The BMW M3 is the defining performance car in BMW's sporty 3 Series line, and possibly the purest in BMW's inventory. A product of BMW's M division, the in-house skunk works responsible for the company's racing programs, the M3 offers features performance in a practical package. Using a small displacement V8, the M3 features a high-strung, high-revving engine that provides amazing power for its size.
Available in sedan, coupe and convertible versions, the M3s are quicker, faster and flashier than any regular 3 Series model.
While all the other 3 Series cars use six-cylinder engines, the M3 features a hand-built, high-tech 4.0-liter V8 that delivers 414 horsepower. An M3 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 4.7 seconds, with top speed electronically limited to 155 mph. Those figures meet or beat numbers generated by a lot of pure-bred exotic sports cars.
The M3s come with a 6-speed manual transmission or BMW's M Double Clutch 7-speed gearbox, which works like a conventional automatic in most situations but can be shifted manually and very aggressively.
The M3s steer and handle like sports cars. Like all 3 Series models, they pack a tremendous amount of electronic wallop: advanced Dynamic Stability Control, optional electronic damper control for the shock absorber settings, different power steering and throttle control modes, and an optional feature call M Drive that allows a driver to tailor the electronic settings to personal taste.
The M3s are more practical than most exotic sports cars. They're easier to get in and out of, and to see out of. All have a well-finished back seat that's comfortable for average-size adults. All have decent trunk space, and can be equipped with the full menu of luxury amenities. They're easy to park in crowded city centers, and easy to drive casually in nearly all circumstances.
For 2011, BMW M3 is available with a Competition Package for the sedan and coupe, which lowers the suspension by 0.4 inches and adds 19-inch wheels offset to widen the track (the distance, side-to-side, between the centers of the tires). The Competition Package includes Electronic Damping Control and Dynamic Stability Control with unique programming. The name of the package says it all: This one is for folks who plan to unleash the M3's full prowess on a race track. There are no other significant changes for 2011. The current-generation M3 was launched as a 2008 model.
To be sure, the least expensive M3 costs substantially more than other cars in the 3 Series line. It will appeal most to hard-core enthusiast drivers. It may not be worth the price premium to drivers who find the 335i or 335is just as fun and satisfying to drive.
The 2011 BMW M3 is offered as a sedan, coupe or convertible. All are powered by a high-revving, 414-horsepower 4.0-liter V8, with a standard 6-speed manual transmission.
The four-door M3 sedan ($55,400) seats five. Standard equipment includes leather sport seats with driver memory, automatic climate and headlight control, high-intensity Xenon adaptive headlights, heated windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD with HD radio, and BMW's self-braking Dynamic Cruise Control. All come with a gas-guzzler tax ($1,300-$1,700, depending on the model).
The two-door M3 coupe ($58,400) seats four. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
The M3 convertible ($66,050) looks much like the coupe, but its metal hardtop opens and closes at the touch of a button in less than 30 seconds. Thanks to the top-operating mechanism, it also loses a couple of cubic feet of maximum trunk space, compared to the coupe.
All M3s are available with BMW's M Double-clutch transmission ($2,900). Options are clustered in popular groupings, including the Premium Package, which adds power folding outside mirrors, universal garage-door opener, a digital compass on the rear-view mirror, BMW Assist with Bluetooth, a leather-upholstery upgrade and choice of interior trim. The Technology Package ($3,250) is the big-ticket option group, adding GPS navigation, Electronic Damping Control variable suspension, Comfort Access proximity key, and driver-adjustable electronics integration. M Drive allows the driver to tailor suspension, steering, and engine response to personal tastes and style, with almost 300 possible combinations, using a single button on the steering wheel. The racer-oriented Competition Package ($2,500) lowers the suspension by 0.4 inches and adds 19-inch wheels which are offset to widen the track, plus Electronic Damping Control and Dynamic Stability Control systems with unique programming. Most options, including Electronic Damping Control ($1,000), Park Distance Control obstacle warning ($380), and Automatic High Beams ($250) are available individually.
Safety features include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags and full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags. Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid collisions, include Dynamic Stability Control and the latest generation antilock brakes. The ABS preloads the brake pedal when the driver suddenly lifts off the gas pedal, and includes a feature that lightly sweeps the brake discs dry every 1.5 seconds when it's raining.