Like most prior generations of the iconic BMW M3, people have much to say about the newest one. Despite two model years under its belt and a third one soon beginning production, some enthusiasts still can’t get past how it looks. Others will tell you that by-the-numbers performance and the feeling from behind the wheel more than make up for any shortcomings in aesthetics. Another even stranger camp insists that the vehicle is beautiful.

Having already driven a G80 BMW M3 with the manual transmission, I jumped at the chance to drive one with the automatic transmission. Imagine my surprise when I noticed it offered even more to set it apart from the previous M3 I had driven – this 2024 BMW M3 Competition was also equipped with the M Performance Exhaust System. And while the previous generation M3 never left me needing more of the exhaust note, the new turbo-six under the hood of the G80 piqued my ear’s interest. Curious if an exhaust system that costs over $8,000 could possibly be worthwhile and if an automatic M3 Competition could impress me after driving the manual, I took to the highways around Phoenix.

2024 BMW M3 M Performance Exhaust

  • Unique looks
  • A more aggressive diffuser
  • Auto fits the car's character better than manual
  • $8,000 is a lot for the exhaust
  • Doesn't sound better than stock exhaust

How is the Automatic G80 M3 Around Town?

Alpine white g80 M3

The G80 M3 gets the same ZF eight-speed transmission that you’ll find in almost every BMW and many other vehicles these days. From the Rolls Royce Ghost to the Ram 1500 TRX, a derivative version of this transmission provides power to the wheels in most BMW, Jaguar/Land Rover, and Stellantis vehicles. If you haven’t heard, there’s a very good reason for that: it’s a fantastic transmission.

There’s nothing un-fantastic about the tuning specific to the G80 M3’s automatic, either. Left to its own devices in automatic mode, the transmission provides much more livability than the old dual-clutch units. In the least sporty settings, it shifts smoothly and prioritizes fuel economy. Perhaps a byproduct of tuning specific to the M3, it wasn’t what I would call imperceptible – like in the new BMW 7 Series – but it wouldn’t upset a significant other in the passenger seat or a cup of coffee in the cupholder.

I don’t know that the automatic offers any real advantages in around-town driving over the manual. I like engagement in my sports cars (or sport-tuned sedans), and the automatic doesn’t offer the same sense of occasion at low speeds. It should be noted that I didn’t spend time in any egregious traffic situations. Despite the automatic transmission’s extra two gears, the EPA estimates the same fuel economy. So who is the automatic for? Believe it or not, the performance-minded.

Driving an Automatic M3 the Way It Was Intended

When things get rowdy, the ZF8 is a delight to use. Where in Comfort settings, shifts are relaxed and smooth, a level of ferocity accompanies each gear change in more aggressive modes. The ups and downs are lightning-quick. The feeling of an overly optimistic gauge cluster – the sensation of seeing the gear number drop but not hearing or feeling the downshift until noticeably later – is not here, as it is in some other BMW vehicles. In automatic mode, it does a good job of holding gears until you give it a compelling reason to think otherwise.

The automatic transmission allows you to better take advantage of the horsepower under the hood of the G80 2024 BMW M3 Competition. Not that the original car needed any extra horsepower, but 40 extra horses and seamless shifts make the M3 Competition feel considerably quicker than its six-speed counterpart. Ample torque starts low on the powerband, and thanks to the short gearing, the car simply doesn’t let up. Even without the added power, there’s no doubt in my mind that the G80 M3 is the fastest – on the street or track – with an automatic.

The M Performance Exhaust on the G80 M3 Competition

So, the G80 M3 Competition I drove was fitted with an M Performance Exhaust. Honestly – I noticed virtually no difference in sound. This isn’t altogether surprising since, historically, BMW’s performance exhausts have emphasized a balance of livability and added oomph. Those looking for a raucous and shouty exhaust will need to look elsewhere. Those looking for fractionally more volume and a deeper, refined tone will be satisfied.

Looks are subjective, but I don’t think the more aggressive diffuser does anything significant for the vehicle. Car people will notice as it is a stylistic departure from the usual quad-exit exhaust setup. Regular people will probably still just see a roundel – some might recognize it as a 3 Series. Worth $8,000? Most people modifying the exhaust want either significant power gains, a louder exhaust note, or to fundamentally change the sonic properties of the exhaust sound (i.e., eliminating rasp). This exhaust does subtle amounts of all three. It could be perfect for someone. But, not for me and not for $8,000.

So, Manual M3 or Automatic M3?

Manuals are going away; enjoy them while you can. That said, the automatic transmission provides measurably more performance. The traffic-clogged freeways are a bit more livable with the auto. With $4,300 separating a base M3 with a stick from the automatic-only M3 Competition, only you, as a shopper, can decide whether or not the added performance is worth the added expense. The good news? You can’t really go wrong with either.