2009 BMW M3 Expert Review:Autoblog
Third-party performance tuners like Alpina, AMG, Brabus, Ruf and others have thrived in the land of the autobahn, typically modifying cars from one particular brand. In the late '70s, BMW became the first of the German automakers to establish its own in-house tuning division, incorporating its motorsports arm into what's now know as the M division. The firm's racing knowledge disseminated down to its production cars with the introduction of the M1 and later the M535i. In subsequent years, M followed up with the M5 and M3. Eventually Mercedes followed suit by buying out AMG, while Audi launched Quattro GmbH. Over the past two decades, M has continued to create ever faster iterations of mainstream Bimmers and for 2008 the M brain trust brings us the fourth generation of the M3.
The original 1986 M3 used the boxy body of the E30 3-series coupe, equipped with a high output, 16-valve four cylinder engine to homologate the body and engine for Group A touring car racing. Over the years, M3s, like all other BMWs (and pretty much every other car on the road), have grown bigger, heavier and more powerful. The E36 and E46 M3s both drew motive force from in-line six-cylinder engines ranging from 240hp to 333hp. The new E90-based M3 has what could turn out to be the ultimate engine of the series, with an all-new 4.0-liter V8 generating 414 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. But what's it like to live with? Follow the jump to find out.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
BMW offers the 2008 M3 in coupe, sedan and convertible flavors, but for us, we got the pick of the litter. Our tester had two openings to access the cabin, a fixed carbon fiber roof, a menacing Sparkling Graphite Metallic paint job and a six-speed, swap-it-yourself, manual gearbox. For those who prefer to let the car handle gear selection, the dreaded SMG automated manual of the E46 has finally been discarded and replaced with a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Since the debut of the thoroughly derided Bangle look, successive models have gradually toned down the excess surface development and odd-ball cut-lines. The current 3-Series coupe, and the M3 in particular, are easily the best looking BMWs in over a decade... at least since the the E46.
The clean simple lines of the 3-Series coupe are made just a bit more muscular on the M3, with fenders flaring out to enclose the larger 19-inch wheels. The lower front fascia has a more prominent intake to draw cool air, while the fog lamps have been nixed in favor of ducting that leads to the brakes. The center of the hood swells to clear the voluminous air box on top of the V8 and functional vents on either side of the bulge and the fenders allow hot air to escape the engine bay. At the tail is a slim spoiler adorning the trailing edge of the deck-lid, while the lower rear fascia echos the contours of the front.
Getting situated in the driver's throne is a pleasure. The massive bolsters are adjustable for width, keeping you directly in front of the steering wheel without feeling excessively pinched. The thigh support is also adjustable for those of the long-limbed variety and made long trips a bit more bearable. Besides being attractive, the greenhouse of the M3 coupe has a functional element, with slim pillars that allow for excellent visibility in all directions.
Controlling the direction of the M3 is a breeze thanks to the thick rimmed, leather wrapped steering wheel. The number of controls on the center stack is kept to a manageable level through the use of the iDrive controller aft of the shifter. Given that BMW has just a revealed an all new iDrive interface for the redesigned 7-series, we'll pass on carping about how obtuse the current layout is.
The new V8 is the first in a regular production M3. Back in 2001, BMW made 10 M3 GTR models powered by the V8 from the E39 M5 in order to homologate it for GT racing. This engine is a new design that BMW claims is lighter than the old inline-six while producing 15 percent more power and consuming eight percent less premium gasoline.
After inserting the fob into the slot below the starter button, and pressing said button, the V8 fires instantly, dropping into an idle that feels more like a Lexus than a high-strung autobahn runner. It doesn't have the menacing rumble of a big American V8 like a 'Vette or GT500. In fact when we first climbed in and pulled out of the driveway, it felt rather disappointing. We were expecting something more menacing, like Audi's 4.2-liter V8 in the RS4. It wasn't until a little later, when we got out on a open winding road that we truly came to appreciate the M3's character.
At less than about 20 percent throttle around town, the V8 is quite quiet and smooth. This high-revving engine doesn't have the gut wrenching low-end torque of the supercharged GT500 or CTS-V motors, but then few engines do. But it does have more than adequate twisting capability to keep it from feeling strained when you are on and off the clutch in traffic.
More importantly, it's quiet and docile nature means it's easy to trundle along in stop and go commuting and makes freeway cruising an effortless affair. If you're headed out on a road trip, there is no rumbling exhaust to give you a headache after an hour. A loud exhaust is fun for the first few hundred miles, but after showing off for the neighbors, it easily loses its allure. BMW has clearly tuned the note of the M3 to make it a car you can live with on a daily basis.
