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2009 BMW M3: What's It Like to Live With?

Read all about the comfort of the 2009 BMW M3 in our long-term road test on

BMW M3 2009

What do you want to know about?


April 20, 2009

In 2000 BMW introduced a sport sedan that changed everything. It measured 188 inches overall, rode on a 111-inch wheelbase and weighed just over 2 tons. But it was motivated by a screaming V8 capable of delivering 400 horsepower at a mind-bending 7,000 rpm. Gears (there were six of them) were changed with swift motions of hand and foot. This, of course, was the E39 M5, a genre-busting super sedan that redefined not only what sedans could do, but also what reasonably responsible adults were allowed to drive without compromising their cover.

That car died in 2005 and its exotic V10-powered replacement has always seemed all wrong to us.

Inside Line's newest long-term test car picks up where the E39 M5 left off. It rides on a smaller platform, measuring 180.4 inches overall with a 108.7-inch wheelbase. It also weighs significantly less at 3,762 pounds. But the six forward gears are stirred by hand. It seats five adults. Most of all, it has a screaming V8, only this one's more powerful at 414 hp. And the redline is even higher at 8,400 rpm.

The 2009 BMW M3 is the baddest racecar-masquerading-as-a-sedan that BMW has ever built and Inside Line is testing one for the next 12 months and 20,000 miles. Is this combination of adult practicality and driver-focused bad attitude still as magical as we remember?

What We Got
Our 2002 BMW M3 long-term test car represents one of the finest examples of the M3 breed. We bought it used for about $30,000, but whoever originally ordered it knew what they wanted and paid significantly more to get it. Over the course of our time with this M3, we've found few flaws in it and we wanted our 2009-edition M3 to measure up to it as closely as possible. Well, except for exterior color. This M3 comes in Alpine White, a stark contrast to our black E46 M3. The E90 body style looks better in white, and we don't find ourselves heading to the car wash every other day like you do with any black car, which makes even a light coating of dust seem like evidence of a dedicated program of driver abuse.

The 2002 M3 in our long-term fleet wears red leather. So does our 2009 M3. The Fox Red Novillo leather adds $950 to the ticket, but we're sure it will get the same kind of admiration the '02 car's upholstery always gets.

Our 2002 M3 has a six-speed manual. So does our 2009. A dual-clutch automated manual is available at a $2,900 premium, but we're starting to believe that dual-clutch automated manuals are for people who don't really want to drive — and in this case, probably don't really want an M3.

The new-generation M3 makes available 19-inch wheels, which were also optional for our old M3. Nevertheless, the 2002 rides on 18s, as does the 2009 M3 — and for the same reasons. The 18s might represent a slightly lower performance threshold compared to the optional 19s, but the more comfortable quality of ride afforded by the taller sidewall of the tire more than makes up for it in the real world. Our seven-year-old M3 has gone through a few pairs of shoes already and now wears aftermarket Sumitomo HTRZIII tires, while our new one rolls on 245/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s.

During its year in our fleet, praise has been heaped upon the E46 M3 like so much used rubber on a tire fire. Except for the CD-based navigation system, that is, which was quite good nearly 10 years ago but now seems slow, incomplete and pixelated. The 2009 BMW M3 Sedan offers a modern, hard-drive-based navigation system featuring BMW's infamous iDrive control system. Navigation is lumped into the $3,250 Technology package, which also includes comfort access and HD radio. The Technology package also includes M Drive, which lets you set your own personal calibration of the various power, stability control and throttle settings and tie them into one button on the steering wheel. In our 2002 M3 you have to start the car, press the stability control button for 3 seconds to disable the electronics, press the sport button, and then get to it. For 2009 you just have to press the M button.

Our 2002 BMW M3 has a moonroof and our 2009 M3 has one as well, to the tune of $1,050 added to the bottom line.

Harman Kardon made the advanced-grade audio system that rocks our E46 M3, complete with the trunk-mounted CD changer that was necessary because the dash hadn't been designed with such electronics in mind. The Enhanced Premium Sound ($1,900) in our 2009 M3 E90 isn't branded, but it still kicks ass with an 825-watt, nine-channel digital amplifier with high-quality crossovers (signal processors designed to limit certain frequencies to particular speakers; we don't want 20hz tones pushed through tweeters do we?) and 16 speakers, a system that claims to offer quality only heard previously in high-end home applications. We'll see.

When the E46 M3 debuted in 2000, the iPod was still a black-ops project being tweaked behind the iron curtain of Apple. Had an iPod adapter been available in 2002, our M3 would have had one, so we made sure our new M3 had an iPod/USB adapter (not every BMW does, as our 2009 BMW 750i long-term test car doesn't have one).

Add a few other small options: brushed aluminum trim for $500; BMW Assist/Bluetooth for $750; Sirius Satellite Radio for $595; $825 for the destination fee; and a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, the penalty for the M3's EPA rating of 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway. Altogether the total rises to $67,370.

Why We Got It
Many a night the 2002 BMW M3 in our fleet is passed over by drivers because it's just not functional enough. Child seats are tricky; so is getting in the back for adults. BMW never offered a sedan for the E46 M3, but it did for the E36 M3 (1992-'99), at least until 1998. The year before the E36 faded away, BMW killed the M3 sedan, much to the dismay of enthusiasts (Americans especially) who were trying to find balance in their adult lives.

