BMW M3 Competition xDrive Review
Okay, let’s get it over with, we can’t ignore it. That grille. The short answer is – stop whinging about the grille. More later. Now, the BMW M3 Competition xDrive.
From this side view, in no small part thanks to my excellent photography (which consisted of some very nice afternoon sunlight, an iPhone 12 Pro Max and a HUGE amount of luck – no skill involved), this Skyscraper Grey M3 looks absolutely amazing doesn’t it? Gorgeous swollen wheel arches, sharp creases, delicate creases, it’s got it all. It’s also got an incredibly long bonnet, which is kind of a 3-Series trademark – the raked-back windscreen, rear occupants almost sitting on the rear axle, looking like it’s going 200mph when stationary. Quite an impressive bit of design, if lacking in a few areas. The way the crease above the side sill gently curves upwards is far more pronounced thanks to the position of the sun, but certainly picks out the details.
That side view also shows one of my two pet hates about the styling – the rear door. You can see the rear wheel arch is super swollen for this M3, to accommodate the wider track and give it that essential stance. But I can guarantee that the designers carried that wheelarch down into the door to give it a smooth, flowing curve. Instead, the bean counters decided that they couldn’t afford to have a new rear door skin, so the wheel arch cuts in, going to almost 90 degrees from the body just so the standard 3-series door can be used. I find it really jarring and unnecessary – I refuse to believe that the extra couple of hundred pounds for two new door skins couldn’t have been worked into the £75,000 STARTING price.
The other part that grinds my gears isn’t the grille, but it does sit above it. You see, at the leading edge of the bonnet there are two indentations that look like they should be little vents to let air or pressure out, but again the bean counters stuck their oars in and said no, that would be expensive so they just have to be indentations. I’m sure that on the M4 CSL when it comes out, they will be vents and on a carbon bonnet, but I just think it would’ve looked so so much better and is a real shame.
Okay, I can’t avoid the subject forever – the front grille. When the new M3 and M4 were launched there was literal outcry – actual wailing and crying from M/// fans – about the huge front grille. And you know what? I can’t blame them. It was very jarring to see at first, but the main blame here lies at those who took the BMW press photos from really low down. You see, unless you’re Warrick Davies you don’t look at a car from 3ft up, you look at a car from 5-6ft up, which makes a huge difference to what is emphasised on the front end of a car. And such is the case with the new M3/4 – approach it and you barely even register the front grille being any different to a normal 3-series, though the fact that we have front number plates in the UK helps to break it up a lot, that can’t be denied. And that’s just on first viewing in the metal – when you then see them around more it just becomes ‘normal’. Honestly, if you haven’t seen one, pop down to your local BMW M/// dealer and have a look – I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
The rear three-quarter is a particularly good angle on the new BMW M3 Competition xDrive, with the little lip spoiler and big diffuser housing those four huge tailpipes. It’s worth pointing out that they are usually gloss black as standard, but this M3 has some options. And when I say some, I mean every option ticked and it’s eye-wateringly expensive. The standard M3 Competition is £75,660, this is the new xDrive model and comes in at £78,425. Then there’s the not small matter of the Ultimate Package, which basically adds every option including all the carbon you can see all over the bodywork. Front intakes, sides, spoiler, diffuser, it all gets it. It also encompasses all the other option packs, for the tasty sum of £11,250. Then there’s the M Pro Pack which adds the carbon-ceramic brakes with gold callipers and a top speed increase to 180mph – this comes in at £7,995. Add that all up and this BMW 3-Series comes in at £97,670 – if you go for the factory matte paint option you’ll have a £100k car.
I can’t move onto the oily bits and how it drives before mentioning the interior though because as bold interiors go this is up there with the best of them. Due to the Ultimate pack, there is carbon everywhere inside, from the dash to the wheel to the trim pieces. But also very apparent on the backs of the front seats as they are the M/// Carbon buckets. Oh and did I mention that it was orange? No, sorry that doesn’t cut it. The interior was ORANGE. REALLY VERY ORANGE. The seats are proper buckets, with very high side bolsters which make ingress somewhat tricky for a 6ft3 person like me, but once in they hold you firmly in place yet have full electric adjustment. They also have a really weird bit – between your legs at the front of the seat is an odd carbon fibre bulge. I have no idea what purpose it serves, but I don’t really like it. Right, oily bits…
Just as with the standard BMW M3 Competition xDrive, power comes from a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six engine producing 503bhp and 650Nm of torque. Big numbers. The power goes through an 8spd automatic gearbox – we don’t have the lower power version or the manual here in the UK sadly – in this case to all four wheels via the M/// xDrive AWD system. Now personally this is the M3 I’ve been waiting for because in a family 4dr saloon I just happen to think that over 500bhp through the rear wheels is a bit crazy given how much inclement weather we have here – but not at the expense of driver enjoyment and once again, the M/// wizards have got you covered. Because this M3 Comp can be had in std 4WD which is still rear-biased, 4WD Sport which allows a fairly good angle of drift and if you want to it can even be 100% 2WD to the rear wheels. So, the best of both worlds then? It seems so…
I have briefly driven the RWD M3 and it was a seriously exciting thing to drive. But when you mix all that power going to the rear with a really, seriously very direct and quick steering rack for me it was just a little to nervous. I’m sure plenty of armchair racers will be shouting at their screen calling me all sorts of rude names now, but I want a family car to be fun, yes, but it needs to be safe and secure to drive in all weather and the RWD car just isn’t that for me.
But when you first put your foot down in the BMW M3 Competition xDrive and you feel all the wheels dig in and get grip before firing you off down the road and absolutely terrifying speeds (0-62mph comes up in just 3.5 seconds) you really start to ‘get’ this addition. Put the car into M1 mode using the big red button on the steering wheel and everything gets a bit louder and sharper, and you get some slip allowed. M2 gives you even more and manual gearshifts using the paddles. Now there’s a slight disclaimer here – though the sun was out, the roads were wet and greasy and it was about 6 degrees centigrade, so I only tried 2WD mode very briefly and concluded that it felt exactly like the non-xDrive model, unsurprisingly.
Barrel into a corner in normal 4WD mode, let the car settle and at the apex you can literally mash the throttle and it just grips and pulls you round, then fires you out the other side, like witchcraft. Do the same corner in 4WD Sport and be a little more careful with the throttle and on exit you can get a half-lock of arm twirling before the car gathers itself up and again, fires you at the next corner, or horizon, or space. All the while you’re getting loads of feedback from the direct steering and an amazing noise – oh the noise! In M2 mode the valves are pretty much open the whole time and you get a sonorous cacophony of straight-six gloriousness from 500rpm right round to the redline.
With that surefootedness there’s also a surprisingly good ride on the 19/20-inch wheels. Sure you can feel the low profile nature of the tyres with the initial harshness but on the move, bumps and imperfections are smoothed with ease. The gearshifts are quick and punchy in the more aggressive modes, yet thanks to being a proper auto it’s creamy smooth when in a comfort mode. Heck it will even do over 30mph when cruising.
So this seems like it must be the perfect M3 then? Well, yes and no. As amazing an all-rounder as it is, you can’t help be a little shocked by the price, even at £75k it’s not cheap. But we live in a world where you can spec a VW Golf to £60k, in reality it’s all about the affordable monthly payments. But for me, the perfect M3 isn’t out yet, but will be very soon. Very soon BMW will release the M3 Touring – their first ever – as a direct rival to the Audi RS4 Avant and that, in xDrive format, with the practical estate body may well be the ultimate one-car solution. I absolutely can’t wait to drive it. For now, here are a couple of renders I made…
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