2009 M3 New Car Test Drive
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.