It took 11 years, but BMW has finally gotten the message that enthusiasts have friends and family. While we might tell our buddies differently, we spend more time shuttling kids to soccer than we do shuffling the steering wheel on our way through the Santa Monica Mountains. A sports car that can run with the best of 'em on Mulholland Drive and still carry two kids and a wife? Deal. Not only is the 2009 M3 four-door more practical than the two-door, but the sedan does without the coupe's high-tech carbon-fiber roof, and this means the sedan is $3K cheaper than the two-door model. So again, deal.

The Return of the King
Time is running out on our 2002 BMW M3 long-term test car. We've had it for 15 months now and the accounting department is getting itchy to sell it. It's been a fantastic ride, but there's been a thorn in its side for nearly its entire test: our 2008 BMW 135i long-term test car. The 135i actually matches our old M3 tick-for-tick in instrumented tests, plus it doesn't smell like old crayons.

This reminds us that BMW's self-imposed mission of raising the performance bar with each new model generation leads its engineers to build some of the best cars in the world, but it also means each new BMW invalidates the last. To take the new E90 M3 to a higher level than the E46 M3, BMW had to add about 100 hp. But how does it stack up against the character of our old M3, a car that ignites passion with each pulse of the inline-6? Does a V8 work in an M3? It makes good numbers, but does it still move us the way the old one does?

Stay tuned to the long-term road test blog for the next 12 months as we put 20,000 miles on the new, V8-powered 2009 BMW M3 Sport Sedan.

Current Odometer: 928
Best Fuel Economy: 16.8 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 14.5 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 16.0 mpg

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

Well that was quick

April 22, 2009

We just finished the break-in and ran our new arrival to the track for initial testing yesterday — results to follow shortly. Maybe we ran it to redline a few times during testing (yup), maybe it's normal protocol to change the first sumpful of oil after the car's initial break-in, but after the M3 sedan had a night to consider such things, the dash offered the international symbol for "look at me," or the exclamation point within a red triangle. Navigating (quite easily I might add) the new iDrive menus brought this message. It didn't offer this guilt-ridden message 40 miles ago, mind you, so the implication that we ignored it is false. Sheesh, layoff, okay? More to come.

Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor @ 1,305 miles

The First Test

April 23, 2009

On Tuesday we tested our M3 on with 1,166 miles on the clock in 96-degree weather. Neither of these conditions were ideal. But do either of them really matter? No, probably not. Why not? Well, because the 34 miles remaining to our official 1,200-mile milestone wouldn't have made the M3 any faster or extended its durability any longer. And the weather, well, we correct for weather.

Still, we could tell the M3's 414-horsepower, 4.0-liter V8 was working hard in the boiling atmosphere at our test track.


0-30: 2.0 sec.

0-45: 3.4 sec.

0-60: 4.8 sec. (4.5 sec. with 1-foot rollout like on a dragstrip)

0-75: 6.7 sec.

1/4-mile: 12.9 @109.8

These times are identical to those produced by the last M3 sedan we tested which just happened to be in a comparison test against the Mercedes-Benz AMG C63. That test was performed in 82-degree weather.


30-0: 26 ft.

60-0: 105 ft.

The M3's brakes needed quite a few stops to reach maximum efficiency and achieve this stopping distance, but they never hinted at fade.


Skidpad: .90g

Slalom: 70.0 mph

These numbers are both lower than our previous test car which was fitted with the optional 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport rubber (our car has 18-inch wheels). We also tested the M Dynamic stability control mode which produced .87g on the skidpad and a 69.4-mph slalom speed.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ something more than 1200 miles. Relax.

More Traffic Friendly

April 24, 2009

Over the course of this year, you'll no doubt be hearing a lot of comparisons between our 2002 BMW M3 Coupe and our 2009 BMW M3 Sedan. No doubt, there'll be lots of Josh Sadlier pining for the old car as he weeps gently in the corner with a picture of his dear "Emmy." No, he hasn't admitted to naming the M3, but I just know he has.

So to kick off the festivities, I thought I'd weigh in about an area not typically discussed in regards to a BMW M3: how easy it is to drive in traffic. The old M3 has a rather stiff clutch pedal that feels like it's attached to a taut coil spring (at least according to my leg). It's marvelous during aggressive driving, but it grows tiresome in stop-and-go traffic. Other than our STI, it was the last long-termer I wanted to get stuck in gridlock with.

By contrast, I'd be happy to take the new M3 any day of the week. The engagement point can be a little tricky at first, but after three or four blocks, there was no more jerking about. Clutch effort is now much easier on the old hamstrings, but still manages to feel mechanical and communicative. Perhaps this is where the car has lost some raw charm, but on a day-to-day basis, I could live with that.

Oh, and the audio/nav interface doesn't make me want to rip it out of the car and chuck it onto the street. That's right, I'll say it, "Yay iDrive!"

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 1,311 miles

1,200-Mile Service

April 27, 2009

As part of the break-in procedure, a service is required at 1,200 miles. They change the oil (10w60) and the final drive gear oil and check for potential updates to the software — there were none. The service took BMW of Beverly Hills about 4 hours and cost absolutely nothing. The GT-R's 1000-mile service only cost $179 because they didn't have official pricing yet.

Free maintenance, I dig it.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 1,351 miles.

Is Bigger Really Better?

