Moving away from the straight six to a 414-horsepower, 295-pound-foot 4.0-liter V-8 for the newest model, the M3 delivers strong power, an amazing wail toward its 8,400 rpm red line, and impressive tractability in any gear. Paired with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the combo feels more race car than road tourer, though it's completely at home on the commute as well. With the standard six-speed transmission, the driver is more involved in wringing the most from the engine, though it may not be as absolutely quick and repeatable on track. Acceleration is quick either way, with 60 mph clicking past in 4.8 seconds for the coupe, 5.0 for the sedan, and a shade under six seconds for the convertible. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
A green machine it isn't, at 14/20 mpg city/highway for the coupe and sedan and 13/20 mpg for the slightly heavier convertible. M3 coupes share most of their structure with the others, but get a few unique pieces: a carbon fiber roof for lighter weight and a slightly lower center of gravity being foremost. All models use aluminum suspension control arms, with the rear design being unique to the M3. Upgraded brakes, higher-performance tires on wider wheels, and a unique exhaust also make the most of the M3's 3-Series platform. Even with the high-tech materials and weight savings, the lightest of the M3s weighs about 3,700 pounds with the convertibles nudging past the 4,000-pound mark. The weight gain does impact handling and braking, most noticeable in the convertible, but high-tech electronics help extract more performance for the average driver.
Cornering grip is brilliant, and well balanced, though biased like most production sports cars toward understeer at the limit. Defeat the electronic controls, however, and the car can be steered with either end in the hands of a talented driver. Backing away from the unbridled edge, the M Dynamic mode allows high slip angles and more wheelspin than standard traction control before reining the driver in. On the optional high-tech gadget list is M Drive, which lets owners store settings for the dynamic control elements, like steering, damping, and stability control, allowing you to fine-tune the car to your preferences. M drive can be switched off for normal driving or disabled completely for tire-smoking fun without computer interference.