2009 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test

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2009 BMW M3: Does It Have to Be Red?

March 23, 2010

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Another Inside Line BMW M3, another flamboyant red interior.

Every time I drive our 2009 M3 sedan, I'm reminded of a James May column (read it) in Top Gear. He wrote it a few years back when Jeremy Clarkson was shopping for a Gallardo. May's point, made convincingly I thought, was that it made no sense to buy a Lambo and do it up with understated black or dark green paint. There's no racing heritage in a Lamborghini; rather, these cars are all about flamboyance bordering on vulgarity. So you have to choose one of the wild and crazy paint codes, or else people will think you're delusional about the marque's history.

For different reasons, I feel BMW M3 buyers are obligated to get the Fox Red Novillo leather.

BMW builds some entertaining cars, but they take themselves so darn seriously. How else to explain their conservative designs (the company is doing its best to eradicate all traces of the Chris Bangle era) and dour, no-tolerance-for-nonsense interiors?

As capable as it is, our M3 sedan has no business taking itself seriously. Yep, this is a car a businessperson might drive, but it makes all sorts of nasty, vicious sounds at startup, and as you drive around town, you hear all sorts of noises and vibrations that you wouldn't hear in an ordinary 3 Series sedan. This is the soundtrack of a car, or a warship, with so much power and weaponry, it's trying to tear itself apart. Sold under a different brand by less prosperous dealerships, this car might be called "Lancer Evolution."

Of course, the M3 has evolved into a pretty luxurious car over the years. But there's still a streak of rawness in it and there's no sense hiding that under beige or black leather. So it's up to you to encourage BMW to be a little less serious. It's up to you to order the red hide.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 18,595 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Sporty Steering Wheel Part 2

January 25, 2010

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I reported last week how our long-term 2009 BMW 750 has a sporty steering wheel.
Our 2009 BMW M3's wheel is even sportier.

Measuring 365 x 360 mm, the pic shows how the small-diameter wheel is almost perfectly circular, a bit unusual as most steering wheels are slightly oval shape. This sized wheel would probably be too small for larger cars like the 7-series, but for our M3 it's fine.

One thing I don't care for is the cross-section -- it's a bit too thick for my medium-sized hands.
Most people I know like the thick cross-section; it's popular on many sports cars.

I prefer a medium diameter cross-section (as on our BMW 750).

How about you?

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ 15,606 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Showing Its Age

January 04, 2010

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So here we are 14,636 miles into our M3's life and it's beginning to show some signs of wear. This is the driver's side floor mat which is unraveling at its seams. Not a really big deal but somewhat surprising this early on.

More after the jump.

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2009 BMW M3: Battery location

December 24, 2009

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I was rummaging around the trunk of our long-term 2009 BMW M3 the other day, looking for the owner's book, when I came across this little cubby.

Hit the jump to find out what's underneath; plus, a Christmas bonus!

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2009 BMW M3 Sedan: Hear a Rattle?

December 10, 2009

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I have a regular passenger who is convinced there's a rattle coming from the vicinity of the passenger-side C-pillar in our long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan. He reminds me about it every time we get in the M3, but from the driver seat, all I really hear is the sweet howl of the 4.0-liter V8. I usually just stare at him blankly.

So last night he climbed in the backseat with his BlackBerry Curve and made this recording of the apparent rattle. Anybody agree with him?

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 13,489 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Don't Rely on the Back Seats Too Much

December 09, 2009

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I've noted the convenience of our M3 sedan in the past. With so little lost in terms of styling or performance, the sedan would be an easy choice for me.

But I don't want to oversell it either. Just take a look at those back seats. Not much room there for actual people. Sure I shoved a pre-packaged lamp back there once, but I'm not sure I would feel great about asking someone I liked to spend much time in back.

If I actually used my car to cart people around on a regular basis I might look into something a little bigger. But I don't, so the M3 would still be my $60K sedan of choice.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

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2009 BMW M3: iPhone Holder? No. iMac Holder? Yes.

December 02, 2009

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Our Long-Term 2009 BMW M3 is nearly flawless in its execution. Refined. Comfortable. Dynamically thrilling. It's hard to fault the car. But I love a challenge.