April 30, 2009

Editor Oldham speced our M3. It's white. It's got red leather and 18-inch wheels. He's the boss so he gets to make the call on these things. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

But there are a few things that need to be said about the choices. White? Seriously? There isn't another color in the spectrum which more effectively steals a car's soul — not to mention its glorious subtleties. The Alpine White on our M3 does a brilliant job of hiding the hood's power bulge and the otherwise striking fender flares. I'm not a fan.

And the red leather: Who am I Bozo The Pimp?

And the wheels: He chose 18s because he likes the way the look. "They've got dish," says Oldham. But they don't have dish. Not any that matters anyway. He pointed out that they do, however, cost less — the 19s are a $1,200 option. But according to the hairsplitting M3 nerds on M3 the 19s (with tires) actually weigh less.

Thing is, they might just be worth it. I think they look better and the last M3 sedan we tested with 19s outhandled our car.

What say you?

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

Jacquot's A Fool. It Looks Great.

April 30, 2009

As I said in the title, Jacquot's a fool. Our white long-term M3 sedan looks great in white and those dark 18-inch wheels are the only way to go. The white with dark wheels thing is cool and they are proportionally right for the car. The optional 19s are too big and too shiny. But Jacquot is known for his love of the bling. The guy just put 22-inch spinners on his wife's Mazda 3. So I urge you to consider the source.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

Sticky Rubber

May 03, 2009

The tires on our 2009 BMW M3 are undeniably sticky; they messed up my driveway a bit this weekend.

That's OK, I'll take it. After all, the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires help this 3,710-lb sedan stop from 60 mph in 105 feet, slither through the slalom at 70.0 mph and orbit the skidpad at 0.90 g.

But will they last 20,000 miles? Highly doubtful, but we intend to find out.

AA traction: Yeah, I second that motion.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,038 miles

The Final Word on White With Dark Wheels

May 04, 2009

Last Thursday Jacquot called me out on our white 2009 BMW M3 sedan. He said he didn't like the white with dark wheels thing, which I chose.

He wrote: "There isn't another color in the spectrum which more effectively steals a car's soul — not to mention its glorious subtleties. The Alpine White on our M3 does a brilliant job of hiding the hood's power bulge and the otherwise striking fender flares. I'm not a fan."

Well ladies and gentleman I believe that Mr. Josh secretly likes the look of our M3, and I present this photo as exhibit A for the prosecution.

On Friday Jacquot and I went down to Anaheim to check out qualifying for the D1GP. Upon arrival we parked next to this white 135i, which is obviously wearing black wheels.

Before Jacquot could control himself, the guy was calling the car "bitchin'" and running over to take a closer look. I do believe he is even displaying a thumbs up (the universal symbol for "I likey"), which is partially captured in the photo.

So, is it possible that Jacquot likes one white BMW with dark wheels and not another? I don't think so.

The prosecution rests. The Inside Line long-term M3 Sedan is cool.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

The Final, Final Word On the 18-Inch Wheels

May 07, 2009

This subject doesn't really need to be brought up again, so of course I will anyway. When it comes to the great M3 wheel and tire debate, Oldham is big on 18s, Jacquot thinks the 19s would look better.

Originally I was with Jacquot on this, at least when it came to buying our '02 M3 coupe. Then those 18s grew on me and I switched to the Oldham camp. He's also the boss, so I figured it was the smart move anyway.

When it was time to decide on the rubber for our M3 sedan, I had no trouble with the 18s. And whenever I look at them I have no regrets. I mean check out that sidewall. Sure, it's a little taller than you may be used to, but the way its rounded off and smooth makes it looks like some sort of racing slick. And in a world of increasingly frail-looking wheels and tires, these look sturdy and durable. Nothing wrong with that.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

Yes, Those Seats are as Comfortable as They Look

May 11, 2009

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

Storage Fail

May 12, 2009

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.

In other words, my wallet and phone are out of luck.

Sure, I could put my wallet in the covered bin under the armrest, but I can't put my phone in there (might not even hear it ring), and it's a pain to access anyway. So I end up putting my phone in the door-grab cavity and my wallet in the door map pocket. The E9X 3 Series with iDrive is the only car I can think of that makes me stoop to this level.

Check out the cupholders/all-purpose receptacles in our old E46 M3 (replaced by overengineered dash-mounted slide-out cupholders on the E9X). Infinitely more convenient.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, @ 2,209 miles

Just How Big IS This Fuel Tank?

May 15, 2009

Here's something you don't see every day: Red hot headers! I couldn't help posting this photo of BMW's S65B40 V8 on some sort of testing jig even though it has only a little to do with this entry.

When I fired the car up this morning at 4:45 a.m., it told me the fuel range was 27 miles. Okay, but the office is 41 miles away. Hmm. Knowing what an alarmist the fuel warning light is (it chimes and displays a gas pump when the fuel gauge shows a quarter tank for goodness sake), and that the car was computing my range from previous data (collected on my bummer-to-bummer drive home yesterday), I accepted the challenge.

By the time I had reached the freeway from my house, the fuel range display had already gone up to 31 miles. Now, if I could just get it into 6th gear as soon as possible, avoid unnecessary slowing, and keep my speed as consistent as possible, I thought I'd be fine.

Well the display stayed at 31 miles for several miles, briefly went up to 36 miles, but then started plummeting: 27 21 16 18 11 9 5 and finally 1 when I was still 7.5 miles away from the Shell on Clovefrield. Then the display read, "---- mls" from then on.

