2010 BMW M3 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 4, 2010

Stunning performance is still the calling card for the 2010 BMW M3; the weight it's gained may just be a sign of its success.

TheCarConnection.com's editors have written this road test of the latest BMW M3 from firsthand driving impressions. Editors have compared the M3 lineup to other sports-tuned vehicles in its price range to give you a better view of its competition. TheCarConnection.com's editors also have assembled a companion full review that summarizes opinions from other Web sites into one conclusive review.

Two years ago, BMW released the latest M3 to controversy and to applause. The latest generation of the most powerful 3-Series cars grew heavier and more expensive, and it switched from classic BMW six-cylinder engines to big V-8 powerplants. To top that, engineers tried to blend a progressive-feeling GT car and a no-prisoners racer through all sorts of electronic controls-with mixed results. The M3 lineup of $57,850 coupe, $66,500 convertible, and $54,850 sedan returns for the 2010 model year unchanged, with competition coming in the form of the Cadillac CTS-V, Audi S4, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, and Lexus IS-F.

The latest generation of the BMW 3-Series grows into its M-edition bodywork easily, with its giveaway bulge on the hood-sort of an M-style Adam's apple. The coupes have always been among the most eye-pleasing on the planet, and the latest version doesn't disappoint, even though you may see a ghost of old Pontiac in its C-pillar kink. Convertibles thicken up as they lose their roof, while the sedan stays pretty and pert, with a kicked-up tail and enough subtle surfaces on the body to keep your interest beyond the front doors. It's probably the best-looking M3 lineup yet. Inside it's more standard-issue 3-Series than you might expect. There's something aloof about this interior that doesn't warm up, even with time. There's a Gaggenau-style coolness even with the custom colors and trims that can be ordered-though no one will ever complain about its big, clear gauges and dials. Touches of carbon-fiber paneling emphasize the big structural differences with other 3-Series cars, but you can choose more traditional walnut trim.

Review continues below

The 2010 BMW M3 range packs a wallop with its tremendous V-8 engine, superb handling, and excellent braking, though the weight it's gained and the electronics it's adopted make it a touch less engaging than the high-winding M3s of the past. The new 4.0-liter V-8 spirals to a towering 8,400-rpm redline and ushers out 420 horsepower at its peak, though the max twist of 295 pound-feet sounds statistically low. With the dizzying power peak and the splayed banks of four-cylinders slamming, you can pretty much predict the M3's sound, somewhere between a Honda scream and a Charger belch. Through a short-throw six-speed manual or a sweet dual-clutch transmission, the M3 claws away at the pavement until it reaches 60 mph in about 4.8 seconds, at least in coupe form. Sedans come in around 5 seconds, while the Convertible's even heftier weight puts it just under 6 seconds. By custom the M3 is limited to a top speed of 155 mph.

Fuel economy is low, at 14/20 mpg for the hardtops and 13/20 mpg for the convertible. It's power-induced, but it's also low because the latest M3 weighs a lot. M3 coupes get some structural changes that other M3s do not-namely, a carbon-fiber roof--which cuts weight and lowers its center of gravity. And all receive aluminum suspension control arms and other slimmed-down pieces, while also adding a different rear suspension, heavy-duty brakes, and other performance upgrades. In the end, the M3 coupe still checks in at around 3,700 pounds, with Convertibles well over the 4,000-pound line. The weight gain and a package of electronic assists tip the latest M3 into grand-touring class, and convertibles are a certain notch below coupe and sedan in handling, with less rigid bodies and weight weighing on their capabilities.

The 2010 BMW M3 grips corners firmly, while the body stays tightly in line like a race car. The M3 offers a lot of high-tech features to go along with its top performance-and some of these are driving aids more than gadgets. First among them is the optional M Drive, which allows M3 owners to store and access dynamic control settings such as steering, damping, and stability-effectively allowing you to fine-tune the demeanor of the M3 to the conditions of the moment. It grants some control over the M3's adjustable shocks, steering, and stability control, but can be dialed to make the M3 feel twitchy and stiff. Fortunately, M Drive can be left off, or turned off, for maximum fun with heady doses of traditional BMW feel.