In this case the challenge was finding a way to secure my iPhone while keeping it easy to access. Most cars offer multiple pockets for such duty between the front seats, but not the M3. Initially I tried putting it in the small, shallow ash tray ahead of the shifter, but that resulted in an iPhone lost beneath the driver's seat after one semi-aggressive right turn.

My next attempt involved one of the elaborate cupholders that deploy above the glovebox (shown above). But like the ash tray this storage bin is too shallow, and I eventually relocated the precariously shifting iPhone before it fell out.

Eventually I stuffed it in the console pocket under the armrest. It fits in there, and I can technically answer incoming phone calls by hitting the main iDrive button. But if I need to do something more elaborate, like find an address in my address book or let my wife use the Zagat appliction to find a restaurant, I have to dig it back out. This has been an issue with BMW's for years -- no easily accessible storage bins for cell phones, sunglasses, access cards, etc.

Maybe it's like iDrive, and I "just don't get" the design brilliance of an interior without storage bins.

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2009 BMW M3: Simple Where It Needs To Be

November 11, 2009

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Notice anything missing here? Here's a hint, stop looking.

There nothing missing. Despite the rather simplistic center stack layout, the M3 isn't lacking any of the creature comforts you would expect in a $70K sedan. Seat heaters, dual zone climate control, adjustable suspension, sport throttle setttings, it's all there, it's just not stuffed all into one spot.

Having iDrive actually helps in this regard. Yes, there I said it, iDrive to the rescue. Actually, I'm not exactly sure why our M3 seems so simple inside, but I know that I like it. After fumbling through all too many consoles full of buttons, it's nice to get by with a couple of knobs and not much else.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

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2009 BMW M3: Seat Wear Already

September 18, 2009

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After 9,000 miles of use the leather on the seat bolster of the M3's driver's seat is visibly showing wear. Not a huge surprise considering it's impossible to climb in the car without rubbing your derriere across it, but it does seem premature after just 9,000 miles.

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2009 BMW M3: Coffee and doughnuts

September 10, 2009


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Last week I rambled on about how I love electronic parking brakes such as those in our long-term Audi S5, and how they free up space for cupholders and interior storage.

Well our long-term BMW M3 is a Driver's Car, so it is equipped with a proper mechanical handbrake. Perhaps the handbrake will augment your drifting or doughnut skills?

And our M3 also has a hill-holder brake, so you when start up that steep grade in San Francisco you'll have both suspenders and a belt.

Of course, the mechanical handbrake leads to the trade-off of only a tiny console storage box.
I couldn't find anywhere to place my phone or spare magazine.

But cupholders?

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2009 BMW M3: Super seats, great color, but starting to creak

September 08, 2009


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I love our 2009 BMW M3's front seats because they are so supportive, yet comfortable.
And they're adjustable for:

1. Seat back side bolster width
2. 4-way adjustable lumbar support
3. Seat bottom fore/aft and height
4. Seat back rake
5. 2-setting memory control
6. Manual thigh support extension

I also love the brick color leather. With most other luxury makes, you get a choice of black, tan, or gray. Boring.

But they're starting to creak. It's only noticeable at parking speeds when the radio is off, but it's there.
I don't think it's from contact of the seat with the center console, but that's possible.

The creaking isn't as bad as our dearly departed CTS, but our M3 has only 8000 miles.
We'll see if others here notice it too.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Evaluation Engineer @ 8200 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Comparison Drive, Part Two

August 04, 2009

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[The following is a continuation of yesterday's M3 comparison drive post. Your editor has finished his drive with the M3 and is ready for the follow-up with a base Corvette coupe.]

Oh, dear.

I've just saddled up into the cabin and it's already not looking good for America. Literally. Our Detroit editor Dan Pund once described the new Dodge Challenger's interior as a "dour black bog." Having just come out of the M3, this is comparatively what the Vette's interior looks like.

There's no pretty two-tone interior with metallic trim. Nor is there a fancy navigation screen or iPod adapter. And compared to the M3's meaty steering wheel, the Corvette's Cobalt-issue wheel feels spindly and too big in diameter. It doesn't telescope, either. Everything has just taken a step down in refinement, as if I've moved from a lovely villa in San Francisco into a rented apartment in Fresno.

