The M3 has been BMW's racing car in a sedan body for nearly three decades—but usually as a two-door. BMW's model identification scheme now labels the coupe as an M4 while the four-door keeps the original designation. Name-game logic aside, the M3 remains one of the top competitors in the factory-tuner sports sedan Olympics, providing an exceptional combination of speed, handling, and everyday usability at a rational (if not exactly low) price.

Pricing and Equipment

The M3 starts with BMW's popular 3 Series sedan and adds a heavily upgraded powertrain, retuned suspension, and subtly recontoured bodywork; the safest way to know you're looking at an M3 instead of a 340i is the presence of the M car's fender vent. On a less visible level, some of those panels are lightweight aluminum or carbon fiber.

A twin-turbocharged 3-liter inline-six—impress your business partners and call it by its in-house code, S55—makes 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque which is sent to a trick computer-controlled differential at the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or BMW's dual-clutch semiautomatic gearbox. An adaptive suspension system is available for $1,000 but the standard setup is so well-tuned that we call the extra expense and complexity unnecessary.

Base MSRP for the M3 is $63,500 with a $995 delivery charge. In keeping with the more focused attitude of the M3, the option list is on the short side and focuses mainly on allowing a buyer to decide whether the car should be an all-out performance demon or a kind of peak 3 Series.

  • The $5,500 Competition Package adds a power boost, 20-inch forged-alloy snowflake-design wheels and a battery of revised suspension and driveline settings to better terrify your passengers during track days and on back roads.
  • If your tastes run more towards highline than racing line, an Executive Package (heads-up display, heated steering wheel, parking sensors) and Driver Assistance Plus (blind spot sensors, lane-departure and collision-avoidance assists, 360-degree cameras) are available.
  • A sunroof is a no-cost option, but choosing to let light in means you lose some lightness—the roof panel reverts to standard 3 Series metal instead of carbon fiber.

Performance Pros

BMW M3

The M3 may have grown away from its roots as a tightly-wound race-ready version of the 1980s 3 Series, but this is no bloated cruiser. We remain pleasantly thrilled that this practical and rationally-sized four-door sedan is one of the best all-around performance cars on the street.

  • The engine output numbers may seem merely good in an age of 707-horsepower Dodge sedans, but the twin-turbo motor's strong and very consistent torque delivery sets the car up for overachiever acceleration results.
  • BMW's commitment to making manual transmissions available remains one of its most endearing principles.
  • The optional carbon-ceramic brakes are painfully expensive at $8,150 but their seeming ability to bend Newtonian physics without a hint of fade must be experienced.

Performance Cons

  • The revised front suspension geometry is an improvement but we still miss the immediacy and feel of the steering in earlier M3s, especially in sequences of tight corners.
  • The Sport+ driver-mode setting makes for lightning-quick throttle response and DCT transmission shifts—and a neck-snapping twitchiness around town.
  • As the boost comes up, the fuel flow increases to match—and it shows. EPA estimates are tolerable but you'll be hard-pressed to match them if you dip into the power with any regularity.

Interior Pros

BMW M3

BMW set the standard for serious and driver-centric interiors long ago, and the M3 is a good example of why that mindset continues to dominate. Clean design, high-grade materials, and a logical control layout make it easy to remain comfortable and in control at speed.

  • The driving position and seats are typical BMW -- that is, excellent.
  • The once-loathed iDrive infotainment system has been continuously improved and is now among the best to be found, enabling near-intuitive operation of a complex set of controls and features.

Interior Cons

  • Claustrophobics be advised: The M3's interior is on the dark and cozy side, especially in back.
  • The synthetic engine noise running through the speakers is the height of contrived make-believe "excitement" in a car that is supposed to be the polar opposite of such games.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

There is essentially zero performance difference between the M3 and the M4. Both are ferociously fast and very usable as daily drivers, but the M3 is a few thousand less expensive and makes it easier to drop the kids at soccer practice.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

The M3 is fantastic in high-speed sweepers, but something is very wrong when steering feel and response—long one of BMW's most sacred traits—become awkward in tight technical corners.

The Bottom Line

BMW M3

Accept that the M3 has moved past its hardcore roots—and has done so with grace and well-considered intentions—and you will appreciate that this is one of the best all-around real-world speed machines available today.