However, a squeeze of the pedal on the right seamlessly transforms the M3 into a first-class sports car -- the laid back nature when loafing makes may for major-league fun. The M3 engine has eight individual throttle plates mounted just upstream of the intake ports, meaning that a change in position results in instant response. As the needle works its way clockwise around the tach, the exhaust note builds to a fury, letting you know this car is about serious acceleration.
When the time comes to adjust the M3's acceleration vector from the straight-ahead position, that thick steering wheel comes in handy. While the M3 lacked some of the directness we've come to expect, its tiller felt perfectly weighted and had no dead spots. Turn the wheel and the car responded precisely as expected. But while the effort felt proportioned to the cornering force, it didn't seem to relay much about what was going on at the wheels. Still, it was far better than many of our recent testers.
The ride of the M3 was as solid as we expected in a car equipped with 19-inch wheels and minimal sidewalls to provide compliance. The wheel control was adequate enough to allow the rolling stock to follow the contours of Michigan roads without beating you up and the only other flaw in the driving experience was a shifter that erred on the notchy side when shifting slowly. Once you get a feel for where the gates are and start shifting more deliberately, most of that complaint falls away.
In all, the new M3 provides the fabulous combination of high performance sports car and a compliant coupe that's easy to live with as a daily driver. It requires no compromises to fill the only hole in your garage, and with the choice of either coupe, sedan or convertible, it lets you select the configuration that best suits your lifestyle.
But a vehicle with these kind of capabilities doesn't come cheap. The sticker on our coupe came to $63,275, substantially over its $56,500 base price. With the required premium gasoline running anywhere from $4.30 to $5.00 a gallon depending on where live, and fuel economy of 17-18mpg, the M3 won't be cheap to operate either. However, if you have the necessary cash flow, it's certainly a car that should be at the top of your consideration list.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new M3 coupe and sedan get V8 power.
BMW has come a long way in the past 50 years, from the low point in the winter of 1959 when its fortunes were so bad that it was nearly sold to Mercedes-Benz, to becoming a world powerhouse of motorcycles, high-performance cars, luxury sedans and SUVS. Like Mercedes-Benz with its AMG in-house racing and high-performance specialists, BMW has created its M division, primarily responsible for motorsports, but also for high-performance cars, including the M3 version of the 3 Series, the M5 version of the 5 Series, and the M6 version of the 6 Series (no M7 yet, and no high-performance versions of their SUVs, but it's only a matter of time). The M3 is the one with the longest history and the most affordability, so it has become extremely popular over the last four generations of the 3 Series.
Every generation of BMW 3 Series, for the past four generations, has offered the enthusiast driver an M3, something rare and special at the top of the lineup, something that the cognoscenti will recognize and appreciate every time it goes by, and something that is quicker, faster, flatter and flashier than the regular 3 Series, for the owner's maximum driving and bragging enjoyment.
Every one of the previous generations was powered by a modified version of the famous BMW inline six-cylinder engine, but this new generation has broken with that long tradition to become the first V8-powered M3 in BMW history.
For now, the BMW M3 in the North American lineup comes as the coupe and the less-expensive sedan, but if history is any indicator, these will soon be followed by a convertible version, the same model flow as the last two generations of M3. The first car to arrive, the M3 coupe, will be replete, including every available safety feature from ABS to stability control, traction control, six air bags, and run-flat high-performance tires.
The M3 also packs a tremendous amount of electronic wallop, with dynamic stability control having new interconnected control features, electronic damper control for the shock absorber settings, iDrive for the radio, navigation and telephone as well as two different power steering modes, normal and sport, that can be selected through iDrive.
The 2008 BMW M3 coupe ($57,275) and sedan ($54,575) come with a high-performance 4.0-liter V8 mated with a six-speed manual transmission.
Although the M3 is quite complete, there is an option list, containing items like DVD navigation, the competition brakes, Electronic Damper Control, the MDrive electronic control system, adaptive headlamps that turn corners before the car does, an optional interior lighting scheme that paints a rim of light around the entire cockpit, leather upholstery, and a 16-speaker, 825-watt sound system.
An important option is MDrive, an electronic control system that enables the driver to tailor suspension, steering, and engine performance to his own personal tastes and style, with almost 300 possible combinations, using a single button on the multi-function steering wheel to switch from the normal mode to the M mode. The MDrive system was piloted on the larger, more expensive M5 sedan and M6 coupe and convertible and is available on the new 3 Series for the first time. Another new feature is the Variable M Differential Lock, which automatically apportions traction to the two rear tires depending on which has more grip at the moment, a feature that really enhances high-performance driving in bad weather conditions or on twisty roads.
The exterior appearance of the M3 coupe is suitably distinctive, front, side, rear and roof, compared to any other 3 Series coupe. Especially the roof, which, while it is exactly the same size and shape as the rooves on other 3 Series coupes, is made of carbon fiber, to lighten the body considerably and lower the center of gravity for better handling and left/right/left maneuvering at speed.
