The super-saloon market remains, as ever, fairly small but fiercely competitive. The German big three still have a huge presence, although they perhaps aren't as dominant as they’ve have been over the years, with changing emissions legislation having shaved away the meat of certain performance brands’ model ranges – and opened the door for others to move in.
In the past few years, we’ve seen the return of Alfa Romeo to the segment. The Italian marque’s Giulia Quadrifoglio is epic and has since been joined by even more hardcore GTA and GTAm models. Meanwhile, BMW’s decision to remove the standard M5 from sale in the UK has bumped it from the top spot, with the brand new, challenging-looking but brilliant-handling M3 Competition usurping it.
As ever, power and performance figures are getting more and more impressive, with some of the cars in this list now churning out in excess of 600bhp. But output alone isn’t enough to grab the top spot. Finally, sense may be returning to this segment, and cars with just-so power and proportions and performance well balanced against real-world usability are coming back to the fore.
We're now onto the sixth generation of the BMW M Division’s M3. For many, it may not seem quite the attraction it used to be, with the two-door coupé body it once called its own having been pinched by the M4. Even so, few performance cars mean so much to their manufacturers as this, and few represent such a huge event when a new one comes along.
Like every 'G80' 3 Series, the M3 has put on just a little size and weight relative to its predecessor, but it has also changed somewhat under the skin. This is the first M3 you can have with four driven wheels and the first that has ever come with a torque-converter automatic gearbox. There’s a six-speed manual available in come markets, too, but BMW UK offers only the choice between rear-drive and all-paw configurations, both with the automatic ‘box. Meanwhile, a new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six comes in under the bonnet, codenamed ‘S58B30T0’, making just over 500bhp and quite a bit more torque than the old ’S55’ 3.0-litre unit managed.
While the styling of this car is certain to divide opinion, the M3 Competition’s drive is easily good enough to work as a balm for your reservations. Superbly taut, poised and precise handling, allied to a superbly balanced chassis and one of the best steering racks you will find in any saloon in the world, truly set this car apart. As usual in an M3, the engine is cast in a slightly supporting role, but it has great response, linearity and clout when you call for it. The four-wheel drive system in the M3 xDrive is also one of the best around, magically guessing when you want it to feel rear-driven and when you just want ultimate traction.
The new M3 is the super-saloon class’s new benchmark. For its distinguishing blend of driver engagement, outright pace, everyday usability and performance value, nothing here is better.