When I wheeled into the gas station, I felt equally triumphant and relieved. I pumped 17.006 gallons of 91 octane into the tank. When I got to the office, I looked up the official fuel capacity of the M3 Sedan's tank and found it to be 16.6 gallons. Whaaaa?

Consulting the owner's manual, I found that to be a little misleading. It turns out in addition to the 65-liter (16.6 gal) capacity, there are an additional 12.5 liters (3.3 gal) in reserve, or truly 19.94 gallons. Sheesh, I could've driven at least another 40 miles!

Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor @ 2,602 miles

Kid Duty

May 19, 2009

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, @ 2,682 miles

It's Party Time

May 27, 2009

As you can see, this sticker, which is essentially stuck in the driver's face, dictates that our new long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan gets a mild break in; no full throttle and a 106 mph max speed for the first 1,200 miles and only short periods at top speed and constant cruising at 137 mph until the odometer clicks past 3,100 miles.

Well, the day has come.

On my way into work this morning the M3 clicked past the magic number. The reins are officially off.

On a related note, I think I'll sign out the M3 for the weekend.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief @ 3,143 miles.

Angeles Crest Highway vs. M3 V8

June 04, 2009

It was bright and sunny, so we drove the 2009 BMW M3 sedan across the Angeles Crest Highway. Who wouldn't?

Every city has its own place to go if you like driving, and L.A. is lucky to have a couple. Angeles Crest Highway is one of the best. It started out as a Forest Service road into the San Gabriel Mountains in 1929, but it took until 1956 for a paved road to make it across the top to Wrightwood. Max Balchowsky celebrated by driving his Old Yeller I race car up there from Hollywood Motors, his garage on Hollywood Boulevard.

We had something to celebrate, because the road all the way to Wrightwood had just been reopened for the first time since the winter of 2005, when huge storms washed out 17 sections of asphalt clinging to the mountain slopes along a 10 mile section of the route. Once CalTrans officially opened the gates on May 20, the motorcycle guys had been up there in force and news stories had filled the local paper.

Probably the M3 would be the car you'd pick if you were looking forward to the 198 corners between the Shell station at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and the restaurant at Newcomb's Ranch. But Angeles Crest Highway is no longer the place to rip it up unless you choose your timing carefully. There are too many bikes, too many accidents, and too many CHP cars.

No matter where you drive the M3 on a mountain road, it's not much fun to shift this car's six-speed manual transmission. As ever, the shift linkage feels rubbery, the clutch action is heavy and the pedal travel is long. Sure, it's great to beat your chest and say you prefer a manual transmission, but it's hard to see the point here unless you like to feel like some kind of German farmer plowing his spargle field with a 180-mph tractor. The seven-speed Getrag dual-clutch transmission is the way to go with this car, I think.

But it turns out that there's nothing about the M3's transmission that matters on a winding mountain road. Six-speed or seven-speed, which three gears do you really need today? The M3's 4.0-liter V8 redlines at 8,300 rpm, and 85 percent of the maximum 295 pound-feet of torque is available over a range of 6,500 rpm. Which means you don't really have to shift this engine much at all. Third gear doesn't top out until you hit 105 mph, so it's pretty much all you need.

So that's how it played out. Once you quit playing with the transmission, you can think a little more about the corner ahead, the intuitive action of the steering, and making a smooth transition from throttle to brake pedal and back again. The eight individual throttle bodies of the M3's DOHC V8 deliver incredibly crisp throttle response, so you can modulate the power with incredible precision. And there's just a lot of pleasure that just comes from an engine's ability to change rpm.

It's 66 miles from the Shell station at the foot of SR-2 at Foothill Boulevard to the Shell station at the entrance ramp to Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass. It was one of those great days, so warm and fine that you had to drive with the windows down. The road starts out at an elevation of 1,300 feet in La Canada and climbs all the way to 7,903 feet at Dawson Saddle, which makes this the ninth highest road in California. Toward the north, you can look out into the desert of the Antelope Valley.

Roads go places. And one of the really great things about a car is that it can take you to them.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 3,832 miles

Making Sweet Dyno Music

June 14, 2009

This week's Car of the Week, our long-term 2009 BMW M3, starts things off with a hair-raising shred of sleepy Westminster, California's early-summer atmosphere.

That's where we subjected unsuspecting neighbors to repeared shrieks of the M3's 4.0-liter V8 as we caned it across its rev range range to the 8400-rpm redline at full throttle.

MD Automotive once again rented us time on their Dynojet chassis dyno for this exercise, which we undertook purely in the name of science. We swear.

BMW says the M3 generates 414 horsepower at 8300 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm. Turns out they were right about the output.

Make like Kriss Kross for the dyno chart and video.

Unlike in the M5, where the "power" button unleashes an additional 100 hp, pressing the M3's "power" button only sharpens the throttle response. The M3's owner's manual doesn't make any claims of additional power, but we checked it on the dyno anyway. Sure enough, we found the same power irrespective of the button's state.

In total, we performed four runs and they were all virtually identical. Run-to-run variation just isn't part of the M3's playbook. Normal aspiration has its advantages.

Click the dyno chart for a larger image:

We apply weather correction for normally aspirated and supercharged cars. The SAE correction factor for this run is 1.05 since we tested the M3 on a relatively warm day.

This is an especially flat torque curve for a non-turbocharged engine. At 6700 rpm, the little V8 gets a second wind, too, and output swells upward once more before its very gentle taper as it approaches 8300 rpm..

