Buyers seeking a sportier design should check out the M4, the M3's two-door sibling.
BMW continues to follow the successful formula it established with the sedan's well-respected predecessors: start with the standard 3 Series and add more power, a more dexterous chassis and special styling. Of course, there's a few new wrinkles this time around, as the M3 incorporates a host of new high-tech features and lightweight components.
In place of the characterful but thirsty 4.0-liter V8 in the last-gen model is a downsized 3.0-liter inline-six that relies on twin turbochargers to produce 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque from just 1,850 rpm all the way to 5,500 rpm. Those figures represent gains of 11 ponies and, more importantly, 111 lb-ft of twist compared to the old eight, with peak torque arriving 2,050 rpm earlier.
Transmission options include a six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The standard-equipment stick shift features a rev-matched downshift function and helps the sedan to accelerate from zero-to-60 mph in a claimed 4.1 seconds, while the seven-speed dual-clutch boasts launch control and a slightly quicker sprint time of 3.9 seconds. Also part of the septa-cog's bag of tricks is a "Stability Clutch Control" function that opens one of the clutches in order to quell understeer.
Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway with the manual, while the dual-clutch is good for 17/24 mpg.
Upgraded M compound brakes on all four corners and a stiffened, track-tuned suspension keep M3's newfound power in check. As expected, hydraulic-assist steering gives way to a new, more efficient electric-assist setup with three different effort modes.
All M3s are equipped with an Active M Differential that keeps tabs on throttle inputs, the rotational speed of the wheels and the car's yaw rates in order to maximize traction.
Thanks in part to the increased use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic and aluminum in the body and suspension, the M3 is an impressive 176 lbs. lighter than before. Contributing to the weight loss are components like the six-speed manual (-26 lbs.), smaller engine (-22 lbs.) and carbon fiber roof (-11 lbs.).
Looking the Part, Inside and Out
Outside, the M3 wears a heavily-sculpted front bumper, a discreet hood bulge and flared fenders all around. Air curtains mounted in the front apron team up with "Air Breathers" - that's BMW-speak for fender vents - to optimize airflow around the wheel arches and improve aerodynamics. Around back, a diffuser with inset quad tailpipes and a Gurney-style spoiler provide both style and function. Eighteen-inch rims are fitted as standard, while 19-inchers can be specified as an option.
The M3's cabin is closely modeled after the standard 3-Series, which means it includes a quartet of simple, driver-friendly analog gauges and a tablet-style 6.5-inch display screen mounted atop the dashboard that displays stereo and vehicle information. Shell out for the optional navigation system, and the screen is upgraded to a larger 8.8-inch unit.
All secondary systems are controlled through BMW's iDrive infotainment setup, which has evolved over the years from a bewildering complex unit to surprisingly simple and user-friendly system. Redundant controls on the steering wheel and dashboard provide alternate means of accessing the electronics.
Further setting the M3 apart from the standard 3-Series is an M-specific instrument cluster, a sporty three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, sports seats and carbon fiber trim on the dashboard and on the center console. Naturally, a liberal helping of M emblems is also part of the package.
Standard and Optional Features
The M3 comes standard with leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable M front sport seats, an adaptive M suspension, a navigation system with 20GB of audio storage, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlights, heated and power-adjustable exterior mirrors, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, an AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, AUX and USB ports and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Notable options include a head-up display, a front collision warning system, full LED headlights, and, on the performance end, lightweight and extra fade-resistant carbon ceramic brakes.
Buyers who want to hit the track can order an optional Competition Package. It includes a revised differential and a re-tuned Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system.
BMW made a few modifications to the M4's turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six engine. The six-cylinder now generates 444 horsepower -- 19 more than the stock model -- at 7,000 rpm and 406 lb-ft. of torque from 1,850 to 5,500 rpm.
Visually, cars equipped with the Competition Package stand out thanks to high-gloss Shadow Line trim designed by BMW Individual, 20-inch alloy wheels with M-shaped spokes, and a sport exhaust system with black chrome tail pipes.
All M3 sedans come standard with dual front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain airbags, in addition to traction and stability control systems.
Lane departure warning, frontal collision warning and active blind spot detection can be spec'd as part of the Driver Assistance Plus package.
The M3 Sedan is pitted against the Mercedes-AMG C63 and the Cadillac ATS-V.