Well, it's only an advantage depending on what iDrive you prefer.
Choosing between a BMW M3 or a BMW M4 was always a pretty straightforward decision between a four-door sedan and a two-door coupe. The M3 offers more rear passenger room and trunk space, while the M4 has that coupe cool factor and the option for a convertible roof. For the 2023 model year, a new wrinkle has been added to the equation that separates these two M-cars by more than just door count.
As previewed by the Europe-only M3 Wagon, the 2023 M3 (and all 3 Series models) receives BMW's latest iDrive 8 infotainment software, while the 2023 M4 (and all 4 Series models besides the i4) is left with the older iDrive 7.
Stepping into the cabin of a 2023 BMW M3, there will be some noticeable physical differences compared to last year's model. The 12.3-inch central touchscreen is replaced by a curved 14.9-inch display that sits directly next to the 12.3-inch gauge screen. This setup is the same one that debuted in the i4 and iX, and is coming to the facelifted X7. Below the screens, BMW's radio buttons are nowhere to be found, and ditto for any physical climate control buttons (more on that when we discuss the M4).
The changes are more than just visual though. iDrive 8 offers technological improvements such as smarter voice recognition with AI integration, an upgraded instrument cluster design and head-up display, 5G connectivity, and a simplified menu layout. We particularly welcome the changes to the instrument cluster, which now features the ability to show navigation prompts in Apple CarPlay and offers an overall larger view of information besides speed and engine revs.
Technologically, iDrive 8 is a step forward over iDrive 7, but if you like having physical buttons and knobs at your fingertips, it's a step in the wrong direction. All BMW models with iDrive 8 bury their climate controls in a menu on the touchscreen, meaning simple tasks like increasing the fan speed or activating a heated seat require a tap of the "Climate Menu" button on the screen. Of course, you can use voice commands, but it's not 100% effective. In the M4, these buttons are all readily available below the air vents, meaning turning on a heated seat requires only a single button press.
This may seem trivial, but in a sports car that can rip off 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds and reach a 180 mph top speed, we want the controls to require as few inputs as possible to keep our eyes on the twisty roads. iDrive 8 also gets rid of one of our all-time favorite BMW features, the 1-to-8 preset buttons. We prefer having the ability to find a radio station or navigation destination, then saving it to one of the eight programable buttons for quick access.
There is no "correct" answer for which iDrive system is best; it will be a personal decision really. If possible, we recommend sitting in vehicles with iDrive 7 and iDrive 8 at the BMW dealership and trying them both out before you buy. You may find that the lack of buttons in the M3 doesn't bother you, or you could be deeply irritated by it. Though we personally prefer the button-heavy layout in the M4, we wouldn't alter our purchasing decision too heavily.
Let us know which iDrive version you prefer, and if it would influence your decision between the M3 and M4.