We could go into a lot of detail about how BMW has changed the M3 to make sure that it drives better than anything else out there – but you can read about that all over the place. Instead this is going to be what amounts to a couple-of-hundred-word love letter to an extraordinary machine.
In the nose of this M3 – the Competition spec, as they don’t sell the “standard” M3 in the UK – is a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder twin-turbocharged petrol engine. It boasts all the same specs as the saloon, so 510PS (375kW) and 650Nm (478lb ft). That’s sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. 0-62mph? 3.6 seconds. Top Speed? 174mph… if you choose to have the limiters removed.
Before you read the middle of that paragraph and fly into a rage at a fast BMW sending power to its front end, let me assuage your anger. The BMW M3 Touring is utterly, at times almost incomprehensibly, brilliant. From the moment you finish wasting a little more time than is truly necessary setting up your M1 and M2 buttons to precisely the setup you like and actually start driving, the M3 Touring will astound. Often something with north of 500PS and a fair amount of weight needs a few miles, or even a full drive to fill you with the driving beans to discover its edges. With the M3 Touring it’s somewhere between corners one and two.
In normal four-wheel-drive mode the big BMW is a friendly, extremely fast and capable machine. Switch that into its all-wheel-drive sport setting, where more power finds its way to the rear wheels, and it becomes the personal bodyguard to your Hollywood superstar. There to let you have fun until you’re about to embarrass yourself.
You can even notch it a little further and stick it in rear-wheel-drive only, but you’ll rarely bother with the faff of turning all the driving aids off to make that happen. Sport mode allows the back end to slide as if it were endowed with all the transmission’s control, while giving you just enough traction at the front to bring the nose into line when really needed. Throttle response is dynamite and modulation of power feels almost telepathic. And speaking of telepathic responses, the M3’s ability to bring itself into line on corner exit is mindblowing. Get past the apex, reach your comfort level and floor it and the back will snap into line. Do it with some real vigour and it’ll drift past that and into a dollop of lazy oversteer that’s very quickly controlled with your right foot.
The steering is weighty, and vivid in its communication, never delaying its thoughts as it goes from wheels to fingers. The front end doesn’t suffer from the weight over it, feeling taught as you turn in. There can be a slight understeer if you add a little throttle mid corner, which becomes oversteer when you ramp up that input. Corner after corner becomes an effort in perfecting that transition from front to rear limit, traction control barely even bothering to wake up if you’ve asked for the sportier action.
If you really feel like amping up the danger a bit more, you can push the M3 Touring into rear-drive only mode. At that point the traction control can be altered in ten different ways, from keeping you safe to taking a break. Turn it off and it’s full hooligan mode, rear wheels barely containing 510PS, but somehow still not feeling like an uncontrollable disaster.
After trying all three options, we pretty much kept the car in the sporty all-wheel-drive mode, never feeling the need to go full crazy, but craving the control that it brings over the M3’s standard settings.