5 Reasons We’ll Remember The F80 As The Best M3 Ever

This may prove controversial, but I think the outgoing M3 and M4 will prove to be a BMW high point
5 Reasons We’ll Remember The F80 As The Best M3 Ever

No new M3 is ever as good as the previous M3, it seems. But when the F80 generation launched in 2014 it faced a tougher reception than most.

For starters, the coupe wasn’t even called the M3 any more, which just confused matters. More importantly, it was the first turbocharged version, the signature high-revving M motors of the past replaced with a new-school straight-six. People reckoned it didn’t sound as nice, they didn’t like the power delivery, they reckoned it was near-undriveable on anything but a smooth, dry road and from those initial reviews, it sounded like the F80 was a disgrace to the M3 name.

People were wrong though, and the F80 deserves to go down as one of the true greats. Here are five reasons why.

It proves power isn’t everything

5 Reasons We’ll Remember The F80 As The Best M3 Ever

Fate conspired that Mercedes-AMG launched the C63 on the same Portimao track BMW had chosen for first drives in the M3 and M4 just a few months before. I was lucky enough to attend both events and, while the C63 punched harder, there was a ferocity about the BMW that simply made it more exciting.

This was brought home to me when Alfa Romeo joined the fray with the Giulia Quadrifoglio and I got a chance to triple-test it against the M3 and C63 on a closed circuit shoot at Anglesey. The BMW was the least powerful car there by a good 70bhp but, while the Alfa was more exotic and the AMG happily made any idiot look like a drifting god, the M3 was the one everyone wanted to drive until the tyres delaminated. Which didn’t take long.

It’ll try and kill you every time you drive it

Start as you mean to go on - first taste of the M3 on the Portimao launch set tone for a love affair to follow
Start as you mean to go on - first taste of the M3 on the Portimao launch…

Hardly a line for the sales brochure. But there’s a badass streak at the heart of every F80 M3 and M4 that demands your utmost respect. In an age where performance cars have become faster but more sanitised it stands out for being unapologetically aggressive and demanding to drive. Arguably a bit too much so for the early versions, whose spiky power delivery and iffy damping made them a right handful on anything but smooth, dry tarmac.

Mid-life revisions and software tweaks introduced for the engine, gearbox, stability control, adaptive dampers and the M Active differential on the Competition Package make newer cars way more usable though, not least in the valedictory CS versions. This is an F80 you can enjoy fully on any road, in any weather, the front-end bite, steering feel and appetite for oversteer now a white-knuckle ride for the right reasons. But this is still a car that demands respect – drive it like a lead-footed moron and you’ll be taking a first-class ticket into the nearest hedge. Call it Darwin in action.

It looks the absolute nuts

5 Reasons We’ll Remember The F80 As The Best M3 Ever

While it’s always been unashamedly lairy to drive the M3’s real trick has been its tasteful and relatively understated appearance. Yes, it’s hardly a Q-car. But in the right colour and on the right wheels, and especially in four-door M3 form, it’s just the right side of aggro.

It’s just got that perfect balance of aggression without being too in-your-face, point proven by the fact that over six months with an M4 I never walked away from it without at least one over-the-shoulder glance and muttered “phwoar!” A bit awkward in company, but it’s that kind of car.

The M3 CS you see here is possibly a step too far with its vented bonnet, optional ceramic brakes, and carbon aero. The devil is in the detail though, and the detail is good. BMW’s styling has taken a controversial turn of late. But with the F80 I reckon they absolutely nailed it.

The engine bay is a work of art

5 Reasons We’ll Remember The F80 As The Best M3 Ever

How many times have you popped the bonnet of a modern performance car only to be confronted with an anonymous slab of black plastic covering the engine? Too many times, that’s how many! Lifting the bonnet of the M3 or M4 is, however, an absolute geek’s delight. There’s that beautiful, boomerang-shaped carbon fibre strut brace for starters. And a pukka BMW straight-six, topped by the exotic looking charge cooler for the two turbos. This is a proper, proper engine too.

Those turbos are small so they spin up quickly and let the engine rev to beyond 7000rpm. There’s dual VANOS, Valvetronic, a forged crank, magnesium sump and all sorts of clever boost recirculating tech to keep the turbos on the boil. Forced induction engines suck? Hush your mouth – this is one of the absolute best, with revs like a naturally-aspirated screamer but boost to die for. Or possibly kill you.

In the CS they’ve even figured out how to make it sound good without speaker-assisted droning too.

