How did the M3 get on at Top Gear's 2021 Speed Week?
You may have seen our longterm M3 had a seat at the table for this year’s Speed Week. And it may sound odd, but I was thrilled to see my colleagues hoon it around the track while I sat in the pits giggling and filming while others destroyed the rear tyres of a car I ultimately had to drive home and live with every day.
Overall, people came back impressed – blown away by how brutally effective it is at getting from one place to another very quickly but also concerned at how hefty it was. One sentiment remained consistent - “feels different to previous M cars, doesn’t it?”. Handily, we had an M5 CS present to act as a control. And there’s no doubt about it, that felt like a more traditional M car.
Compared to the M3, the M5 has more thuggish attributes and dynamics. The 4.4-litre V8 engine felt more rampant and titillating than the droney-but-punchy S58 in the M3. It also felt a bit naughtier and looked how an M car should on a track day: like it’s driving sideways through a bonfire.
In fact, I think the M5 CS might be the easiest way to turn a set of fresh Pirellis into dust. But it’s also fun, approachable and controllable in doing so thanks to a long wheelbase, globs of torque and the ability to turn the front driveshafts off. The steering is also progressive while the chassis can be easily balanced with your right foot. TL;DR it’s a proper yob. And people wanted to engage with that.
Whereas the M3’s personality has shifted to be more clinical. And I’m sure it’s the mystifying cleverness and control that the rear differential offers that’s the main driving force. Literally. Traction (even in biblical conditions that we suffered) is astonishing. But that chunky bit of hardware also changes the relationship with the steering, which is quicker, heavier and snatchier than the M5’s.
Unlike its bigger brother (where you can prod the throttle and knock it sideways at a slower speed to feel like a hero), the M3 requires lots of speed to unstick it which requires skill and bravery. Then it just keeps getting faster and faster – coming out of corners diagonally as it finds grip while sliding to keep you constantly accelerating. Which previous M3s didn’t do.
There are similarities between both M Cars, but none of them are good. They’re both heavy (1,825kg for the M5, which is only 100kg heavier than the M3, a car with two fewer cylinders and driven wheels), both have eight speed auto ‘boxes (that are good at seamlessly shifting gears but are uninspiring and underwhelming to use, especially on track), and they’re both expensive. Really expensive.
The M5 CS is the most expensive M car currently available costing – wait for it – £140,780. That’s over £38,000 more than standard. As tested, the M3 is nearly £90k. So goodness knows what happens to the price tag if/when BMW do an M3 CS.
The price might be the reason I’m yet to see many M3s on the road. Even on finance they’re wedgy – £1,260pm with 10k miles and six months downpayment.
TG's long-term 911 comes in cheaper than that. And that’s a Porsche 911. Which would make you think twice.