Every car lover deserves a chance behind the wheel of a BMW M3. The press has been infatuated with the M3 since it debuted, and all the praise is justified. BMW never should have ditched the Ultimate Driving Machine tagline — that’s what you’ll be thinking as you run the 4.0-liter V-8 up to its 8400-rpm redline. And if you need to verify that the engine is up to operating temperature before blowing past 8000 rpm, it’s as easy as looking at the tachometer. The M3 artificially lowers the maximum engine speed until it’s completely warmed up. Little things like this exemplify BMW’s commitment to performance cars.
I instantly loved the last-generation (E46) M3’s 333-hp in-line six because every 3-series was powered by an I-6 and, in my mind, there was a much stronger connection between the base 3-series and the M3 when they shared an engine configuration. Perhaps this generation of M3 (E92 in coupe form) isn’t as raw as earlier M3 models, but it still offers a level of performance that’s very difficult to match. BMW managed to increase the M3’s performance by a rather large margin after changing to a V-8 engine, but it lost the connection to regular 3-series cars for me. At least this generation of M3 has an optional dual-clutch transmission instead of the E46’s single-clutch unit that was never happy unless it was on a racetrack. That point may be moot for hard-core M3 drivers, who prefer to shift for themselves anyway.
The question on the mind of every M3 lover who hasn’t yet had a chance to sample the awkwardly named BMW 1-Series M coupe is: “Will this turbocharged 1-series M machine get the division back to its roots?” Sadly, I can’t shed any light on that question at this time. Jason Cammisa recently beat the snot out of a 1-series M and proclaimed it to be the best car ever. With smaller dimensions than an M3, a powerplant that is directly related to that in the regular 1-series, and a much lower curb weight, it sounds like the modern version of an older M3 that so many people have been looking for.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The best quality of this car — among many good ones — is its throttle response. Step on the gas pedal in most modern cars, including turbocharged in-line-six-powered BMWs, and there’s a slight but oh-so-noticeable hesitation as various onboard computers figure out how to answer your request. Not in the M3. It has eight throttles on hair-trigger alert, ready to answer even a slight tap from your right foot. It’s actually a bit disconcerting at first, and it demands that you think about every application. Press down even a bit too hard on a one-to-two gearchange, and the car lurches you back in your seat. Lift too suddenly, and you’re chucked against your seatbelt. But when you get it right…oh, my.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The BMW M3 is a great car, but the truth of the matter is that BMW’s 328i, 335i, and 335is are so good that the most hardcore 3-series makes little practical sense unless you plan to take the car to a track often. Compared to the last M3 I drove, I noticed lighter parking-lot steering effort and a lighter clutch pedal with a touch more travel through the friction zone in this car. Both of these attributes make the M3 much more civil in daily use. However, its small-displacement V-8 still needs to be worked into the upper ranges of the tach to generate vigorous enthusiasm. Peak torque occurs at a relatively high 3900 rpm while the 414-hp power peak doesn’t come until 8300 rpm. In the 335is, the twin-turbo inline six delivers 74 additional lb-ft of torque at just 1500 rpm, with a power band that is perfect for squeezing around traffic or dancing down a twisty road at seven-tenths.
I readily concede that the throne belongs to the M3 when it comes to the track and the rare road where you can exercise a car this powerful at its full potential. But if I’m buying a single BMW, I’d likely lay my cash down on a 335is and drive it hard every day.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
We don’t often get test cars that are minimally optioned, but this M3 coupe is a glorious example of just that: stick shift, no nav, no sunroof, manual seats … the only option that costs more than a few hundred bucks is the $2500 competition package, which brings a lowered suspension, different wheels, and a stability control system with “performance modified mapping”. Not only does this simple spec make the car feel purer, it also keeps the price down to a more reasonable $66,425.
I love manual transmissions, but the M3 is perhaps the only car with an available stick where I actually prefer the automatic. The dual-clutch automatic available in this car is incredibly quick and does a MUCH better job than I could ever do of managing this M3’s high revs and high horsepower. It doesn’t help that this manual gearbox has longish throws and rubbery action unless you grab it just right. Not that I’m complaining; I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to drive any M3, stick-shift or otherwise, every day if given the chance. And if I were going to buy M3 (wouldn’t that be nice!), I’d probably end up with a sedan optioned almost identically to this coupe, including the manual gearbox.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 BMW M3 Coupe
Base price (with destination): $59,775
Price as tested: $66,425
4.0-liter 32-valve V-8 engine
Dynamic stability control
Traction control with variable M differential lock
4-wheel cross-drilled disc brakes with ABS
Dynamic brake control
Xenon adaptive headlights w/ auto-leveling and cornering lights
AM/FM stereo/CD/MP3 player audio system
Tire pressure monitoring system
Rain-sensing windshield wipers w/ automatic headlight control
Front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags
Head protection system, front and rear
BMW’s advanced safety system
Adaptive brake lights
Options on this vehicle:
Competition package — $2500
Dynamic damper control
BMW assist w/ Bluetooth — $750
Le Mans blue metallic paint — $550
Blue-gray brushed aluminum trim — $500
Heated front seats — $500
iPod and USB adapter — $400
Smartphone integration — $150
Key options not on vehicle:
Convenience package — $2900
M double-clutch transmission w/ drivelogic — $2900
Premium package — $2500
Navigation system — $2100
Enhanced premium sound — $1900
Cold weather package — $750
Automatic high beams — $250
14 / 20 / 16 mpg
Size: 4.0L V-8
Horsepower: 414 hp @ 8300 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm
Curb weight: 3704 lb