Big Grille… Don’t Cry! : 2021 BMW G80 M3 Competition Sedan First Drive Review

By davidkhoo, 28 March 2021

JW Marriott Hotel South Beach, SingaporeWe’ve already heard it all about the new grille, so yes, any unhappiness has been logged and filed for further reference… in my short-term memory cache for quick deletion, that is!

Besides, if past experience is any indication, immediate reactions from ‘OG’ M purists tend to be the most vocal, but a lot of the bluster ends up being short-term as exception gives way to acceptance.

I’m not going to be one of those to claim the new G80 M3 Competition Sedan looks better in the flesh – there are plenty of these gushy types already – but I’m certainly going to stick my neck out to admit I liked it from the moment the first photos of the cars were shown.

It is only in the flesh though, that you appreciate how the frameless vertical kidney grille complements the M3 Competition Sedan’s flared front/rear fenders and its generally aggro, in-your-face aesthetics.

Like it or not, the new M3 Comp Sedan stands out from the sea of anonymity: it is confrontational, non-PC and evokes strong emotions – everything a full-fat M model is supposed to do.

In fact, we know of a few initial nay-sayers who were smitten at first sight of the new M models in the flesh. They won’t admit to this guilty pleasure of course, given the rise of the cancel culture brigade, which has reared its ‘ugly’ head to shout-down the very whiff of any contrarian view.

We haven’t seen a BMW design that polarised opinions this strongly since the i3. To some extent, the i3’s aesthetic treatment was acceptable given it was an experimental niche model.

On the other hand, the M3 is an automotive icon beloved of many petrolheads for the better part of three decades, so it is shocking BMW M has dared to dabble with the design of such a cult car.

Yet the brand dared, and we’re glad it did, because this latest sixth generation’s bold and brash aesthetics perfectly suit the sportscar zeitgeist to an ‘Mmmmm’, and properly differentiate the M3/M4 from the regular and MPA 3er/4er – something that is important to the current buying audience.

Sure, it’s a departure from the subtle styling of the pre-F8x models recognised only by ‘in-the-know’ cognoscenti, and it’s little surprise many continue to regard the E46 as the most beautiful M3 to-date (I certainly think so, especially the CSL).

(Click HERE to read about our drive in the E46 M3 CSL)

Unfortunately, seeing the new car through retro-tinted glasses also tends to be accompanied by the sense and sensibilities of a different time... and these aren't necessarily the sort inclined to buy a modern M3/M4 since they are locked in a loop that only looks backwards, not forward.

For instance, the E9x M3 might have had a charismatic nat-asp V8 at its heart and spawned the excellent CRT and GTS variants, but its 66,000 units sold paled in comparison to the F8x’s >111,000 over a similar six-year period.

Why? Some might say it was due to the fact that visually, the E9x's understated low-key looks weren't markedly different from its regular 3er brethren, which is something that was addressed with the F8x, and now to even greater degree with the latest G8x.

(Click HERE to read our First Drive of the E90 M3 CRT)

The M3 Sedan is a relatively rare breed of beast – the coming M3 Touring will be the first of its kind – that only became a ‘standard’ fixture from the E9x range of M3s onwards.

The first and third E30 and E46 M3s never had a sedan, and it was the second generation E36 that introduced the world to the first M3 sedan, which joined the Coupe and Convertible models. The M3 Sedan skipped the E46 generation, but returned with a vengeance from the E9x onwards.

To clear up any confusion, in simpler times, there was just the M3 moniker for all body-styles, and it wasn’t til the fourth generation E9x that saw different model codes for Sedan, Coupe and Convertible body-styles, with the fifth generation F8x further segregating 3 Series from 4 Series.

For once, BMW M now offers pundits both the regular M3/M4, as well as the M3/M4 Competition models at the start of the G8x’s life-cycle. Although there’s a manual option for non-Competition cars, only the rear-drive, 8spd auto Competition models are currently officially offered here.

