There was a time when a BMW M3 was only an M3, but now a broader range of competitors and the power of market forces have caused a ripple that means you don’t just buy an M3 anymore, you choose an M3.
There is still ‘the M3’ but above it there’s also an M3 Competition and beneath an M3 Pure - and that’s the focus of this review.
An Australia-specific variant, the M3 Pure combines the Competition’s more powerful engine tune and sharper suspension with a lightly pared-back equipment list (though not by much) to create a new entry point that is more than $11k cheaper than a regular M3.
Vehicle Style: Performance medium sedan
Price: $129,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 331kW/550Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8 l/100km | Tested: 11.4 l/100km
Introduced as part of the M3’s mid-life update (or LCI in BMW terms) the Pure opens the range from $129,900 and delivers all the good stuff you could possibly want like a twin turbo 3.0-litre straight six engine, rear wheel drive, and a choice of manual or automatic transmission.
The changes, next to a regular M3 see the Pure adopt ‘regular’ LED headlights without adaptive functions, a nine-speaker audio system instead of 16-speaker premium audio, simplified front seats with a few less adjustment options and partial cloth trim.
You really don’t miss much.
On the upside you also receive the 331kW Competition engine tune (up from 317kW), sport suspension and sports exhaust system, and the same 19-inch alloy wheels as the regular M3 - not a bad tradeoff at all.
Standard Equipment: Leather and cloth seat trim, electrically-adjustable front sports seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, LEd headlights, auto lights and wipers, head-up display, cruise control with speed limiter, 19-inch alloy wheels
Infotainment: 8.8-inch touchscreen, iDrive centre console controller with handwriting recognition, voice recognition, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB and Aux inputs, DAB+ digital radio, ConnectedDrive online services, nine-speaker audio
Cargo Volume: 480 litres to rear seats
The obvious change is the M3 Pure’s front seats. They’re still electrically adjustable, but where a regular M3 has an extendable cushion, powered lumbar adjustment, and seat heating, the Pure does not.
That’s okay though because you still get a deeply-bolstered pair of front chairs with electric adjustment and memory. The fabric trim of the Pure also looks right at home in the M3 interior and saves the scorch of hot leather on summer days.
Elsewhere the Pure is, well, pure 3 Series. From the iDrive controller in the centre console to the 8.8-inch touchscreen with navigation and newly added wireless Apple Carplay connectivity (a $623 option).
The interior itself perhaps isn't the most modern you’ll find, and lacks either the simplicity of an Audi A4 or the ornate decoration of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but everything is easy to access - particularly the vehicle control buttons grouped around the gear shifter for instant access to steering, engine, transmission, and suspension settings.
The grip from the front seats is phenomenal - with a nice and snug torso section that’s wide enough to suit sold frames, but enough clearance around the shoulders to allow ease of movement for headchecks and the like.
The rear seat goes without the wild bolstering, and work comfortably for two, with space for three at a pinch. While the big shell-backed bucket eat into rear knee room a little, most adults will slot in without too much drama.
M touches include glossy carbon fibre on the dash, console, and doors, a fat-rimmed steering wheel with contrast stitching, M-striped seatbelts, and more M logos than you can shake a stick at.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 3.0-litre twin turbo inline six cylinder, 331kW @7000rpm, 550Nm @1850-5500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, rear wheel drive
Suspension: Adaptive dampers, MacPherson strut front, independent rear
Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated and cross-drilled rotors - 380mm front, 370mm rear
Steering: M Servotronic electric power steering with variable assistance
While some elements of the M3’s equipment list have been trimmed back in the pursuit of a lower price the Pure also adds the engine tune from the M3 Competition - with 331kW in place of the ‘standard’ car's 317kW output.
Torque remains unchanged, with the twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline six generating a hefty 550Nm.
Those are fine figures by themselves, but with competitors like the Mercedes-Amg C63 and Alfa Romeo Giulia QV nudging 375kW and at least 600Nm there’s some potential to step up the bragging rights.
Jump behind the wheel though and the M3 still does what it’s always done, and drives with a dedication and focus that leave no doubt that BMW can still create fantastic drivers cars.
Underpinned by a firmer-riding suspension setup, which like the engine is borrowed from the M3 Competition, the Pure generates massive grip and provides volumes of feedback about what each corner of the car has underfoot.
The adaptive system allows independent control of steering, suspension, engine response, and transmission control through three stages (Comfort/Efficiency, Sport and Sport Plus) with an appreciable difference in feel for each stage.
Lamentably the ferocious engine also features an auditory enhancement that pipes a fake bass note into the cabin to give the soundtrack extra depth. That’s a shame because from outside the M3 sounds properly aggressive and precise - at least the crackling overrun burble that filters through is still real.
On winding surfaces there’s a relationship between the crisply responsive steering, the tautly controlled suspension, and the dance between massive throttle response and immediacy of reaction from the seven-speed dual clutch automatic never fails to delight.
There’s also an old fashioned ferocity that can be a lot of fun. Around town where revs will rise and fall out of peak-boost territory there’s a sense of anticipation as the turbos spool up and power floods through the drivetrain.
Short-shift at just the right time and it’ll provide hours of entertainment on the daily commute. The firmer riding suspension though might be less fun for daily drivers, but comes into its own on the right stretch of rural road.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The BMW 3 Series range model scored 36.76 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2012.
Safety Features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view camera, blind-spot warning, lane departure and collision warnings, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: BMW Service Inclusive pre-paid servicing starts at $2878 for five years or 80,000km. Service intervals are condition based, determined by the car’s internal sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Right now Audi only has the RS5 coupe, but soon enough that will be joined by the RS4 Avant wagon, both of which pack all wheel drive and serious grunt from a twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6.
Long held as the traditional rival to BMW’s M3, the Mercedes-AMG C63 blends an addictive V8 soundtrack with unrelenting ability on the road or racetrack thanks to a thumping 700Nm of torque. It’s more expensive than the Pure though and does without an ‘entry-level’ version in Australia.
The newest challenger in the super sedan class comes from Alfa Romeo, and while the brand may not have built a proper performance car for a while, you’d never know thanks to incredible handling, demonic performance, and a soundtrack from the Ferrari-built twin-turbo V6 that’s beyond belief.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There are no losers in BMW’s move to expand the M3 range. Buyers looking for more premium appointments can still get what they need higher up the range, while those purely interested in performance are just as well catered for.
While the circa $130k M3 Pure isn’t cheap, it’s at least cheaper - and there’s always appeal in a performance car with more power and less luxury gear, although yet again the Pure is hardly bare-bones.
The only thing that pulls the M3 Pure back is its advancing age next to fresher metal from competitors, but even then its classic look and feel have a charm of their own. Matched with fatter guards and aggressive stance the M3 Pure is just too good to ignore.