What's New for 2008
After a one-year hiatus, the 2008 BMW M3 returns and breaks with tradition by sporting a muscle-bound V8 instead of a stirring inline-6 under its bulging hood.
Since its inception back in the late 1980s, the BMW M3 has been thrilling driving enthusiasts. Throughout the years, the M3's ripping power plants, finely balanced chassis, telepathic steering and daily-driver usability have made this special version of the 3 Series a car to covet.
After the rather limited-production first-generation M3 that sported a pumped-up four-cylinder engine, subsequent iterations employed high-output inline-6s, with the last version making 333 horsepower. But with current countryman rivals sporting V8s, it's not much of a surprise to discover that the new-for-2008 BMW M3 has graduated to V8 power. It's also no news flash that the latest M3 has gotten a bit larger and heavier during its move to the latest 3 Series chassis. But has this "bigger, stronger, faster" design dictum at all hurt the balance and purity of the M3?
The answer's a bit muddled. Of course, the sound and fury of that 414-hp V8 is a big part of the newest M3's engaging personality, and nobody is going to complain about the car's 12.7-second quarter-mile time. And the 2008 M3 still does itself proud when it's time to turn the wheel, as it'll run through a set of twisties like a border collie through the weave poles at a dog agility competition. But 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. The car's steering is quick and laser-beam precise, but it lacks the intuitive feel for which older M3s are so well known
Apart from that one minor criticism, the 2008 BMW M3 is hard to fault if you truly enjoy driving -- it goes, stops and steers like a sports car while delivering a respectable measure of functionality, especially if you choose the sedan version. Of course, the same could also be said of the M3's stout competitors, namely Audi's S5 coupe and RS4 sedan and Mercedes-Benz's C63 sedan. Until we perform a comparison test, we're reluctant to pick a winner. Suffice it to say that choosing one is a task as enviable as having to pick something from the dessert menu at the Cheesecake Factory, and we can't imagine anyone's automotive sweet tooth not being satisfied by any of them.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 BMW M3 is available as a sport coupe, retractable hardtop convertible or sedan. Based on the compact 3 Series, the high-performance M3 comes in a single trim level.
Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, xenon headlamps, cruise control, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable sport seats (with driver memory), split/folding rear seats and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The convertible also features a retractable hardtop that provides the comfort and security of a coupe when raised, as well as the full top-down experience when stowed. Compared to a regular 3 Series, the M3 also features a carbon-fiber roof (coupe only), more aggressive body styling, an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, more powerful brakes and a limited-slip rear differential.
The optional Premium Package adds power-folding mirrors, BMW Assist and enhanced interior trim. There's also a Technology Package that adds M Drive (a feature that allows the driver to adjust the throttle and steering response/feel), a navigation system, iDrive, keyless entry/start and electronically controlled dampers. Other individual options include 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof (no extra cost, but sedan only), heated front seats, rear park assist and a number of audio options (premium sound, HD radio, satellite radio, iPod adapter).
Powertrains and Performance
No less than a 4.0-liter, 414-hp (295 pound-feet of torque) V8 powers the 2008 M3. Redline is a thrilling 8,400 rpm and a six-speed manual transmission sends the power to the rear wheels. A seven-speed automated-clutch sequential-shift manual gearbox is optional. The latter offers manual operation via steering-wheel-mounted paddles as well as a full automatic mode. All M3s feature a specialized locking rear differential to manage the transfer of the thrust to the pavement.
In our track testing, an M3 sport coupe with the traditional six-speed manual leapt to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds and flew through the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds. The power builds quickly and the somewhat heavy but progressive clutch and precise shifter allow rapid gearchanges. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined.
Standard features for the 2008 BMW M3 include full-length side curtain airbags, front seat side airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control.
In government crash tests, the BMW 3 Series sedan (on which the M3 sedan is based) scored four stars (out of five) for frontal impacts for both driver and passenger. It rated five stars for side impacts for both front and rear occupants. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the BMW 3 Series sedan scored "Good" ratings (the highest possible) in that agency's frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The first thing one notices upon entering the M3 is the aggressive design of the front seats. Heavily bolstered, the multi-adjustable (under thigh, side wings) sport seats feel custom-made to your body once you've dialed in your adjustments. They're also very comfortable on a long trip, as they provide proper support all around. The thick-rimmed, small diameter steering wheel adds to the sporty feel. In the coupe, an automatic seatbelt presenter "hands" front occupants the belts, so they don't have to perform torso-twisting maneuvers to secure themselves into the car. The convertible's leather seats feature Sun-Reflective Technology, which keeps the seats from getting scorching hot when the top is down.
Build quality and materials inside the M3 are excellent, as one would expect. The overall design is rather subdued, as the available metallic and wood accents have more of a monotonous effect than one of crisp contrast.
The optional navigation system is unfortunately bundled with BMW's unintuitive iDrive multifunction controller. Without it, the M3's control layout is fairly straightforward and well-marked. However, there is still the annoying process for shutting off the climate control -- one must tap down the fan speed until it shuts off, rather than simply hitting an "off" button.
Even now that it's powered by a muscle-bound V8 and has gained some 300 pounds, the M3 is still the automotive equivalent of a lithe decathlete. Acceleration is pin-you-to-the-seat thrilling and the agile handling is so composed that it makes the car feel like it's much smaller. 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.
When exercised on a winding road, the 2008 BMW M3's response to steering inputs is spot-on and the system is quick without being darty on the freeway. Some staffers felt that this BMW's steering has lost some of its trademark feedback compared to the previous-generation M3, though its polished and precise feel is still appreciated. If the M3 is equipped with the Electronic Damping Control (EDC) option, its three settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport) allow one to set the car up for canyon-carving or commuting duties as needs dictate. Left in Normal mode, the EDC does a fine job of absorbing the bumps while still providing enough body control for enthusiastic driving. One minor complaint involves the optional 19-inch performance tires. While extremely capable, on rougher road surfaces these sticky tires are prone to generating noise ranging from a slight hum to a somewhat annoying drone.