March 30, 2009
BMW is infallible, especially when it comes to cars with the vaunted M badge. At least that's what the fanboys say.
So we were a little confused and a little disconcerted the first time we hopped into this 2009 BMW M3 Sedan and its 414-horsepower 4.0-liter V8 settled into an idle beneath the hood in front of us. Alistair Weaver, our regular European contributor, told us in the First Drive of this car, "The 2008 BMW M3 surprises you. Its 4.0-liter V8 is quiet — possibly too quiet — and settles to a lazy, subdued burble. It's obviously a very different kind of engine than the inline-6 that powered the old M3, and for a moment you wonder if the gang at BMW M have botched up the world's finest high-performance coupe."
And so the fanboys have begun to secretly suspect that each new M iteration of the 3 Series has actually been less pure, less driver-focused and less M than the one that preceded it. And when it comes to the transition from the traditional inline-6 to the meaty (yet 33 pounds lighter) V8, the diehards get rabid.
Purity? Tradition? Forget that, because by changing the equation, BMW has created in the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan what is possibly the best sedan ever made.
Why We Got It
It's no secret that we here at Inside Line love us some comparison tests. Love 'em. So it was no coincidence that when the new V8-powered M3 was introduced, a 2002 BMW M3 was waiting in the wings as part of our test fleet.
Driving these two different generations of the M3 back-to-back, day in and day out in the real world would clarify the differences in real-world utility. (Hint: The one with more doors is better.) At the same time, the presence of these cars would provide us with ample opportunity to involve them in scenarios that always include the small print, "professional driver, closed course" scenarios. (Hint: The one with more cylinders is better.)
Was the V8 noticeably faster? Was the V8 noticeably better to live with? Does a V8 provide the same free-revving, command-and-control feeling of the old inline-6? (Hint: Yes, as in hell, yes.)
We got our first reminder of the value of BMW's free service for cars under warranty early in the life of our 2009 M3, because it required service at a mere 1,200 miles. The M cars require a post-break-in service (as if it were the 1960s), where both the engine oil and the final-drive gear oil are changed, plus the car is hooked up to the big computer at the dealer to check for any electronic updates. This service at Beverly Hills BMW was quick and free. Best of all, we were now free and clear to drive the 2009 BMW M3 however we wanted.
This, however, would not be the last time we visited the BMW dealer. The fancy kick panel fell off and we had to have Long Beach BMW order a new one. They did this and replaced it without us losing the car. We just waited.
Service is free for a new BMW for the first four years or 50,000 miles and our M3 was no exception. The thing is, though, you can't get your car serviced until the car's smarty-pants computer mandates it. And ours didn't mandate the second service until 16,895 miles — 15,695 miles after our only previous oil change. And while that's possible with modern engines and oils, let's not pretend that it was the same oil all the way through; as with every M3 we've known, this one used a bit of oil, some 4 quarts over a year.
The only other issue we had was the pinpoint tire placement of one Mike Magrath. Or, should we say, screw-point placement, as he managed to not only catch a screw, but do so right on the sidewall, where a simple patch would not be possible. The brand-new Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 took a day to show up and cost $420.87.
On the interior front, we were taken by the new, simpler iDrive and its high-resolution wide screen, and we even liked keyless entry, a technology that we have now come to embrace, though some might call us wimps for doing so.
Total Body Repair Costs: $0
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $0
Additional Maintenance Costs: $494.87 — engine oil and tire
Warranty Repairs: 1
Non-Warranty Repairs: 0
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 0
Days Out of Service: 1
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 0
Performance and Fuel Economy
Let's forget for a moment that the 2009 BMW M3 is a yuppie dream car and remember that M stands for Motorsport. Despite its tendency to loaf about in traffic, this car can be made to go fast in an exceedingly capable way. At the test track, it hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.8 seconds, a number that increased to 5 seconds at the end of the car's term with us (we blame worn tires and the abuse we visited upon the 2nd-gear synchromesh for this). For the same reason, the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan's quarter-mile performance also degraded from an impressive 12.9 seconds at 109.8 mph to a still-impressive 13.2 seconds at 108.9 mph.
Similarly, we recorded some degradation in braking performance, again a consequence of worn tires. At its first test, this M3 stopped from 60 mph in 105 feet, and then it did the same task in 110 feet at the end of the year. Both tests were notable for impressive brake feel, even if stopping distance changed.
While bald tires are a detriment to acceleration and braking, we've also seen this kind of rubber actually improve results in the slalom and on the skid pad, simply because there's less of the tread pattern to wiggle around. When new, our M3 gripped the skid pad at 0.90g, while in wrap-up testing it generated 0.94g. The slalom revealed the same behavior pattern, as it recorded 70 mph when new, and then went 70.4 mph at the end. All of these numbers, however, are slower than the results when we fit the car with the optional 19-inch wheels.
But just to clarify things, never once did we experience any lack of confidence in the amount of horsepower produced by the M3's V8. For example, we tested the engine on the dyno and discovered 376 hp at 8,000 rpm at the rear wheels.
More important proved to be evidence of the car's power on the test track.
Best Fuel Economy: 21.6 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 10.8 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 15.9 mpg
Longest Range: 316
With a starting value of $67,370, there hasn't been much in the Inside Line fleet that really compares with the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan. With only 19,358 miles on the odometer when we turned the car back to BMW, our 2009 BMW M3 Sedan had depreciated $20,100. That's 29 percent depreciation, not to mention an amount of money that could buy a used E46 M3.
True Market Value at service end: $47,270
Depreciation: $20,100 or 29% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 19,358
A Summary of Madness
Trying to summarize a BMW M3 is a bit like trying to explain a supernova crashing into a crayon factory to a blind guy. There's hyperbole and clichés, and none of them do the car any justice.
For example, the M3 doesn't make a whole lot of sense for simple performance, since the 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 keeps pace for about half the price, plus Sync is better than iDrive. But that's like saying Colt 45 malt liquor will get you just as drunk as Chateau Lafite Rothschild. The M3 E46 coupe proved to be a stunningly good car, yet the M3 E90 four-door sedan offers a stiffer chassis, more power, plus the utility of four doors. If the point of the M3 is to deliver extraordinary performance in a package that is compatible with everyday life, then the E90 is the best M3 ever, because it is both very, very fast and very, very refined.
Edmunds.com editor Josh Sadlier said it best: "The M3 isn't an overpriced 3 Series; it's a discounted supercar. In an age when raw automotive excellence is disappearing from showrooms faster than manual transmissions, this Bimmer stands apart."
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.