BMW has always been known for high quality, but its interiors can be dark and cramped. All are true to some degree in the 2010 M3. The front sport seats have plenty of room side to side, but a little more room in the footwells and a little more tilt to the bottom cushion would make for ideal accommodations. Not that you should worry so much about rear-seat passengers in something so singly focused, but the space back there isn't lavish, even in the four-door model. For front passengers there are wonderful, snug sport seats facing a well-fitted dash with subdued interior trim in carbon fiber, wood, or aluminum.

The 2010 BMW M3 lineup has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, the agencies have tested the essentially similar 3-Series sedan and coupe, which earn four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts from NHTSA. The IIHS rates the 3-Series coupe and sedan "good" for front and side impacts, while the convertible is rated at "good" for front and "marginal" for side impacts. Dual front, side, and curtain airbags are standard; so are anti-lock brakes, as well as stability and traction control. A rearview camera and adaptive cruise control are options. Visibility in all three versions is good, with convertibles suffering a bit to the rear quarters when the roof is raised.

The M3 range isn't inexpensive, and BMW trims the cars to luxury standards with 18-inch alloy wheels; xenon headlamps; power windows/locks/mirrors; cruise control; automatic climate control; leather upholstery; and heated, power-adjustable sport seats. All M3s come with an audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 functionality and an auxiliary jack. The M3 convertible roof is a multipanel, power-folding hardtop that closes or opens in about 25 seconds. Options include the Technology Package that adds M Drive and other driver-controllable handling and performance functions. Stand-alone options include Bluetooth; a navigation system with real-time traffic; Sirius satellite and HD radio; 19-inch wheels; heated front seats; a sunroof (a no-cost option on the sedan only); and iPod connectivity.

9

2010 BMW M3

Styling

It's not a subtle transformation, but the 2010 BMW M3 layers a little outrageousness on the classically handsome 3-Series shapes.

The latest generation of the BMW 3-Series grows into its M-edition bodywork easily, with its giveaway bulge on the hood-sort of an M-style Adam's apple.

MyRide.com noted that the M3 looked like a 3-Series that had gone to the gym, but added that the look wasn't overly macho. The front and rear bumpers both have a little more sculpting, as does the hood, but the sum total isn't a car that draws attention to itself—rather it's an "exquisite machine," MyRide.com wrote. Autoblog noted the quad-tipped tailpipes jutting out of the rear, letting drivers behind the M3 know that something special was ahead. Among the different body styles, the coupes are always among the most eye-pleasing on the planet, and the latest version doesn't disappoint, even though you may see a ghost of old Pontiac in its C-pillar kink. Car and Driver observes "visually, there's no confusing the M3 [coupe] with a standard-issue 3-series, even though both cars share doors, windows, headlights, taillights, and trunklid." Cars.com feels it's the sum of the M3's "flared fenders and nose-low, hunkered-down profile that suggests a nearly audible snarl." Convertibles thicken up as they lose their roof, while the sedan stays pretty and pert, with a kicked-up tail and enough subtle surfaces on the body to keep your interest beyond the front doors. In all, it's probably the best-looking M3 lineup yet.

Inside it's more standard-issue 3-Series than you might expect. There's something aloof about this interior that doesn't warm up, even with time. There's a Gaggenau-style coolness even with the custom colors and trims that can be ordered-though no one will ever complain about its big, clear gauges and dials. Touches of carbon-fiber paneling emphasize the big structural differences with other 3-Series cars, but you can choose more traditional walnut trim. "The M3's interior has undergone fewer alterations than the exterior, but there are a number of significant changes," Car and Driver proclaims. "The usual M treatment includes sportier seats with deep torso and side bolsters, a thick leather steering wheel, and a new M-badged tachometer." The "aggressive design of the front seats" in the BMW M3 captures the attention of Edmunds.

10

2010 BMW M3

Performance

The 2010 BMW M3 hits brilliant peaks of performance, with only memories of lighter, older versions muting the driving joy.

