Matt Davis, European Correspondent
It's a funny thing about the E92 version of the BMW M3 coupe. Just when the sexy beast comes off feeling a scooch chunky and lumbering in everyday use, we have an opportunity to take it out on a track and drive it as it's meant to be driven and all is forgiven. Keep the standard 414-horsepower M65B40 V8 up around 7,000 or 8,000 rpm through the middle gears of the seven-speed M-DCT paddle box, and we really feel why it has been engineered as it has. It borders on dynamic poetry in motion once all the onboard tech is set up just as we like it and the curves begin while we learn the right line.
To paraphrase the immortal Nigel Tufnel, the 444-hp 2011 BMW M3 GTS takes the BMW M3 E92 and goes to 11. There is never any doubt about what is meant to be going on here. Weight is down 187 pounds to 3,462 at the curb, all things mechanical have been optimized for track use, there's a bolted-in rollover bar where the rear seats used to be, and an available Paddock package makes sure you're accompanied by two bikini-clad young ladies carrying beer-branded umbrellas to shade you from the sun every time you want to leave the house and go for a drive. (Would we kid you?)
Which is why not one of the nearly 150 units of the 2011 BMW M3 GTS that have been planned to be produced at the BMW factory in Regensburg is bound for North American ownership. It's just too politically incorrect. And it would have a couple homologation issues, and then it also comes with some clubsport-type add-ons that North American authorities have deemed ultra-dangerous, like evil fiberglass bucket racing seats, a demonic roll cage, dastardly polycarbonate side rear windows and back window, and life-threatening six-point seatbelts.
OK, We'll Try It Anyway
So we approach the 2011 BMW M3 GTS with the idea that maybe someday a friendly European tycoon will call and have us flown to a private racing circuit and then cavalierly toss us the BMW key fob to stuff into the dash of his $140,000 M3 GTS. (Actually, after taxes most Europeans will have paid $170,000 or more. Shocking, yes, but every M3 GTS is already sold, and not to stupid, wasteful people.)
And in a way, this is actually what has transpired, only with BMW itself playing the role of the tycoon. Fob stuffed in just to the right of the steering wheel and start/stop button poked, the GTS woofs to life. Much of the acoustic insulation has been chucked into the dumpster and the titanium, low-backpressure Boysen exhaust is extra resonant, so we hear so much more of the V8's voice as it seeks the 8,300-rpm redline.
Setting all touchables and viewing aids to accommodate our physical orientation in the manually adjustable competition seat, we swing the meaty steering wheel back and forth to take notice of the GTS's steering rack, which has less hydraulic assist. We've selected the Competition mode on the electronics, so we hunker down, feeling mean. Getting into line on the pit lane here at the idyllic Ascari circuit in southern Spain with the sun bearing down on us with the intensity of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the steering rack and the front suspension and the front brakes make those metallic pinging sounds that set the competition-themed scene even clearer. The track test of the 2011 BMW M3 GTS awaits.
Can We Try It Again? And Again?
With track conditions ideal for the GTS's 19-inch Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires — 255/35ZR19 96Y front and 285/30ZR19 98Y rear — we set off at the green flag.
At Ascari, the curve combos are almost ideal for a car like the GTS, and the delirious elevation changes in several sections of the 3.4-mile circuit add gravitational stresses to the test. The dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual gearbox with BMW's Drivelogic has its brain software diddled with to make upshifts and downshifts both extra quick. Then the suspension is very special with adjustable, competition-grade KW dampers and springs that make it possible to dial in either a street ride height (0.8 inch lower than the stock M3 setup) or a race setting (1.5 inches lower in front and 1.2 inches lower in back versus the stock M3).
The track conditions inspired such confidence that GTS-specific stability and traction helpers are switched off, the power button is lit up and both green lights are lit for the electronic differential. We also have the Drivelogic echelon of M-DCT calibrations illuminated up to the threshold prior to Launch Control.
Our faith was not betrayed as the 2011 BMW M3 GTS just ripped off several laps and then seemed to ask, "OK, so is that all you got?" For all of the challenging curves and occasional off-camber sweepers at Ascari where the drive in the stock M3 had given us such perfect drifts, the GTS just stays stuck and flat and extremely fast, with almost no need to feather the throttle.
Tight in the Tight Stuff
With the use of wheel spacers and forged-aluminum 19-inch wheels, the GTS has wider tracks than the stock M3. And the combination of this wider footprint with a dramatically lower ride height makes the whole car feel just as hunkered down as we are in the racing seat. It's sensational, and you can't beat the song the engine sings as the engine rpm rises and falls during a lap on a track.
The floor where the rear seats once lived has also been swapped out for a much lighter and stiffer piece built from sandwiched resin material, thus aiding and abetting the V8's glorious sound. Both the center console and inner door panels are redone in the same material. It's competition-grade stuff.
The adjustable rear wing not only looks great but also is adjustable over a wide range, anywhere from -3 degrees for almost no added downforce in back to +9 degrees for anyone who feels they really need some squat back there. The M pros from BMW recommend that this aluminum cheese cutter — some 47.8 inches wide — be set between zero and +5 degrees on any given day.
Prospective owners of the 2011 BMW M3 GTS have a wide range of colors from which to select, so long as they choose the Fire Orange you see here. Just as we love this sort of burnt color on any Lamborghini — or, heck, any hot performance tool if executed well — so we dig it here.
Once you open the hood you'll discover that the plastic engine cover for the M3 V8 also gets the orangesicle treatment. It is nice to see that BMW has done something playful here; perhaps AMG and Porsche will start finding more gratuitous joy in the engine bay in a similar fashion.
To make the M3's 4.0-liter V8 into the GTS's 4.4-liter V8, the stroke of the cylinders has been stretched from 75.2 millimeters to 82.0 millimeters, a modification made with different connecting rods.
With 444 hp at 8,300 rpm on which to call, 100 km/h (62 mph) now comes up in just 4.4 seconds from a standstill. That's down from 4.9 seconds in the showroom M3. Top speed is let out at 190 mph for the 2011 BMW M3 GTS, while the standard M3's top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
How To Whine Enough So We Get a Few for the U.S.
It's just not going to happen, kids. And, at any rate, the price tag for the 2011 BMW M3 GTS is rather filled with numbers at $140,000, isn't it? So it's probably almost sale-proof in the U.S. anyway.
Nevertheless, this is an appropriate car with which to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the BMW M3. Not since we drove the E46-generation 2003 BMW M3 CSL back before the Italian authorities started enforcing speeding laws have we had this much completely satisfying enjoyment in an ultimate driving machine.
Deliveries just started on July 7, in Western Europe, while the right-hand-drive units for Britain and those of similar persuasion start delivery in January 2011.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report, which originally appeared on insideline.com.
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