► Full debrief on the new G20 M3
► Aggressive looks, all-wheel drive
► And it’s auto-only in the UK
In 2021, BMW expanded the range of its G20 generation M3 to include, for the first time, an all-wheel-drive option. The M4 is also treated to the company’s xDrive system powering both axles, but for now we’re sticking to the more practical, four-door M3.
As with the rest of the M3 line up, there’s no manual option coming to the UK, as BMW says drivers here much prefer ticking the Competition box when ordering their M cars, and the current-gen M3 sold abroad simply has too much power for the manual gearbox to handle. So UK buyers are limited to the automatic, rear-drive M3 Competition, or the M3 Competition with XDrive all-wheel-drive and the same auto ‘box.
The M3 Competition xDrive will be priced from £78,425, a £2800 premium over the rear-driven car. Available exclusively with BMW’s eight-speed auto, 0-62mph sprint times are reduced by 0.4s to a fiery 3.5 seconds for both M3 and M4.
More info on the M3 range as a whole follows…
Read more on the new BMW M4 coupe here
Give me the basic specs
It seems that BMW’s M Division thought it necessary to give the M3 the same look as the M4 at the front, so the new hot saloon makes its debut with the nose job that was so controversial when the new 4-series came about, diverging from the regular 3-series. Wider track, complete with fat wheelarches, quad exhausts and plenty of aero manipulation techniques have been employed, too.
Anyway – what matters more is what’s under the skin, and BMW has worked pretty hard.
Two power variants are available: a 473bhp version with a driven rear axle and the option of a manual transmission (but that’s not coming to the UK, as explained earlier). Or you can go for an M3 or M4 Competition – 503bhp/479lb ft with a 0-62mph sprint time of 3.9 seconds and a performance-tuned version of BMW’s eight-speed auto.
Those numbers come courtesy of a version of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo, straight-six S58 engine already installed in the X3 M. M being M, it’s a race-bred motor that uses high-performance solutions wherever possible, from the stiffer, more tuning-friendly closed-deck block construction to the cylinder head, whose complex form requires that a foam core be 3D printed as a pattern for the sand-casting process.
Peak torque arrives at just 2750rpm on the Competition cars, but the engine spins to 7200rpm and promises a very effective combination of the grunt you need to make rapid progress together with the high-rev fireworks that help you actually fall in love with an engine.
Read our review of the BMW M3 prototype
Any other variants?
As we said earlier, an xDrive version of M3 has been available since the summer of 2021, but only on the automatic M3 Competition in the UK, owing to the regular M3 and its manual gearbox not being offered here.
So, where the full range is offered, you’ll be able to choose ‘normal’ (manual or auto, rear-drive or xDrive) or Competition (auto only, rear-drive or xDrive). In the UK it’ll be Competition, auto, and the option of rear-drive or xDrive.
A deal-breaker? For a few, perhaps, but previously the UK manual uptake was single-digit as a percentage of new M cars sold, so it’s a calculated gamble.
So the M3 can be all-wheel drive?!
It takes a moment to wrap your head around the concept, but only a moment – truth is the M5 Competition sells the idea of an all-wheel-drive M car pretty convincingly. ‘This new generation [of M3/M4] will reinvent itself by virtue of the widest range of drivetrain layouts we’ve yet offered in an M3, so that you can fully exploit the vehicle’s potential in all circumstances,’ explains product management man Hagen Franke.
‘This was the plan from the start,’ affirms engineer Wolf. ‘The M5 is in a torque and horsepower range where you can hardly find any advantages for a rear-wheel-drive version. In the case of the M3 and M4 we are not quite in that range. We see some situations where you might be better off with rear-wheel drive. This makes the choice the M3/M4 customer has now as perfect.’
Borrowing heavily from the M5/M8 system, M’s take on xDrive powers the rear axle alone until traction is compromised. At that point an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch in the transfer box steps in to optimise the front/rear power split, with the Active M Differential juggling the power left/right on the rear axle. The default mode, 4WD, is fast, grippy and more neutral than Audi’s quattro, on the M5 Competition at least. 4WD Sport is more rear-biased and the pick of the bunch for real-world use, combining any-weather traction with a degree of playfulness, while 2WD opens the door to, as Franke puts it, ‘a lot of fun and a lot of smoke’.
It’s not an M hybrid, then…
For further evidence of M division’s gleeful autonomy, consider this. BMW CEO Oliver Zipse’s efficiency programme – which is so important it’s always written all upper-case, thus: NEXT – is targeting savings in excess of €12 billion by the end of 2022. One of its key strategies? The elimination of up to 50% of BMW’s traditional drivetrain variants from 2021 onwards in favour of more electrification. He’s pretty clear on the matter – fewer powertrain options, more electric power. Got it, M? Not so much…
‘Hybridisation is not at the level we needed it to be at right now,’ explains Franke. ‘We have gone with a more conventional approach. And when you drive the new car you will get an idea of what we are talking about. Just imagine the car having another 100kg in weight that you must pull through the corners – it’s not worth it yet.’
So, there it is – no electrification and a tonne of powertrain combinations. Poor Mr Zipse. He used all upper-case letters and everything.
When can I get one?
Right now, global semiconductor shortage notwithstanding, of course. The rear-drive M3 Competition is priced from £75,660 and ticking the xDrive box bumps the price up to £78,425.
Want an M3 Touring? The first-ever M3 Touring, no less? Us too, but you’ll have to be patient. BMW first teased the car back in 2021 and production is expected to start towards the end of 2022.
Check out our BMW reviews