Double Apex was invited to drive the new (G80) BMW M3 Competition around the Cape Winelands and also on a private racetrack.
Trying as hard as I can, I flick the thick-rimmed M steering wheel left and right trying to break the (G80) M3’s balance, but to no avail. This thing’s chassis is supremely composed. While its predecessor’s short-tempered nature meant that one could easily provoke it into tail-out antics, the G80 requires god-like driving ability to be able to push the boundaries of physics. I fall far short of that kind of gift, but does this mean the BMW M3 Competition is less of an animal? Maybe it’s not as beastly, but this is different beast altogether.
So, what do we have here?
What everyone should know right up front is that we don’t get the ‘regular’ M3 here. South Africa receives the Competition model only, which means some of the specification that otherwise would have been optional is standard. This was a carefully made decision… because at the R1 860 000 (the M4 Competition will set you back another R80 000), some of these extras would have been specced by BMW customers anyway. There are modes aplenty, including those for the powertrain’s response, suspension settings, and steering sensitivity and weight.
Sure, there a few things that remain optional, such as the form-fitting M carbon bucket seats (which will set you back just over R80 000), and the carbon exterior and interior trim. You don’t really need these but why wouldn’t you have them? They look good, and South Africans like to look good, too.
The competition designation also means that the six-cylinder turbopetrol motor produces 375 kW instead of the entry-level version’s 353. Torque output also jumps by 100 Nm to a mammoth 650 Nm. These figures are put to tarmac by way of an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which raised almost as many eyebrows as the controversial front-end styling. Many pundits, yours truly included, sang the praises of the dual-clutch era a decade ago – with the M-DCT flying the flag for the Bavarian brand with distinction.
More poise in a controlled environment
BMW SA secured the facilities of a private circuit in the Cape Winelands for the local motoring press to put the M3 and its M4 siblings to the test around a track. And while certainly not a lightweight with plenty of electronic gizmos added, the G80 BMW M3 Competition was flung about as if it weighed half a ton less and it handled the abuse without so much as a hint of brake fade or limp mode intervening.
Much like you’d find on legitimate supercars, the front and rear wheels are different sizes; 19-inch up front and 20-inch at the rear. When looking at the M twins from the side you don’t notice it, and that’s because there’s thicker 35 profile rubber up front (30 in the rear) that fills out that front arch a bit more. The technical reason is because the smaller wheels with thicker rubber up front contributes to increased steering feel.
The multitude of vents and slots and gaps in the styling are all functional too (this is an M3, after all). These providing not just cooling air to the brakes but also direct air flow around and underneath the car so it’s as aerodynamically slippery as possible. Some of the assembled press fleet units also had the optional R140 000 carbon ceramic brake disc fitted, which proved flawless on the circuit despite punishment lap after lap; if track days are your thing then this is probably the first extra you’ll be ticking on the list.
This is typical BMW fair but as with any modern performance vehicle there’s a lot of electronic wizardry and higher-grade manipulation afoot. And I don’t mean that in a nefarious way, either. Pressing on the engine start button, you’re greeted by a somewhat muffled growl. That’s because after turning the car off turns all your preferred modes revert back to comfort and the engine to efficiency mode.
Press the M mode button and the digital instrument panel transforms into a racier display, while the central infotainment display can be set to show just how many kW, N.m and how much boost you’re using. Press the setup button and a menu pops up that allows you to choose between efficiency, sport and sport plus modes for the engine – basically this sharpens up the throttle gradually, and lets the M3 woof, bark or snarl at your convenience. You can also manipulate the suspension, steering and brakes. Right at the bottom of that menu you can also decide on exactly where you want the traction control to save your bacon between 1 and 10 (that’s very racecar-like – Ed).
Of course, there are plenty of colours and appointments to choose from and that’s all a matter of personal choice, but I’d advise caution before going for those carbon bucket seats, particularly if you’re heavy set – because they’re very snug. The standard M sports seats should do the job just fine for regular folk.
On the road
All-out antics on a track is one thing but the real-world is where its performance is judged most of the time. The launch control is so easy to setup once you know which mode to have it in and lean against the brake and throttle at the same time and there’s also not much happening after letting go of the brake other than the horizon fast approaching and the national speed limit dangerously exceeded… if you don’t lift off the gas in time.
Where the G80 BMW M3 Competition really makes its mark is in-gear acceleration, any one of them. Need to overtake a few cars at the same time? No problem. The only thing is, the M3 is now so fast that it’s only as you approach bends that you realise mistakes can quickly be made by the irresponsible. Adopt a slow in and fast out approach and the M3 will reward, if not completely surprise, the smooth driver.
Not once did I miss the M-DCT, because the ZF eight-speed automatic shifts as quick as anyone could one in manual mode and bounces against the limiter if you don’t tug on the right-hand side carbon shift paddle quickly enough. Leave it in full automatic and it’s not going to disappoint you – trust me.
The suspension is supple enough in any mode to soak up really bad road imperfections. Let’s be honest here, nobody wants to jar their fillings out or be able to able to tell the difference between heads or tails when driving over R5 coin because the suspension is too firm.
Not only is the new M3 faster than its predecessor, but because of the overall driving experience it’s a friendlier affair. This is not a bad thing, because while some of the purists might be slightly perturbed that the mercurial nature of the F80 has been tempered, there is no doubting that the G80 BMW M3 Competition is altogether a much more polished super sedan. Handily, that also makes room for a more focused CS version down the line – nice!
This will make the new M3 appeal to more people than just the purists. And isn’t that what BMW’s been doing these last few years anyway, filling up all niches and appealing to new audiences? I’m left feeling that the M3 is more accomplished than ever before.