This fifth-generation M3 still thrills but no longer sets the standard for sport sedans.

– Cleveland, Ohio

Here is, by many measures, an amazing car. But the BMW M3 no longer dominates like it once did. If you’re looking for an evolution of the cars that came before it, look elsewhere.

Competition from long-time foe Mercedes-Benz has finally pulled even with the M3; the AMG C63 matches or exceeds the M3 in many ways. Even the Cadillac ATS-V has joined the sport sedan segment without a hint of irony and begun earning superlatives once reserved for the M3.

More than ever, we also judge the M3 against those glorious ghosts of the past: the E30, E36, E46, and E90 models. Each of those four generations set the standard in their day for accessible driving enjoyment, a centerline from which the latest car has drifted to become more complex and uncompromising than we remember.

 

 

Pros

  • The feeling of power when flooring the gas pedal is ferocious. The 3.0-liter biturbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine seems to summon more horsepower than its official rating of 425, and the car’s 4.1-second time for reaching 60 miles per hour is a testament to the sort of straight-line speed it can generate. Truly, be careful when stomping this car’s go pedal; you could give yourself whiplash.
  • The look of the latest M3 strikes a really good balance between understated and aggressive. Things like the exposed weave of the carbon-fiber roof, the hood’s power bulge, the deeply pocketed center caps of the 20-inch wheels, and those golden calipers clamping on giant carbon ceramic discs (an expensive $8,150 option) all communicate the right amount of elevated performance. I particularly like the pointed tips of each sideview mirror that look like devil’s horns from the right angle.
  • The exhaust note sounds better than I was expecting. There were reports that the first year of the F80 M3 had a weak exhaust sound and that BMW corrected this with the 2016 model. There were also complaints BMW was piping a fake exhaust note into the cabin, though the company has explained that was minimally responsible for the car’s sound. Regardless, I only care about what I hear from the driver’s seat, and the growl of this year’s engine gets my approval.

Cons

  • There are just too many damn configurations on this car to set up. There are three settings each for the steering, throttle, and suspension, plus another six modes for the transmission (three each for both the automatic and manual modes). I like some level of configuration for dialing the car into my mood, but so many makes me feel like I’m probably missing out on the best setup.
  • When did the 3 Series get so big? This M3 is now wider and taller than my favorite M5 of all time, the E39 (1999-2003), and just a few inches shorter. It drives big, too, especially looking out across the wide hood with that power bulge popping up into view. While the M3 technically competes in the class of compact luxury sport sedans, it sure doesn’t feel compact when you’re trying to park it.
  • The thing that disappoints me the most about the M3 is that it’s not as versatile as it used to be. The last-gen M3 was a pleasure to drive slow and fast, both on the road and at the track. The F80 M3, though, feels hardcore all the time. Even when all of the Comfort modes are selected, both the suspension and transmission still feel hard-edged enough that I wouldn’t want to drive the M3 to work every day.
  • While the base price of the M3 is $63,500, the out-the-door-price of the one I drove was very dear at $88,095. The nearly $25,000 markup comes from ordering the Competition, Executive, and Lightning packages (totalling $11,900); M Double Clutch Transmission ($2,900); M Carbon Ceramic Brakes ($8,150); and a few other sub-$1,000 options (including the $550 Yas Marina Blue Metallic paint). Consider this: a similarly loaded Cadillac ATS-V with 464 hp (39 more than the M3) costs over $10,000 less, and even the base model Cadillac CTS-V with 640 hp (215 more than the M3) starts about $3,000 less.

Competitors

 

Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com

2016 BMW M3

Engine Biturbocharged 3.0-Liter I6
Output 425 Horsepower / 406 Pound-Feet
Transmission 7-Speed DCT
0-60 MPH 4.1 Seconds
Top Speed 155 MPH
Fuel Economy 17 City / 26 Highway / 20 Combined
Drive Type Rear-Wheel Drive
Weight 3,630 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 13.0 Cubic Feet
Base Price $63,500
As-Tested Price $88,095

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