However, the M3 Touring that is based on the non-Competition model might be on the horizon for Singapore, but we understand BMW Asia requires a minimum number of cars (psst, we hear it’s 30 for a one-off batch) to justify a business case… so what are you waiting for?!

The verdant Isle of Man Green M3 Sedan is lushly appointed with a lovely Kyalami Orange interior, plenty of tech toys and appropriately sporty carbonfibre trim both inside and out.

This author has a penchant for stealthy, four-door compact sports sedans, and even though the M3 Sedan is no longer the paragon of understatement (unlike the sleeper hit M5 Competition we also tried), its blend of practicality and performance makes for a compelling proposition.

We already envisioned the tech trickle-down during our drive of the M8 Competition, and the latest M3/M4 features a similar level of powertrain customisation (which also includes brake sensitivity and a ten-stage stability programme) as its big brother.

(Click HERE to read our First Drive of the M8 Competition Coupe)

Thankfully, the full roster of variables is a single press of the ‘Setup’ button away and like before, you can link your favourite presets to the M1 and M2 triggers on the steering wheel for quick deployment.

Considering how simple and perfectly balanced the E90 M3 CRT was to drive hard, some might consider the G8x’s level of configuration fussy, but it does help tailor-fit the M3’s dynamics to one’s liking (and address any potential driving inadequacies, limitations).

For today’s sportscars (and some might say, the world at large), it’s increasingly becoming the case of adapting machine to pander to the driver, as opposed to having driver adapt to the machine, which is something us oldies are used to, simply because it’s the purest way of experiencing the fruits of the engineers’ vision.

The M3 Competition is a tightly competent performance package that ticks all the right boxes for the enthusiast, especially in the less inhibitive M Dynamic Mode.

The sports sedan's variable-ratio steering offers a sublime, natural feel with an incisive turn-in, while the twin-turbo’d inline6 powerplant is suitably explosive, but the go-faster shenanigans are dispatched with precise, polished aplomb.

In some ways, it’s like eating at a posh, Starred restaurant when all a petrolhead sometimes wants is the wild wow and gritty pleasure associated with a greasy spoon establishment.

It may take the form of a ‘practical’ five-seater sedan, but there’s proper sportscar weighting to the M3’s controls that makes them satisfying to operate.

Despite its devastating pace and prodigious 1.7-bar boost of the turbos, the increased torsional rigidity helps blunt the ferocity of the engine’s delivery, so it’s possible to build speed rapidly and at a deceptive rate.

For the first time in the M3’s history, transmission duties are served by an automatic gearbox (ZF’s slick-shifting 8spd to be precise), which serves up authoritative shifts with scarcely a break in power delivery during rapidfire upshifts.

Compared to how civilised and composed the G80 feels (in both grip and ‘loose’ driving), the F80 in retrospect comes across as more raw and a bit of a rowdy beast, especially with respect to its powertrain punch, which is a flavour some still appreciate in their M cars.

However, don't forget BMW has resurrected the harder-edged 'CS' name – which is one level up from the Competition models – with the F8x M3/M4 CS, the excellent F87 M2 CS and again with the most-recent M5 CS, so a CS equivalent for the new G8x is very likely.

Of course, what's even more intriguing is the possibility of the brand dusting-off the 'CSL' tag...

As BMW M fires up its model onslaught with more intense variants, the M3/M4 Competition models could well be the new starting point in the climb towards motoring nirvana.

PHOTOS BMW

BMW (G80) M3 Competition Sedan
Engine 2993cc, inline6, twin-turbo
Power/rpm 510hp/6250rpm
Torque/rpm 650Nm/2750-5500rpm
Transmission 8spd M Steptronic auto
0-100km/h 3.9secs
Top Speed 250km/h (electronically-limited)
Fuel Consumption 10-10.2l/100km (combined)
CO2 228-234g/km

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