Factoring in drivetrain loss, the 376 horsepower we measured at the M3's wheels is about what we'd expect from a 414-hp flywheel claim. Keep in mind that our result was achieved running California's crummy premium fuel, which is only 91 octane. Pretty impressive for a high specific-output engine like this one.

The lack of any significant sag in the power delivery between 3800 and 7800 rpm explains the engine's uncanny rev-forever character that you feel when you wind it out. It also demonstrates the significance of high revs when peak torque — we measured 274 lb-ft at the wheels in this case — is relatively modest in V8 terms.

Another observation is that although the M3 V8's maximum engine speed is indeed 8400 rpm, it really isn't the practical rev limit. Power clearly falls off so hard after 8300 rpm that the additional 100 rpm is useless. Come to think of it, early press releases listed this engine's redline at 8300 rpm. This ambiguity is likely a matter of engineering versus marketing.

Nevertheless, this V8 is one hell of an engine. What more is there to say?

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

Subtle Details On a Not-So-Subtle Car

June 15, 2009

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

Open Thread

June 16, 2009

What do you want to know about the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan?

Have you seen any sedans on the road or only coupes and convertibles?

If you've driven one, write a review in the comments section.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Subtle Details Losing Subtelty

June 16, 2009

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

Two-Card Monte

June 16, 2009

You've got a 50-50 shot at this. One of the hood vents in our 2009 BMW M3 performs a very important function; the other is a fake put there for the sake of design symmetry.

Which is which?

The passenger side one is the fake (right-hand side for those of you playing in the UK, Oz or other RHD countries). They've gone to great lengths to hide it by adding enough depth beneath the grille to create the inky shadows required to make it appear that it actually goes somewhere. A small slice has been made in the floor of this charade, presumably to prevent rainwater and carwash suds from pooling up.

The driver's side vent is the one that actually does something. What important function could this be, you may ask?

Why, it's an inlet for the intake snorkle that feeds air into the M3's V8 engine. That's pretty important.

I'd have to take the airbox apart to figure out where the carwash suds go when they disappear down this hole, but you can bet they don't make it past the air filter.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 4,565 miles

Junk in the Trunk

June 17, 2009

I spent the past few days with our 2009 BMW M3 sedan. And we spent more time at Lowe's than an M3 ever should. I dropped the 60/40 back seats and stuffed it with 8-foot lengths of door trim, furniture, plants, a small tree and compound miter saw. But all you get to see is this stack of boxes. Try doing that with an M3 coupe.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 4,444 miles

Does It Really Need a "Power" Button?

June 18, 2009

You gotta love any car that features a prominent button on the center console labeled "power". Who cares if it's even connected to anything, just the very act of pushing it in and seeing it light up is kinda fun.

Then again, in the M3 pushing the power button doesn't actually increase the V8's output, it merely quickens up the throttle response to make it "feel" more powerful. Sounds like a no-brainer right?

That's what I thought, but the more I drive it the more I realize that I might like the standard setting better. I mean let's face it, the thing isn't exactly limp off the line as it is. The added response does introduce a little more urgency to the drive, but sometimes I find it a little distracting. Maybe it's the overabundance of power that makes it seem unnecessary, but the immediacy of the throttle in power mode seems a little overkill. Either that, or I'm old, one of the two.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 4,478 miles


June 18, 2009

Here are some beauty shots of the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan. All photos by Scott Jacobs.

Pretty, huh?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Keyless Entry That's Truly Keyless

June 22, 2009

I spent most of the weekend thinking BMW had screwed up. Much like our Dodge Challenger, it seemed as though our M3 had one of those "keyless entry" systems that still required use of the keyfob. I looked at the door handle and saw no visible means of unlocking the door, and even after pulling the handle nothing happened.

So every time I went to get in, I pulled out the fob, clicked the button and then stuck it back in my pocket since the "start/stop" button works fine without it. Senseless I thought, could it really be that screwed up?

To make sure I wasn't going to make an ass out of myself I went back down to the garage and tried the handle again. Sure enough, a second pull of the handle unlocks the doors, who knew? And before you say RTFM, I'll have you know that I considered that option, that is, until I couldn't find it. Turns out all the manuals are stored in the trunk. You tell me what's more ridiculous.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 4,879 miles

Jan van Eyck

June 25, 2009

I jumped into the M3 this morning and started it up quick. I was in a hurry.

As the nav screen loaded, a detail caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks. The pseudo reflection in the detail bubble reminded me of the Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait and it's convex mirror.

I dunno, maybe I just needed some coffee.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

Happy Birthday

June 26, 2009

When I signed out our long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan last night, I initially didn't notice the note on the board: "49xx miles, milestone approaching." That means the lucky person who witnesses the milestone achievement of 5000 miles needs to snap a pic of the odo.

The M3 at 5000 miles drives like it's new (because it is new). I noticed that the clutch and shifter are slightly heavier than our LT 135. Perhaps to handle the greater torque generated by the 4.0L V8?

The car says the next oil change is due in 2011! and the next major service in 2013!!
By this time, the service will be conducted not by BMW, but by Skynet.

