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.