The 2010 BMW M3 range packs a wallop with its tremendous V-8 engine, superb handling, and excellent braking, though the weight it's gained and the electronics it's adopted make it a touch less engaging than the high-winding M3s of the past. The new 4.0-liter V-8 spirals to a towering 8,400-rpm redline and ushers out 420 horsepower at its peak, though the max twist of 295 pound-feet sounds statistically low. Edmunds calls the BMW M3 a "powerhouse"; it redlines at "a stratospheric 8,400 rpm," says Cars.com, and "in all six gears of its manual transmission, the engine just sings." Motor Trend thinks the M3's V-8 is so smooth "that the engine just doesn't seem to punch as hard as you think a V-8 should"-but agrees with Car and Driver that the "engine has usable thrust throughout its entire range." Automobile loves the song it sings: "The soundtrack is nothing short of magic."

The powertrain's equal partner is either a snicky six-speed manual transmission or the optional seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. While the clutch seems a bit heavy in the M3 BMW, it's "progressive," says Edmunds. The Automobile team notes, "the pedal is soft and easy to modulate," and the "shifter is familiar 3-series, which is to say precise and satisfying, if slightly rubbery." The new seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual "offers manual operation via steering-wheel-mounted paddles as well as a full automatic mode." Through a short-throw six-speed manual or a sweet dual-clutch transmission, the rear-drive M3 claws away at the pavement until it reaches 60 mph in about 4.8 seconds, at least in coupe form. Sedans come in around 5 seconds, while the Convertible's even heftier weight puts it just under 6 seconds. By custom the M3 is limited to a top speed of 155 mph.

Fuel economy is low, at 14/20 mpg for the hardtops and 13/20 mpg for the convertible. It's power-induced, but it's also low because the latest M3 weighs a lot. M3 coupes get some structural changes that other M3s do not-namely, a carbon-fiber roof--which cuts weight and lowers its center of gravity. And all receive aluminum suspension control arms and other slimmed-down pieces, while also adding a different rear suspension, heavy-duty brakes, and other performance upgrades. In the end, the M3 coupe still checks in at around 3,700 pounds, with Convertibles well over the 4,000-pound line.

There are several electronic nannies that can stand between driver and maximum fun—thankfully most can be disabled. The new M Drive mode lets drivers customize throttle tip-in, suspension firmness, steering response, and the traction control systems. Some critics have panned the system, noting that it adds too much tech into a driver's car. Car and Driver said the system was part of BMW's push for "technological overkill." Experts at Edmunds and Automobile sharply criticized the M3's steering feel, calling it numb on center and noting that there isn't the same communication between driver and road found in earlier editions of the M3.

Despite the optional add-ons, the 2010 BMW M3 grips corners firmly, while the body stays tightly in line like a race car. Reviewers cannot apply enough praise to its dynamics. Motor Trend gushes, "It's quick and precise; beautifully balanced and brilliantly responsive; deeply confident and inspiringly competent when you ask it the big questions." Car and Driver says, "Fast corners, slow corners, accelerating, or braking, it's just sensational." Cars.com proclaims "handling is superb." Edmunds calls it a "decathlete," observing "the agile handling is so composed that it makes the car feel like it's much smaller." Motor Trend reports the M3 "feels remarkably refined as it loafs along the freeway in sixth gear, even with the optional 19-inch wheel/tire combo fitted to our tester." Most of those comments come in reviews of the M3 coupe, and the sedan's performance is very similar-but the Convertible is reviewed separately, with Automobile noting a significant drop in handling prowess, thanks to the more flexible body and weight.

On stopping power, Cars.com says the M3's "brakes are progressive and linear," while Edmunds reports "braking is astounding, as the M3's binders boast powerful yet progressive action and the shortest stopping distance from 60 mph-just 100 feet-that we've ever recorded."

8

2010 BMW M3

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 BMW M3 gets by on front-seat comfort and a sexy engine note-but backseats are cramped and the tires make less pleasant sounds.

