The BMW M3 saloon is the sibling to the BMW M4 coupé and M4 convertible. The added everyday practicality offered by the M3 suggests it may somehow be compromised in overall performance terms against the sleeker-looking M4 coupé.
Popular opinion suggests that if it’s got a higher roofline, greater levels of accommodation and four doors, it surely can’t be quite as fast, sharp or as engaging as its lower, less spacious, two door sibling, right?
In practice there is precious little separating this BMW M3 and the M4 coupé. In terms of straight-line speed, sheer agility and overall spread of dynamic ability they’re virtually identical – and a look over the technical specifications of BMW’s latest M-cars reveals why.
The M3 gets the same driveline components, engine mounting architecture and chassis as the M4 coupé. The two boast the same 2812mm wheelbase, 1579mm front track and 1603mm rear track, resulting in exactly the same footprint.
The nominal 15.0:1 steering ratio as well as the spring, damper and roll bar tuning are also common to both cars, as are the elasto-kinematic properties of the bushes that locate the suspension. Yes, it’s 23kg heavier and 41mm higher than the M4 coupé, but you don’t notice it. Not on public roads.
The inherent driving traits of the M3 saloon prove every bit as compelling as those of the M4 coupé. Setting the tone is BMW M division’s new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with its headline 425bhp output (which is increased to 444bhp courtesy of the Competition Pack). With huge low-end shove, it is incredibly easy to live with.
It also serves up the sort of storming in-gear qualities that make the old naturally aspirated 4.0-litre V8 appear a little weak by comparison. Just don’t expect the blown unit to offer up same razor-like throttle response or alluring aural qualities as the engine it replaces.
Purists will go for the manual – they almost always do. But the optional dual-clutch automatic M-DCT gearbox provides the M3 with the ease of usability to match its fervent on-boost accelerative properties, leading to the very same set of official performance figures as the M4 coupé: 0-62mph in 4.1sec and the standing kilometre in 21.9sec. With the manual, it takes 0.2sec and 0.3sec longer respectively.
The perception of equal performance is backed by BMW M division's development boss, Albert Biermann, who claims the M3 its M4 coupé sibling boast the same Nürburgring lap time. “We’ve run both cars extensively, both together and in separate tests," he says. "Apart from nuances in driving style between our engineers, they are all but inseparable in lap time.”
Adding to the appeal is Drive Performance Control, which allows you to alter the character of the M3 over a wider range than before. Accessed via three buttons on the centre console, you get the choice of Efficiency, Sport and Sport+ modes for the throttle mapping together with Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes for the damping properties and electro-mechanical steering.
Where the BMW M3 impresses most is with its ability to be fast and vivid one moment, and comfortable and relaxing the next. The inherent practicality of the four-door body and a 480-litre boot only adds to its everyday appeal. Along with its enticing long equipment list. As standard the M3 gets 19in alloys, an active differential, adaptive suspension, an aggressive 'M' bodykit and a rear spoiler, while inside occupants are treated to dual-zone climate control, BMW's excellent iDrive system with an 8.8in screen, sat nav, DAB and ConnectedDrive services, Merino leather upholstery and heated front seats.
Opt for the £3000 Competition Pack and you'll get 20in alloys, track specific springs, dampers and anti-roll bars and an improved audio system.
It's also cheaper than the M4 coupé, if only just at £56,175 as opposed to £56,635. If you’re in the market for a performance car that can handle family transport obligations, it’ll be hard to ignore.
The only caveat with the M3 is that it may be hugely entertaining when its unleashed on the track and equally comfortable and civilised at all other times, but the new twin-turbo, straight six engine may lack the charisma that the explosive Mercedes-AMG C 63 and the elegant Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Price £56,175; 0-62mph 4.1sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 34mpg (combined); CO2 194g/km; Kerb weight 1537kg; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 425bhp at 5500-7300rpm; Torque 405lb ft at 1850-5500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic