A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to drive an M3 very much like this test car on the Lightning course at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Driving on a racetrack is always a fun, but good God, the M3 was amazingly fantastic and super fun at NJMP. The V-8 engine is so rev-happy, so powerful, and it sounds incredible. The dual-clutch gearbox (although a pricey option at $2900) is a thing of beauty, and that comment comes from a guy who adores traditional manual transmissions. The steering is telepathic, and the chassis is near perfect.
The big problem with this short-term test car, however, is that I had to drive it on public roads, knowing the whole time what it was really capable of. Talk about frustrating temptation! The only times I really had a chance to open it up was during, uh, multiple passing maneuvers on back roads. Other drivers saw only a red blur. I prefer the sedan body style not only for its increased versatility but also for its ever-so-slight sleeper factor.
Oh, who am I kidding? There’s nothing “sleeper” about the 2011 M3.
– Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Unlike Rusty, I had an opportunity to drive our latest M3 test car at a Michigan road course. Like Rusty, I was also blown away by the M3’s composure, power, brakes, steering, stability, forgiving nature, grip, and overall fantastic superfun ridiculously amazing feel.
You’ve always wanted an M3? We confirm your desire.
– Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The BMW M3 is the ultimate fence-sitter. It perfectly straddles the line of track star and daily driver without feeling like a compromised machine. As good as the M3’s six-speed manual is, the dual-clutch gearbox in our test car was fantastic and I love, love, love the ability to adjust the speed of the gear shifts. Adjustable dampers and the restricted power output make for a very tractable car for morning commutes. For the track, or even just a twisty road, tap the “M” button and call up your preferred settings for the chassis, engine, transmission, and stability control. I do have one complaint amidst the glowing praise for the M3: BMW needs to revise the clumsy gear selector that has no way to put the car in park. Instead, your only option is neutral and the handbrake until you shut the car off.
– Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I have to disagree with Eric Tingwall in that I generally don’t appreciate or understand the need for the thousand and one minor adjustments you can make to the M3’s suspension and transmission. Why, for instance, do I need to press a “power” button every time I turn on the car to get maximum throttle response? If I didn’t want maximum power all the time, why in heaven’s name would I be driving a 414-hp BMW?
All right, enough complaining. I am incredibly jealous of my colleagues who have had a chance to thrash this car on the track. I was forced to settle for brief bursts of high-rpm speed during my morning commute, speed that I quickly scrubbed off by slamming on the brakes and ripping off a few downshifts. Even with my discretion, I’m sure I’d have been an easy target for roving police officers, what with the M3’s metallic red paint and my Cheshire cat grin.
– David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Yes, the track is clearly the place where the M3 shows its abilities the very best. That’s not to say that it isn’t also quite fun to drive on the street, because it is, but you somehow feel like you’re never able to take advantage of everything the M3 has to offer when you’re only using it to tool around in commuter traffic. Still, I often find myself accelerating more aggressively than usual and taking the curves just a little bit faster than normal when I’m behind the wheel of any M3. One observation — it seems that BMW continues to redesign the gear selector with every new car it introduces. What’s up with that? I suppose if you owned this car it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but it’s a little disconcerting finding that there’s no Park selection when the car is running. In order for the transmission to go into Park, you need to turn off the vehicle.
– Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Yeah, yeah, the M3 is amazing on the track but the truth is, it’s nearly as rewarding on the street. The only negative worth mentioning is the M3’s stiff suspension. It’s a bit unforgiving for daily driving and can become tiresome on Michigan’s beaten-up roads, even in its least aggressive setting. But for those lucky few who have the means and the desire to get into an M3, I’m guessing it will barely register.
The automatic-manual hybrid gear selector baffles me. Like Eric, I don’t see the benefit of an automatic transmission that can’t be put into park. It does feel nice, though, and once you’re under way, it’s unobtrusive. I love the adjustable, slim armrest for the driver. It slides frontwards to provide arm support for those of us who are vertically challenged and can’t use the central storage bin as an armrest. And when its not needed, it can be slid back and out of the way.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
2011 BMW M3 Sedan
Base price (with destination and guzzler tax): $57,575
Price as tested: $66,775
4.0-liter V-8 engine
6-speed manual transmission
Dynamic stability control
All-season traction with variable M diff lock
Speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering
4-wheel disc brakes with cross-drilled rotors
Bi-xenon adaptive headlights with auto leveling
AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player audio system
M instrument cluster with red needles
Tire pressure monitoring system
Adaptive brake lights
Options on this vehicle:
M Double-clutch transmission — $2900
Technology package — $2500
Comfort access group
Competition package — $2500
Electronic damping control
Melbourne red metallic — $550
iPod and USB adapter — $400
Satellite radio — $350
Key options not on vehicle:
Cold weather package — $1000
Premium package — $2000
BMW assist with Bluetooth
Digital compass mirror
Moonroof — $1050
Enhanced premium sound system — $1900
Fuel economy: 14/20/16 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 4.0L V-8
Horsepower: 414 hp @ 8300 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Curb weight: 3726 lb
18 x 8.5-inch front; 18 x 9.5-inch rear wheels
245/40ZR18 front; 265/40ZR18 rear Michelin Pilot Sports PS2 performance tires.