The third time is the charm where two-pedal BMW M3s are concerned. A five-speed automatic transmission offered in the 1995-1999 M3 was for poseurs. The next-generation (2001-2006) M3's optional six-speed SMG automated manual shifted so neck-snappingly hard that it appealed only to chiropractors.
But buyers of today's two-pedal M3 won't need to make any excuses. Available on all of the M3's body styles (coupe, sedan, and convertible), BMW's brand-new dual-clutch seven-speed transmission shaves 0.2 second from the M3's 0-to-60-mph time and performs near-instantaneous, barely perceptible shifts in normal driving.
The M DCT Drivelogic (for M double-clutch transmission with Drivelogic) can be used in either manual or automatic mode. A stubby center-console shifter is used to select neutral or reverse, to toggle between manual and automatic modes, or to shift up or down (steering-wheel-mounted paddles duplicate that last function). Park is engaged when the key is removed.
A Drivelogic button allows the driver to select from five different automatic settings, which vary both the intensity of the shifts and when the shifts occur. In the D1 setting, the M3 starts out in second gear and upshifts early and slowly. Even in D5, the most aggressive mode, part-throttle upshifts are imperceptible, but the engine hangs onto revs longer and is much quicker to downshift.
There are six available manual-mode Drivelogic programs, S1 through S6, although the most aggressive setting can be accessed only with stability control disabled. Upshifts become progressively rougher and are jarring - but unbelievably fast - in S6. In the numerically higher programs, downshifts are accompanied with spine-tingling throttle blips. Eight LEDs in the tachometer progressively illuminate as the engine approaches its redline, and the transmission won't upshift automatically in any of its manual modes.
Volkswagen's DSG is the benchmark for all dual-clutch transmissions, and while it's not as adjustable as BMW's M DCT, it's much quicker to respond to shift requests from the driver. The M DCT also is occasionally unpredictable in its clutch engagement off the line and, in automatic mode, can sometimes take a long time to respond to throttle inputs, but there's nothing about the transmission that a few software updates couldn't fix. In fact, it's just a few lines of code short of perfection - which is a lot more than could ever be said about the SMG.