BMW is known for high quality, but its interiors can be dark and cramped. All are true to some degree in the 2010 M3. The wonderfully snug front sport seats have plenty of room side to side, but a little more space in the footwells and a little more tilt to the bottom cushion would make for ideal accommodations. However, the design of the front seats is "aggressive," contends Edmunds, noting that they are "multi-adjustable (under thigh, side wings)" and feel "custom-made to your body once you've dialed in your adjustments." The adjustable backrests keep you situated in the M3 BMW "when slicing through narrow canyons," claims MyRide, and even though the cockpit is "snug," it's deemed "roomy enough" by Cars.com.

Not that you should worry so much about rear-seat passengers in something so singly focused, but the space back there isn't lavish, even in the four-door model. Motor Trend dubs the rear seat "useable (occasionally)," while Car and Driver is a little more generous, saying, "rear seat-space with two adults is tight but livable."

Trunk space is decent in roofed models, but the hardtop convertible swallows its own cargo volume when it stacks its top away. Car and Driver finds trunk space to be "more than adequate." According to Cars.com, trunk "access is a little narrow." However, you can use the "folding split rear seats" to add cargo length at the expense of rear-seat accommodations if you'd like, claims MyRide.

Quality is mostly good, with noise playing a role in opinions of the 2010 M3. Edmunds wrote that the build quality for the M3 was excellent, and Autoblog added that most of the controls were in well-placed positions. Edmunds complained that the interior was a little boring, and "subdued," but most have noted that the rest of the car is anything but. The big V-8 underhood makes great noises, according to Automobile, who added that it was the most ferocious V-8 they've heard aside from Ferrari. Edmunds only noted subtle tire noise from the big, optional 19-inch tires, and noted that the sticker compound tended to drone. Cars.com didn't take exception, only noting that the M3 had more noise when driving on "porous pavement."

8

2010 BMW M3

Safety

The 2010 BMW M3 has all the usual safety gear, but hasn't been crash-tested.

The 2010 BMW M3 lineup has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, the agencies have tested the essentially similar 3-Series sedan and coupe, which earn four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts from NHTSA. The IIHS rates the 3-Series coupe and sedan "good" for front and side impacts, while the convertible is rated at "good" for front and "marginal" for side impacts.

Dual front, side, and curtain airbags are standard; so are anti-lock brakes, as well as stability and traction control. According to Edmunds, the 2010 BMW M3 offers a comprehensive safety package, including "full-length side curtain airbags, front seat side airbags [and] antilock disc brakes."

Visibility in all three versions is good; the M3 "offers good visibility and an excellent driving position," adds Edmunds, though convertibles suffer a bit to the rear quarters when the roof is raised.

9

2010 BMW M3

Features

The 2010 BMW M3 can suffer from techno overload-but conversely, it could use a couple more added-value standard features.

The M3 range isn't inexpensive, and BMW trims the cars to luxury standards with 18-inch alloy wheels; xenon headlamps; power windows/locks/mirrors; cruise control; automatic climate control; leather upholstery; and heated, power-adjustable sport seats. All M3s come with an audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 functionality and an auxiliary jack, Edmunds writes. Although the M3 has an expansive list of features, MyRide mentions there are "fewer standard features than competitors" on this M3 BMW. The M3 convertible adds a multipaneled, power-folding top that closes or opens in about 25 seconds.

Options include the Technology Package that adds M Drive and other driver-controllable handling and performance functions. Stand-alone options include Bluetooth; a navigation system with real-time traffic; Sirius satellite and HD radio; 19-inch wheels; heated front seats; a sunroof (a no-cost option on the sedan only); and iPod connectivity. By adding the Premium Package, you gain "power-folding mirrors, BMW Assist and enhance interior trim," says Edmunds, while the Technology Package includes the M Drive feature.

Two features of all M3 cars irk reviewers more than others. The first is the relative lack of standard features like iPod connectivity and Bluetooth. The second is the long-controversial iDrive controller, which has been updated with new, better software. The Technology Package brings with it that "unintuitive iDrive multifunction controller," Edmunds notes, while Car and Driver leaves it understood, saying, "we've beaten that dead horse enough already."

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