BMW's icon gets stop-start plus optional suspension and DSC tweaks

What is it?

The high level of bespoke content and the low production volume of BMW's M cars means they don't get altered a great deal during their life cycle. So what we've got here -­ forthcoming £100k GTS notwithstanding ­- is as altered as the regular BMW M3 is going to get.

The new Competition Pack is a £3315 option that comprises a whole lot of subtlety. So subtle, in fact, that one of the biggest changes is the introduction of stop-start as part of an Efficient Dynamics rollout.

Actually, it's a bigger deal than it first sounds. The M3, with or without Competition Pack, is the first six-cylinder-plus BMW in the UK to get stop-start, and it comes with other ED gubbins such as brake energy regeneration (which activates the alternator to charge the battery on the overrun).

That means the M3 sips six per cent less fuel than before (on the dual-clutch version, which is the first non-manual BMW to get stop-start too), with CO2 emissions down from 285g/km to 263g/km.

But yes, I know, it's called Competition Pack, right? So the 'competition' bit? That comes in the form of a 10mm lower ride height and CSL-style 19in alloy wheels. There's also a different setting on the electronically controlled dampers when in Sport mode and a tweak to the stability control system.

What's it like?

Those Competition pack mods don't sound like a lot but, even so, rather risks overstating its case. If you haven't driven an M3 for a while, you'll notice precisely no difference. If you have driven one recently, you'll notice virtually no difference.

The wheels look great. Perhaps I'm kidding myself, because it's been a while since I last drove an M3, but I wondered if they, coupled to the lower ride height, kept body control a wee bit tighter.

You'd have to be going pretty ballistic in a back-to-back test to notice the difference in the DSC settings. I wasn't, so I didn't, but on a track day it should make the M3 more exploitable, although in truth on a track day the button that turns it off is usually the preferred one.

And the different Sport mode damper calibration? Again, you'd want to be on a track before you selected Sport, just because it's so firm. That it's tightly controlled is in no doubt, but it's also pretty darned hard for the road.

One of the dynamic things supposedly entirely unchanged is the steering. I thought there was a touch more weight and feel than I remembered, which might be down to the lower height and big wheels, but it's a pity it remains on the mute side and still has a steering wheel rim that's thicker than it needs to be.

Shame, because what is actually going on beneath the wheels is usually pretty darned impressive. The M3 is one of those cars that doesn't instantly blow your socks off, but its unchanged 4.0-litre V8's performance is vivid (0-62mph stays at 4.6sec with the optional seven-speed, dual-clutch 'box), and few cars can match the M3's all-round ability to both cast aside long distances with ease, yet entertain to a decent degree on the right road. I think I like it more now than I did at its 2007 launch.

Since then, the dynamically superior Audi RS4 has come and gone and the RS5 will rock up any moment. M3 Competition Pack versus RS5 on British roads and somewhere with a bit of sliding space will make for an interesting comparison. Me? I wouldn't be at all surprised if the M3 more than held its own.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Lupe 18 May 2010

Re: BMW M3 Competition Pack

Agreed although, it is still the best, better than the RS4 even to some extent

Peter Cavellini 14 May 2010

Re: BMW M3 Competition Pack

I guess you could say an M3 is like going to Mcdonalds, everybody has their favorite meal, meaning that everybody has their favourite M3, mine was an E46, and i totally agree it could be used everyday and ocassionaly drive it like a loon!, but, compared to other cars of simular performance and i'm talking non souped up Saxo's and Corsa's it was at the price second hand cheap fun!

Lupe 14 May 2010

Re: BMW M3 Competition Pack

CSL wheels are always very lightweight items, So NO they are not heavier!!!!!!