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Tested: M3 Competition has a sharper edge

Road tests

BMW has had a busy old time introducing beefed-up versions of its M3 sedan and M4 coupé.

Last year it unleashed the M4 GTS, a hardcore performance version with an adjustable rear wing, sportier suspension, semi-slick tyres, and power boosted to 369kW.

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Bigger wheels and 'Shadow Line' black trim differentiate this from normal M3s. Pictures: Denis Droppa.

Sandwiched between the standard cars and the GTS, BMW has introduced a Competition Package available on both the M3 and M4.

There’s extra power and traction but without the uncompromisingly track-focussed nature of the GTS, which isn’t particularly pleasant to drive around town.

The M3 Competition Package on test here is not really a happy camper in stop-start urban driving either, and even in its mildest suspension/gearshift/steering modes it seems to chomp at the bit for an open road and a big thrust of throttle. The firm ride doesn’t make good friends with less-than-smooth roads.

But it at least has seats with a full range of electrically-operated driver-comfort adjustments, not the minimally-adjustable buckets of the GTS with their fixed backrest angles. It also gets normal interior doorhandles instead of the fabric loops that open the doors of the GTS.

At the heart of the M3 Competition Package is a power boost for the 3-litre straight six turbocharged engine, which raises output from 317kW to 331kW, while torque stays the same at 550Nm.

According to BMW this snips 0.1 secs off the 0-100km/h time and we took the car to the Gerotek centre in Tshwane to put test to the claim with our VBOX equipment.

Like the standard M3/M4, the automatic 7-speed dual-clutch M-DCT transmission comes with launch control that raises the revs before the car scorches off the line.

The testing was hindered by a partially wet surface and the car achieved a 0-100km/h time of 4.6 seconds, which was slightly slower than the 4.4 seconds we attained last year in a standard M3 on a dry track.

More curiously, the Competition Pack M3 was also slower in overtaking acceleration where surface traction wasn’t a factor, taking 3.3 seconds to get from 60-120km/h where the standard M3 had achieved 3.2 seconds.

Given the power difference between the two cars, one possible explanation for the discrepancy is that the regular M3 was tested in much cooler weather, at 4 degrees Celsius versus 20 degrees (colder air is denser and improves engine performance). The ideal would have been to test the two cars on the same day in the same conditions, but unfortunately this wasn’t possible.

Another possible factor was that our M3 Competition Pack test car was fitted with the sun roof option, which adds weight because the roof’s made of steel and glass instead of the M3’s standard carbon fibre.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth considering our performance test outcomes when considering the R135 900 cost of the Competition Package. That’s quite a premium, but the package isn’t limited to just the engine and also adds wider tyres on enlarged wheels (front: 265/30 R20, rear: 285/30 R20) compared to the standard M3’s front: 255/40 R18, rear: 275/40 R18.

The package also brings to the party a modified version of BMW’s Adaptive M Suspension featuring new springs, dampers and roll bars. Also reconfigured are the stability control, Active M diff and the car’s selectable driving modes (Comfort, Sport and Sport+).

With all the settings in “angry” mode, the car tackled hard-charging laps around Gerotek’s handling track with flair. Getting this car dialled-in through a set of corners is a great pleasure and BMW’s engineers clearly understand that a performance car isn’t merely about speed and cornering traction. It’s about feel too.

Yes, it accelerates like a scalded cat and grips like velcro, but it’s the bits in between that add gravy.

It’s the perfectly weighted steering and kerb-clipping quickness of the turn-in, allowing you to follow a racing line like you’re doing it with a paint brush.

And it’s being able to nail the throttle early on corner exit and tease the tail into a partial slide.

It’s all underlaid by a hearty noise from the M Sports exhaust, which makes a deeper and more intense howl than a standard M3.

Our test car also wore carbon ceramic brakes, an expensive option at R104 500, but possibly worth it for their impressive fade-resistance if you’re going to use the car for track days.

Visually the Competition Package also sets the metaphorical pulse racing with exclusive 20” forged alloy wheels, high-gloss Shadow Line exterior trim and an M Sports exhaust system with black chrome tailpipes.

Inside, the car gets special lightweight M Sports seats along with woven-in M stripes on the front seat belts to remind you this is no ordinary M4 or M3.

Comfort is a relative term in a car such as this. It’s all peaches and cream in terms of luxury trappings such as electrically adjustable front seats, parking camera, navigation, and headlights and wipers that come on automatically.

But the firm suspension and low-profile tyres deliver a hard ride that make you wince every time you drive over a pebble, let alone a pothole. Even with the adaptive suspension on its softest setting, this M3 can’t hide the beast within.

VERDICT

The standard BMW M3’s appeal lies in its four-door “family” practicality combined with a very sporty nature. The jury is out on whether the expensive Competition Package makes it any quicker off the line, but the tyre and suspension revisions do give it a harder edge for owners who intend doing some track work.

FACTS

BMW M3 Competition auto

Engine: 3-litre, 6-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual clutch

Power: 331kW @ 7000rpm

Torque: 550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm

0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 4.6 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 280km/h

Price: R1 278 700

Warranty: 2-year / unlimited km

Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km

Follow me on twitter @DenisDroppa

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