The body of the new M3 is a combination of steel, aluminum, and the aforementioned carbon-fiber roof panel, with an aluminum hood that carries a distinctive power bulge to clear the V-8 engine underneath it. The widened, flared front fenders carry the M3 trademark gill slots, and the rear end shows the other M3 trademark, four tailpipes. A new front air dam under the bumper and a very smooth, flat bottom add up to excellent aerodynamics, with a drag coefficient of only 0.31.
The M3 interior design scheme is racy from every angle. It carries a special small-diameter, high-grip leather-covered M steering wheel with redundant controls for the audio system and optional telephone. To complement the wheel, there is a set of competition-flavored, body-gripping bucket seats up front, each one built with a special foam inside for excellent upper body support in fast corners. There's the usual array of discreet red, white and blue M decorations on the seats, door panels, and instrument panel. The white-on-black instruments are typical BMW, with red pointers, and the tachometer can change its yellow-line and red-line limits depending on engine oil temperature, a featured designed to prevent premature engine wear on cold days.
The new M3 center console goes all the way to the rear seats, and wraps around the driver seat to make a cozy, comfortable and eminently usable cockpit. With the M3, there are no interior color choices. Whatever you want, you get dark anthracite, a feature that BMW says helps keep driver distraction to a minimum.
This is one of those cars that sends writers scurrying to look for new and unusual superlatives, because it stands head and shoulders above all of the previous generations of M3 in sex appeal, but mostly in performance.
With the 414-horsepower V8 engine, an engine fully capable of 8400 rpm, the slick BMW six-speed manual transmission, and a cockpit made for high-performance driving, the V8-powered M3 is nothing short of spectacular. The story starts with a 0-60-mph time of only 4.7 seconds and goes from there to a an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. With a 12:1 compression ratio, it demands expensive 95-98 octane premium fuel.
The engine is powerful and willing and revs to the moon. The slick new double-disc clutch and six-speed transmission are race-quality. The big, fat, sticky tires tell the chassis what to do next. The onboard electronic systems evaluate conditions 200 million times per second so that the car knows exactly what to do next as we tackle this track together, lap after delicious lap, until we are waved in and our track session is ended.
We've driven all of the previous M3s, but we've never experienced this level of acceleration, braking, steering and handling in an M3. There's something very different about the way this M3 behaves, and most of that difference is under that newly domed hood.
While all three previous M3s were powered by either inline four- or six-cylinder engines, the 2008 version is the first M3 ever to use a V8 engine. It's a 4.0-liter 32-valve, 414-horsepower all-aluminum masterpiece that shares much of its design and componentry with the 5.0-liter V10 engines used in the bigger, more expensive M5 and M6 performance cars. It makes a whopping 22 percent more power than the last M3 engine.
The new V8 features variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust valves (which BMW calls Double VANOS), and unlike most V8 engines, it uses eight individual throttle assemblies, like racing engines, controlled by drive-by-wire electronics.
This is the highest-revving BMW production engine ever built, revving up to a maximum of 8400 rpm, and it makes maximum power at 8300 rpm. Maximum torque is 295 foot-pounds. BMW says it will take the new lightweight coupe form 0-62 mph or 0-100 kilometers per hour in just 4.8 seconds, topping out at a limited 155 mph. The engine weighs some 33 pounds less than the smaller inline six-cylinder engine it replaces. To make sure than the engine always has the lubricant it needs under acceleration or braking, it has a forward oil pan and a rear oil pan.
Underneath the carbon-fiber roof panel and the slick new bodywork, there is a brand new chassis and suspension system, a lightweight suspension featuring MacPherson strut front suspension, lightweight five-link rear suspension, and one of the most wonderful, linear and responsive power steering systems we have ever used. The differential has a locking feature than can transmit up to 100 percent of the available engine power to whichever rear tire has more traction. The tires are special M3 versions of the Michelin Pilot Sport, P245/35ZR-19s on 19-inch alloy M wheels.
The huge ABS brakes, 14.2 inches front and 13.8 inches rear, feature iron rotors and aluminum hubs, with ventilated discs all around, and a unique brake energy regenerating system, usually found on hybrids, that uses the brakes to charge the battery and shuts off the alternator during acceleration and cruising. There's an optional competition brake system that's even more powerful than the standard brakes.
The new M3 also brings with it an ideal 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, and a host of electronic chassis systems including traction control, dynamic stability control, cornering brake control, a start-off assistant to keep the car from rolling forward or back on grades, a driver's choice of three different shock absorber modes with the optional EDC system. If desired, the dynamic stability.
The BMW M3 is the defining performance car for the lineup of 3 Series cars that define BMW. This is a lot of high-performance car in a small package.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Marbella, Spain.
BMW M3 coupe ($57,275), sedan ($54,575).
Options As Tested
BMW M3 coupe ($57,275).
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