New BMW M3 a precise, hard ride

The BMW M3 Competition is supported by a retuned adaptive suspension, which has new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
The BMW M3 Competition is supported by a retuned adaptive suspension, which has new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The BMW M3 Competition is supported by a retuned adaptive suspension, which has new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
The BMW M3 Competition is supported by a retuned adaptive suspension, which has new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

BMW's facelifted M3 Competition has a wide performance envelope

The first thing you notice about the latest BMW M3 is its thumpingly hard ride. There are three possible reasons for this.

One, the facelifted M3, with the Competition package, has been made harder. Two, the condition of roads here has deteriorated since the last time I drove an M3 Competition six years ago. Three, I have simply grown older.

Most likely, it is a combination of all of the above, probably with No. 2 being a major contributor.

There are about 10,000 roadworks a year here, up from about 8,000 a decade ago. The number excludes road diversions arising from MRT or new road projects.

You do not have to be a traffic engineer or keen driver to notice how poor resurfacing has been of late. Maybe it is part of a national strategy to discourage speeding or driving altogether.

  • SPECS / BMW M3 SEDAN COMPETITION

  • Price: $391,800 with COE

    Engine: 2,979cc 24-valve inline-6 twin-turbocharged

    Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shift

    Power: 450bhp at 7,000rpm

    Torque: 550Nm at 1,850-5,500rpm

    0-100kmh: 4 seconds

    Top speed: 250kmh (electronically-limited)

    Fuel consumption: 8.3 litres/100km

    Agent: Munich Automobiles

For a car with as great an affinity for the tarmac as the M3, you feel every little undulation, every minor indentation and every blemish on the bitumen.

Especially so with the M3 Competition, which is supported by a retuned (read: hardened) adaptive suspension, which has new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

The chassis sits 10mm closer to the road than the regular M3, on 20-inch wheels shod with 265/30 and 285/30 tyres front and rear respectively.

The car's dynamic stability control and rear differential have also been tweaked to offer performance nearer to the limit and with less intervention. Not that I would test that limit.

Likewise, the car's drive modes have been reconfigured.

A Comfort setting for the suspension is advisable off-expressways, if you treasure your dental fillings and lower back.

Even in Comfort, the car holds up exceedingly well against cornering forces. It relishes every chance to sail through serpentine stretches, both temporary and permanent, retaining an absolutely even keel from start to finish.

The car's steering feels wonderfully weighty, precise and yet responsive in every mode, although Sport+ can be a bit of a chore when you are joining the peak-hour crawl to and from the office.

There is clearly no shortage of power, the most prized element in an M car. Its 3-litre turbo six-cylinder engine puts out 450bhp and 550Nm, compared with 420bhp and 400Nm from its 4-litre V8 predecessor, and 431bhp/550Nm from the current non-Competition M3.

The car has a rated century sprint of four seconds, which is almost as quick as a Porsche 911 Carrera S. But it does not always feel as swift nor as effortless in day-to-day situations.

That is not to say that the car is not fast. With a heavy and committed right foot, it will satisfy the biggest appetite for speed there is.

But there are not many places where you can indulge in that. For light-throttle, breezy endeavours, the M3 Competition feels a little out of place, like a sumo wrestler made to do ballet.

Switching to Sport+ mode helps, especially if you also enjoy the emotional sounds M cars are known to make. It is not as hair-raising as the V8s, but it comes very, very close.

On the exterior, light touches distinguish the Competition from the regular M3, such as black chrome tailpipes and high-gloss inserts on the grille and side vents.

Inside, a chunky M steering wheel takes centre stage, complete with buttons which will recall two stored drive settings.

Unique to the Competition car, lightweight sports seats hold you comfortably and firmly in place as you slip in and out of corners. And road diversions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Mild to manic'. Print Edition | Subscribe