Litchfield BMW M3 Competition Touring | PH Review
The M3 wagon is already pretty great – how about with 700hp?
By Matt Bird / Saturday, 27 May 2023 / Loading comments
Be in no doubt: the M3 Touring is already a very, very good fast estate as it comes from BMW. Given its broad remit – be an M car, and be an estate car – you couldn’t really ask for more from the factory. But then the aftermarket would look a whole lot less interesting were it not for people demanding more than the OEM standard. Not least when it comes to cars with a BMW turbo six in them; Iain Litchfield says his company currently modifies one or two B58/S55/S58 powered cars a day (so M2 Comp, M140i, M3, Supra and so on), because the 3.0-litre motors are so eminently tuneable.
It’d be rude not to tinker with an M3 Touring, basically. Its popularity shows no signs of going anywhere, and the S58 is already a proven unit when it comes to finding more power. Most customers are unlikely to be anything but extremely satisfied with their G81 purchase – but for those that do want a bit extra, Litchfield now offers a range of intake, exhaust, ECU, wheel and suspension upgrades for the M3 Touring. The big news, of course, is the extra power: this car outputs 700bhp (710hp) and 600lb ft, up from 510hp and 479lb ft as standard, thanks to Litchfield’s own ECU calibration (with four power modes available), freer flowing downpipes and the Akrapovic titanium exhaust, which also saves almost 17kg over stock. Maximum power is made at 6,800rpm (against 6,250rpm as standard), with 560lb ft available all the way from 2,800rpm to 6,000rpm, peaking at 4,300rpm. On top of which this one has been treated to a set of KW height adjustable springs and Litchfield’s fast road alignment (£1,383 including VAT), plus HRE flow formed alloys, 20-inch all around against standard, staggered 19s/20s. They’re on the usual Michelin PS4 S tyre, and some of the £2,900 cost could presumably be recouped by selling on the standard items.
Because you’re going to want to the wheels – look at it. There aren’t many cars that wouldn’t benefit from a suspension drop and some fresh alloys, but swapping out BMW’s fussy standard rims for a set of lighter HREs and reducing the gap between arch and tyre really gives the M3 a moody, broad-shouldered stance that the hardly-shy-and-retiring regular one can’t match. It’d feel really, really good to walk out the front door and see this parked on the driveway, bristling with menace yet handsome with it.
The neighbours might not be so keen, however, because the Akrapovic exhaust leaves no one under any illusion that this is a modified M car – even at idle. The sound is deeper, angrier, and louder than standard before moving an inch, which is something to be aware of. On the road, however, it can be genuinely docile, the Efficient engine mode typically avoided in a standard car is just fine for pootling about in a 700hp one. As is the modified (mostly software-based) way, this hasn’t suddenly become an undrivable and uncooperative car, even with another 200hp (and 234hp per litre). It could commute and do the school run and go to the shop feeling broadly similar to an untouched M3 Touring.
Rest assured, though, 700hp is definitely there when you go looking for it. Any current variant of M3 is a really fast car; this one is unrelentingly, obscenely, jaw-droppingly rapid, accelerating in fifth gear with the kind of vigour most things can’t muster in third. There’s just no let-up whatsoever, just a torrent of acceleration that only abates when you call time. Such epic performance actually highlights a bit of lag in the twin-turbo straight six, things not really coming on boost (and absolutely off the chain) until 3,000rpm or so. At which point you’re going to need a 911 Turbo to go any faster. Seldom has big speed come about so easily – this must be a 3 Series good for 200mph.
Crucially, though, there’s enjoyment to be had beyond the sheer speed. The exhaust makes the Touring sound like an M4 GT3 racer, rasping, gargling and blaring through the revs; the top-end rush perhaps feels less marked now the mid-range is so rampant, but the snap, crackle and pop at the limiter is worth experiencing for its own sake. Sport and Sport Plus really bring this car to life, even if it still feels best enjoyed with the exhaust button off to stop the noise from being a bit OTT. But it’s hard to resist (or refuse) the presence of 700hp once you’ve fully absorbed the experience; the ferocious character of the engine hack – not to mention the compromise-free nature of the installation – make it unputdownable. And for anyone else who thinks the exhaust a bit much, you could always just pay £1,600 for the ECU work alone.
It’s hardly like more power than an SL Black Series overwhelms the Litchfield M3, either, making the case for a wider spend of the upgrade budget. The standard xDrive can contain the performance, maybe just taxing the chassis a little more than standard out of corners as that almighty wallop reaches the road. On the basis of this being the firm’s just-finished demonstrator, you’ll have to excuse no exploration of 4WD Sport or 2WD this time around – but the important thing to note is that the extra muscle hasn’t spoilt the M3’s innate balance. It still belies its kerbweight with its agility, and xDrive will always endeavour to retain a rear-biased feel. Perhaps the alignment and the fractionally wider (12mm) track from the new wheels make it even keener, but without a back-to-back the Litchfield take seems broadly similar. One to investigate another time.
Based on limited experience, it does seems that the ride quality benefit of a lighter wheel loses out in a close battle to the impact of lower springs and that larger rim on the front axle. The standard M3 Touring is already unapologetic firm, and this is stiffer still. Leave the car in Comfort and it seems agreeable enough after a while, which is usually a sign of some decent suspension work – so its relative persistence never becomes a preoccupation. But there’s certainly a trade-off for that low-to-the-ground look, and the very occasional scrape on really nasty tarmac will remind you where it exists. This isn’t to take anything away from the modifications – by and large, the upgrade seems consistent with the car’s abnormal power delivery, and it qualifies as a more exciting M car in every regard – but there is a lingering, somewhat inevitable sense that the Touring’s usability has taken a fractional hit.
But, of course, this is a whole-hog demonstration of Litchfield’s handiwork, and it would be a bigger shock if no compromise of the family wagon vibe had occurred. And look who’s talking; my dream 3 Series Touring was very deliberately under the radar and comfort-oriented – just the ECU work would suit me down to the ground. Naturally, there will be many others intrigued by the prospect of an M3 that looks this punchy, goes this outrageously well and corners this incisively. Moreover, it’ll be easy to dismiss whatever flak you get from neighbours or loved ones because there’s probably never been a more thrilling car made with a dog hatch. A slimmer remit than BMW originally intended perhaps, but a better one. And enough to keep Litchfield busy in S58 engine work for a long time yet.
SPECIFICATION | LITCHFIELD BMW M3 TOURING (G81)
Engine: 2,993cc, twin-turbo straight-six
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],800rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],300rpm
0-62mph: <3.5 secs
Top speed: Delimited now… 200?
Weight: 1,865kg DIN, 1,940kg EU
MPG: 28-28.2 (standard)
CO2: 230-227g/km (standard)
Price: £86,570 (standard car before any options. This M3 fitted with Litchfield ECU tuning and Akrapovic titanium exhaust for 710hp is £11,666. Can be had with stainless steel Milltek for ‘broadly the same power’ at £6,240. Just ECU calibration for 628hp is £1,590. HRE Flow Formed wheels are £2,900 fitted, KW Height Adjustable springs and fast road alignment is £1,383. All prices include VAT.)
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