The next BMW M3 has been spied, and rumours are still swirling about what we’ll find under the skin

The next generation BMW M3 has been spied testing once again, with plenty of tell-tale signs as to this mule’s M-car status. There has been much speculation about what the next M3 might feature under the skin, with everything from all-wheel drive to hybridisation supposedly on the cards, but with this full-body prototype as a guide, we can now reassess some of those assumptions, and figure out what’s really going on.

The next M3, as we know, will be based on the new G20-generation 3-series, and as such will share its CLAR architecture too. This platform is found under the BMW 5-series, X3/X4 and BMW 8-series, all models with current or incoming full-fat M versions, and tellingly, all with all-wheel drive. Rumours have been swirling about the inclusion of all-wheel drive for some time, and given an almost inevitable power upgrade it’s the most likely scenario – but drifters can relax, as it should be deselectable as in the current M5.

> Read our review of the current BMW M3

Powering the M3 will be a newly-developed turbocharged straight-six unit that will initially be seen in the upcoming X3 M and X4 M. This will not be the S55 unit found in the current M3, thanks to increasingly tight emissions regulations killing off that motor after just one generation of use. The new engine is instead likely to be a highly-redeveloped version of the B58 engine that is quickly spreading throughout the BMW range, also controversially featuring in the new Toyota Supra. Power will rise over the current M3, possibly closing in on 370kW, with a Competition model likely to take that number even higher.

Most models will utilise an automatic transmission, likely the eight-speed ZF automatic and not the current M3’s dual-clutch unit. This is warranted by the massive improvements in shift speed traditional automatics have made over the last decade, negating the inherent compromises of a dual-clutch gearbox, namely its high weight and jerky low-speed drivability. For those (us specifically) hoping for a manual transmission, the water is a little less clear, but there is a void to be filled, and word from inside BMW assures us it’s still a crucial element to the BMW M brand.

The mule in these images also tells us a lot about what to expect styling-wise, with the most obvious change over the standard 3-series being a generous increase in overall width. The rear arches are wider than standard, although they do appear to be simple bolt-on overfenders on the rear arches at this stage. The front arches are also wider and should integrate a wing vent as per usual M models, but are more smoothly integrated into the whole front end. If previous M3 sedans are able to be used as a guide, it’ll adopt the future M4’s nose, hence the early prototype headlights and a larger, more assertive kidney grille.

The rumours of hybridisation are a little bit more far-fetched, the technology still deemed too expensive and heavy for the benefit it would bring to the overall package. We should see the new M3 later this year regardless, putting to bed all the suspicion surrounding what will reside under the skin; let’s hope it takes a little less time to really shine than its predecessor did.