Is the BMW M3 Competition xDrive the ultimate M3?

BMW has given the M3 four-wheel-drive for the first time. DARREN CASSEY has been putting it through its paces.

For the first time in its history, the BMW M3 has gone four-wheel-drive. Purists will probably tell you you’re supposed to hate it, but it makes sense. Modern performance cars are becoming so powerful that all the technology in the world will struggle to put performance through just the rear wheels.

Anyone who drove the previous M3 will know what monstrous power and torque dumped unceremoniously into the rear wheels will do. The latest generation is hugely improved and addresses most of those issues, but while sideways at quarter-throttle on the big shop run sounds like fun it can get tiresome quickly. Especially when there’s very little grip as soon as the road gets mildly moist.

And that’s how we’ve ended up here: the BMW M3 Competition xDrive.

Photos: PA Media

Aside from the obvious, there’s very little difference between the rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions, so let’s take a look at that ‘xDrive’ system. Because BMW wants to retain the feisty, rear-biased character of the M3, it’s actually rear-wheel-drive most of the time. Then, when the car realises it can’t get all the power down, it’ll shift some of it forward to help pull you out of a corner. This happens imperceptibly in a fraction of a second, of course.

There are also drive modes that let you configure where the power goes. You can have the four-wheel-drive system with a subtle rear bias, a heavy rear bias, or fully rear-wheel-drive for those who want a purer experience. To get to this mode, though, you need to swallow a brave pill and turn all driver aids off.

You might think that the extra grip afforded by xDrive has resulted in a power boost, but no, the engine is unchanged from the rear-driven model. That’s barely a disappointment, though, as the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged unit makes a healthy 503bhp and 550Nm of torque.

Those performance figures translate to a guttural gut punch of acceleration, made all the more ferocious thanks to the switch to four-wheel-drive. Yes, power is the same but it can now go from 0-60mph in just under 3.5 seconds, which is about half a second quicker than the standard car.

Official efficiency figures are surprisingly good given the performance output, but with fuel economy of 28mpg and CO2 emissions of up to 231g/km, the only way it could be considered ‘green’ is by optioning the stunning Isle of Man Green metallic paint job.

Performance saloon cars like the BMW M3 need to have a double character. If you want a hardcore racer you don’t choose a car with four doors and a big boot, after all, so they have to do the practical daily stuff well.

The M3 Competition definitely sits on the limit of this, with its cocooning (optional) bucket seats, stiff suspension and eager powertrain, but if you don’t mind being on first name terms with your local petrol station cashier or getting jiggled about on the school run, there’s enough civility to feasibly use this every day.

But when it comes to M cars you only really care about what it’s like when you’re pushing it to the limit, and here it excels. It’s spiky when cold and needs warming up to extract its best like a proper purebred racer, but once up to temperature it’s a hoot.

The four-wheel-drive system is just about rear-biased enough to be fun when charging out of a corner with enough safety net to save your blushes.

When BMW first started giving us those massive flared nostrils up front, enthusiasts took to social media to mock, complain and generally share bafflement. But here, familiarity breeds affection, because the bold look really suits the M3’s aggressive stance.

There’s no subtlety here. If you’re looking to fly under the radar, no one will mistake this for a regular diesel 3 Series, even painted in more subtle hues. However, if you want something that’s unashamedly lairy, the M3 is perfect.

There are sharp angles everywhere, with prominent intakes in the front bumper that wouldn’t look out of place on a race car, while at the back, there’s a subtle spoiler and four not-so-subtle exhaust pipes protruding from a chunky diffuser.

BMW probably could have saved money on its photography of the xDrive by using shots from the regular M3 because again, there’s not much in the way of changes. That’s no bad thing, because it’s a top quality cabin full of sporting styling touches, high quality materials and all the latest technology.

There’s a chunky steering wheel that feels solid in your hand, with an excellent digital instrument display that’s usefully configurable. Our car had the upgraded seats, which are a little on the firm side but offer a reassuring bear hug in hard corners, also coming with a curious carbon plate between your legs.

BMW has been nailing its interior ambience in recent years and the latest M3 is no different. Though if you’ll be spending a lot of time away from the track the standard seats might be a more comfortable choice…

As the flagship 3 Series the M3 Competition xDrive gets impressive equipment levels worthy of its price tag. For example, you get 19-inch alloy wheels up front and 20-inch at the rear, all those M Division exterior styling updates and mechanical tweaks, leather upholstery, and BMW Live Cockpit Professional with M-specific features and graphics.

The M Carbon Pack adds those racecar-like bucket seats as well as exterior carbon-fibre styling touches. Finally, the Ultimate Pack, which essentially adds every possible optional extra.

In the grand scheme of things you probably don’t need the four-wheel-drive over the rear-driven version, given its ludicrous capability. However you get that added security that xDrive provides.

The BMW M3 Competition has an urgency and composure that belies its size and shape, so if you have concerns that xDrive might numb the driving experience leave them at the door. This is a serious bit of kit that’s just as playfully aggressive as before, just with a little extra peace of mind. And you can’t put a price on that.

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