The BMW 3 Series has been the sports sedan of choice for enthusiasts for 50 years now, as the company adds more capability and performance than ever before. The BMW M3, at one point, was the most powerful 3 Series in the land until the company introduced the more powerful M3 Competition a few generations ago.
The base M3 sedan is only offered with a six-speed manual and rear-wheel drive. However, upgraded versions come with a paddle shifted eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Those Competition versions have a drift mode, virtually turning the vehicle to rear-wheel drive.
The 3-Series was the entry to the BMW lifestyle until the smaller 2 Series came on the scene, as well as the small X1 SUV. Those both now hold lower base prices than the compact 3 Series.
The biggest news for the new M3 is the new front end, featuring two giant air intakes on a sharply sculpted nose. Initially it wasn’t well-received, though criticisms softened once they got in buyers hands. Additionally, excellent performance makes many design changes more palatable.
2023 BMW M3 Competition xDrive Review
The Competition version adds a fully-variable, rear-biased system drive system controlled via a multi-plate clutch. The Active M differential sends power to the right or left in the rear. Those systems are connected directly to the Dynamic Stability Control System that quickens responses when controlling understeer and oversteer.
The M xDrive system has three modes. Four-wheel drive (4WD) is default mode with safe but impressively quick handling. 4WD Sport sends even more power to the rear and is designed to work on the track. The two-wheel drive (2WD) setting sends all the power to the rear tires.
The Competition xDrive models come with 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels on high-performance non-runflat tires. It also has a faster steering ratio than the standard M3.
Inside the cabin, the 2023 M3 Competition comes with M drive modes, power, heated seats, a rearview camera, ambient lighting, automatic climate control, keyless entry and a few more. Buyers can choose the Executive Package with a heated wheel, power trunk lid, LED lights, a head-up display and wireless charging.
The bucket seats in the M3 are strange. They’re certainly comfortable, but have hard shelled backs and sides. It also has a bump in the middle of the seat, which separates your legs a few inches. It takes some getting used to. It always seems like there’s something sitting there, but it forces the buyer into a perfect driving position.
The bonus of those hard-shelled seats is that kids in the back won’t be able to dirty them with their feet. The seats can just be wiped clean. That backseat does fit two car seats with space to spare and the LATCH points are covered by plastic but easy to use. The rear seatbelts, like many higher performance cars, are hard for an older child to belt themselves.
The steering wheel, in addition to the paddle shifters, features two more paddles for M1 and M2 modes. These are customizable in all possible ways, allowing the driver to have one for full race attack mode and one with slower steering, easier brakes and softer suspension.
The technology was flawless and easy to use. BMW’s iDrive system has been updated over generations and now is one of the easiest to use with one main rotary dial in the middle that jogs, leans and can be pressed. Wireless Apple CarPlay only needed to be connected once, and it worked the whole time.
The head-up display is also useful with speed and directions right in the driver’s field of view. When the drive modes change to Sport and Track the tachometer joins the view, so drivers can shift at the last possible moment.
BMW bumps the output in the M3 Competition’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter six-cylinder to 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque from 473 hp and 406 lb-ft in the standard M3. It accelerates faster too, taking just 3.4 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill, 0.4 seconds quicker than the M3. Top speed, depending on tire choice, is 180 mph.
Though electric sports cars are now supremely enjoyable, it’s hard to match the visceral feeling one gets from a turbocharged gasoline engine. The M3 Competition doesn’t feel as fast as the electric BMW i4 M50, but the sensation is more grounded. The i4 accelerates so fast it’s almost scary while the M3 sedan gives the driver a reference point in the engine sound (and vibration) and transmission shifts.
With all-wheel drive engaged it launches like a missile, pulling ahead of almost anything else on the road. In two-wheel drive, the traction and stability control let the driver slide the tail around, but not letting them spin the car all the way around. It makes average drivers look like professional drivers.
Both the suspension and brakes are stiff. Though the softest suspension mode is fine for everyday driving. A generation ago, the M3 Competition was so stiff that it could barely survive on midwestern roads. It also had run-flat tires, which added to the stiffness of that car. The brakes are adjustable with the drive modes so every driver can get their own perfect feel. No matter the speed they stopped confidently every time.
BMW’s Active Driving Assistant is standard on the M3 with lane departure warning, speed limit info, blind spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert and rear collision sensors. The Driving Assistance Professional Package adds adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, lane keeping, evasion aid and front cross-traffic alert.
The sedan has been engaging in a long-standing battle with the Mercedes-Benz C Class and Audi A4. The Cadillac CT4 now joins the fray. BMW outsold all three of those competitors in 2022. Only the Mercedes came within 4,000 sales of the 3. As for the high-performance models, the current AMG C63 ($83,000) has the exact same 503 hp.
Audi doesn’t make the RS4 anymore, but the RS5 Sportback ($78,200) is a close competitor. The four-door sedan-shaped hatchback delivers 444 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque with all-wheel drive. The upgraded Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing ($60,995) has less power (479 hp) but a lower price than the M3 Competition ($80,800).
The Cadillac is the best deal here, but the M3 brings the most performance, for now. The next Mercedes-AMG C63 S E will be electrified and deliver an astonishing 671 hp. For sports enthusiasts, the M3 Competition has by far the most cache. But the Cadillac should at least be test driven before any major decisions are made.