Second Opinion: BMW M3

March 25, 2008
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Last year, when I drove BMW's M3 for the first time in Europe, I came away with some vivid impressions from behind the wheel. I also came back with some questions: "The new M3 is faster than its ancestors. But is it a better one?" I wrote in's full road test of the M3 coupe.

It can be difficult to gauge performance on European roads -- especially when the roads in question were a privateer track in southern Spain, Ascari, and the unmarked lane-and-a-half paths leading up from Marbella into nearby mountains. Outside of Southern California, there's not much like that terrain in the U.S.

On the infrequently used track, and even on the local roads, the M3 felt a little greasy underfoot. Its specially-designed Michelins and the MDrive function that allows rapid-fire steering and throttle feedback conspired to make it a handful in some situations.

As a result, back then, I didn't think much of BMW's MDrive, which also tweaks the stability control to allow considerably different driving profiles--mild to manic. "It's a transformer, all right," I wrote. "It can turn the M3 from a controlled GT to a twitchy, overzealous piece if you choose unwise settings. You don't want to play with it in mid-turn. And in truth the M3's stock choices are good enough to leave this option unticked."

What a difference a new patch of asphalt can make. A few weeks ago, I went out to the Monterey peninsula and nearby Laguna Seca to take another chance at hitting the edges of the M3's performance envelope. And especially on the hairpins and kinks at Laguna, the M3 felt much more assured and less twitchy than in Spain.

Laguna Seca's one of the most technically challenging and devilish places I know outside of beer bash at the Lone Star Saloon. But the M3's astronomical grip was on full display. And minus the jetlag factor, it got easier and easier to push it, harder and harder, until finally it was time to hand back the keys. Even twiddling with MDrive couldn't provoke the kind of knee-jerk reactions I'd felt over in Iberia.

For about $58,000, the M3's one of those delightful German supercars that attracts ten times many fans as well-heeled buyers. You can include me in that former bunch. I liked its responses from the first time I drove it -- but on American soil, the M3's grown more even-handed.

The only question: who's actually gotten a better grip, the car or me?

See more M3 photos: convertible, sedan and coupe

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