Modern car designs are rarely more controversial than the front of BMW’s sixth-generation M3.

Those enormous nostrils are less shocking in person, though, growing more familiar with every glimpse.

And you can’t see them from the driver’s seat.

BMW’s M3 Competition has enviable performance heritage.

As you pluck a carbon-fibre paddle to select another gear and the new BMW M3 paints fat black lines on the smooth tarmac of Phillip Island’s grand prix circuit, it becomes clear this car is a cracker.

Few names match the gravitational pull BMW’s M3 exerts on enthusiasts. The realistic dream car of many drivers since its 1986 debut, BMW’s sports sedan promises killer performance wrapped in a relatively sensible luxury car package.

The BMW M3 and M4 Competition share front-end styling cues.

The new model represents a return to form, building on the bones of the class-leading BMW 3 Series sedan and 4 Series coupe with proper performance hardware.

We tested the car in M3 and M4 Competition trim, powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine with 375kW and 650Nm, some 44kW and 100Nm more than before. The Competition drives the rear wheels through a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, delivering a claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds.

BMW customers can choose wild colour combinations for the car’s interior.

Priced from $154,900 plus on-roads — about $167,500 drive-away — in sedan trim or $5000 more as a coupe, the Competition duo are stocked with features such as leather and carbon fibre trim, laser headlights, a Harman Kardon stereo, staggered 19-inch (front) and 20-inch (rear) wheels and more. The 12.3-inch driver instrument cluster looks sharp, and you can choose from comfortable seats or track-ready carbon fibre buckets ready to accept racing harnesses.

Carbon-fibre seats are a desirable option.

A fully-optioned example with carbon ceramic brakes costs about $200,000 drive-away.

Folks who want to go even faster might hold out for a more expensive all-wheel-drive version due later this year.

People prioritising driver engagement might be drawn to a standard, non-Competition version with a six-speed manual transmission mated to a less powerful 353kW/550Nm engine.

Early examples of the new M3 and M4 are rear-wheel-drive - four-wheel-drive comes later.

It completes the 0-100km/h dash in 4.2 seconds and costs $10,000 less but you miss out on driver aids that are only compatible with the auto gearbox, such as stop-and-go traffic jam assistance.

A soft-top M4 Convertible is also on the cards, as is a wagon-bodied M3 Touring, though it’s unlikely to arrive before 2023. And you can expect BMW to deliver lighter, faster, race-inspired models wearing “CS” and “GTS” badges in coming years.

Unlike rivals, the M3 is available with a manual transmission.

Not that you need to go any faster than the M3 and M4 Competition.

Six cylinders howling purposefully as we bomb down Phillip Island’s straight at far more than 200km/h, the new machines feel mighty on a dry circuit.

Where the old M3 and M4 had a tendency to feel twitchy on track, the new model is more planted, predictable and exploitable than before. A reworked stability control system works in your favour, allowing you to experiment with tail-happy slides without pirouetting into the scenery.

BMW’s M4 will be the face of its motorsport programs for years to come.

Enormous brakes have no trouble bringing the speed under control, though we’re not convinced by an option to make the stopping pedal overly sensitive at the touch of a button.

Other digital toys include a “drift analyser” capable of dissecting the duration and speed of sideways antics before assigning a star rating. It’s a lot of fun, but best left to circuits where the car’s electronics can show a lap timer in its head-up display. A new “track mode” disables distractions while turning off driver aids such as lane keeping assistance.

The M4’s rear-end styling is less polarising.

We didn’t test the new M3 on the street, where its 10.25-inch central display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and sat nav would prove handy.

Experience with less-focused BMW 3 Series models such as the 330i and M340i sedans suggests the new M3 will be easier to live with while delivering more performance than before.

Verdict:

Rapid, well-equipped and engaging to drive, BMW’s M3 and M4 Competition offer a delicious blend of luxury and performance.

4 stars

BMW customers can buy the new M4 Competition now.

BMW M3 Competition

Price: From about $167,500 drive-away

Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo, 375kW/650Nm

Warranty/Service: 3-year/unlimited km, $3810 for 5 years

Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert

Thirst: 9.6L/100km

It’s the world’s most valuable car company despite making a fraction of the vehicles and profits of the major makers. But is the house of cards collapsing?

Australians are turning their backs on these new cars despite car brands spending billions of dollars to develop and build them.

This content was originally published here.