What is it?
The mid-life introduction of a Competition Package has become an established part of the M3 (and now M4) lifecycle, although you'd be forgiven for not knowing it. After all, when BMW came up with the idea on the fondly recalled E46, it opted to badge it the CS in the UK (a clever wheeze intended to highlight the model’s similarities with the low weight, very low volume and therefore highly sought-after CSL). The follow-up E90/E92 version - limited to shorter springs and a set of forged wheels - lacked the kind of consequential alterations that might have made it more memorable.
With the current F80/F82, the M division has endeavoured not to repeat the mistake. Most notably, it has opted to increase output from the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six. The gain may be modest - just 19bhp - but it is important: more is better in this class, and just as it helps distinguish the Competition Pack from the standard car, so the uprated 444bhp helps reduce the model’s headline deficiency versus the latest fire-breathing C63 AMG.
Elsewhere, new springs are again on the menu, accompanied by updated dampers and anti-roll bars, as well as a reconfiguring of the drive modes and stability control. The M sports exhaust is standard, as are the inevitably gargantuan, machine-polished 20in alloy wheels clad in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Lightweight sports seats are also part of the deal, but a significant overall reduction in mass is not: confirmation that the Competition Package is assuredly more about gilding the lily than stripping it back to its elements.
What's it like?
When we drove the E90 version almost six years ago, we mourned the lack of a recent drive of the standard car in order to measure its differences - so subtle was their impact. In the F80, the same is true: only, this time, it would hopefully serve to corroborate the improvements that have apparently been delivered by M GmbH’s hardware rethink.
My working memory of the current model, culled mostly from a group test involving the M4 last year, is of a brusquely fast and fidgety car; hugely talented, certainly - but all too often over-stimulated and short on the shine of universally applied polish. The Competition Package, in the quest for greater dynamism (or, more plausibly, brisker lap times), irons out many of the kinks.
Initially, that outcome seems implausible. So monumentally stiff was the M3 in question that if it registered the introduction of 100kg to its starboard side, I didn’t feel it. Combined with the liquorice-strip tyres, the suspension’s stringency is plain enough to have you screwed up in preparatory wince at the first sign of a bump in the road, but the predicted impact never comes. The overt tautness, it turns out, is not of the unyielding sort: in fact, it flexes as required and no more.
By retaining this splendidly thin and tactile layer of compliance (I’d hazard a guess that most of the Pack's premium is eaten up by the dampers) the Competition Pack’s tacked-down firmness not only enhances the M3’s poise and composure across the board, but also increases the amount of feedback registered in the steering wheel and seatbacks. Nowhere is this more telling than in the realisation that its Sport Plus mode, previously an unrelenting suspension setting best reserved for the track, is not only selectable on British roads - but actively desirable.
Follow suit with the engine, gearbox and steering settings, and the saloon bites down splendidly: adopting a grippier, sharper edged attitude without subjecting you to the sometimes fraught responsiveness of the standard model. The greater straight line speed implied by the Competition Pack (and quantified by a 0.1sec drop in 0-62mph time) is, of course, unrecognisable. But the car’s better management of the rear axle is not. Refinement of diff and ESP response complement the beefier feel of the chassis: the warning light flutters less, and the tail wags less frequently.
Impressively, the outcome doesn’t feel overly strangled - even if BMW has clearly opted to reduce the entertaining waywardness that can be coaxed from the standard car in its halfway-off M Dynamic Mode. Considering the obliging sideways balance typically located beyond that button, I’d take superior traction in the build up to switching it out.
Should I buy one?
Throw in the swagger of bigger, shinier wheels, black gloss exterior trim and the slightly deeper melody of the sports exhaust, and the Competition Pack’s £3k premium easily qualifies as a no-brainer. Which is handy, because BMW expects as many as 80% of UK buyers to take up the option. I certainly would.
Its addition doesn’t perhaps elevate the F80 to classic status, but it makes the M3 feel like a far more complete and likeable solution than previously - and while we wait for quattro GmbH and Jaguar to see to the new A4 and XE respectively, that graduation comprehensively marks it out as the compact sports saloon to beat.
BMW M3 Competition Package
Location Surrey; On Sale Now; Price £59,595; Engine Straight-six, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 444bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 406lb ft at 1850rpm; Gearbox Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1595kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 4.0sec; Economy 34.0mpg; CO2/tax band 194g/km, 33%