GRR

Goodwood Test: BMW M3 Touring Competition 2023 Review

It's finally here, but is it worth the wait..?
11th May 2023
Ben Miles

Overview

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Here it is then. Over 20 years after we first set eyes on the idea of a BMW M3 Touring, it’s a real, physical car that we can all buy. That tantalising E46 concept has stuck in the minds of anyone who knew it existed over the following two decades, hinting that something glorious could exist. We people who spend our lives evangelising estate cars perhaps to an almost perverted level can now finally feel vindicated. The M3 Touring is made physical and our excitement is palpable. 

The BMW M3 Touring dream was realised at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. A cover pulled off a series of escalating night-time fantasies to reveal something we might actually drive one day. And now, we get to drive it.

We like

  • Astonishing performance
  • Chasm boot
  • Engaging drive

We don't like

  • Still has that nose
  • Infotainment can be tricky
  • Interior not to all tastes

Design

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That face still needs mentioning. I have stuck my neck out on this very website to say that I don’t find it that offensive and, in some cases, actively like it. It still has the ability to shock, to make you remember that, yes, BMW went that far. But time has weathered our expectations and now it doesn’t feel like an imposition.

The rest of the car corrects some of the imperfections that can be found on the saloon M3. That car had some slightly awkward lines in its roof, and looked at times like it was squatting forward from some angles. But with the extended rear and elongated roofline of an estate, all that is fixed. Its bum has chunky arches, a big diffuser, four sinful exhausts and a small spoiler perched atop the roof. It looks better than the saloon. To my eyes it even looks better than the M4 coupe, and it grabs the eye faster than its rivals the RS4 and C63. 

Performance and Handling

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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. 

Interior

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Perhaps the biggest visual difference the BMW M3 Touring has over the standard M3 – other than that extra metal at the end – is inside. Here the old-fashioned BMW interior, with its twin-screen setup, has been replaced with the innards you’ll find on the all-electric i4. That means a giant screen that stretches from window to centre console. The middle bit is a huge, 14.9-inch, touchscreen that now controls absolutely everything, and in front of you the dials sit in another rectangular box.

Whether this is an improvement will come down to personal preference. I preferred the old setup. Most of the dash hasn’t changed, as a result the new mega-screen looks like it has been plonked on top of the dash – which it has – and from the side that effect is only exaggerated. But, if you like that encroaching theme on car interiors, it’ll be for you. 

You can't miss the optional carbon seats which are extremely hard to get into until you get the knack. Once you're in they are extremely comforting, offering some incredible support without feeling too compromising in their restrictions. 

Technology and Features

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This is where some bits of the M3 Touring start to fall down. That giant set of screens is now in control of everything. Yes, there is still i-Drive functionality from the rotary dial and some buttons in the middle of the centre console, but everything you might need to do is in that screen. That includes all climate control, heated seats, everything else, all hidden inside some not always obvious sets of menus. It is a step down in usability from the saloon.

That said, the software in the screen, and that screen itself, are both excellent, responsive to the touch and nicely laid out. Sometimes the communication between buttons on the centre console and screen didn’t seem to be there – trying to change the M button setup was infuriating at times – but nothing that would interfere with you when you’re driving. 

The obvious advantage of the estate? Over 500 litres of boot space even before you fold the rear seats down. And then there’s extra storage under the floor to make sure that absolutely nothing needs to be left behind. 

As standard the M3 Touring has heated seats, climate control, DAB radio, wireless charging, adaptive suspension and auto dipping headlights.

Verdict

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We waited for a long time for BMW to relent and finally make a Touring version of the M3, the wait and anticipation could quite easily have meant it had no chance of success. 

But doubting BMW is a fool's errand. Not matter how many perceived missteps the company makes, its “standard” M car range is still able to knock almost everything else out of the water. The sheer breadth of ability of the M3 Touring is astonishing. A potentially ruinous concept realised so brilliantly it takes your breath away each time you jump in. There is much to commend its rivals about, but neither the RS4 or the C63 has the ability to wow and perform in the way that the M3 does. 

Doubters, consider yourselves disproven. 

Specifications

Engine 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged, straight-six petrol
Power 510PS (375kW) @ 5,500rpm
Torque 550Nm (407lb ft) @ 2,700-5,500rpm
Transmission Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Kerb weight 1,865kg
0-62mph 3.7 seconds
Top Speed 155mph (limited, increased to 174mph with options)
Fuel economy 27.4mpg
CO2 235g/km
Price £80,550 (£103,080 as tested)

Our score

4 / 5

This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.


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