- Stunning V-8 power
- Exceptional dual-clutch and manual transmissions
- Grippy handling
- The sensation of added weight
- Much more expensive
- Technology interferes with handling
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.
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.
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.