Is this a forehead-smacking "I should have bought an M3!" moment? Nah. Because then I fire up the big 6.2-liter V8 and things get better immediately. At idle, the Corvette's sound is deeper, more guttural and vastly more pleasing than the M3's. It's also helped by the fact that the Corvette is cheating a little -- it has the optional dual-mode exhaust that's been hot-wired to be fully open on demand. (A 40-second video of the dual-mode exhaust (it's a black Vette but not mine) can be found here.)

My friend in the Aston Martin V8 Vantage couldn't stay around, so it's just me rumbling out of town. The Corvette has a pretty comfortable ride quality, even with the equipped Z51 sport package. Over bumps, though, the Corvette is less complaint than the M3, especially if the M3's dampers are set to the base "Comfort" mode.

Out on the country roads, departing after a stop sign gives me the chance to work the V8, umm, just a little. And yes, holy schnikeadees, you better make sure the front wheels are straight because the Corvette is ridiculously quick. With less weight to move and more torque than the M3, the accelerating Vette could fool me into thinking there's a rocket strapped where the exhaust normally is.

Shifting gears takes a tad more time than it does in the M3, but the shifter still has a pleasingly meaty and solid feel to it. In general, the Vette's drivetrain comes off as more thuggish than the M3's high-strung V8, but each is undeniably addictive in its own way. Every time you get on the Vette's throttle, you'll want to sing out the chorus from the Team America: World Police theme song.

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2009 BMW M3: Comparison Drive, Part One

August 03, 2009

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Eight hundred and fifty horsepower. That's what has been sitting in my garage ever since I brought home our 2009 BMW M3 sedan. It's a bit absurd, really, having a white 2009 M3 with gray wheels parked next to my black 2008 Corvette coupe with gray wheels. What have I done to deserve this yin-and-yang good fortune?

But ever since editor Josh Sadlier brought up a point on an Edmunds Daily post about how the M3 challenges the Corvette as a value-for-the-money leader, I've been wondering how the two cars stack up. So I decided a little comparison drive was in order. It's good versus evil, propeller versus flags, bratwurst versus hot dog. It's the everyday sport sedan versus the everyday sports car.

Since it was just me over the weekend for this comparison, I'd have to drive one car at a time on a 100-mile route that was mostly highway, country roads and curvy roads that head up into the Sierra Nevada. The M3 was up first for this early morning drive. With a clean M3 and a blue sky, it was if the driving gods had pronounced, "Go Forth Young Man and Burn Some Hydrocarbons." Well, OK, if you insist, holy ones.

M3 Drive

The M3's 414-horsepower 4.0-liter V8 isn't a morning person, though. Like head honcho Karl posted before, fire the V8 cold and it's rather rough and grumbly. Apparently, BMW has it this way to reduce cold-start tailpipe emissions.

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2009 BMW M3: Variable Redline Indicator

July 30, 2009

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Tradition has carried on from the previous-generation M3 as the new M3 has a variable redline indicator on the tachometer. When you first start up, the redline is low and then slowly rises in engine speed as the V8 warms up. From a diagram in the owner's manual, it appears that redline can be as low as 4,500 rpm, though here during the California summer our 2009 M3 sedan's redline has never been lower than 6,000 rpm or so. Of course, once it's fully warmed up, the engine can spin up to 8,400 rpm.

The old M3 had a colored light indicator for redline (previous blog posts with photos are here and here) but this time it's an analog indicator that circles the outside of the tach. It operates sort of like a reverse thermometer; the red part slowly drops down as the engine warms up. The new redline indicator is more sophisticated than the old M3's colored lights, but part of me still likes the old lights for their honest simplicity.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2009 BMW M3 Sedan: No Way to Center Mount A Baby Seat

July 20, 2009

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Our M3 Sedan doesn't have an owner's manual so finding out details like this is sometimes a trial-and-error procedure. This weekend I tried to mount the world's largest convertible baby seat in middle of the M3's back seat. Middle mounting provides a space cushion on either side of the car seat. Here's what the innermost passenger side LATCH anchor (there are four total) looks like. Look carefully and you'll see that the webbing from the conventional seatbelt anchors prevents the LATCH clasp on the car seat from fastening in right side up. Of course, you could twist in and it will fit fine, but twisting reduces the webbing's load bearing ability and seems just plain stupid.

