The fourth generation M3 debuted in 2007, but what makes the 2011 version special is that it marks the 25th anniversary of BMW Motorsports’ modified 3 series sedan, coupe and convertible. The M3 debuted in 1986 with a boxy, boy racer winged 2.3 liter 4 cylinder sport coupe.
Since then, the M3 has set the bar for performance and handling in a mid size coupe or sedan. So is it still at the top of its game? Let’s find out.
The 1st generation 4 cylinder M3 became an instant classic with its boy racer wing and beefed up fenders which made room for the larger wheels and tires. Only 5,000 needed to be built to qualify it for the Group A touring car racing series back in the 80’s, but BMW actually sold three times that amount!
The 2nd and 3rd generation M3’s moved to larger 6 cylinder engines and continued the tradition of being superb handling coupes and sedans, but in my opinion they lacked the appeal of the first generation’s stripped down race car for the street attitude.
When the 4th generation M3 came along in 2007 performance was escalated to new levels with a 4 liter V8 shoe-horned into the engine bay. Just like the prior two M3 generations, it continues to resemble the regular 3 series production cars save for a big bulge on the hood, larger wheels and tires, air intakes on the sides and of course the obligatory M3 badges. The boy-racer wing is no longer needed to let the world know that the BMW M3 is in fact a serious performer.
If you can live without the sunroof, you will get a carbon fiber roof panel which not only helps to keep the weight down, but it also lowers the car’s center of gravity making it handle even better. That’s a pretty nifty feature considering you usually fine carbon fibre on much more expensive hyper exotic cars.
The optional keyless entry makes ingress and egress a breeze. It also gives you a convenient push button start. At night the M3’s door handles sport a blueish glow to help you find them easily.
Once you do, you are greeted by infinitely adjustable M3 labeled sport seats. You can even adjust the side bolsters to make sure you stay firmly planted during hard cornering.
Little details that make the M3’s interior stand out are the pop out cup holders which stay out of the way when you don’t need them. The BMW IDrive control knob also stands out and should be pretty easy to operate for anyone under the age of 40.
Essentials like Bluetooth, radio volume and station control are found right on the steering wheel which has an interesting shape, but should allow most anyone to find a comfortable place to latch on to it. There’s also a tasteful M3 badge right in the lower center of the steering wheel.
Other goodies are an optional Ipod adapter, heated seats and Dual zone climate control as well as a nice infotainment screen. Rear seat passengers also get their own cup holders and ventilation control too. As expected in any BMW coupe or sedan, you do get a very usable; large trunk.
Since a big part of a car’s performance has to do with numbers let’s start with those. The 2011 M3’s V8 produces 414 horse power and 295 lb. ft. of torque, with a high revving redline of 8300 rpm’s. That is good enough to push the 7 speed dual clutch automatic version to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. The 6 speed manual is actually slower to 60 mph by .2 seconds.
Also impressive is the M3’s quarter mile time of just 12.4 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 mpg but it would be good for 178 with the limiter disabled. Road holding is impressive. The M3 pulls .98 g’s on the skid pad and speeds through the slalom at 71.4 mph.
Of course all of this performance comes with a price, at least at the pump. Expect to get 16 mpg overall with14 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway. Even when not in the M mode, the M3 seemed to have a constant leak spewing out of the gas tank.
If you drive the M3 without adjusting the performance settings you might find it to be a bit lethargic. But put it into M mode with a button on the steering wheel and its personality totally changes. You can feel it instantaneously in the throttle response. This is what the M3 is all about!
You can also take things a step further if you opt for the $2500 Competition Package. That gives you revised EDC (electronic damping control) which lets you adjust the suspension with buttons on the console, or menus on the infotainment screen.
You can also control throttle and shift response as well as power delivery. Of course you have the option of turning the stability control off, but I don’t recommend it unless you are a trained professional.
Once you set the M3 up for optimal performance it delivers in spades. Driving it on your favorite country road is one of life’s greatest pleasures if you are a sports car enthusiast.
It inspires confidence and provides great feedback so you feel at one with the steering and the rear wheels which respond to your inputs just as you’d expect them to. The exhaust tone is almost musical. You might even want to turn off the radio, after all the original M3 didn’t even have one!
Click the shifter sideways to get into the manual mode and you can then use the paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel. I prefer to shift myself, but in a car like the M3 which is faster with the dual clutch auto, I am happy to let it shift for me. Unless I’m in the mood to let the engine scream at high RPM’s just for the aural joy of it, I usually just keep it in M mode and let the M3 decide when to shift up and down.
The M3 starts at $58,400. Add $2,500 each for the Competition and Technology packages, $2900 for the 7 speed M Double-clutch Transmission, $500 for heated seats, $400 for the USB adaptor and the price quickly rises. The $550 Le Mans Blue Metallic paint actually looks great to my eye and is well worth it, but with it and delivery plus a $1300 gas guzzler tax and you are out the door at $69,925.
Now $70,000 isn’t cheap, but it is in the same league as the M3’s main competitors like the Mercedes CLK AMG and the Cadillac CTS-V sedan and wagon. Follow the link to see and read my video review of the Cadillac CTS-V, but let’s just say that both of these cars are, like the BMW, very fine automobiles.
There are a couple of negatives with the M3. First off, if you are used to driving other modern Japanese or American cars, you will be hard pressed to figure out how to work many of the cars functions. The switches are identified with symbols that are in many ways hard to associate with what it might actually do.
Also the dual clutch’s shift knob actually has an odd sort of Toyota Prius feel to it. At first you might have trouble selecting reverse or figuring out how to put it in manual mode as well. Of course once you get used to it, the shifter and the various switches and buttons will start to make more sense.
I also would like to have a back-up camera and at least optional XM radio built in. The M3 comes equipped with HD radio, but for close to $60,000 to start, I would expect a bit more. Ventilated seats would also be a nice touch! The Kia Optima has them and it stickers for about $50,000 less!
I do like the fact that the M3 is a bit of a sleeper sports car. It flies under the radar. It’s looks are basically understated and so it really blends in with many Euro performance sedans which are quite popular in big cities all around the world.
But BMW and even the M3 have become status symbol. Even back in the 80’s, driving a BMW met that you were successful. I must say however that if you own an M3 and you haven’t taken it to the track, you should be ashamed of yourself! Take it to the track!
BMW got it right from the start with the M3 all of those 25 years ago. Europeans love to see the sedans that they can buy battling it out on the race track every weekend. It’s the classic race on Sunday, sell on Monday marketing strategy and it works for the M3.
So the M3 might have changed quite a bit over the past 25 years, but BMW has really stayed true to their roots. No turbos or supercharging, just instantaneous results when you mash the throttle and throw it into a turn.
The M3 is still an amazingly fast sedan that is just as comfortable blasting through the valley or cruising up to the Valet. So is BMW still at the top of their game. Yes they are! I’m Drivin’ Ivan Katz.