What's New for 2010
The 2010 BMW M3 receives two minor changes: standard HD radio and optional automatic headlights.
"Buy a classic M car while you can." That should be the advertising catchphrase for the 2010 BMW M3. BMW's Motorsport division (hence "M") has always been about the pure joy of purpose-built, high-revving, naturally aspirated engines, but that's changing in a big way. There are now two SUVs in the M lineup, both of which are powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 that also sees duty (albeit in a less powerful form) in non-M products. That same turbo V8 is also rumored to power the next-generation M5 super-sedan. Soon enough, the current M3 will be the only traditional M car left.
The mere mention of "Motorsport division" gives most driving enthusiasts goose bumps, and the 2010 M3 is a perfect example as to why. Under the hood resides a thrilling 4.0-liter V8 that's quite literally a chip off the old block, as it's basically the current M5's V10 minus two cylinders. With a redline of 8,400 rpm and a glorious wail at full throttle, this 414-horsepower motor is an engineering masterpiece, boasting ample midrange power and an addictive high-rpm rush.
The M3's excellence is such that it transcends performance data, but for what it's worth, the numbers aren't too shabby either. With a 0-60-mph sprint of 4.6 seconds and a 12.7-second quarter-mile, this Bimmer can keep pace with a Porsche 911 in a straight line. If the road gets curvy, the M3's up for a fight as well, thanks to its balanced and capable chassis. At the same time, the M3 suspension tuning is relaxed enough for the daily commute, its cabin is well constructed and full of available high-tech goodies, and you can even get a sedan version if you're looking for one car that will do it all. Try as we might, we have a hard time finding ways in which the M3 does not impress.
The M3 has no rivals that offer its combination of performance and body-style variety, but there are a number of other desirable cars to consider at this price point. The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG comes only in sedan form, but its broad-shouldered V8 power and excellent handling give the M3 a run for its money. The Cadillac CTS-V is bigger and heavier, but its eye-popping performance can't be ignored. The Audi S4 and S5 are less powerful and capable, but they represent an intriguing middle ground between the M3 and BMW's own 335i. But at the end of the day, there's nothing like the 2010 BMW M3. It's quite possibly the last of its kind -- drive one while there's still time.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 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, keyless ignition and entry, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, power-adjustable sport seats with driver memory, split-folding rear seats and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player, HD radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The coupe features a carbon-fiber roof, the convertible has a power-retractable hardtop, and all M3s receive (relative to the regular 3 Series) 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, automatic high-beam operation, a sunroof (sedan and coupe only), heated front seats, extended leather upholstery, rear park assist and a number of audio options, including an upgraded sound system, satellite radio and an iPod adapter.
Powertrains and Performance
A 4.0-liter V8 powers the 2010 BMW M3, sending 414 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a 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 2010 BMW M3 include front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control. The convertible lacks the side curtains, but the regular front side airbags extend up to head level, and there are also pop-up rollover hoops. 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 M3 itself has not been crash-tested, 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.
Interior Design and Special Features
The M3's sport seats are at once outstandingly supportive in hard driving and among the most comfortable we've sat in for long trips. The backseat is a bit cramped, however -- expected in the two-door models, but not in the sedan, which trails rivals from Audi and Mercedes in rear headroom. In the coupe, an automatic seatbelt arm delivers front occupants their belts, eliminating 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. However, the overall design lacks visual interest despite the availability of metallic and wood accents. The current version of iDrive -- mandatory with the optional navigation system -- is by far the best yet, featuring extra physical buttons and a revised menu structure for much more intuitive operation. From the driver's perspective, there's a notable lack of bins and cubbies in which to store cell phones, wallets and the like, especially if the iDrive controller has been equipped, as it replaces the storage nook on the center console.
The 2010 BMW M3 is the heaviest M3 yet, but it's also the most capable. The 4.0-liter V8 is one of the most exhilarating engines in any car, and most drivers will run out of gumption far before the M3 runs out of grip. The electronic damper control (EDC) option provides three driver-selectable suspension settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport), but even in Normal, the M3 does an adequate job of soaking up bumps while providing world-class body control on back roads. Frankly, those who get the M3 without EDC will never miss it.
The optional M DCT dual-clutch automated manual is good but not great. Specifically, you can't have rev-matched downshifts without harsh upshifts -- on the smoother shift-quality settings, the rev-matching feature is absent. The manual transmission, in typical BMW fashion, has longish -- but still satisfying -- shifter throws and a remarkably light clutch action.
Read our BMW M3 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test