The 2018 BMW M3 is a king among premium compact sport sedans. But every king’s reign comes to an end eventually. Although the current M3 stills holds plenty of power and influence, a new generation of regular 3 Series is due for 2019. So a fresher M3 will inevitably come along to claim the crown.
Some buyers may want to play the waiting game. Others will take the outgoing generation, knowing that any M3 is cause for celebration and desire. It takes the regular 3 Series premium compact sedan and turns it into a dream machine. The M3 is one of those cars every enthusiast should own at least once.
And this generation’s abilities are astounding. It employs a twin-turbocharged inline-6 engine that’s strong in midrange torque for breathtaking punch. One unseen but crucial component is a driveshaft made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). It’s as strong as steel, but weighs half as much. The result is that engine power is transmitted to the rear wheels with greater efficiency. It’s something a driver can sense whenever the accelerator pedal is pressed.
Older generations had a choice of body styles, but this one is available only as a sedan. The coupe/convertible version is the M4 (reviewed separately).
What’s New for 2018?
Out go the xenon headlights, in come LED items. The rearview camera is now standard. The iDrive infotainment system receives an update. And there’s been a reshuffle among the options bundles.
What We Like
Relentless acceleration; super-confident handling; muscular styling; rich interior with advanced technology
What We Don’t
Fake engine noises
The M3 has a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, inline-6 engine that generates 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, or there’s the option of a 7-speed, M-tuned, double-clutch automated manual (DCT). Both transmissions send power to the rear wheels only. An automatic stop/start feature saves fuel by turning off the engine when the car is at rest.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 6-speed manual should return 17 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. The 7-speed M-DCT is almost as efficient, achieving 17 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 BMW M3 ($67,495) comes in a single trim level with a wealth of standard features, including 18-inch wheels wearing performance tires, adaptive suspension, aerodynamic body kit with flared fenders, power-domed hood, adjustable drive settings with custom presets, torque-vectoring rear differential, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights, sport exhaust system with quad tailpipes, keyless entry/ignition, self-dimming mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power-adjustable/heated front sport seats with adjustable side bolsters (and an illuminated M logo on the backrests), driver memory functions, cloth/leather upholstery, rearview camera and carbon fiber interior trim.
It also has Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an iDrive infotainment system with navigation, 8.8-in widescreen display, voice controls, smartphone app integration and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with a USB slot, auxiliary audio input and satellite/HD radio.
Most options are grouped into packages. The Executive package includes adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beams, a head-up display, a side-view/top-view camera system, a heated steering wheel, parking sensors front and rear, a self-parking function and a heated steering wheel.
The Active Driver Assistant package contains a forward-collision mitigation system with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, along with lane-departure warning.
The Competition Package hikes engine output up to 444 hp. The dynamic stability control system and Active M limited-slip rear differential are also re-calibrated for track duty. There are visual and aural dimensions as well, with special multi-spoke 20-in alloy wheels, an M sports exhaust system with black chrome tailpipes, special lightweight M sports seats with additional support and seat belts with woven-in BMW M stripes.
Other options include carbon ceramic brakes, 19-in wheels, a sunroof, a powered rear sunshade, wireless device charging, Apple CarPlay compatibility, Wi-Fi and active blind spot detection.
The trunk measures a modest 12 cu ft.
Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes, stability control and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain). The BMW Assist emergency telematics system (which includes automatic accident notification, stolen vehicle tracking and roadside assistance) is also standard.
The Driver Assistance Plus package (see above) adds an array of advanced safety features.
The specialized M3 hasn’t been crash tested, but the 3 Series sedan (on which the M3 is based) received high marks. In government crash testing, it earned five stars out of five overall, four stars for front impacts and five for side impacts. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 3 Series its top rating of Good in all categories except for the new small-overlap front impact test, where the M3 took a score of Marginal (second-worst of four ratings).
Behind the Wheel
The quality of cabin materials is superb. The dashboard, doors and center console sport eye-catching curves and surfaces. And the sport front seats are remarkable, featuring power side bolsters that keep occupants stable during spirited drives. The iDrive system (with navigation and a high-resolution 8.8-in screen) is also a great feature.
No doubt about it, this car is a monster. The twin-turbo inline-6 packs an enormous punch at practically any engine speed. Whatever gear you’re in, hit the gas and hang on. Some may find the aggressive acceleration noises disconcerting, especially when they discover that it’s a simulated soundtrack piped through the speakers (the turbos effectively muffle whatever the inline-6’s natural noises would be). But no one will find the M3 low on power. If anything, it’s overkill.
It propels the M3 from standstill to 60 miles per hour in just 3.9 seconds with the 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, thanks to a launch control mode (3.8 seconds with the Competition Package). The standard 6-speed manual transmission can still get the job done in 4.1 seconds. The manual also has an automated rev-matching feature for perfectly smooth downshifts.
Handling-wise, this M3 feels larger than its predecessors, with electrically-assisted steering that isn’t as tactile as the older hydraulic setups. However, there’s no arguing with the car’s capabilities. Push an M3 on a winding road and you’ll discover that its limits are far beyond what most drivers could imagine or would dare to reach. Yet it can still be well-mannered on rough roads.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback — All-new for 2019. There’s never been an RS 5 Sportback before, so it’s still a somewhat unknown quantity. But considering how well Audi makes other RS machines, this 444-hp piece of gorgeousness should provide the M3 with stiff competition. Arriving the second half of 2018.
2018 Cadillac ATS-V — With a 455-hp twin-turbo V6, the compact ATS-V can sprint to 60 mph in under four seconds, and it’s one of the best-handling sedans (or coupes) in the world.
2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG C 63 — Endowed with 469 hp (or 503 hp in the S version) and all the equipment that needs to go with it. Available in sedan, coupe and convertible (cabriolet) form.
Used BMW M3 — The previous-generation M3 was an instant classic with its racy V8. You can find a certified pre-owned (CPO) specimen with a warranty for much less than a new M3.
The only decisions to navigate are when to buy and what options to select. It’s always a good idea to have those driver assistance features.