMW M3 receives an array of minor improvements and alterations that help keep it at the top of its game. However, with the imminent demise of subcompact and compact cars in the US in general, will only a few updates be enough to keep the M3 relevant in the rapidly advancing and highly transformative automotive market?
3.0-liter Twin-Turbo Inline-6 Gas
The German marque's iconic design and styling ethos are obvious in the new BMW M3's exterior aesthetic, and that sporty and aggressive flair is brought to its interior, too. Its cabin will be very familiar to anyone who has been in a current-generation 3-Series. In this case, though, there are a number of M-style details and trim items throughout the cabin. M logos remind you that this is no ordinary 3, and so do the sport front seats, which offer excellent lateral support and create images of sporty luxury.
By virtue of its smart design, BMW has been able to make the most out of the 4-door BMW M3's compact dimensions. The rear seats are also better than in some rivals, and shorter adults will have no problem with head- and legroom. The trunk is decently sized too, and folding rear seats are standard.
The latest generations of the BMW M3 have not always been the most powerful or accelerative car in its class, but ever since the original E30 model, its handling prowess has always been at, or near, the top. All new M3 cars continue this trend with a level of control, reliability, and adjustability at the limit that still sets it apart from the competition. The front-engined, rear-drive layout coupled with an M-differential and now standard adaptive dampers give the 2018 M3 both a planted feel on a race track and a decent ride on bumpy roads.
While the lack of steering feel from electrically assisted steering racks is often pointlessly bemoaned in less sporting modern cars, the steering in this new BMW M3 is significantly less involving in comparison to older M-cars, which may be a relevant grievance for some shoppers.
The standalone BMW M3 model is available with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 producing 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Some may miss the intoxicating V8 soundtrack of the old car, but with how much the acceleration responses have been improved, especially in-gear, the alteration will be a reasonable compromise for most. The powerful 3.0-liter caters effectively to the M3's demands from off-the-line all the way to its top speed, partly also because of the sedans relatively light curb weight. BMW has also gone to great lengths to make this engine feel like a naturally aspirated engine, and it picks up without hesitation even at low engine speeds, revving up to 7,500 rpm with alacrity.
When equipped with the DCT transmission, 0 to 60 mph is dispensed with in a mere 3.9-seconds, or two-tenths slower if you prefer to do the gear changing yourself. If that isn't enough, an M Competition Package pushes power up to 444 hp, which takes another tenth off the 0 to 60 mph time.
In terms of fuel economy, the M3 returns a reasonable gas mileage rating of 17/24/19 mpg city/highway/combined in automatic guise and 17/26/20 mpg in manual guise.
The BMW M3 Series is available in one trim level that comes with a very comprehensive spec sheet as standard. There are also coupe and convertible derivatives, which are similarly equipped, but they exceed the BMW M3's cost and fall under the 4-Series range.
Standard features included in the M3's base price include an updated 8.8-inch iDrive system, 16-speaker audio system, ten-way power heated front seats, adaptive suspension, active rear differential, cruise control, keyless ignition, and adaptive xenon headlights. There are also a number of extra-cost packages, standalone options, and colors to choose from.
The Executive Package adds a head-up display, park distance control, parking assistant, rearview camera, adaptive full LED headlights, and heating for the steering wheel and rear seats. The M Competition Package adds a further 19 hp, new driver mode settings, high-gloss design elements, and unique 20-inch wheels in either polished or black finishes.
The Driving Assistance Plus Package further adds to the comprehensive safety systems with items such as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, city collision mitigation, and pedestrian warning systems. Items such as the M-specific head-up display, Carbon Ceramic brakes, sunroof, and adaptive full LED headlights can be chosen individually.
As a standalone model, the price of the BMW M3 is set with the base model coming off the factory floor at an MSRP of around $65,000. This is without any extra-cost packages and standalone options. In review of the M3, it's fair to say that despite some strong new competitors, the 2018 BMW M3 continues to be a top choice in its sector, offering a combination of sporty yet efficient performance, driver and passenger luxury, and a level of everyday usability that's hard to match at its price. Moreover, the 4-door body style configuration offers usable rear seats and improved practicality into the mix. While the NHTSA has not conducted a review of the BMW M3 specifically, the IIHS did evaluate the 3 Series, awarding it a spread of Good ratings and a Top Safety Pick award.