2023 BMW M3 Review: Big Stick Energy

  • Engaging six-speed manual transmission
  • Perfectly balanced chassis
  • Tech-rich and luxurious interior
  • Just as good to drive as more expensive variants
  • Styling isn't for everyone
  • Best driving aids aren't available with manual gearbox
  • American competitors are cheaper

A straight-six engine, rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission: This is the quintessential BMW M3 formula. And while there's no denying the potency of BMW's more powerful M3 models, with their automatic transmissions and optional all-wheel drive, they just don't have the same appeal. I genuinely don't care if the M3 Competition xDrive is the second-coming of sport sedans. Give me the base car any day.

Following the G80-generation M3's introduction in 2021, this red-hot 3 Series heads into 2023 with only a couple of changes. Both the four-door M3 and its two-door sibling, the M4 coupe, get BMW's new curved infotainment housing that incorporates a digital gauge cluster and iDrive 8 multimedia display. Some new colors are available, as well, and the M3 is a little more expensive than when it launched, priced from $75,295 including $995 for destination — a $4,400 increase from its original MSRP.

Shut up about the grille, why don't ya?

My goodness, when BMW introduced the M3 and M4, you'd have thought the company committed murder. People absolutely lost their minds when they saw the cars' big grilles, and the hate continues to run rampant today.

Me? I don't think it's all that bad. No, the M3's grille isn't exactly gorgeous, but done up in the right color, this car can look pretty cool. I'm actually a huge fan of the Fashion Gray paint you see on this test car — it's a $3,750 option available through BMW's Individual catalog, and was originally a Porsche color from the 1950s. It looks rad combined with the Fiona Red interior and black brake calipers peeking out behind the staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels.

Prefer a more vibrant hue? BMW's got you covered. The Individual program opens the door to a whole bunch of interesting shades from the company's history. Maybe the eye-searing Verde Mantis (arguably more at home on a Lamborghini) or Lava Orange are more your speed. If not, there's always the Sao Paulo Yellow, Isle of Man Green or Portimao Blue from the company's standard-issue color catalog.

Strong twin-turbo power

Besides, no matter how you feel about the grille, you don't have to look at the M3's schnoz when you're behind the wheel. And believe me, once you're out on a great country road, connecting the dots between tight switchbacks while snick-snicking through the six-speed manual gearbox, you won't care a lick about how good or bad this sedan looks. It's just so freaking good to drive.

The heart of the M3 is its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine, delivering 473 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 406 pound-feet of torque at just 2,650 rpm. In fact, that torque thrust is fully available all the way up to 6,130 rpm, meaning there's a ton of low-end grunt in every single gear, alleviating the need to downshift while overtaking on the highway or just speeding up to get through the traffic light you just know is about to turn yellow.

This engine tune is exclusively offered with the six-speed manual transmission; if you want the eight-speed auto, you have to step up to the $79,595 M3 Competition. You get a bit more power for that increased price tag, with the 3.0-liter engine churning out 503 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. But the on-road performance differences really aren't that major. BMW quotes a 4.1 second 0-to-60-mph time for the manual M3 compared to 3.8 seconds for the M3 Competition. That's a disparity you will never, ever notice in day-to-day driving. The Competition's slightly tweaked chassis components don't account for much of a difference, either.

Make mine a manual

Some drivers really seem to hate BMW's manual transmissions, and I'll never understand why. To me, "rubbery" isn't so much a demerit as a hallmark characteristic — a BMW's stick feels a certain way, and it's been that way throughout history. I love how rigid it can be, and how pronounced the notches are across the shift gate. The clutch is perfectly weighted, too, with a clear take-up point. Seriously, you guys, it's great.

The same drivers who hate this gearbox also have lots of negative things to say about the manual's automatic rev-matching technology. This isn't a feature unique to BMW, of course — Honda, Nissan, Porsche, and others have this, too — and it not only makes it easier to drive a stick-shift in traffic, it's genuinely better for performance. The car will automatically blip the throttle to smooth out downshifts without requiring a heel-and-toe movement from the driver. That means you can hold your foot on the brake while coming into a tight corner and just use the clutch and shifter to smoothly drop a gear. Besides, crotchety old manly men, you can turn this tech off if you want to.

Cutting a rug

The M3 has electronically controlled adaptive dampers, with Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes that really do feel different from one another. There are Comfort and Sport settings for the steering and brake-by-wire system, too, though the differences there are less tangible. Ditto the 10 different levels of traction control intervention. That's really just overkill.

With the base car's rear-wheel-drive setup, you'll rely on the standard limited-slip differential to modulate power across the back tires. My tester's optional 275/35ZR19 front and 285/30ZR20 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubbers offer a world of grip, and the suspension is tuned to keep the M3 balanced and predictable at all times. The steering is crisp, with responsive turn-in, and the M3 never succumbs to understeer when you really dive into a narrow hairpin. Oversteer happens, but it's fun, and always on the driver's terms.

Great seats, but some tech is missing

For $4,500, you can option your M3 with full carbon fiber bucket seats that have super high thigh bolsters and a weird little leg-separating bulge in the middle. I don't hate these chairs, per se, but it's nice to be back in an M3 without them. On my usual canyon test roads, the M3's standard seats never feel like they lack side support, and they make the sedan much easier to get in and out of, especially in tight parking lots when you don't have room to fling the door open for an ungraceful shoehorn-me-out-of-the-carbon-buckets dismount.

The aforementioned iDrive 8 tech works well enough, though I'll be happier when the slightly simplified iDrive 8.5 tech from the 2024 5 Series rolls out across BMW's lineup. BMW also fits the M3 with standard driving aids like lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, but full-speed adaptive cruise control is reserved for the M3 Competition with the automatic transmission — though, even then, it's still an optional extra for some reason.

2023 BMW M3 verdict

BMW's key German rivals don't offer a package quite like the base M3. The closest competitor from Audi is the relatively demure four-door RS5 Sportback, and as for Mercedes-Benz, well, the upcoming 671-hp AMG C63 is an entirely different animal. Instead, the M3's fiercest foe comes from America in the form of the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. It undercuts the BMW's price tag by more than $10,000, which is significant, though the Cadillac isn't half as nice inside — typical General Motors.

As tested, the Fashion Gray car pictured here stickers for $86,745 including destination, with $950 carbon fiber trim, the $2,550 red/black interior, $3,750 paint, $1,300 wheels, and $700 parking assistance package making up some of the bigger-ticket add-ons. That puts this tester slightly above the base price of an M3 Competition, but again, the reason to go for the base car has nothing to do with its value proposition. The manual transmission and rear-wheel drive make the M3 more engaging, without any meaningful loss in performance. Hell, the base car could cost exactly the same as an M3 Competition, and I'd still go for the stick-shift without question.