They won’t make one like this again

5 Reasons We’ll Remember The F80 As The Best M3 Ever

With the new 3-series only just launched it’ll be a while before we see the next M3 or M4. I’m going to take a punt on this one – it’ll be sanitised compared with this one. How can it be anything else? Oh, I don’t doubt it’ll have more tech, more gizmos and lap the Nurburgring faster while using a fraction of the fuel. But I just can’t see how BMW will ever get away with launching a car as unashamedly savage as this ever again. In that sense, we’ve reached peak M3. And the F80 – because and not in spite of its flaws - will stand as one of the true greats.



I’ve had the pleasure of driving one of this generation with the competition package and 6 speed manual multiple times, once even on a track. And I have to say, I absolutely agree. With TC off, it will try and kill you. It’s awesome to be able to open the hood and see every bit just sitting there. And the pure pull from that glorious engine is insane, especially from 3rd-4th gear. Excellent article.

12/24/2018 - 14:40 |
6 | 2
RWB Dude

This is a great article and I value your opinion and it makes a lot of sense, but I can’t help but love the E36 more because of its amazing engine note (not that the F80s isn’t good)

12/24/2018 - 14:52 |
26 | 4

or the E46 which for me is the best M3 ever made (let’s not talk about SMG here).

12/24/2018 - 14:55 |
18 | 2

BMW: releases the E90 M3
BMW drivers: we will remember the E46 as the best M3 ever!

BMW: releases the F80 M3
BMW drivers: we will remember the E90 as the best M3 ever!

Rinse and repeat.

12/24/2018 - 14:53 |
252 | 2
Derek Steele

In reply to by Jakob

That is an excellent point. Sums up BMW fans for ya.

12/24/2018 - 17:18 |
42 | 0
Leandro Lien

In reply to by Jakob

Not always, I like every m3 but the f80 will just never be the best one for me, for two reasons only first and by far the most important, the sound, this engine does not matter what you do with it it just doesn’t sound that good, and for me any sports car starts with the sound (that’s me), the e90 and e46 for example with the right exhaust can give you chills. The second reason is that alltough in the right color it does look nuts I think the front bumper is a bit too much. So yeah Dan, good car? Yes. Best M3 don’t think so. (That’s just me).

12/24/2018 - 18:31 |
12 | 14

In reply to by Jakob

Not exactly, but once upon a time M3 was for 3 doors, light, and fun to drive, not “5 door family sports car with hell to much assistance and no manual shift”

12/24/2018 - 22:11 |
0 | 10

In reply to by Jakob

Exactly. This review could just as easily refer to the e92.

12/25/2018 - 10:07 |
4 | 0
Joel Brennan

In reply to by Jakob

Very true. This M3 is also probably the WORST sounding M3 EVER (but wait until the new one comes out since BMWs turbo inline sixes don’t sound good, and I’m not even talking about compared to the old ones- I mean in general. The M43/4 has one of the worst exhaust notes on par with the R35 GT-R and 718 Boxster/Cayman. Exhausts only make them worse, too because most are tinny and too loud with no tone.

12/27/2018 - 02:33 |
0 | 2

Its seemingly everyone’s least favourite M3, yet its very effective around a track, in the right hands. I suspect in 10-15 years time, these will become underrated performance bargains, and many will be turned into track day cars. Much like the E36 M3.

12/24/2018 - 15:07 |
20 | 2

To be honest, every M3 is special in its own way, the E46 is known for its screaming ,rev happy NA engine,the old E20 M3(correct if i’m wrong) was the first to “slap” AMG in the DTM series and the list goes on…..

12/24/2018 - 15:28 |
8 | 0

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

E30 ☺

12/24/2018 - 17:51 |
14 | 0

Someone give this man a beer and another F80, please

12/24/2018 - 18:45 |
2 | 2

Great article. I agree with the highlights as an F80 Competition owner. The engine pulls like a train and the chassis balance is on point. The front end is amazing on turn in sooo much grip, I much prefer it to my e92 m3. The turbos sound wicked especially when it’s cold and being in sport plus 24/7 you don’t even feel like you’re driving a non N/A engine! :) F80 is a beast people ;)

12/24/2018 - 19:17 |
4 | 0

Let the salt flow

12/24/2018 - 19:22 |
2 | 0

The M4 should have been the new M3 when they did this change. But then the it won’t match the rest of the line up because the other coupes are all even numbered, M2, M6 and M8.

12/24/2018 - 20:06 |
0 | 2

This isn’t understated anymore. Look at an E39 M5 or E46 M3 and you’ll see understatement.

The front end of these cars has so many lines, and gills, and vents, and creases it’s downright ridiculous.

The hood has 4 separate levels on each side that it jumps up with speed lines and it makes the car look completely ridiculous. It’s like they couldn’t stop styling it. And then you obviously had someone totally different design the rear end.

It’s useless and the E46 M3 is still one of if not the best.

12/24/2018 - 20:09 |
16 | 2

Someone’s seen clarksons review of it

12/24/2018 - 22:13 |
4 | 0


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