The Competition Pack-equipped BMW M3 coupe left me gobsmacked when I drove it a few months back.
But sitting now in the same Munich Automobiles showroom is something even more compelling – the BMW M3 saloon, with the same explosive 420bhp 4-litre V8 and handling-transforming Competition Pack.
To my eyes, the saloon – with its stubby profile and extravagantly pumped rear arches – has always had a tad more visual attitude and presence than the M3 coupe with its long, featureless rear flanks.
The coupe’s apparent slenderness isn’t an illusion, either. It’s indeed slightly longer thanks to an extra 35mm of rear overhang, and it’s also (surprisingly) narrower by 13mm. And somehow, the idea of a sensible four-door with sports car abilities just does it for me.
Mechanically, the two siblings are identical, but the saloon seems to ride better. With the 10mm lower Competition Pack suspension, progress in the coupe is uncompromisingly lumpy.
The saloon is still very firm, but its ride seems better resolved, less pattery and more civilised – perhaps a happy consequence of its extra weight (it’s 25kg heavier than the coupe).
But even if the saloon exhibited the coupe’s hardcore ride, the Comp Pack suspension would still be worth it for the sheer verve it imparts to the car’s handling compared to the standard M3’s.
Steering feel is improved, turn-in is keener and the car just feels more nimble, more lithe. On a meandering minor road, it is spectacularly involving.
Other Competition Pack goodies include more extreme settings for the differential and traction control (which allow more tail-out fun before they intervene to save you spinning into the nearest longkang), lovely 19-inch rims (which replicate the E46 M3 CSL’s memorable BBS items) and an optional carbon fibre front splitter and tail lip – both subtle but very tasty.
The saloon is an academic 0.1 second slower than the coupe from zero to 100km/h, but gets there in a still-storming 4.7 seconds with its 7-speed M-DCT dual-clutch gearbox.
That remarkable transmission offers a menu of six different shift speeds to choose from (the last and most extreme one available only if you’ve turned off traction control, too).
High-rev upchanges are as thrilling as ever, their sheer immediacy brought into focus by the slight but clearly discernible kick that accompanies each change, and each downshift is marked by a sharp V8 bark as the engine plays its self-blipping party trick.
Like me, you’ll find yourself wantonly changing up through the ’box and down again just to hear it.
And that amazingly inertia-free V8, with its explosive punch, spectacular high-rev wail and razor-sharp throttle response, continues to mesmerise. The BMW M3 Competition has a brilliant Harmon Kardon hi-fi system, but with an exhaust soundtrack like this, you hardly need it.
And this being the saloon version, you’ve got those four firmly supportive but plushly trimmed seats, rear air-con vents, a big boot and folding rear backrests for everyday duties.
I was moving house the weekend I had the BMW M3 Competition saloon, and it’s remarkable how much clobber you can fit in the vehicle if you really try.
I hardly ever say this, but this car had me smitten.
BMW M3 Competition 4DR 4.0 (A)
ENGINE 3999cc, 32-valves, V8
MAX POWER 420bhp at 8300rpm
MAX TORQUE 400Nm at 3900rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 4.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 8.4km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE $391,800 (as of April 2011)
Check out the latest BMW M3