Why the 2020 BMW M3 has a big mountain to climb
Its place in the market has never been more challenging
Back in the early 70s, if you wanted a compact, fast sports saloon, there wasn't really an awful lot to choose from. The Lotus Cortina was fabulous around a track, but a real hardship on the road. The performance parts were weak and it often spent more time in bits than it did being enjoyed on the road.
Hilman had a sporty version of the Avenger - the Tiger - and Triumph rolled up with the Dolomite Sprint. And while these were more road-worthy sports saloons which stirred up some excitement, BMW decided to take it one giant leap further.
They took the humble 2002, sent it to their motorsports division where it received chassis tweaks, a KKK turbocharger and some sexy wide arches to the body.
Image credit: Favcars.com
The 2002 Turbo was the right car at the wrong time; only around 1,600 were ever made, as it was released in 1973 - the year of the Arab-Israeli oil crisis.
But glossing over its difficult sales, this car defined a new era for sports cars. You could finally have something very fast, compact and practical. The notion of the 2002 Turbo eventually morphed into the M3 in 1986 and since then, it became a class act. Throughout most generations of the M3, nothing could really beat it.
I say most because in recent years, the M3 has been seriously challenged by its increasingly-competitive rivals.
Image credit: Mercedes-AMG
Think about it: there was almost nothing which rivalled the 2002 Turbo. It was in a complete class of its own. The E30 M3 was different in the respect that it and the Mercedes 190E Cosworth and Sierra Cosworth were essentially road-going DTM and touring cars.
After that, things changed: AMG Mercs were soft, lopey cruisers and while Audi's RS cars were brilliant to use on a day-to-day basis, they were rather useless on the track. They'd under-steer like nothing else and have intercourse with the hedges.
The M3s meanwhile were always the perfect recipe. They were balanced, sophisticated, fast and performed everything brilliantly. For decades, the M3 was the benchmark of the segment and nobody topped it.
Image credit: Alfa Romeo
You see, ever since the last one (the F80) came along in 2014, its competition had seriously spiced up to steal the M3's crown. Alfa Romeo made a sterling comeback with the Gulia QV which not only dominated the M3 on the Nurburgring, but also boasted Ferrari power.
The Mercedes C63 had since been turbocharged, and with a new type of engineering strategy, could now keep up with the M3 in the corners. The C63 not only has as good a recipe as the Beemer, but also thunders down the road with a burbling V8 rather than a six-cylinder unit.
Audi's B9 RS4 may not quite be on exactly the same level as its RWD rivals, but it comes damn close. The same applies to Lexus' F cars and Cadillac's insanely capable ATS-V.
Image credit: Audi Sport
The F80 M3 therefore, was in a marketplace which had become more crowded and competitive than ever. If you asked me to name the best car in that class, even after spending 7 hours in a dark, confined room with no other thoughts to consider, I simply couldn't answer it. They're all as good as each other really.
This is exactly why I think the upcoming G80 M3 (to be unveiled in 2020) will have such a hard time trying to differentiate itself from the others. It will have to perform on immeasurable levels and come with its own moon to be the best in class.
There are many methods which BMW could use to make the M3 really stand out in its class, and I'll save those for another article. But as its nearly production-ready, all we can do is sit back and see if the M3 will be any good in... err... the M3 class.
To out-perform the others right now at least, it will need to be faster, more exciting, more usable and get around corners like a DTM racer. Whether this is all possible is a serious question in itself...
What do you think?
Do you think the M3 will be the best again? Or do you think it will have a hard time trying to be the best?
Let me know your opinions in the comments!
Thanks for reading.