So, the question is, does BMW do this intentionally to keep us from installing the seat in the center position (for safety, presumably) or is this dilemma simply a byproduct of the car's design? I think it's the former, as I've had this same problem in our Audi A4.

To center mount the seat, one must use the regular seat belt to tether it to the car, which isn't nearly as secure. I just want maximize safety when I carry my child in the car. Having the crush space around her (by center mounting the seat) seems far safer than putting her on one side. But using the conventional seat belt isn't ideal.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ about 6,100 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Blind operation of the driver seat

July 08, 2009

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Our long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan has very supportive and comfortable front seats.
And a lot of available adjustments.

Let's run them down, from left to right in the top pic:

1. Adjusts seat back side bolster width, so both supermodels and those aspiring to be on "The Biggest Loser" can be comfortable.

2. 4-way adjustable lumbar support: In/Out & Up/Down. I have never found the Up/Down feature useful in any vehicle -- but that's just me.

3. Seat bottom fore/aft and height

4. Seat back rake

5. 2-setting memory control

6. (Bottom pic shows manual thigh support extension)

The first few times I drove the M3, I was confused by all the seat controls. You see, when the controls are in this position, we use blind operation to control them -- you just reach down without looking. There is a low limit as to the amount of information we can process without visual cues. (I suppose you could conduct trial & error -- what a pain.)

Benz and others have previously gotten around this by placing the seat adjust switches on the door panel -- it's a better user interface. However, this is undesirable from a styling standpoint.

After a short time, I was able to discern our M3's different seat switches with blind operation because they are well-spaced. But I had to first get out and look at them from outside.

All of these seat adjustments could befuddle a Camry driver.
But on a driver's car like the M3, once you understand them, they're quite useful.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Evaluation Engineer @ 5600 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Subtle Details Losing Subtelty

June 16, 2009

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Ed mentioned the subtle details of the M3 door sill in a recent post. I noticed the same when my shoe caught the neighboring trim piece and flung it from the car yesterday. Its marred underside gave the impression I wasn't the first down this path. The trim piece snapped back into place with minimal effort. But it reminded me of a related problem with our long-term Z.

Is this a new trend in build quality or are we just clumsy? There must be similar stories out there. Do you have one? Let's hear it.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 4,444 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Subtle Details On a Not-So-Subtle Car

June 15, 2009

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Thankfully, BMW has resisted the urge to exploit its well-known Motorsport brand. The latest M3 features several subtle reminders of its capabilities, but for the most part they are low-key and tasteful. Just the way they should be.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line


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2009 BMW M3 Sedan: Kid Duty

May 19, 2009

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I've driven our long-term BMW M3 sedan a couple of times, but haven't had to transport my 3-year-old in it until last weekend. Gave me the opportunity to try out our Recaro child seat in it. Installation was a snap; the grippy Fox Red Novillo leather and firm cushion kept the seat in place really well. I was able to get the seat cinched down tight the very first time, too. Legroom for the kiddie was decent, and the hard plastic seatback on the front passenger seat took the brunt of her dusty shoes after a park trip, then easily wiped clean with a damp cloth when we got home.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 2,682 miles

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2009 BMW M3: Storage Fail

May 12, 2009

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The current (E9X) BMW 3 Series comes standard with a shallow storage cavity aft of the shifter on the center console. It's kind of a joke, but at least I'm able to squeeze my cell phone and wallet into it. Our long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan has the iDrive option, which replaces that storage cavity with the iDrive controller.

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2009 BMW M3: Yes, Those Seats are as Comfortable as They Look

May 11, 2009

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There aren't many seats capable of contracting to the point of gripping my slender torso, so when I find some that do I feel the need to call them out. The front chairs in our M3 sedan are nearly flawless despite their relatively basic appearance, and it's not just because of their claw-like grip. They are also easy to adjust, firm without being uncomfortable and nicely finished.

I expect seats this good in a sedan this expensive, but that doesn't mean BMW doesn't deserve a little back slap for delivering on the promise.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line See full article and comment.


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