A FACE ONLY AN M3 ENGINEER COULD LOVE
Motor Trend|August 2021
OH, THAT HORRIBLE NOSE. BUT CAN THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE CARRY THE DAY?
JONNY LIEBERMAN

Any new BMW M3 is a big deal to the car enthusiast community. Forget for a moment what the car actually is, and focus instead on understanding what it represents. The M3 is the souped-up, hot-rodded, better-to-drive version of the traditional “ultimate driving machine,” the BMW 3 Series. The 3 Series is supposed to be a driver’s car right out of the box; the 3 Series after BMW’s M Division performance gurus have fiddled with it? We’re talking hopes and dreams here.

It will never be cheap, but this level of M performance should be somewhat attainable. M3s tend to look pretty good, too, going all the way back to the swole-fendered, deep-chinned, bewinged OG E30 generation of the 1980s. I don’t think I’ll ruffle many feathers by saying fans of fast cars want any new M3 to be handsome, fast, expensive without being exclusive, and—above all else—wonderful to drive. The all-new G80-generation 2021 BMW M3 isn’t that exact car. So, what is it?

It would be a dereliction of auto scribe duty for me to go one sentence further without mentioning this car’s face. It’s insane. I’ve been staring at it online for months and in person for more than a week. The massive twin grille structures have not grown on me, they do not look better in real life, and I have not gotten used to them. The design is … “ugly” isn’t the word, as that’s too easy. But I do have a theory about why. For the most part, when people think a car’s front end or face looks good, they’re anthropomorphizing it. That means they project human qualities onto what they see. Headlights as eyes and the grille as a mouth and so on.

The face of the new M3/M4 doesn’t look human. It’s alien, unfamiliar, insectoid. As such, the front of the car is repulsive. Meaning the opposite of attractive. Have you seen a potato bug? Also known as a Jerusalem cricket, these slimy, prehistoric, hissing (they literally hiss!) abominations make my skin crawl. They repulse me. I have no way of knowing if BMW did so intentionally, but it’s created a car that repulses people in the same way. If you see a G80 M3 bearing down on you— and it will be bearing down on you—you’ll instinctively get out of its way. One of my favorite German words is Überholprestige, which means “overtaking prestige,” as in, when you glimpse a car in your mirror, it’s using its Überholprestige to make you pull right and let it pass. Viewed through this particular lens, the M3’s face works. That said, I don’t enjoy looking at it.

Is the rest of the car good to look at? No, not really. It’s safe to say this generation’s design is a dud. The side is a bit homely, and BMW didn’t flare the rear door skin to match the swollen rear fender. The result is an abrupt transition from door to fender that looks cheap. The rear end is generic. I suppose I should say “generic with four huge pipes and a carbon splitter,” but it’s generic, all the same.

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