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Second Opinion: BMW M3

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Last year, when I drove BMW's M3 for the first time in Europe, I came away with some vivid impressions from behind the wheel. I also came back with some questions: "The new M3 is faster than its ancestors. But is it a better one?" I wrote in TheCarConnection.com's full road test of the M3 coupe.

It can be difficult to gauge performance on European roads -- especially when the roads in question were a privateer track in southern Spain, Ascari, and the unmarked lane-and-a-half paths leading up from Marbella into nearby mountains. Outside of Southern California, there's not much like that terrain in the U.S.

On the infrequently used track, and even on the local roads, the M3 felt a little greasy underfoot. Its specially-designed Michelins and the MDrive function that allows rapid-fire steering and throttle feedback conspired to make it a handful in some situations.

As a result, back then, I didn't think much of BMW's MDrive, which also tweaks the stability control to allow considerably different driving profiles--mild to manic. "It's a transformer, all right," I wrote. "It can turn the M3 from a controlled GT to a twitchy, overzealous piece if you choose unwise settings. You don't want to play with it in mid-turn. And in truth the M3's stock choices are good enough to leave this option unticked."

What a difference a new patch of asphalt can make. A few weeks ago, I went out to the Monterey peninsula and nearby Laguna Seca to take another chance at hitting the edges of the M3's performance envelope. And especially on the hairpins and kinks at Laguna, the M3 felt much more assured and less twitchy than in Spain.

Laguna Seca's one of the most technically challenging and devilish places I know outside of beer bash at the Lone Star Saloon. But the M3's astronomical grip was on full display. And minus the jetlag factor, it got easier and easier to push it, harder and harder, until finally it was time to hand back the keys. Even twiddling with MDrive couldn't provoke the kind of knee-jerk reactions I'd felt over in Iberia.

For about $58,000, the M3's one of those delightful German supercars that attracts ten times many fans as well-heeled buyers. You can include me in that former bunch. I liked its responses from the first time I drove it -- but on American soil, the M3's grown more even-handed.

The only question: who's actually gotten a better grip, the car or me?

See more M3 photos: convertible, sedan and coupe
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Comment (1)
  1. Have to strongly disagree with the articles author.

    The impressions of the BMW E90 M3 are quite negative because this is one of if not the BMW “halo” car. The vehicle is portrayed to be the successor to some really great drivers cars.

    First impressions of the M3 are generally good (Excepting the tacky toyboy black roof skin)
    The seats are great the steering wheel tactile and a delight to grip.
    Starting the car is fine once the silly click on/off key is learnt.

    Depress the so so clutch and push the rubbery gear change into what is hoped to be the low gear. Granted the car will only shudder and hiccup in a minor way as you try to accelerate smoothly away.

    The drive on a smooth road is fine – if you have time you can fiddle with the overly complicated and rather pointless “I” drive knob.

    Get out of town onto a drivers road – the disappointment is immense.
    The silky smooth V8 is all mouth and no trousers – great sound but no punch – think a weak midrange early Vtec.
    Between 7 – 8500 the engine makes a fair go at hauling the heavy car along – below that the 120D is better.
    Oops forgot to mention the throttle response – honestly there is none – trying to balance the car on the throttle is impossible – there is huge and unpredictable amounts of lag. (Think old school turbo with none of the power hit)
    The brakes however are fine – one will question the use of single piston calipers on a car of this nature but the reality is the low tech approach works well.

    The chassis – what a horrid over rated thing. BMW have cleverly managed to combine a harsh ride with poor body control. The feed back through the controls feels totally artificial – the steering dead and unresponsive.
    The run flat tires provide an industry leading high noise coupled with poor grip and a lack of feel.
    The suspension/chassis is so out of keeping with the sporting pretensions of the M3 that one can only ponder what went wrong.
    There is a theory that in these tough times the suspension gurus were perceived as superfluous/expensive. BMW hired some cheaper techno geeks to attempt to make the car sporting and safe. The explanation is supported by the excess use of clever gadgets and gizmos that combine to badly detract from any form of driving pleasure this car could deliver.

    Totally agree with the authors point about attracting fans that can’t afford the car.
    By not owning this dreadful abomination they will be forever ignorant of what a travesty this German offering really is.
    With luck those who can afford the entry fee won’t be bothered by the dreadful dynamics and will pretend they are enjoying the drive (Or are they too ignorant to know any better?)
    In Europe this car is devaluing rapidly as the word of how far from the mark this vehicle really is gets around.

    There is a solution to the immense depreciation this lemon is attracting, simply turn off all the nana traction aids and go for a brisk drive. The wooly dynamics combine well with the low levels of grip – a huge accident is the inevitable result.
    The cars have so far proven to be a very safe vehicle to crash and this coupled with the legendary BMW repair cost will allow the insurance industry to take care of all the depreciation worries. Your car will just be another added to the increasing pile of M badged scrap sitting waiting recycling. You and your insurance payout will now join the orderly queue at the nearest Audi dealership.

    Why have I been so hard on this car?
    It should have been great – it is not. Unsure of why this caricature of a vehicle was ever allowed to defile the once exalted M3 badge.

    Roll on the CSL.

    Phred
     
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