2008 BMW M3

8.6
2008 BMW M3

The Basics:

TheCarConnection.com’s car experts researched road tests of the 2008 BMW M3 two-door from across the Web to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com also drove the new BMW M3 in Europe and in the U.S. to provide an expert opinion to guide our review, to add more information where necessary, and to help you by choosing reputable reviews and by explaining where they might differ in opinions.

The 2008 BMW M3 is the first M3 in history to sport a V-8. That's double the number of cylinders it had when it first arrived in the United States some 20 years ago. Thanks to the twofold increase, the 2008 BMW M3 has supercar-style performance in a $57,000 package.

The 2008 BMW M3 redefines the performance envelope for BMW's 3-Series range--but at a significant weight and price penalty. You might be going too fast to notice, though.

The heart of the new M3 is its 4.0-liter V-8, which kicks out 414 horsepower through a delightful six-speed manual transmission. This tarted-up 3-Series coupe (a sedan is also offered) will claw its way to 60 mph in only 4.8 seconds, and rushes to a 155-mph top speed.

Along with the stunning straight-line performance, it's the M3's stupefying handling and traction that draws in enthusiasts. The M3 grips corners firmly, while the body stays tightly in line like a race car. BMW's added too many electronic aids that can interfere with the driving experience--adjustable shocks, steering, and stability control among them--but fortunately, they can all be turned off for maximum fun.

Its price tag is now a stunning $57,000, but the 2008 BMW M3 handily turns in the kind of performance that brought Porsche 911s and Chevy Corvettes fame on the racetrack and on the streets.

Available in coupe and sedan styles, the 2008 BMW M3 transforms the usual 3-Series silhouette with lightweight body pieces, deeper front and rear fascias, and discreet “M” badging—all of which telegraph messages that this is no ordinary Bimmer.

"The BMW M3 appears as a 3 Series Coupe or Sedan that's been to the gym," explains MyRide.com, "not like a dude on 'roids but rather someone who's been doing twice-a-days and eating nothing but chicken and tuna." The front and rear fascias are "revised," the hood has "rippled aluminum" with vents, plus "additional vents on the fenders," they add, summing up its styling as "an exquisite machine that doesn't require exaggerated body kits to draw attention." Edmunds agrees that it has “more aggressive body styling” than the usual 3-Series coupe or sedan. Car and Driver observes its “bulging aluminum hood,” and says “visually, there's no confusing the M3 with a standard-issue 3-series, even though both cars share doors, windows, headlights, taillights, and trunklid.” The other panels have been massaged, and BMW replaces the normal steel on top with a "carbon-fiber roof," says Cars.com; it’s the "the flared fenders and nose-low, hunkered-down profile that suggests a nearly audible snarl." Autoblog points out the "M-specific quad pipes" that "let Bimmer cognoscenti know that they're behind something special."

“The M3's interior has undergone fewer alterations than the exterior, but there are a number of significant changes,” Car and Driver says. “The usual M treatment includes sportier seats with deep torso and side bolsters, a thick leather steering wheel, and a new M-badged tachometer.” The "aggressive design of the front seats" in the BMW M3 is what captured the attention of Edmunds. "Heavily-bolstered," the seats "feel custom-made to your body." Plus, the "thick-rimmed steering wheel" gives the driver a "sporty feel," while cruising down the highway. Additionally, "leather trim" and "door sills with the M logo" round out the interior of the "high-performance" M3 BMW, says MyRide.com, with the added comfort typically left out of such sporty vehicles.

The 2008 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.

The heart of the new M3 is its 4.0-liter V-8, which kicks out 414 horsepower through a delightful six-speed manual transmission. (A new seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission is available.) 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 BMW M3 is called 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 says “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.”

The EPA says fuel economy is 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.

Along with its stunning straight-line performance, it's the M3's stupefying handling and traction that draws in enthusiasts. The M3 grips corners firmly, while the body stays tightly in line like a race car. BMW's added too many electronic aids that can interfere with the driving experience--adjustable shocks, steering, and stability control among them--but fortunately, they can all be turned off for maximum fun. Car and Driver says, “Fast corners, slow corners, accelerating, or braking, it's just sensational.” Motor Trend writes, “It's quick and precise; beautifully balanced and brilliantly responsive; deeply confident and inspiringly competent when you ask it the big questions.” Cars.com thinks "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.”

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, the quickness of its steering, and 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 finds its reviewers disagreeing 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.”

The electronics and the V-8 engine are major changes to the M3’s temperament, which Motor Trend says “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.” They’re not alone: most reviewers felt the new M3 had grown into a larger, heavier, less responsive but no less capable grand touring car. Edmunds asks one thing: “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,” though it concludes the M3 is “hard to fault if you truly enjoy driving.”

