For the first time in its history, the BMW M3 has all-wheel drive. Fundamentalists will probably tell you that you’re supposed to hate it, but it makes sense. Modern performance cars have become so powerful that all the technologies in the world will struggle to put performance through only the rear wheels.
Anyone who has driven a previous M3 will know the sheer power and torque casually thrown at the rear wheels. The newer generation has been greatly improved and addresses most of these issues, but while the sidewalls at a quarter of the throttle in a department store look like fun, they can tire quickly. Especially when there is very little traction once the road gets moderately wet.
And that’s how we end up here: the BMW M3 Competition xDrive.
Regardless of the obvious, there is very little difference between the rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions, so let’s take a look at this “xDrive” system. Since BMW wants to keep the feisty, rear-biased character of the M3, it’s actually rear-wheel drive most of the time. Then, when the car realizes it can’t get rid of all its power, it will turn some forward to help get you out of the corner. This happens imperceptibly in a split second, of course.
There are also drive modes that allow you to configure where the power goes. You can get all-wheel drive with a slight rear bias, heavy rear bias, or all-wheel drive for those who want a purer experience. To get into this position, you need to swallow a courageous pill and turn off all driver aids.
You might think that the extra grip provided by the xDrive resulted in a power boost, but no, the engine hasn’t changed from the rear-end model. This is hardly disappointing, as the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged unit produces 503 horsepower and 550 Nm of torque.
Those performance numbers translate into powerful toroidal acceleration, which is made even fiercer thanks to the switch to all-wheel drive. Yes, the power is the same, but it can now go from 0-60 mph in just under 3.5 seconds, about half a second faster than the standard car.
Official efficiency numbers are surprisingly good considering the performance output, but with fuel economy of 28 mpg and CO2 emissions of up to 231 g/km, the only way it can be considered “green” is to opt for an amazing metallic paint job. On the Isle of Man Green.
High-performance sedans such as the BMW M3 should have a double personality. If you want a hardcore racer, you don’t choose a car with four doors and a big tailgate, after all, so they have to do the practical everyday things well.
Sure, the M3 Competition sits on the max, with (optional) cocoon bucket seats, stiff suspension and an eager drivetrain, but if you don’t mind being in a first-name relationship with your local gas station cashier or getting a shake About running the school, there is enough civility to use this practically every day.
But when it comes to M cars, you don’t really care what they look like until you push them to the extreme, and that’s where they excel. It’s spiny when it’s cold and needs warming up to extract the best out of it like a proper thoroughbred racer, but once it gets hot it’s noisy.
The all-wheel drive system is rear-biased enough to be fun when charging out of the corner with enough safety grille to keep blush.
When BMW started giving us those huge nostrils up front, enthusiasts turned to social media to taunt, complain, and generally share bewilderment. But here, familiarity breeds affection, because the bold look really suits the M3’s aggressive stance.
There is no subtlety here. If you’re looking to fly under the radar, no one can mistake this as a regular Class III diesel, even painted in more subtle colours. However, if you want something that isn’t dairy shy, then M3 is perfect.
There are sharp corners all around, with intakes protruding in the front bumper that don’t look out of place on a race car, while at the rear there is a thin spoiler and four inaccurate exhaust pipes protruding from a thick diffuser.
Maybe BMW could have saved money on xDrive photography using footage from the regular M3 because again, there isn’t much in the way of changes. That’s not a bad thing, because it’s a high-quality cabin filled with touches of sporty design, high-quality materials and all the latest technology.
There’s a chunky steering wheel that feels solid in your hand, with an excellent digital display that’s helpfully configurable. Our car has upgraded seats, which are a bit on the firm side but provide a reassuring bear hug in hard corners, and also comes with a weird carbon plate between your legs.
BMW has been letting its interior feel in recent years and the latest M3 is no different. Although if you’re going to be spending a lot of time off the track, standard seats may be a more comfortable option…
As a 3 Series flagship, the M3 Competition xDrive gets impressive equipment levels that are worth its £78,425 price tag (making it just under £3,000 less than the non-xDrive models). For example, you get 19-inch alloy wheels up front and 20-inch rear wheels, all exterior styling updates, mechanical tweaks and leather upholstery BMW Live Cockpit Professional with M-specific features and graphics.
It’s easy to push the price beyond £80,000. The M Driver’s Pack costs £2,095 and increases top speed to 180mph plus a voucher for an intense driver training session is included, while Laserlights can be added as part of the £1,500 Vision package.
The M Carbon Pack costs £6750 and adds racing-style bucket seats as well as carbon fiber exterior design touches. Finally, you can get everything in the £11,250 Ultimate Pack, which adds basically everything optional extra, making the car just under £90,000.
In the grand scheme of things, you probably don’t need all-wheel drive on the rear version, given its ridiculous ability. However, for just under £3,000 you get that extra security provided by xDrive, which is especially useful in a rainy UK climate.
The BMW M3 Competition has urgency and composure that contrasts with its size and shape, so if you have concerns that the xDrive might numb the driving experience, leave it at the door. This is a serious set of tools that’s just as aggressive and playful as before, just with extra peace of mind. And you can’t put a price on it.
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