2012 BMW M3

8.4
2012 BMW M3

The Basics:

As the heaviest, most expensive, and most powerful--and only V-8-powered--version of the BMW M3, the latest generation is very different from its predecessors, but still manages to capture BMW's best performance traits.

Technologically advanced, with extensive electronic control systems for traction and dynamics, yet still focused and track-bred, the 2012 BMW M3 straddles the grand touring and sports car genres. Despite the high-tech equipment, the 2012 M3 carries forward the E92 and E93 Coupe and Convertible, even though the next-generation F30 3-Series is available in non-M form. No M3 sedan is offered this year.

Despite the weight gain, the BMW M3's still one of the most stunning performance vehicles we've driven.

The M3 Coupe and Convertible are among the best-looking mainstream sports cars available. Flared fenders, sleek profiles, bulging hoods, and all of the latest BMW styling cues combine to make a modern, elegant sports car that's clearly more than your average 3-Series.

Under the power-bulged hood sits a 414-horsepower 4.0-liter V-8. Paired with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission driving the rear wheels, it's a recipe for excellent acceleration, reaching 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds (Coupe) or just under six seconds (Convertible). Handling is excellent--the best in the segment, though the latest Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe has shortened the distance between them.

Quality, fit, and finish are all up to BMW standards, which is to say, very nice. Priced at $60,100 to $68,750 for coupe and Convertible, respectively, however, you'd expect them to be well made. A range of options, upgrades, and appearance tweaks inside and out offer a degree of customizability to the M3.

Though it hasn't been crash-tested by the major agencies--as is common with expensive high-performance cars--the 3-Series the M3 is based on has done well in those tests. The M3's handling and braking can also enable the driver to avoid some accidents altogether.

As for features and technology, the 2012 BMW M3 is well-outfitted in base form, and can be turned into a very luxurious ride, indeed. Navigation, entertainment, driver-configurable performance controls, and upgraded interior finishes put the finishing touch on an impressive sports car.

For 2012, the BMW M3 Coupe and Convertible move forward with no major styling changes, though a handful of new exterior and interior colors, and BMW's Individual Composition Package, are added for the first time.

From front the back, the M3 speaks of sporting ability. Low-slung, sleekly contoured, with just enough aggression at the front end, both Coupe and Convertible are at once instantly recognizable and familiarly BMW. Details like flared fender arches, the slightly domed hood, a carbon fiber roof, and low aerodynamics combine to remove the M3 from the realm of workaday 3-Series coupes or convertibles.

The Convertible's folding hard top makes it look almost like the coupe with the roof up, and tucks away inconspicuously when lowered.

The interior is simple, but well-executed. Well-bolstered sport seats, a comfortable, stylish steering wheel, and a bold, horizontally-oriented dash make for a purposeful, functional cockpit. Here, you'll find more shared elements with the standard 3-Series, and the shapes and materials may come off as somewhat cold to some observers.



Though it uses a V-8 where previous M3s have used inline six-cylinders or four-cylinders, the 2012 M3 is nonetheless true to its heritage in handling and overall ability. In fact, it exceeds all previous M3s in many regards.

The potent 414-horsepwoer 4.0-liter engine delivers fantastic sound in addition to acceleration, especially toward its 8,400-rpm red line. With 295 pound-feet of torque on tap, the M3 is also highly tractable in any gear.

A choice of seven-speed M dual clutch transmission or six-speed manual offers a choice between race-inspired quickness married with daily-driver convenience, or traditional self-shifting driver involvement. All M3s drive the rear wheels only.

Upgraded brakes, wider wheels, high-performance tires, and a redesigned suspension make the M3 significantly different from the 3-Series it's based on--and very capable on the track. Despite its race-earned credibility, the M3 is also well-suited to daily use, though you'll have to forgive it some stiffness in exchange for the excellent handling and huge grip.

One of the few things that compromises the 2012 M3's performance is its weight. At about 3,700 pounds for the coupe and more than 4,000 pounds for the convertible, neither is light. The M3's weight is most noticeable under braking, as the potent engine and ample mechanical grip make it accelerate and corner like a much lighter car.