BMW has always been known for high quality and great interiors, and the 2008 BMW M3 is certainly not an exception.

The design of the front seats in the BMW M3 is "aggressive" says Edmunds, noting that they are "multi-adjustable (under thigh, side wings)" and how they feel "custom-made to your body once you've dialed in your adjustments." The adjustable backrests keep you situated in the M3 BMW "when slicing through narrow canyons," says MyRide, and even though the cockpit is "snug," it's deemed "roomy enough" by Cars.com. However, when it comes to the rear seats in the M3 BMW, only two adults can fit--just. In the words of Motor Trend, it has a "useable (occasionally) rear seat." Car and Driver is a little more generous, saying, "Rear seat-space with two adults is tight but livable."

Storage is OK in the BMW M3, according to Cars.com, but "access is a little narrow." However, you can use the "folding split rear seats" if you'd like, according to MyRide.com, and Car and Driver finds trunk space to be "more than adequate."

Reviewers consulted by TheCarConnection.com had mixed--though still mostly positive--opinions about the M3 BMW's fit and finish. "Build quality and materials inside the M3 are excellent," says Edmunds. The placement of controls is "ergonomic," according to Autoblog, and the materials used in the BMW M3 are top-notch. Even so, Edmunds finds room for complaint when it comes to the interior, finding it "monotonous" and "subdued."

Noise is "unobjectionable" in the 2008 BMW M3, according to Cars.com, except when you're driving on "porous pavement," which really brings out the whine from the tires. Automobile adores the sound of the M3’s V-8: “Mash the loud pedal, and the quiet V-8 turns into a screaming demon,” they write. “It sounds angrier and more ferocious than any V-8 you've ever heard this side of Maranello.” Edmunds reports that the M3’s optional 19-inch tires are noisemakers: “these sticky tires are prone to generating noise ranging from a slight hum to a somewhat annoying drone.”

The 2008 BMW M3 has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Edmunds notes the similar 3-Series BMW scores four stars for front-impact safety and five stars for side-impact protection from the NHTSA, while the IIHS gives it a “good” rating.

The 2008 BMW M3’s safety package is comprehensive. It includes "full-length side curtain airbags, front seat side airbags [and] antilock disc brakes," according to Edmunds. The large four-wheel-disc brakes can abruptly stop the BMW M3, says Cars.com. To be specific, the "14.2-inch rotors are used up front, while rear rotors measure 13.8 inches," plus "antilock brakes and an array of assist programs, including BMW's Dynamic Stability Control, are used."

The M3 BMW "offers good visibility and an excellent driving position," says Edmunds.

The 2008 BMW M3 sports so many features, they can become a distraction from the essential driving experience.

The BMW M3 comes in one trim level, as either a coupe or sedan, says Edmunds, and includes "18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, xenon headlamps, cruise control, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable sport seats...split/folding rear seats and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack." Even though this is quite an expansive list, MyRide.com mentions there are "fewer standard features than competitors" on this M3 BMW.

If you choose to add the Premium Package on your M3 BMW, you will get to enjoy "power-folding mirrors, BMW Assist and enhance interior trim," says Edmunds. With the Technology Package, you will be adding the M Drive--"a feature that allows the driver to adjust the throttle and steering response/feel"--to your BMW M3, along with a bunch of other features like "keyless entry/start and electronically controlled dampers." The Technology Package also adds the navigation system, which requires “BMW's unintuitive iDrive multifunction controller.”

Options on the 2008 BMW M3 include 19-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, and rear park assist. Satellite radio, HD radio, and iPod connectivity are offered. A sunroof is a no-cost option on the sedan, Edmunds adds.

Buying Tips:


Be prepared to wait for your place in line. Even with the 2008 BMW M3's $57,000 sticker, buyers are lined up for the first-year models, which are destined to become collectibles. BMW will offer the same engine and performance bits in an M3 sedan and an M3 hardtop convertible late in 2008, and those cars will come with a new dual-clutch transmission that promises lightning-fast gear changes without having to use a clutch pedal.

Other Choices:

  • 2008 Audi RS 4
  • 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
  • 2008 Lexus IS F

Reason Why:

Though the BMW M3's reputation brings a legion of fans with it, the new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG may actually be faster, though like the Audi RS4, it comes only as a four-door sedan. The Audi supersedan also offers standard all-wheel drive, but it's slower and its price tag is nearly $10,000 higher than that on the BMW M3 or the Benz C63. Lexus's IS-F is a new entrant in this battle; its 416-hp V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission give it a technical edge on the M3 and the others, but loyalty counts in this crowd.

The Bottom Line:

The 2008 BMW M3 redefines the performance envelope for BMW's 3-Series range--but at a significant weight and price penalty. You might be going too fast to notice, though.

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