4 January 2022
Those of a squeamish disposition, avert thy gaze. The latest BMW M3 is hardly the most elegant creation, and this AC Schnitzer interpretation escalates the thuggery. It’s called the ACS3 Sport and it’s the most recent model in a line of Aachen-fettled M3s that stretches back to 1989 and the E30 3 Series.
As ever, the idea here is to make the regular M car smoother on the road, faster on the track and more stable on the autobahn. Quite an ask, given the superb all-round proposition that is the standard G20-generation M3, but when it comes to factory BMWs, Schnitzer generally finds a way to meaningfully improve the recipe.
For this new ACS3 Sport, there’s the usual suite of targeted upgrades, which can be collectively thrown at an M3 donor car for around £30,000 or fitted separately. Plenty of people will opt just to have the forged 20in AC3 wheels this car wears; others will go for body addenda such as the rear wing. Few will splash out on the full monty, not least because the resulting car would cost £110,000, but that’s exactly what we have here.
The headline is an uplift in shove: 503bhp in the M3 Competition swells to 582bhp, while 479lb ft becomes an M5 CS-matching 553lb ft, courtesy of Schnitzer’s piggybacking secondary ECU. It’s all warranted for three years and BMW’s warranty is unaffected. Next up is suspension. Schnitzer offers lowering springs for the front axle, dropping the ride height by about 15mm and increasing the rake of the car (the rear axle is unchanged) while retaining the factory dampers, but the real treat is the firm’s KW-built RS coilovers, which are adjustable for high- and low-speed compression, plus rebound. These parts aren’t simply an expensive off-the-shelf affair but are developed alongside KW to Schnitzer’s precise valving requirements. The firm says the G20 M3’s torsional rigidity makes the RS set-up especially effective. Factory geometry is largely unaltered, mind.
When we drove the ACS3 Sport, the RS suspension wasn’t quite signed off and the same was true of the woofly exhaust system, although the latest iterations of both were fitted to this carbon-sprinkled example, which also wore the full ACS3 Sport aero package. This includes the canards (just what the M3’s gorgeous mug needed, eh?), the diffuser, the wing and the gurney flap, plus the front splitter. All in, the extras are said to bring 110kg of downforce at 124mph.
Damp roads aren’t ideal for tasting something with torque bursting from its nostrils and without all-wheel drive, yet the ACS3 Sport is working nicely despite this. Oh so nicely. There’s real polish in the body’s movements, which play out with a sophisticated, sudden- but-soft quality recognisable from performance cars two pay-grades above the M3. Covering ground fast, the ACS3 Sport skulks low above the road, unperturbed by vagaries of the surface yet never feeling flighty or disconnected. It has a light but resolute gait that inspires confidence.
There’s also more cornering grip than I was expecting, and is the steering pick-up just a little crisper? I think it is. Of course, the M3 already has so much poise, and it’s impossible to fully appreciate small differences without back-to-back drives, but I’d say the Schnitzer brings a shade more control and delicacy to proceedings. These Rhineland roads are lusciously smooth but rare threadbare stretches also show that refinement doesn’t easily degenerate, even on those paper-thin 30-section rear tyres.
Performance? It’s effortlessly rich. More than you will ever need. In fact, on UK roads, you could lose the engine and aero mods and never notice. We let the ACS3 Sport rip on a section of clear autobahn and it hit 175mph with contemptuous ease, but that’s not allowed in Blighty. The classy RS coilovers and forged wheels, though? For M3 owners who enjoy the finer points of ride and handling, they’re worth exploring. This car confounds the expectations induced by its brutal appearance.
The price and looks won’t please all, but this is another fine offering from one of the best tuners in the business.