Our M3 shares its birthday with our colleague subytrojan.
Both of them will be celebrating this weekend at the Chuck-E-Cheese in Chino, CA.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Eval Engineer @ 5000 + 15 miles

Quick, Add Some Washer Fluid

June 30, 2009

In what is surely the least complicated piece of maintenance ever performed on an E90 M3, I refilled our car's windshield washer fluid this morning. Sure, I could have gone to the dealer to have it refilled for free, but why bother when I could dig into the guts of this beast and take care of it myself?

Actually, I was just bored waiting to fill up at the gas station and there was no digging as you only have to flip a very accessible lid open. I was also sick of seeing the overzealous dashboard warning signal staring me in the face. The thing lights up with a big orange flasher complete with an exclamation point. The first time I saw it, I thought the engine was about to spit a piston through the hood.

Upon closer inspection, I realized the slightly less dire nature of the warning and figured it could wait until the next fill up. Incidentally, the M3 returned about 18mpg over the weekend. Not bad for a V8 that was working pretty hard most of the time. And don't forget, when you Peak, you win.

UPDATE: Why I'm glad I didn't use BMW fluid, after the jump. Thanks willin58.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 5,211 miles

I Just Checked the Oil at 80 mph

July 07, 2009

This is a cool feature.

And now all the domestic fanboys can tell me why it isn't.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief @ 5,599 miles

Blind operation of the driver seat

July 08, 2009

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

My Headlamps Don't Need Schpritzing!

July 09, 2009

Why does BMW assume my headlamps need to be blasted repeatedly with high-pressure cleaning solution (that also douses the otherwise clean car with mist) when all I want to do is to clean my windshield before I set out for work in the pre-dawn morning? I know the car knows it's dark outside because I have the headlamps on, but instead of linking the headlamp- and windshield-schpritzers when the lights are on, how 'bout a dedicated button for blasting my headlamps when I want to?

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 5,695 miles

Cold Blooded — Like a Muscle Car Should Be?

July 13, 2009

When you first fire up our long-term 2009 BMW M3 you get serenaded by all the standard warning lights and bells found in modern cars. Honestly, sometimes I suspect collusion between the automakers and the light bulb/electronic chime industries.

Beyond its expected light show this M3 sedan provides additional sound and fury of a nature rarely seen in a 21st Century automobile. The 414 horsepower V8 actually shakes and rumbles like a classic muscle car powerplant on a cold winter morning. The drama fades quickly as oil flow increases and (I assume) components like the fuel injection pulse and hydraulic lifters settle into a comfortable pace. But those first 30 seconds or so hardly feel like a modern luxury-badged sedan costing over 60 grand.

The real question is: Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I'll admit the cacophony of sound caught me off guard the first couple times I started the car after it sat all night. "What is all that racket?!" I found myself asking. But then I remembered how much power the car makes and how few cars exhibit any sense of mechanical soul these days.

Thus I've come to grips with a 2009 BMW that feels and sounds a lot like my 1970 Dodge Challenger for the first 30 seconds every morning. Assuming you value soul over silence, even in your 21st Century ride, you should be fine with the M3's cold-blooded nature.

Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief @ 5805 miles

Our Favorite Caption

July 17, 2009

Thanks to eidolways for this week's favorite caption. Your efforts paid off.

These were the others that lit our fire:

Roman Candles vs. Bavarian Rocket (ergsum)
Fireworks owner Bubba "Two Fingers" would give it a thumbs up, if he could! (ergsum)
Smokey and the Bavarian (ergsum)
Objects in the mirror more explosive then they appear. (dougtheeng)
No question about it, that arrow in the parking lot took off from here. (mnorm1)
BMW joins Nascar in the Firecracker 400 (stpawyfrmdonut)
We decided to "fix" the iDrive with a couple of M80s. (vwthing1)
The M3: Its Dyn-o-mite (jay_r)
"Get your mortar running, head out on the highway..." (funkymunky)
Inside Liner's famous last words, "I saw this in a cartoon once but I'm pretty sure I can do it." (ergsum)
M3 meet M80. (pontneuf2503)
American spirit meets German artillery. (pontneuf2503)
BMW: A new kind of Launch Control. (hunter312)
German Candle. (sherief)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

July 17, 2009

Scott took this picture around the Fourth of July. Don't worry he didn't buy any illegal fireworks. The store was closed.

We suggest "Smoke M If You Got M"

There's plenty of room on this photo, so have at it.

We'll post our favorite at 4PM Pacific Time.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

No Way to Center Mount A Baby Seat

July 20, 2009

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

Gray Wheels Hide The Brake Dust

July 22, 2009

Even from 5 feet away, our M3's gray wheels look pretty normal. It's only when you get up close to clean them do you realize that the M3 isn't an exception from BMW's typically prolific brake dust generation.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Blends Into the Background

July 27, 2009

With previous iterations of BMW's M cars, you could order some pretty outlandish colors such as Phoenix Yellow Metallic and Laguna Seca Blue. The latest M3 sedan, however, has a less expressive and expansive palette. Its Lemans Blue is darker than Laguna was; Melbourne Red is about as exciting as it gets. Alpine White is, well, white.

Henceforth, our M3 causes barely a flutter on other motorists' awareness meter. Most people probably think it's just another 3 Series with aftermarket wheels. And you know, this suits me just fine. Little do the masses know that that I've got 414 horsepower under the hood and tires so sticky that they leave rubber marks on my driveway.

