What's New for 2006
Although the regular 3 Series is redesigned for 2006, the high-performance 2006 BMW M3 continues on the previous-generation platform with no significant changes.
With colors like Laguna Seca Blue and Imola Red, there's no question as to where the BMW M3's aspirations lie. These famous racetracks would be fitting playgrounds for any car that promises such stratospheric levels of power and handling.
Whether blasting up Tamburello at Imola or diving into the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, few cars in the world could attack a road course with the tenacity of those wearing the "M" badge of BMW's Motorsport division. Until the 2001 model year, we had to deal with the fact that as much as we loved those Motorsport machines, our European counterparts were getting versions far more powerful than ours. Their M3s boasted 317 horsepower, while ours made do with just 240. Not that we were complaining.
Even with its detuned engine, the previous-generation M3 was still one of the best performance coupes available anywhere. But the grass is always greener on the other side, and U.S. enthusiasts couldn't help but wonder just how much better the M3 was in its Euro-spec trim. With the introduction of the current-generation BMW M3 for the 2001 model year, drivers had to wonder no more. The M3 is now the same whether you buy it in Stuttgart or San Francisco. Better yet, it's been blessed with an even more powerful 333-hp engine, a sturdier, more responsive suspension and slinkier bodywork that, we think, makes it one of the most stunning cars on the market.
Like so many ultrahigh-performance cars of today, finding the limit of the M3's abilities takes more than just an empty road and the guts to hold the pedal down longer than usual. Fortunately, the 2006 BMW M3 gets along just fine in suburban environments, though be forewarned that the ride walks a very fine line between all-out performance and day-to-day drivability. Enthusiasts will find it pleasantly firm, but poseurs had better hold on to their cappuccinos.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2006 BMW M3 in offered in both coupe and convertible form. Standard features on the coupe include 18-inch wheels with Z-rated rubber, automatic climate control, 10-way adjustable sport seats, leather and cloth upholstery, one-touch power windows, heated power mirrors, a CD player, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and keyless entry. The convertible adds power seat adjustments and full leather upholstery; these items are optional on the coupe. Additionally, the drop top comes with a fully automatic soft top (with heated rear glass); a removable hardtop is available. There are a number of option packages available, the most interesting of these being the Competition Package, which outfits the coupe with some of the performance upgrades from the coveted European-market M3 CSL, including 19-inch forged alloy wheels, larger Michelin tires, stiffer shocks and springs, a quicker steering ratio, upgraded brake pads and rotors, a less intrusive M Track mode for the stability control system, and unique Alcantara and aluminum interior trim. Choosing this package deletes cruise control and steering wheel audio controls. Among the other extras are a sunroof, seat heaters, HID headlights, a navigation system, a premium sound system, parking sensors, BMW Assist and an alarm system.
Powertrains and Performance
The BMW M3 is propelled by a potent 3.2-liter, six-cylinder engine rated at 333 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG) is offered as an option. The SMG offers both manual and automatic driving modes, and although it is by definition a manual transmission, its clutch is electronically controlled, such that there's no clutch pedal. Drivers can use either steering column-mounted paddles or the shift lever to change gears in manual mode. Unlike other systems, SMG allows you to alter the quickness of the shifts, and in its most aggressive shift program, it's said to be faster than Ferrari's Formula One setup.
Safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, front side-impact airbags, head curtain airbags for the front (coupe only) and a rollover protection system (convertible only); rear side-impact bags are optional. The BMW 3 Series earned a "Good" rating from the IIHS in 40-mph frontal-offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
Aggressive driving is aided by heavily bolstered front bucket seats, a thick M Sport steering wheel with attractive blue and red stitching and distinctive red-needled M instrumentation. The rest of the interior is pretty much standard-issue 3 Series, and that means high-quality materials and tight construction.
We've always loved the near telepathic feel of the 3 Series' suspension, and the 2006 BMW M3 is all that and more. The near insurmountable grip and predictable motions inspire cornering speeds that will leave even the most experienced drivers second-guessing themselves. Keep the throttle set in "Sport" mode and the M3 will tackle your favorite set of switchbacks as fast as any production car on the road.