Helping the driver extract the most from this high-performance platform is a network of electronic driver aids. M Dynamic mode allows the driver to play with slip angles and wheel spin, but with a safety net. The optional M Drive system adds the ability to configure and store different settings for the various dynamic control elements, including steering, damping, and stability control.

As much as BMW has built a reputation for well-built, well-designed cars, some of its interiors, particularly the 3-Series, can feel a bit dark and cramped. The 2012 M3 is--or can be, depending on configuration--guilty of this as well.

The darkness issue is easily solved by putting the top down on the Convertible, but the monotone, standard black of the dash and controls can still come off as somber instead of sporty. Optional trim upgrades to carbon fiber, wood, or aluminum relieve this issue somewhat, but not entirely.

The minor drabness issue aside, however, the M3's cabin is well-appointed, and well-constructed. The front seats are very comfortable and supportive, equally suited to long-distance drives and fast canyon runs. Thigh support may be lacking for taller drivers, however, and the rear seats are best used as package shelves or occasional child transport.

Despite the top-notch build quality, engine noise can be an issue at higher speeds or under heavy acceleration. Tire noise is fairly well-controlled, but some surfaces can create drone. All in all, however, noise isn't a serious complaint with the M3--most of the sounds are good ones.

 


Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the 2012 BMW M3. The last-generation 3-Series the M3 shares its core structural underpinnings with, however, fared well in crash tests, with only side-impact protection falling slightly below top marks.

The 2012 M3 also includes standard dual front, side, and side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; and stability and traction control. Optional upgrades include a rearview camera and adaptive cruise control. Visibility in both models is very good, though the convertibles suffer slightly with rearward visibility with the top up.

For 2012, the BMW M3 sees a slight shuffle in its options packages, as well as minor upgrades to standard equipment, but otherwise is unchanged from the 2011 model.

New standard equipment includes Bluetooth, BMW Assist, iPod/USB adapter, floor mats, and an anti-theft alarm system. Package changes see the previous Convenience Package and Premium Package 2 combined into a new Premium Package, which bundles all of the M3's most popular options into one package. A power rear sunshade is included in the Premium package, new to the M3 this year.

A new Individual Composition Package is also introduced this year, offering a choice of three unique metallic exterior colors (Ruby Black, Azurite Black, and Moonstone), three unique leather colors with extended leather surfaces (Champagne, Platinum, and Rust Brown), plus Individual piano black interior trim.

All M3s also come standard with an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo system. Optional extras include upgraded wheels, heated front seats, and a sunroof, though the sunroof deletes the carbon fiber roof from the Coupe.

The Convertible's folding hard top is power-operated and can open or close in about 25 seconds.

The 2012 BMW M3 is many things--practical, powerful, well-handling--but it's not fuel efficient. Rated at 13/20 mpg city/highway for the Convertible and 14/20 mpg for the Coupe, the M3 is a purchase made with full knowledge of the tradeoffs being made for its performance.

Buying Tips:

There's no M3 sedan offered for this model year; BMW's introduced a new-generation four-door that will eventually get an M3 variant, if tradition holds.

Other Choices:

  • 2012 Audi S4
  • 2012 Lexus IS F
  • 2012 Cadillac CTS-V
  • 2012 Mercedes-Benz C Class

Reason Why:

High-performance luxury cars draw a devoted crowd, and the M3 is the longest-lived in this bracket. So its fans are loyal, but we're sure at some point they've considered the likes of the Cadillac CTS-V, a 556-hp line of cars with especially communicative steering and great body control at the limits. Lexus's IS-F has a 416-hp V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, which gives it a technical edge on the M3. The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is faster this year, and now comes in coupe form, and finally has more of the frisky feel of the Cadillac or Lexus. The newest generation of the Audi S4 manages to undercut all these vehicles on price, while cruising alongside them, thanks to a 333-hp supercharged V-6, but like the M3, it's better savored minus the electronic add-ons to its suspension and steering.

The Bottom Line:

Despite the weight gain, the BMW M3's still one of the most stunning performance vehicles we've driven.

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