To take a theme from the movie The Hangover, driving our 2009 M3 sedan is like a going to a batchelor party in Las Vegas that has tigers and strippers while everyone else thinks you're on your way to Napa Valley to stay in a quaint lodge and gently sip Pinot noir.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 6,540 miles

Variable Redline Indicator

July 30, 2009

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

Comparison Drive, Part One

August 03, 2009

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.

On city roads, the M3 putters about pretty much like any other 3 Series. Well, the manual transmission can be a little tricky to get smooth shifts out of every time, though, and there are those distinctive (and endearing) M driveline clunking noises at low speeds that no regular 3 would ever roll off the assembly line with.

After exiting the highway, I come across my first match of the day: a rendezvous with a 2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Game on! Actually, it was premeditated — I had called a friend of mine who owns the Vantage. I told him I was driving the M3 up to the mountains and asked him if he wanted to tag along. I wasn't sure what the presence of a Vantage would bring, but the owner's always down for a back-road drive.

We're out in the country at this point where the roads are pretty empty and straight. We pull out to pass a dawdling truck, which gives us the chance to run through a couple of gears. The M3 accelerates hard, V8 pumping out its Euro-style, honking baritone wail. Fourth is an absolutely crushing gear — clutch in, yank the shifter down as it twacks into place, then clutch out. There's no hesitation as the M3 surges forth on another wave of power. Honestly, a quick 3rd to 4th shift in this car is so tactilely pleasing that it alone would forever sell me on getting the manual transmission rather than the automated dual-clutch transmission.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the general parity of weight-to-power ratios, the M3 and Vantage are pretty evenly matched on the straights, with the M3 perhaps maybe having just a slight advantage. If our cell phones were working, I might have had tried to trash talk my friend a little on how this white workaday 3 was outrunning the double-the-price Aston Martin. But then again, his Aston looks about twice as good as the M3.

At this point we're up in the hills, with lots of smooth and empty pavement to work with. Most of the corners are medium speed, 3rd gear stuff. The M3 is like a bloodhound, its helm obediently sniffing out whatever cornering apex I throw at it. The coolest part about our car, though, is the adjustability, with three damper stiffness settings, the sport throttle setting and the adjustable side bolsters for the driver seat.

There's also the M Mode, which gives a one-button-push programmed setup for the dampers and throttle plus further customization to stability control activation and steering assist. To be honest, I completely forgot about M Mode, but just putting the dampers in the mid-level Normal mode was all that was required for this road.

For the entire curvy road section, the M3 is in the lead and the Aston is hanging right behind. It's a crackingly great time. We eventually finish the curvy road section and I ask my friend how hard he was pushing the Aston. He said there were a couple corners where he would have perhaps gone faster had he been in the lead, but for the rest it was a good pace. It's a nice affirmation that the M3 truly does offer exotic sports car performance to go with its real-world sedan practicality. Did I mention I did the whole drive with a child safety seat (sans child) in the back?

Arriving back home, the M3 looks like it's been working hard — there's splash and/or rubber marks behind each wheel well, and the wheels are once again full of brake dust. Oh, and it burned half a tank of gas for the 100 miles or so, giving it about a 12.5 mpg average. But the performance payoff is undeniable.

Now it's time to see how the Corvette fares. Part Two continues tomorrow, 12 p.m. Pacific.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 6768 miles

Comparison Drive, Part Two

August 04, 2009

[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.

At the start of the curvy road section, I'm predicting a humbling beat-down for the Corvette. The early sensation is that I'm just sitting in and driving the Corvette, whereas with the M3 I felt like I was part of a more collaborative effort. But the Vette quickly shows that it's not a gold-chain-wearing lump either. Once set for the corner, it has a ferocious grip on the road and generates cornering speeds just as high as or higher than the M3's. The steering actually provides a decent level of feedback and has a pleasing level of heftiness to it as well.

But I must admit, this Corvette is cheating a little again — it has two fixes meant to address complaints we've generally had about the C6 (and noted in our recent 2009 Corvette follow-up test). Inside there's a more heavily side-bolstered aftermarket driver seat that gets rid of the lame factory "shaped for old, fat men" seat. And it also received a recent spot-on wheel alignment that resulted in the car being able to turn in more sharply (i.e., the way it should). It's fairly common for Corvettes to leave the factory with wonky alignment setups.

Even so, it's pretty obvious to me which car is the "better car" as I finish up the drive for the Corvette. Our M3 isn't as quick in a straight line, gets worse fuel economy and doesn't look as cool, but just about everything else about it for this 100-mile comparison is superior.

Of course, there is the price issue — our M3 stickers for $67,370, or a current Edmunds True Market Value (TMV) of about $64,000. A 2009 Corvette equipped like mine has a TMV of about $48,250. Now, this isn't a direct comparison — our long-term M3 is pretty loaded up and my Vette's a stripper. Order a Corvette with the navigation system and the top-shelf "4LT" interior and TMV rises to $55,577.

So, let's just say it's about eight grand more for the M3. Is it worth it? No question. Our long-termer is a sedan that you can drive everyday to work and then still keep up with just about any sports car on a mountain road or track on the weekend.

But a lightly equipped Corvette, especially if you get it a sweet deal on it, is stil an awesome performance value.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

I'll Take These Four Doors Anytime

August 10, 2009

I put over 300 miles on our 2009 BMW M3 sedan over the weekend. This was my first extended visit with the four-door, E90 version of the M3. Unfortunately, I was too heavily scheduled to get it on any back roads, but I enjoyed getting to know it on the freeway.

