The BMW M3 Isn’t The Ultimate Driving Machine
However, The Focus RS Is
Sometimes, contrasts can share more similarities than expected, paradoxical or not, it happens more often than you may think. Today, I’m going to be comparing two entirely different cars, the BMW M3 and the Ford Focus RS.
The BMW M3 is a sedan packing 425 horsepower from a twin turbocharged three liter inline six cylinder, while the RS gets thrust from a 2.3 liter turbocharged four cylinder producing 350 horsepower. The RS comes with only a manual transmission, an all wheel drive drivetrain, and turns zero to sixty in 4.6 seconds. The M3 is available with a lightning fast double clutch automatic, and a six speed manual. Zero to sixty comes in four seconds flat, and power is transmitted through the rear wheels only. The Focus RS starts around $35,000 and the M3 starts in the low $60,000 range.
So, this comparison seems completely ridiculous, and it is. The M3 is almost twice as expensive as the RS, has almost a hundred more horsepower, and a larger engine. With that out of the way, I’ll just get right to the nitty gritty, the RS is the better car, and I’ll explain precisely why I feel this way.
The Focus RS
Let’s start right away with the RS, seeing how it’s the far more attainable vehicle. I recently drove a 2017 Nitrous Blue model, and I underestimated it right from the start. Sure, the styling is extremely aggressive and edgy, but it’s still a Focus. The truth is, calling this car is a Focus is almost hilarious, it’s much like saying a 320i is similar to an M3, which is a stretch. The RS has a very bad attitude problem, and Ford had a lot to prove by selling this model in the USA. Competing with cars like the Golf R doesn’t come easy, and Ford brought the proper weapons to fight this battle.
So, how does the RS drive? To put it simply, it’s a grand slam for Ford. The exhaust note is sinister, not quiet, not overly loud, and certainly not raspy. The car projects its’ voice with much authority, and once you press the skinny pedal, the RS moves out with a serious amount of force. Turbo lag is all but nonexistent, and it shows once you’re driving it. The shifter is extremely precise and offers a superb level of tactile feedback. The clutch is extremely easy to figure out, and nothing bad I can really say about that. What caught me off guard was the steering, I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly as good as it was.
I was cruising down US-23 in Ohio, and hit the ramp to I270. I started in second gear and smashed the accelerator, grip was unfathomable. The steering is insanely precise, you point it and it just goes exactly where you wanted it to. Feedback is phenomenal, you can feel literally everything going on with the front tires. Steering weight is just right, it’s not too heavy and reminds you of the good days of old hydraulic steering racks. I honestly cannot say enough good things about how well the Focus RS steers through corners.
Ride quality is pretty poor. If you hit a ladybug in the road, you’re going to know it. It crashes around on even the smoothest looking roads, and the Michelins make tons of noise. Comfort is quite simply a word that doesn’t exist in the world of the RS. With that being said, I wouldn’t change anything about this car. Let’s be perfectly clear, this car could be daily driven, but is best reserved for weekend stress relieving duties. This is the perfect car to go bombing down back roads, listening to the voracious growl of the exhaust and the aural bliss of the turbocharger.
The RS is tossable, playful, and encourages you to enjoy driving. To me, Ford took the RS, and used the same recipe that BMW used to use for the M3. Relatively lightweight, usable for daily duties, modest power, and precision suspension. The RS handles like it’s glued to the road, body roll is nonexistent and overall it was far more capable than I was as a driver. It truly was the perfect car, and it’s very sad production will be ending soon. Ford, you truly made an M3 spirited car, which is great because BMW has forgotten how.
As a lifelong BMW enthusiast, it pains me to write the following bits about the new M3. The M3 became legendary over the years for its’ world class handling and motorsport derived motors. Individual throttle bodies, major suspension tweaks, super smooth naturally aspirated motors that revved to stratospheric levels all were reasons to go in debt for an M car. Unfortunately, BMW ditched bespoke motors for new M models, and instead the S55 motor in the M3 is loosely based on the N55 production mill.
Redline is low, right around 7,500 RPM, considering the E92 M3 used a V8 engine and revved past 8,200 RPM that is a sad change. The S55 makes power very quickly, torque is available right after 3,000 RPM and the M3 pulls like a freight train. It certainly feels worlds faster than the RS, and it is an entirely different animal. The DCT gearbox shifts at an astonishingly fast rate, and the M3 feels like it never runs out of breath.
Unfortunately however, the exhaust note is terrible. The RS has a nasty and sinister note as we previously discussed. The M3 however, makes me long for a debilitating hearing injury. Sound is very important in a sports car, and BMW really missed the boat here with the M3. Speaking of boats, the M3 is a boat. Without the $8,000 carbon ceramic brake option, the curb weight is over 3,600 pounds despite extensive use of carbon fiber. Still, the M3 is very capable in the handling department. Cornering is extremely good, and it rockets out of corners with enough power to make passengers car sick. We all know the M3 is capable, this is old news.
So What’s The Problem?
There are lots of problems I will be addressing. Sure, handling and acceleration are insane with this car. Not so insane however, is the steering. Steering feel is extremely numb, about as numb as I’d expect as a quadriplegic. Steering weight never feels right, in comfort mode it feels extremely light and even more numb, and in sport mode it feels very artificially heavy and still offers very little feedback. This is a massive complaint for a car of this caliber.
Let’s talk interior, namely that I find it to be laughable. Sure, the steering wheel does look amazing, as do the front seats. Those parts of the interior are pretty nicely executed. However, the infotainment system kills the whole deal for me. I’m assuming this was a design cue that was discussed via email after it was forgotten at the design meeting. Quite literally, it looks like someone crudely pasted an iPad right in the middle of the dash. This is trashy on so many levels when you’re paying over $50,000 for a car.
This brings me to a simple point, performance isn’t always the entire story. So many people get caught up in zero to sixty times, lap times, horsepower, and have forgotten what really matters when buying a performance car. The experience is always going to outweigh statistics, and the RS simply trumps the M3 in this category.
Yes the RS is still a Focus at the end of the day, whereas the M3 lives off of the M badge name. The RS rides terribly, and is far less forgiving than the M3. The M3 is faster, has far more power, and far more prestige. Yet, the RS put a silly grin on my face the entire time I drove it. I extended my drive as long as I could, and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about the car since.
The M3 on the other hand failed to entertain me when I drove it. The entire time I was driving it, I could only think of how sad of a situation the iPad dash was, how lifeless the steering felt, and how terrible the exhaust note was. I quickly took the M3 back, and instantly thought to myself how sad I was. Sad because the E92 M3 was the perfect M3, has become a legend to most, and the F80 M3 was a serious step backwards. The driving experience is what matters the most when you’re shopping in this segment, and quite simply, the RS delivers more for less.
BMW, listen up. Maybe the M3 isn’t as bad as I’m saying. Perhaps, the competition has just gotten that good. To be perfectly fair, that’s exactly what we’ve seen happen. Ford beat BMW at their own game, and I’m not remotely ashamed to admit my feelings on this subject.