2011 BMW M3 Review

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Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
February 13, 2011

Stunning performance is still the calling card for the 2011 BMW M3; the weight it's gained may just be a sign of its success.

BMW's M3 is heavier, more expensive, and unlike previous models, V-8 powered. It's also more technologically advanced, leveraging extensive electronic controls and aids to attempt to bridge the gap between a Grand Tourer and a race-bred street car--with mixed results. Met with both controversy and applause, the latest generation of M3 has become more familiar over the last three years. Starting at $55,900 for the sedan, $58,900 for the coupe, and $67,550 for the convertible, the M3 competes with the Audi S4, Cadillac CTS-V, and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

The M3 series has never fallen short in the looks department, and the latest generation doesn't disappoint--in fact, it may be the sharpest M3 range ever. With coupe, sedan, and convertible body styles available, anyone can find the M3 they're looking for.

Performance is another strength for the M3 range, though those interested in the best handling, acceleration, and braking will do well to skip the heavier, less-rigid convertible. The strong 414-horsepower V-8 engine and available dual-clutch transmission are notable changes for the newest M3, offering blistering performance and ease of driving.

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Quality, fit, and finish are all excellent, as you'd expect from BMW. Pricing matches the quality, however: it's high. Optional trim changes, a wide range of available options, and a strong base spec make the M3 worth the price.

Safety is a tricky issue with high-end cars, which aren't often tested by the safety agencies. The 3-Series the M3 is based on performs well in crash tests by the IIHS, however, and the M3 should do just as well, with a strong complement of standard safety features.

The latest M3 features more technology, both in terms of driver-configurable performance controls and entertainment, information, and navigation, than any previous model. It's also highly competitive with other cars in its segment.

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2011 BMW M3

Styling

It's not a subtle transformation, but the 2011 BMW M3 layers a little outrageousness on the classically handsome 3-Series shapes.

It's easy to spot the M3 from among the standard 3-Series range thanks to the bulging hood that makes room for the 414-horsepower V-8 below. In coupe form, the M3 is one of the best-looking two doors available.

The sedan's profile lengthens and pushes the coupe's more upright, but remains stylish. The convertible gains some thickness and heft with the loss of the roof, but likewise is among the best lookers on the market. In all, it's one of the most attractive M3 lineups ever.

Interior design is a bit more common to the rest of the 3-Series than you'd expect, with materials and shapes remaining somewhat cold and aloof rather than engaging or welcoming. Custom colors and trims can help make it your own. Easy-to-read dials and gauges, touches of carbon fiber, and available wood trim upgrades also speak to the M3's quality of design.

 



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2011 BMW M3

Performance

The 2011 BMW M3 hits brilliant peaks of performance, with only memories of lighter, older versions muting the driving joy.

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.

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2011 BMW M3

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 BMW M3 gets by on front-seat comfort and a sexy engine note-but backseats are cramped and the tires make less pleasant sounds.

Quality is a keyword for BMW and always has been, but its interior feel can be a bit dark and cramped; all of these elements are present in the cabin of the 2011 M3.

The front sport bucket seats offer plenty of room, but thigh support is lacking, and there's not much room in the footwells on either side.  The rear seat is best reserved for occasional use by adults, though some (likely smaller) passengers may find it just fine.

Beyond the top-notch build quality and materials, there can be a bit of noise in the cabin--the wail of the V-8 raises in both pitch and volume as you step on the gas, though in a sports car, it's hard to call that a fault. The wide, grippy tires can drone on some surfaces, though for the most part it's nothing to complain about.

Optional trim upgrades of carbon fiber, wood, or aluminum allow customization but don't much brighten the somber experience.

 

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2011 BMW M3

Safety

The 2011 BMW M3 has all the usual safety gear, but hasn't been crash-tested.

Like most high-dollar high-performance cars, the BMW M3 hasn't been tested by either the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

The nearly-identical 3-Series, however, scores top marks from the IIHS, rating "good" in all categories for the coupe and sedan, with the convertibles rating "marginal" in side impact protection. The NHTSA hasn't yet rated the 2011 3-Series.

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.

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2011 BMW M3

Features

The 2011 BMW M3 can suffer from techno overload-but conversely, it could use a couple more added-value standard features.

As you'd expect with a car priced in the M3's range, all trims feature luxury elements, including 18-inch or larger alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, automatic climate control, heated power-adjustable seats, and leather upholstery.

All M3s also feature an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo system with auxiliary input. For the convertible, the multi-panel folding hard top opens and closes in about 25 seconds, and definitely counts as a cool bit of mechanized wizardry.

Optional upgrades include the Technology Package that adds the M Drive system and other driver-controllable handling and performance elements. A la carte options include Bluetooth, navigation with real-time traffic, satellite and HD radio, 19-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, a sunroof (at no cost on the sedan), and iPod connectivity.

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2011 BMW M3

Fuel Economy

It's about as inefficient as a full-size pickup, but the performance payoff may be worth the trade in economy.

Far from an economical commuter, the BMW M3 makes conscious sacrifices to thriftiness in the name of sport. Rated at 14/20 mpg or 13/20 mpg for the convertible, the M3 won't win any endearment from your greener friends--but the speed fiends in your social set will be crowding them away from the car anyway.
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8.6
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Expert Rating
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Styling 9
Performance 10
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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