Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.
You'll Like The 2011 BMW M3 If...
Any iteration of the M3 is – at least in today’s automotive spectrum – truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With performance that borders on the supercar descriptive, in a subtle color – and to the vast majority of the population – the M3 isn’t all that distinguishable from the 328. And if you don’t possess a law degree – or a close relative with a law degree – not gaining undue attention while going fast is an extremely good strategy.
You May Not Like The 2011 BMW M3 If...
If subtle isn’t exactly your thing, any number of alternatives competitive with the M3’s price point ($60,000) would most certainly attract more attention. The Cayman comes to mind, as does Cadillac’s CTS-V, Nissan’s GT-R and the Lexus IS-F. All are worth a test drive, but will ultimately not deliver the M3’s carefully constructed balance of performance, quality and already-iconic stature.
New standard features include Auto Stop Start, automatically stopping the engine when the transmission is placed in neutral and the clutch is released. The engine starts immediately upon depression of the clutch. Manual sport seats are available on the coupe and sedan, saving weight and simplifying long-term maintenance. Option packages – Premium, Cold Weather and Convenience – are remixed.
Regardless of how you decorate it (and there are numerous choices in leather and trim), the M3 driver’s cabin is just that – a place for a pilot and (up to) three passengers. Both coupe and convertible are rated by the EPA as subcompacts, and there’s a reason for that: Those with big luggage or big families need not apply. The M3 is arguably BMW’s most driver-oriented vehicle (check out the M Drive button now mounted on the steering wheel…), and isn’t for the poseur – although we’re sure that class makes up an increasing number of buyers. Front seats are ultra-supportive, which speaks well to the target demographic; young, affluent and hyper-active. Convertibles are often relegated to recreational duty on weekends, with the top – depending on regional climates – rarely raised, while the M3 Sedan provides a sweet spot in family mobility.
BMW’s M3 is, in a word, planted, sitting low and almost rakish on its four large alloys. The front fender gills remain, as do – in the rear – the prominent exhaust outlets. The front fascia is more aggressive – and its air intake more expansive – than the standard 3 Series, and the hood is domed, but general proportions mimic those of its more attainable brethren. We especially like its side skirts, which add immeasurably to its profile.
There are few things capable of carrying a driver and three passengers which will deliver the unfiltered fun of BMW’s M3. Beginning with one of the best production platforms in the business, BMW’s M team adds to or massages virtually every area of the drivetrain, suspension and structure. Steering is precise, and big brakes provide fade-free usage at any speed, and for virtually any period of repeated stopping. For those preferring we summarize numerically: 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 155.
Pricing begins at a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail price (MSRP) of about $58,000 for the 2011 BMW M3 Sedan, $61,000 for the Coupe and just over $70,000 for the Convertible. And while those window stickers can easily be elevated – by as much as 20 percent – via BMW’s option sheet, the M3’s performance envelope – especially in a track day environment – is the equal of exotics costing tens of thousands more. When buying, be sure and check kbb.com’s Fair Purchase Price for a reliable indicator of what buyers in your area are paying. In terms of resale, we expect the M3, like all of BMW’s lineup, to hold up well over time.
In today’s M3 everything in or on the car is notable. We’d point to BMW’s almost compulsive effort to reduce weight, beginning with lightweight components sprinkled throughout the unit body and suspension, and topped with a carbon-fiber-reinforced roof. It’s also worth noting that this is the M3’s first V8; the model started with a high-revving 2.3 liter four (in 1988 for North America), and was succeeded by two different in-line sixes. Transmitting the V8’s prodigious power to the rear wheels is a 6-speed manual transmission, a (regrettably) rare spec even on performance coupes, and almost impossible to find on most competitive (as if…) 4-door sedans.
With the beginning of the 2011 model year, the M3 Coupe and Sedan are now available with a Competition Package. For $2,500 the buyer receives a 10mm lower suspension and 19-inch wheels (with greater offset for a widened track). In combination with reprogrammed electronic damping control and DSC systems, BMW claims this to be the "best handling" M-Series ever built. For the more visual, Mineral White Metallic has been made available on the M3 Coupe and Convertible.
Competition PackageFor $2,500 (on a BMW option sheet, little more than chump change) you can imbue your M Coupe or Sedan with all of the goodness Munich ever intended. It is wider wheels, lowered suspension and enhanced poise added to a platform that is already on the cusp of an automotive nirvana. Passengers should wear earmuffs and blindfolds.Performance Center DeliveryShow up in Greenville, South Carolina, receive track instruction in a similarly-spec’d M3, and head home in your new BMW boasting a newfound combination of pride and passion. BMW isn’t the first to combine track instruction with delivery, but they’re one of the few marques making it so accessible. Greenville, to be sure, isn’t the Nurburgring, but is so much more accessible to an Interstate.
Under the Hood
As noted, this is BMW’s first foray with V8 power in the M3. Don’t, however, be alarmed; this isn’t Dodge’s Challenger. The BMW edict of lightness and balance remain intact. The light-alloy 32-valve DOHC V8 is compact, and delivers 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque with the fluidity of an electric drivetrain. Despite upping the piston count by a third and providing 25 percent more displacement, the V8 weighs seven percent less than its in-line six predecessor. Mated to either the standard manual 6-speed or available 7-speed double-clutch gearbox, there is absolutely no interruption in the flow of power, all the way to the V8’s 8,400 rpm redline. And with the optional double clutch with Drive Logic, eleven different shift programs – five automatic and six manual – are designed to suit the needs of individual drivers and any driving situation. 4.0-liter V8414 horsepower @ 8300 rpm295 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3900 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/20 (sedan and coupe, convertible with automatic), 13/20 (convertible, manual)
Atop a platform that essentially defines "sport sedan," BMW takes all that is good in its road-going 3 Series and asks the question: Why should racecars be confined to racetracks? And with the extensive mods made to the 3 Series Coupe, Convertible and (once again) Sedan to create the "M" derivatives of same, they needn’t be. Out goes the in-line six – itself capable of 320 horsepower – and in goes one of the world’s most delicious V8s. Boasting 414 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque and a $1,300 gas guzzler tax, today’s M3 builds on a quarter century of high performance history and – once again – delivers the "shizzle" (German exclamation of uncertain origin) to its own, hyper performance category.