Power is a funny thing. Unbridled power, in the wrong hands, can all too often corrupt; and yet in the right ones, even just the suggestion of it can attract, beguile and bewitch.
It's a thought that entered my mind on more than one occasion, as I took the new BMW M3 Competition Saloon – an objectively powerful car by pretty much any metric – from London to Yorkshire on an intermittently sunny and rain-soaked day in June. It struck me as I accelerated away from a speed bump on a Waltham side street, and it hit me even harder as I pulled into the outside lane of the A1 to overtake a mid-2000s hot hatch like it simply wasn't there. And I felt it again at the mid-point between the two, on a quiet country lane that opened up just enough to take it from 40mph to 60mph in a heartbeat before braking hard for the next turn. With this car, it's not so much the outright power as the suggestion of it.
Let's get this straight: the new M3 probably isn't the kind of car you buy if you're a white-knuckled petrolhead looking for something to rip around a racetrack on a windy weekend; leaving aside the fact BMW puts all M series models through their paces at the Nurburgring before they're released, it's just a bit too sophisticated for that kind of malarkey.
Sure, it has more than enough pace to take on a Porsche, and it definitely has some of the trappings of a Gran Turismo racer – the low-riding bucket seats, the heads-up display and that naughty exhaust note. And then there's the 510bhp, 3.0-litre engine that fires on six cylinders helped along by BMW's supreme M TwinPower Turbo. OK, on second thoughts, it would be a brilliant track day car.
It will handle the school run as well as the track, delivering a deep sense of enjoyment wherever
But it's also comfy; stylish; dare I say it, for its class, even slightly low-key. It is a proper saloon – with ample boot space and plenty of room for four, if not five. The M series has always been careful to balance performance with genuine, real-world usability, and the result is a car that shows poise, balance and restraint at slow speeds as much as it does in the fast ones.
It's as suited to simply making sure you get the jump on family saloons at the Hangar Lane gyratory – 15 minutes into a podcast, Wine Gums open, at the start of a long journey up north for a weekend's driving – as it is to razzing around the country lanes when you get there.
And you're going to want to spend some quality time on those country lanes. The M3 corners impeccably – it's the most lithe M3 yet, and given its impressive heritage, that's quite an achievement.
The dashboard is nicely legible, key functions are all at a fingertip's reach of the satisfyingly shaped and sized steering wheel, and those bucket seats, while they feel low to get in for what could easily be your everyday car, are comfortable enough to do three hours of motorway in without needing to stretch your legs.
The BMW M3 Competition Saloon – interiors
Any gripes? Well, somewhat predictably from a system built by a car manufacturer and not a software company, the in-build GPS and computer can feel a little clunky. The good thing, though, is largely effortless syncing with Apple's CarPlay and Android systems via Bluetooth or USB – which, even for total driving purists, is still a popular feature.
With its Pixar-like good looks, too (a friend's wife commented that it looked like an angry character from the Disney studio's Cars), it's pretty undeniable that it'll look good while you drive it. Hell, delivering the kind of aesthetics that are begging for a shirt open at the collar, a pair of sunglasses hooked lazily around the second button, you'll probably even look good driving it, too.
In fact, within a few minutes of picking up the car and parking it outside my flat in a leafy East London residential street, I got a “Nice motor,” from a passer-by, and there were a fair few nods of appreciation from the Yorkshire country folk, too.
Overall, the M3 hits that motoring sweet spot – a beautiful sports car that's built to fulfil any number of purposes, with a level of engineering that means it doesn't disappoint on any. Yes, you'd get more power from a McLaren, but the M3 will handle the school run as well as the track, delivering a deep sense of enjoyment whatever the situation. Even a traffic jam gives you an excuse to indulge in the mighty Harmon Kardon sound system.
And when the time comes, the simple action of pushing your right foot to the floor provides an ample reminder: the M3's power is always there when you need it.
See more at bmw.co.uk