First drive: BMW M3 Competition Pack

The current generation BMW M3 has been with us for three years now, more than enough time for the performance division's engineers to have a go a tweaking the car's handling.

Offered as a £3,315 optional extra, the Competition Pack lowers the M3 by about 10mm and adds wider 19-inch CSL-style alloy wheels. The sport mode on the electronically controlled dampers has also been tweaked to improve performance, as has the stability control system.
The output of the car's mighty 4.0-litre V8 engine remains the same at 414bhp, but the lump is not completely untouched as the M3 gets an auto start-stop function as a part of the manufacturer's roll out of Efficient Dynamics technology.

The new technology might keep things silent at the traffic lights, but the fizzing brilliance of the engine's 8,300rpm redline is still at the heart of the M3's appeal.

The M3 goes about its business with the demeanour and ruthlessness of a Soho bouncer. It eschews the accuracy and agility of, say, the Porsche Cayman S for a thickset combination of power, poise and tail-twitching drama.

The lower suspension on the Competition Pack models means the car benefits from a slightly lower centre of gravity, and those new rims offer a bit more contact with the tarmac, but, in truth, the marginal improvement in handling is difficult to detect on the road.

The packages additives become more apparent if you flick the Electronic Damper Control setting into sport mode. BMW has adjusted the system so that it reads the road conditions and adjusts itself accordingly rather than defaulting to a factory setting.

No doubt this improves the M3's dynamic response, but sport mode is still far too firm for the UK's battered roads, and it's really only something you'd be inclined to try on a track. The car is far more settled in its normal setting, which is unchanged from the standard model.

Visually, the car does get a boost from those CSL-inspired wheels. Unlike the previous E46 M3, the E92 doesn't quite distinguish itself as much as we'd like from a top-spec 335i, and the bigger alloys under those lowered arches do seem to accentuate the blistered bodywork.

They can't justify the pack's premium alone, though, and we'd hesitate before recommending it if you're only interested in the buying a sports coupe capable of motorway miles and the occasional B-road thrash.

However, if you're buying an M3 for the 'ultimate driving machine' kudos and plan on slinging it round a circuit on the odd track day then the Competition Package may offer just enough of an edge to make adding it to the options list worthy of consideration.
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