What's New for 2012
For 2012, the BMW M3 coupe and convertible get a USB/iPod interface, Bluetooth, BMW Assist and an anti-theft alarm as standard features. The M3 sedan has been discontinued for 2012.
Is there anything the 2012 BMW M3 can't do well? We've tried to find some fault or glaring deficiency with BMW's alpha car?but we're at a loss. The 2012 BMW M3 is simply one of the best high-performance cars available that doesn't ask you to sacrifice for your daily needs. With seating for four, a comfortable but firm ride and 11 cubic feet of trunk space, the M3 calmly gets you across town, yet breathes fire and moves out quickly when called upon.
The 2012 BMW M3 carries over mostly unchanged, except that it now has a few more features as standard equipment. As before, it's powered by an exclusive, naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8 that has ample midrange power complemented by an addictive high-end rush as it winds out to an 8,400-rpm redline. In a straight line, the M3 is nearly as quick as a Porsche 911. A supremely balanced chassis and available adaptive suspension dampers help the M3 corner steady and true without sacrificing ride comfort on the highway or during the city slog. And the M3's well-constructed cabin, cosseting seats and high-tech features make long hauls as enjoyable as short sprints.
BMW has discontinued the M3 sedan for 2012, but we suspect it's only a temporary absence. With this year's introduction of a new 3 Series, a redesigned M lineup isn't far behind. The next M3 will likely be lighter and use a turbocharged inline-6 for improved fuel efficiency. While a turbo-6 will likely maintain the M3's ripping acceleration, we can't help but think a force-fed power plant will inherently change the nature of the car. Could the 2012 M3 be the last of the traditional M cars? It certainly looks that way.
The M3 has few peers that are as well-rounded, but for the money, there are several good alternatives. The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is available as a sedan and coupe, and its brutish V8 power and adept handling give the M3 a run for the euros. Cadillac's CTS-V is a larger, American-style take on the M3 ethos with eye-popping performance. Lexus' IS F sedan is often overlooked, but thanks to its recently retuned suspension that improves the ride quality, it's a desirable choice as well.
Still, for a world-class sports car that deftly navigates the daily grind, the 2012 BMW M3 is unbeatable.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 BMW M3 is available in coupe and convertible body styles. There is no M3 sedan for 2012.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, automatic and adaptive xenon headlights, automatic wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, manual sport seats with power-adjustable side bolsters and lumbar support, leather-cloth upholstery, Bluetooth, the BMW Assist telematics service and a single-CD sound system with HD radio, USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
The coupe adds a carbon-fiber roof and split-folding rear seat, while the convertible gets a power-retractable hardtop, power front seats with driver seat memory and sun-reflective leather.
The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats and retractable headlight washers, while the Premium package bundles comfort and tech features, including power-folding mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, upgraded leather, different interior trim, rear parking sensors and a navigation system (with real-time traffic and voice command). The same package for the coupe also includes power front seats, a power rear sunshade and leather upholstery.
Many of the above items are available à la carte along with 19-inch wheels, a sunroof (requires replacing the coupe's carbon-fiber roof with steel), heated front seats and a premium sound system.
Finally, the coupe can be fitted with the Competition package, which adds adaptive suspension dampers, 19-inch wheels with high-performance tires, a lowered suspension and different programming for EDC and stability control.
Powertrains and Performance
A 4.0-liter V8 powers the 2012 BMW M3, sending 414 horsepower 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 transmission (M DCT) is optional. The latter offers manual operation via steering-wheel paddles as well as a full automatic mode. All M3s feature a specialized locking rear differential.
In Edmunds testing, an M3 coupe with manual transmission sprinted from zero to 60 mph in a quick 4.6 seconds. A convertible with the dual-clutch automated manual transmission makes the same run in 4.8 seconds. With either transmission, EPA-estimated fuel economy is 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. A manual-equipped convertible gets 13 mpg city.
Standard safety features for the 2012 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 does feature rollover hoops and front side airbags that rise to head level. Braking performance is simply phenomenal. In Edmunds testing the M3 stopped from 60 mph in 100 feet, which is among the shortest distances we've recorded.
Though the M3 itself has not been crash-tested by the government or insurance industry, the previous-generation 3 Series sedan earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing. The 3 Series convertible, however, received the second-lowest "Marginal" score for its side-impact crash-worthiness.
Interior Design and Special Features
The M3's sport seats manage to be outstandingly supportive in hard driving, yet also very comfortable during long trips. The rear quarters are similarly soothing provided its passengers are smaller, but we still wouldn't keep adult friends back there too long. In the coupe, an automatic seatbelt arm delivers occupants their belts, which eliminates awkward torso twisting to belt up. In the convertible, the heat-reflective leather keeps the seats from getting scorching hot during those perfect top-down afternoons.
In terms of fit and finish, the M3 is excellent. But despite the different available metallic and wood accents, the overall design is a little sleepy (though some may find it classic in a minimalistic way). Regardless, the iDrive electronics interface -- mandatory with the optional navigation system -- is the best version of BMW's system thus far and reasonably easy to use.
The fun starts with the 2012 BMW M3's engine. The high-revving 4.0-liter V8 is one of the most exhilarating engines in any car we've driven. And this year's M3 is likely to be the last normally aspirated M car BMW will build.
On a winding road, most drivers will run out of courage long before the M3 runs out of grip. The adaptive damper option provides three driver-selectable suspension settings (Comfort, Normal and Sport), but even in Normal, the M3 does an adequate job of soaking up bumps while providing world-class body control on back roads.
The optional M DCT dual-clutch automated manual is good but not great. Specifically, you can't have rev-matched downshifts without harsh upshifts, because the rev-matching feature is absent when the settings for smoother shift quality are engaged. The manual transmission has long throws in the BMW fashion, but the action is satisfying and it's complemented by light-effort clutch action.