How are the roads in your part of the world? Do you currently have access to a racetrack, or at least to an autocross course?
If your answers are “smooth” and “sure do!”, then you’re cleared to consider a BMW M3 Competition Package. If the answers are “rough” and “rarely,” a standard M3 should be more than enough for anything you’ll encounter.
This year, the M3 marked its 30th anniversary as a sports sedan benchmark, even as whippersnappers like the Cadillac ATS-V, Mercedes AMG C63, and—now, finally—the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio have stolen some of its thunder.
To keep disciples in awe of the oracle, the M3 adds aural quake and performance lightning via the Competition Package. Like the formidably upgraded Chevrolet Camaro 1LE, this M3 tames streets or tracks via $4,750 worth of visual and performance mods. (The package price for 2017 falls by $750, because the M3 and M4 add the standard Adaptive M Suspension that was part of the package for 2016.)
It’s a square deal for what you get. There’s 444 horsepower from the 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six, a bump of 19 horses. Torque holds steady at 406 pound-feet, but it’s more than enough to peel tires like onions, with the peak available anywhere between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm. The M Adaptive Suspension includes rear air springs, but the Competition springs are about 15 percent stiffer. Dampers are upgraded and the anti-roll bars more impervious. The suspension’s adjustable driving modes get more sinewy, and the M rear differential and DSC stability control are retuned to match. Forged 20-inch wheels flaunt a gorgeous star pattern that reminded me of an old Spirograph. Staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires include widened, 285/30R/20’s in back; glossy black material covers the twin-kidney grille, side gills, and rear badge, in addition to the M3’s standard Shadow Line exterior trim.
Below the weight-saving carbon fiber roof (carried over from the standard M3 and M4), finely wrought M Sport seats include fat, power-adjustable bolsters. Those lightweight seats feature large cutouts in the backrest and handsome woven-fiber inserts. The twin-kidney grille gets a glossy black finish, and like Betsy Ross by way of Bavaria, a weave of red and blue stripes decorate seatbelts, with that handsome stitch repeated on the chunky M steering wheel.
That’s what you get for $69,745 to start, with a base 2017 M3 sedan at $64,995 plus the added Competition Pack. Go nutso with $8,150 carbon-ceramic brakes, the $2,900 double-clutch automated gearbox and other options, and my tester BMW checked out at $89,095.
On paper, this surgically-enhanced M3 is 0.1 seconds quicker to 60 mph, cracking that barrier in 3.8 seconds with its automated DCT gearbox, or 4 seconds flat with the standard six-speed manual. But this BMW was already a screamer. What you really notice are the Ginsu-sharp responses, including crisper and more sure-handed feel from its electric steering. Turned loose in the horse country of New York’s Dutchess County, the BMW made me one happy jockey, spurring the M3 toward some imaginary finish line and a spray of roses.
The Competition Pack’s reworked exhaust, including black chrome tailpipes, coax a better tune than the standard M3’s congested drone. The engine surely deserves the spotlight, considering its lavish M engineering that includes two turbochargers (versus one on a standard 3-Series), a forged crankshaft and dry-sump oiling. The engine is not just overwhelmingly strong, but flexible, pulling like Ben-Hur at the oars all the way to 7,500 rpm. Ascending that peak in any gear prompts a nervous glance at the classic analog speedometer, as its needle soars to scofflaw heights. Dial up automated launch control, and you’re rewarded with a serious freak show, a cannon shot that sometimes sends the M3’s back end out a good 45 degrees. But you can adjust the engine speed for these clutch-dumping assaults via a steering switch, with 2,400 rpm a good starting point for the most time-efficient dragstrip runs.
Yes, this latest M3 is a hardcore German punk. But when the road turns rough, you may feel like you’re in a mosh pit, taking elbows to the kidneys and a Doc Martens’ footprint on your ass. This BMW also hates cold roads and colder rubber, the latter practically singing their theme song of “Summertime.” Throw in a damp chill, and the living is anything but easy. On a misty morning in New Jersey, with its instant-on turbo convulsions, the BMW tried to slew sideways with every decisive squeeze of the throttle. The car remains eminently drivable in the wet, as long as you drive it like a Bavarian Camry. Even on dry pavement, and especially over lumps and bumps, the traction control will often light up on the dash under surprisingly mild throttle.
Give thanks for the pair of macro buttons on the steering wheel, or you’d spend 60 seconds fingering console switches every time you start the car. The buttons let you store settings for engine, suspension, steering and transmission.
BMW says the “Comfort” suspension setting is roughly on par with “Sport” in the standard M3. “Sport” is akin to the previous car’s “Sport Plus.” The Competition Pack’s “Sport Plus” setting was so stiff that it threatened to rearrange my molecular structure. The “comfort” mode became my full-time default on New York-area roads, lest I sacrifice one of those pretty “666 M”-style alloy wheels
The Bimmer’s profile was also raised by its polarizing Austin Yellow paint. When BMW first unveiled this fifth-generation M3, M4 Coupe and M4 Convertible at auto shows, I was aghast at the color. I flashed all the way back to the Sixties and the film “American Graffiti,” in which a cocky young Harrison Ford talks trash to a drag racing rival: “Hey, what do you call that color? It looks like a cross between puke green and piss yellow.”
Yet I’ve grown surprisingly fond of this coruscating metallic shade, which drew probably a dozen compliments a day from onlookers. Tell you what, it sure beats another boring, silver BMW. Austin Yellow looks especially good in foggy climes or the desert – and, in my most recent discovery, as the striking foreground to changing fall colors and golden foliage.
As ever, the Man or Woman on the Street hasn’t gotten the memo that BMW’s aren’t what they used to be. In midtown Manhattan, a group of uniformed sailors was compelled to salute the BMW: “Sir, that is one beautiful car,” one said.
(I could have done without the “sir,” but point taken). “That’s beyond my pay grade,” another said, a valid statement even for many people of officer rank, considering the nearly $90,000 out-the-door price.
Now, regarding the indifference in some media quarters to the new M3 and M4: I’ve become convinced that some people who criticize the BMW as nervous or volatile just aren’t driving it right. People have become so used to point-and-shoot cars – let’s use the Nissan GT-R as an example – that rely on AWD, stability controls or torque-divvying tricks to cover up for a litany of driving sins. In contrast, the BMW is a track-tuned, hyper-reactive sport sedan that happens to send 444 horsepower through rear wheels. You can’t just floor the gas in mid-corner and expect the BMW to cover for your mistakes.
One criticism that sticks is that the M3 is an incredibly expensive compact sedan; though again, no more so than a Mercedes AMG C63 or new Alfa Quadrifoglio. I’d still take an M2 over this M3 in a heartbeat, for its smaller size, wingman personality and sharply lower price: Around $50,000 in theory, if you can find a BMW dealer willing to let one go for sticker price without sticking it to you.
For higher pay grades, there’s the M3. For higher tolerances, in performance and (potential) posterior distress, there’s the M3 Competition Pack.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home.