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PERFORMANCE | 10 out of 10
It's quick and precise; beautifully balanced and brilliantly responsive
engine has usable thrust throughout its entire range
Car and Driver
Less powerful than Lexus, Audi, Mercedes-Benz
BMW raises the performance benchmark once again
Although the 2009 BMW M3 feels larger and less laser-like than before, its straight-line performance and brilliant handling remain stunning.
It's the stupefying handling and Velcro-like traction of the BMW M3 that attracts enthusiasts. The M3 grips corners firmly, while the body stays tightly in line like a racecar. Car and Driver says, “Fast corners, slow corners, accelerating, or braking, it's just sensational.” 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.” 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.” The "brakes are progressive and linear," Cars.com adds, 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.”
Handling and traction, however, aren’t the only qualities defining the performance of the 2009 M3; there's also its 414-horsepower 4.0-liter V-8. So equipped, the M3 coupe will claw its way to 60 mph in only 4.8 seconds, and it rushes to a 155-mph top speed. 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 consists of either a delightful six-speed manual transmission or the optional seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. The 2009 M3 is regarded as the "new uber Bimmer" by MyRide.com due to its "six-speed manual tranny with a locking differential, an aluminum chassis, electronic damper control," and more. And while the clutch seems a bit heavy in the M3 BMW, it's "progressive," says Edmunds. Automobile 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.”
BMW has added numerous electronic aids that can interfere with the driving experience, such as adjustable shocks, as well as steering and stability control, to name a few. Fortunately, they can all be turned off for maximum fun. With the new M3 comes an optional M Drive feature that allows drivers to choose different aspects of the car’s performance. At the touch of a button, you can alter the M3’s throttle feel, the stiffness of its shocks, and the quickness of its steering; you can even set its stability control to let the car indulge in some wheelspin. This feature meets with plenty of controversy among reviewers; though Motor Trend says the feature “offers drivers the ability to 'tune' their cars,” Edmunds reviewers disagree on the steering feel, and Automobile declares it “frustratingly numb on center,” though “ride quality is phenomenal.” Car and Driver chalks it up to “BMW’s fetish for technological overkill.”
Most reviewers feel the new M3 had grown into a larger, heavier, less responsive but no less capable grand touring car. Edmunds issues one challenge: “drive the new M3 back to back against the previous version and you'll notice something has gone amiss in regard to the level of communication between the driver and the road surface.” However, Edmunds concludes the M3 is “hard to fault if you truly enjoy driving.” Motor Trend says 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.”
The 2009 BMW M3 packs a powerful V-8 engine, superb handling, and excellent braking in a package that’s just a little less engaging than the high-winding M3s of the past.