We all want Garage Mahals with cars packing the rafters, but that’s never in the cards. For most, we’ve got one parking spot and a need for a silver-bullet solution. That usually leads to a car like the BMW M3.
It’s a car that can slog highway miles and hunt down Porsches with equal ease. There’s not much out there capable of both, even fewer with four doors and the option of a manual transmission.
|2023 BMW M3
|Twin-Turbo 3.0-Liter Straight-Six
|473 Horsepower / 406 Pound-Feet
|Price As Tested
First we’ll dispatch the top-line specs, as the G80-chassis M3 has been out a few years now. In base form, the M3 equips a twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight-six with 473 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. It pairs the mill to a six-speed manual. You get the expected suite of suspension and brake upgrades over a lesser 3 Series, plus a wider track at the front and rear that owes to wider wheels and tires. The sedan’s fenders are flared to accommodate that extra meat.
Pros: Hard-Charging Engine, Superb Chassis Balance, Availability Of A Manual Transmission.
The M3 sports more unique bodywork including a pair of kidney grilles you certainly have an opinion on. Base price for 2024 is $76,995. Our tester was a leftover 2023 model that stickered for $86,745. And if you’re wondering about the color, it’s Fashion Grey, an old Porsche shade available through BMW’s Individual program for $3,750.
What immediately strikes one is the M3’s chassis. It’s hard to square how well the new M3 rides with its freakish front-end grip. Most sports cars don’t turn in so well, and if they do, it’s at the expense of ride quality. But on LA’s bad freeways, the M3’s ride, while firm, is surprisingly supple, with ample wheel travel and well-calibrated damping.
And of course, BMW’s classic handling balance is all there. Get an M3 loaded up in a long sweeper, hold the steering at a fixed angle, and it’ll teach you what “turning on throttle” means. Breathe off the throttle gently, and the nose tucks in gracefully, while a big lift induces quick rotation.
Enthusiasts rightfully bemoan the ballooning weight of today’s cars, and the M3 sitting at 3,840 pounds, is a prime example. However, the M3 doesn’t drive like the heavy car it is. Even under heavy braking, you’d swear it's 500 pounds lighter than the quoted figure. BMW’s worked some magic here. A Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing offers even better ride quality on its MagneRide dampers, yet it doesn’t turn like an M3.
Cons: Rubbery Shifter, No Physical Hvac Controls, More Expensive Than Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing
The engine is a monster, too. There’s no torque peak – just a flat line from 2,650 to 6,130 rpm, and unlike so many turbo engines, the M3’s mill just rips to its 7200-rpm redline. Throttle response feels immediate. Turbo lag is minimal.
I wish I didn’t feel so conflicted about the manual transmission. The six-speed makes this car more engaging, for sure, and I’m so glad it’s available as an option, but it’s just not a great gearbox in every scenario. Clutch engagement feels vague and the throttle calibration and gearing are such that it’s difficult to get off to a smooth start and quickly execute a clean 1-2 upshift in succession. The shifter has the BMW’s typical rubbery action, too.
The M3 Competition’s excellent automatic complicates matters. It’s not as engaging as the stick, no, but is perfectly calibrated for all types of driving. I want to recommend the manual on principle, but it’s hard when the automatic is better in more instances than not. Regardless, corporate entropy persists, and we’ll miss the manual M3 when it’s gone.
Otherwise, there’s not a ton to fault. Moving the climate controls into the infotainment screen makes adjustments infinitely more annoying. BMW’s latest infotainment system isn’t as intuitive as previous versions. Lane-keep assist is overly active. Road noise is prominent on concrete freeways.
The exhaust note doesn’t sound all that nice with the sport exhaust opened up or closed off. That’s really it. I sort of wish this tester had the optional carbon bucket seats, with their far superior lateral support and lowered driving position, though I suspect I'd quickly get sick of slumping down into them and crawling up out of them on a daily basis. The gauges could also be more legible too. Still, the M3’s interior is wonderful, especially trimmed in full red leather (a classic M3 look that harks back to the E30’s oxblood-red thrones).
I had this M3 for a week while out in Southern California for BMW’s racing school [LINK HERE], and I put more than 500 miles on the odometer doing just about everything you’d want to do in an M3. The only thing I didn’t do was take it to a race track, but at the school, there were other M3s to drive the tires off of.
All told, it’s hard to find a situation where the M3 doesn’t work. It’s at its best when driven hard, though. Out in the mountains above Palm Desert, with every car system switched to “Sport” mode, the M3 feels like a thoroughbred, even though it isn’t by definition. It feels taut, ready to rip, with a sweetheart chassis and a strong engine making easy work of canyon roads. And on the track, it’s sports-car fast and approachable despite big horsepower and rear-wheel drive.
There are better luxury sedans out there, and there are better performance cars. But it’s the way that the M3 blends many disparate disciplines at such a high level that makes it so appealing.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the M3 is its rival, the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. The Cadillac’s chassis is just as good, and while the BMW has a nicer engine, the Blackwing counters with a superior manual transmission and a more-engaging driving experience overall. Plus with a base price of $62,390, it’s substantially cheaper too. And if you can live without the extra rear doors, BMW’s own M2 isn’t much less powerful than the M3. Plus it’s cheaper and nicer to drive too.
Given the strength of its rivals, to me, the M3 makes the most sense when you go for the all-wheel drive Competition xDrive. A driven front axle turns the M3 into something of an all-weather supercar killer, a four-door GT-R or 911 Turbo on a budget. Yet I can’t pretend that this manual M3 isn’t the cooler car.
As one-car solutions are concerned, the M3 is up there, no matter how you order it. Be sure to make room for one in your Garage Mahal.
2023 BMW M3