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PERFORMANCE | 10 out of 10
BMW raises the performance benchmark once again
engine has usable thrust throughout its entire range
Car and Driver
Less powerful than Lexus, Audi, Mercedes-Benz
It's quick and precise; beautifully balanced and brilliantly responsive
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.
BMW adds 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. The M Drive button and the linked electronics let drivers alter the M3's throttle feel, the stiffness of its shocks, the quickness of its steering, and its permitted 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 dislike 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." As a result, 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."
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."
The 2010 BMW M3 hits brilliant peaks of performance, with only memories of lighter, older versions muting the driving joy.