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BMW M3/M4

£55,900£58,545
8/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Superb engine flexibility, fast reacting turbos, chassis poise and grip

Against: 

It's just not as charismatic as it used to be
Rational brilliance from BMW - but it would be nice if there were a little more character, too.

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Our choice

BMW

M3 4dr DCT

£54,810
7/10
25mpg
4.70s
420bhp
263g/km

What we say: 

A far more efficient and effective car than its predecessors. Just not quite as exciting

What is it?

A contentious update of an old favourite. The BMW M3 has always been the benchmark by which all junior super saloons are judges, loved not just for its handling and driver appeal, but also its dazzling naturally aspirated engine. We’ve had four, six and eight cylinder versions across the three model generations since the M3 first showed its face in 1988, but now we have something different. Turbos. A pair of turbos, in fact, mated to a 3.0-litre straight six.

And we also have a new name. In line with BMW’s naming policy, the coupe is now known as the M4 while the saloon retains the M3 moniker.

Driving

If you’re thinking of buy BMW’s fastest 3-Series, this is going to be pretty much all that matters to you. You used to buy the M3 solely on the basis of its fabulous engine – the noise, response and spine-tingling top end were worth the entry price alone. But impressively responsive though the new turbos are, there’s still a delay before you get the wallop, while the noise… it’s just too artificial to genuinely prick your ears up.

Same goes for the power deliver. The old car created a real sense of anticipation as the clever valve timing did its stuff and the rev needle whipped round the dial; now you no longer have to work with that car – you just press the throttle, wait a spot for the turbos to catch fire and away you go. Because you don’t have to put much into it, you get less out of it. Still, there’s no denying it’s a very fast thing indeed, and covers the ground exceptionally well. It soaks up distances, is far more efficient and we’ve got to admit that when you do lean on it, it’s still a pretty special thing to drive and easily has the measure of the Audi RS 4. But pure magic? No, that’s now been diluted.

On the inside

It’s all as you expect here – standard issue 3-Series layout and materials (the 4-Series has an identical dash), just with a little bit more kit to play with. Bear in mind that once you’ve specced it to your taste with the nice bits you want, you’ll be looking at a £70k bill. For a small BMW.

Still, even the coupe will carry four normal-sized people and supply boot space enough for a hefty shopping trip. The M3 saloon, well, that’s now genuinely viable as a working four-seater, with adult-friendly space in the back and a voluminous boot. This practicality, reckons BMW, may sway some M4 buyers who can’t quite live with two-door coupe compromises.

Owning

By embracing turbo technology, BMW has at least ensured that running costs should be more acceptable. The old V8 M3 returned 22.8mpg; the new one is capable of 34.0mpg with the M DCT gearbox. That’s a huge leap, with CO₂ emissions correspondingly low at 194g/km. Just note the manual isn’t quite as good. Although 32.1mpg and 204g/km still shame the V8.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
M3 4dr DCT
4.1s 194g/km 34.0 431 £58,545
The cheapest
M3 4dr
4.3s 204g/km 32.1 431 £55,900
The greenest
M3 4dr DCT
4.1s 194g/km 34.0 431 £58,545

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

9/10

BMW M135i

£17,720£34,410
BMW's own M135i. Small, light, compact and fast, it's truer to the roots of the M3 than the new M3 itself