What's New for 2009
For the 2009 BMW M3, a redesigned iDrive controller debuts for the optional navigation system, which is now hard-drive-based and features real-time traffic. Also, the M3 sedan receives the same new taillights and other rear-end styling tweaks as the regular 3 Series sedan, as well as assorted minor interior enhancements.
There are a select few model names in the automotive world that consistently make otherwise mild-mannered enthusiasts salivate uncontrollably. One that will do the trick is "911"; so will just about anything following "Ferrari," and perhaps "GT-R." We think it's about time "M3" joined this exclusive group, if it hasn't already. Like its illustrious predecessors, the 2009 BMW M3 offers a singularly alluring cocktail of sports-car performance and everyday practicality.
The previous-generation M3 was a tough act to follow, boasting a supremely capable chassis and one of the world's greatest engines at the time: a 333-horsepower 3.2-liter inline-6. As enthusiasts waited for BMW's M division to get its hands on the current 3 Series platform, many genuinely wondered: How could BMW possibly make the M3 any better? Well, for one thing, the company gave it a 414-hp V8 -- and true to M3 tradition, it's a high-revving gem of a motor, providing ample midrange thrust that builds to a racecar-like wail as the tachometer needle swings past 8,000 rpm. For another, it brought back the M3 sedan -- last offered in 1998 -- and replaced the previous M3 ragtop with a retractable-hardtop convertible design. BMW head designer Chris Bangle also got his controversial hands on the current 3 Series' polarizing sheet metal, but the M3 makes the best of it, thanks to its blistered fenders and other go-fast styling cues.
So, does all of that add up to progress? Depends on whom you ask. Purists will still pine for the feral rasp of the previous-generation M3's inline-6, or the telepathic connection between chassis and driver that defined the original M3. All will agree, however, that the 2009 BMW M3's performance is nothing short of breathtaking. With a 0-60-mph sprint of 4.6 seconds and a 12.7-second quarter-mile, the M3 is squarely in Porsche 911 territory -- yet it boasts a livable suspension and usable backseat in any form, and it can even be had as a sedan. You know what? Purists, schmurists. What sane enthusiast wouldn't lust after a perfectly practical daily driver that can give one of history's most iconic sports cars a run for its money?
The M3's greatness is such that it's hard to identify any direct competitors. Audi's lame-duck RS4 convertible rides on an aged platform, and its overall performance can't hold a candle to the M3's. And although the new S4 sedan is closer, it still doesn't quite match the M3. The Audi S5 is a V8-powered performance coupe, but it competes more against the 335i than the M3. Mercedes-Benz's C63 AMG has the M3 outgunned under the hood with its 451-hp V8, but it's only available with four doors and an automatic transmission. Small wonder, then, that the M3 name leaves enthusiasts salivating -- there's just nothing else quite like it in the performance car arena.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 BMW M3 is available as a sedan, coupe or retractable-hardtop convertible. 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 power-adjustable sport seats with driver memory, split-folding rear seats and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The coupe features a carbon-fiber roof, and all M3s receive revised exterior 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. The technology package tacks on M Drive (which allows the driver to adjust throttle response and steering feel), a voice-activated navigation system, iDrive, keyless ignition and entry and electronically controlled dampers. À la carte options include 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof (sedan only), heated front seats, rear park assist and a number of audio options, including an upgraded sound system, HD radio, satellite radio and an iPod adapter.
Powertrains and Performance
A 4.0-liter V8 powers the 2009 BMW M3, sending 414 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. The redline is a thrilling 8,400 rpm. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and the M DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automated-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 all that thrust to the pavement.
In our track testing, an M3 coupe with the traditional six-speed manual shot to 60 mph in a fleet 4.6 seconds and blasted through the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined for all models except the convertible with the six-speed manual, which drops to 13 mpg city.
Standard safety features for the 2009 BMW M3 include front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control.
The M3 has not been crash-tested specifically, but the 3 Series sedan, on which the M3 sedan is based, scored four stars (out of five) for frontal impacts for both driver and passenger in government tests. It garnered a perfect five stars for side impacts for both front and rear occupants. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests gave the 3 Series sedan "Good" ratings (the highest possible) in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing, although the convertible received a second-lowest "Marginal" score because of insufficient rear-seat head protection and possible torso injuries for those in the front.
Interior Design and Special Features
Aggressively bolstered sport seats have long been an M3 trademark, and the current model continues this tradition. At the same time, the M3's seats are among the most comfortable we've sat in for long trips. The thick-rimmed, small-diameter steering wheel adds to the sporty feel, although some may find the rim too thick. In the coupe, an automatic seatbelt arm delivers front occupants their belts, obviating the need for torso-twisting maneuvers. The convertible's heat-reflective leather does a wonderful job of keeping the seats from absorbing too much heat from the sun with the top down.
Build and materials quality inside the M3 are excellent. The overall design lacks visual interest; however, the available metallic and wood accents dress things up a bit. This year's revised iDrive electronics interface that comes with the optional navigation system is improved over its confusing predecessor, but it still complicates the stereo controls considerably. Without iDrive, the M3's control layout is fairly straightforward and well-marked. From the driver's perspective, there's a notable lack of bins and cubbies in which to store cell phones, wallets and the like.
The 2009 BMW M3 weighs roughly 300 more pounds than its E46 predecessor, but it's still one of the most athletic cars you can buy. It sticks to the tarmac like pitch to your fingers, yet power-induced oversteer is rarely more than a flick of the throttle away. The electronic damper control (EDC) option provides three driver-selectable suspension settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport). Left in normal mode, the M3 does an adequate job of soaking up bumps while providing world-class body control in the twisties. Braking is phenomenal -- in our 60-0-mph braking test, the M3 came to a halt in just 100 feet, which is among the shortest distances we've ever recorded.
The optional M DCT dual-clutch automated manual is good but not great. Specifically, if you want rev-matched downshifts from the M DCT, you'll have to live with harshly executed but quick upshifts, because when you use the console-mounted toggle switch to dial the upshifts back to a less jarring setting, the transmission stops matching revs. This is an odd misstep for a high-performance car -- the downshifts should be rev-matched no matter what transmission mode has been selected.
Read our BMW M3 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test