As anniversaries go, 35 is admittedly on the obscure end of the spectrum. It’s probably best to keep the bunting boxed up, and definitely cancel the Red Arrows flyover. On the release of the new M3 Competition, however, its sixth generation, it is worth taking a moment to appreciate one of the true personalities of modern motoring. Born from a 1980s racing rivalry with Mercedes-Benz, the first one was an experiment in creating a dead-eyed track killer from BMW’s most humble saloon. It became an unexpected hit on the road, too, selling in huge numbers and through the years garnering a reputation as the ultimate four-door sports car. For its die-hard fans, many of them from the UK, which is the M3’s second biggest market, it’s simply the standard-setter for the perfect car. Full stop.
While other long-running models err on cautious evolution with every update, BMW prefers the pitchforks-and-regime-change approach. Each M3 has had its own distinct personality. And in this, the 2021 model, that personality appears to be someone you don’t want to hold eye contact with for a second longer than necessary. We’re surprised there isn’t an option to add prison tattoos.
It starts with that flaring, over-sized grille, in which you can easily get lost; visually speaking, though perhaps literally too. Framed by the giant air intakes, indented bonnet panels, those 19in (front) and 20in diamond black alloys and spectacular rear haunches, once the fear has subsided you can’t walk around this car without a fairly toothy grin.
The blue-tinted laser lights — an optional extra — have a purpose other than to look good (a high beam function apparently) but when you see them, you’ll want them on the list. The brake calipers are offered in red, black or blue for the first time. With carbon ceramic brakes, the discs are gold, no less. The new Isle of Man green paint job, only available on the M3, also hits just the right tone when you’re up close.
BMW knows its M3 owners and suggests they tend to be extroverts, interested in the extras as much as how fast it goes around tracks. If you aren’t an extrovert already, you will be after spending the day in one of these cars. It could turn Gordon Brown into a cabaret singer.
We should remember that this car is about driving as well as ogling. The incredible M carbon bucket seats — a custom-built £3.5k optional extra — suck you in to your position behind a surprisingly girthy steering wheel. In this car, planning your playlist is almost more important than your route. A 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system comes fitted as standard.
The red for danger start/stop button invites you to ignite the brand new, gurgling and high-revving S58 engine — a 3.0-litre twin-turbo producing 510bhp — which carries a starry reputation on its own. You won’t be surprised to know that the M3 is fast (0–62mph in 3.9 seconds), though the UK’s potholed B-roads don’t necessarily feel like its perfect stage. This car deserves corners of the sweeping and majestic variety. Or a track, where the M Drift Analyser feature offers you 10 traction settings, from full assistance to good luck and god speed. It’ll even give you a drift rating out of five, like you weren’t sheepish enough.
It’s heavier, wider and longer than the previous car but the power-to-weight ratio is actually improved. For this M3, more is definitely more. Some cars this capable manage to feel calm when the need arises. This one can never quite suppress its more primal urges. At low speed around town it threatens to reveal its true nature at any moment, the insistent engine note goading you to find the roads it craves.
Given this sixth incarnation will doubtless be the last in its line, the final pure combustion engine M3 from a famous dynasty, it’s safe to say that as the light dies, it’s not going out quietly.
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