The 4.0-liter V8 (414 hp at 8,300 rpm, 295 lb-ft at 3,900 rpm) has all kinds of power, but it's not all evenly distributed throughout the range as it is on BMW's DI twin-turbos, so you feel like you're cheating yourself if you shift much before the 8,500-rpm redline. I like engines that give you this kind of incentive.

I could probably do without the engine's cold-start lumpiness. But I like that I can always hear the V8 at a 75-mph cruise, thanks to the modest overdrive reduction on the 6th gear (0.872) combined with a shortish final drive (3.850).

I have to agree with the criticism leveled against the M3's manual gearbox, but I'm so desperate to have a conversation with the cars I drive, that I find myself wanting to put up with the Getrag's long, springy clutch pedal stroke. I kept a pair of M3-friendly driving shoes in the trunk all weekend.

I had two additional passengers in our M3 sedan about a third of the time, so those rear doors and extra inch of rear legroom (34.6 versus 33.7 in the E92 coupe) were indispensable. Actually, our long-term M3 turned out to be a very practical car in these situations. It was adequately roomy for all of but one of the my passengers (there were 5 in total).

Even more surprising was its utterly compliant ride quality. With the exception of a slight busy feel (and audible resonance) over rain-grooved pavement (which doesn't exist in Germany where I'd guess the chassis tuning was finalized), it manages to feel highly controlled yet never, ever brutal.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 7,397 miles

You Sure You're OK?

August 11, 2009

I ran an electronic check of the oil in our 2009 BMW M3 sedan yesterday and I got the following display. Everything's green. The oil level is OK.

But look where the level reads on the virtual dipstick. If the oil read at this level on normal dipstick, I wouldn't think the level was OK. Rather, I would add a 1/4 to a 1/2 quart of oil to get it back up to the halfway mark.

Well, we're treating our E90 BMW M3 (and our other cars without a conventional dipstick) the same. If the oil reads below the halfway mark, we add oil.

I looked for the M3's preferred 10W60 synthetic at the auto parts store, but of course didn't find it. I did find 5W50 synthetic, which, per the owner's manual, is one of the acceptable alternates (10W40 and 10W50 are the others), for $6.99/quart plus tax. But the ratings on the bottle don't quite jibe with the more specific requirements BMW lays out on its web site (thanks to sodaguy for directing us to this page).

So, through gritted teeth, I drove to Santa Monica BMW and paid $20.87 plus tax for one liter (1.05 quarts) of Castrol TWS Motorsport 10W60. That's nowhere near as bad as buying differential oil for the GT-R, but if we were going to be living with the M3 for more than a year, I'd try to find a cheaper solution for oil top-offs than this. Surely, there's an M-friendly wholesaler out there.

I added about 1/3 of the liter to the M3, and we'll monitor the oil level to make sure that was enough.

Adding oil is an uncommonly pleasant experience — yes, I'm serious. The under-hood packaging is such that you can easily slide a liter of oil into the space ahead of the filler cap and pour it without a funnel and without burning yourself and without getting a whole bunch of gunk on your hands. This is a good setup on a high-performance car that will need meticulous attention throughout its life.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 7,417 miles

The 3-4 Shift In Motion

August 26, 2009

A while back I wrote that I'd buy an M3 with the manual transmission just for the gratifying third-to-fourth upshift alone. (Should I ever be in a financial position to buy an M3, of course.) Well, I stumbled across an M3 video on BMW's consumer site video recently, and it captures that same shift and the resulting V8's euro-snarl. The video is 40 seconds long; look for the quick cut scene of the guy shifting 22 seconds in.

BMW M3 Video

If you haven't checked out BMW's consumer site before, you can also find a bunch of other M division videos, including various M product promotionals, one on the new AMLS M3 racer and a sum-up of the division's racing history. They're all under the Experience gallery.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Too Easy?

September 06, 2009

Driving a sedan with a 4.0-liter 414-horsepower V8 engine shouldn't be this easy.

It's impossible to get a sloppy shift. The BMW gearbox is too forgiving.

If you're stopped uphill at a red light and some joker pulls within an inch of your bumper, have no fear. The new BMW M3 has a hill-hold feature.

Need to match revs on a downshift? The M3's pedals are placed close enough together that even my small feet can manage it.

Shouldn't you have to work much harder to enjoy this much sophisticated power?

Has BMW made driving too easy?

Our 2009 BMW M3 is Car of the Week.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

An added benefit of the front spoiler shape

September 08, 2009

Our long-term 2009 BMW M3 has a nicely shaped front spoiler.
I'm not sure if the shape is due to styling or aero.

But it does have an additional benefit.

The benefit is that the raised center section of the spoiler doesn't get smashed to pieces when you park up against a parking block.

Like this.

Believe me, it's easy to forget about the low clearance on several of our vehicles when you drive different cars all the time.

You can see in the second photo that the block is not centered on the space.
When the block is centered, our M3 straddles it perfectly.

At least our M3 didn't incur any damage like that caused by some stupid drunk basterd over the weekend (at my school parking garage.)

This criminal annihilated 5 vehicles with one swipe.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Evaluation Engineer @ 8200 miles

Super seats, great color, but starting to creak

September 08, 2009

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

Open Thread

September 08, 2009

What do you want to know about the 2009 BMW M3?

Have you driven one? Is there any detail that you want us to take a picture of?

Let us know in the comments section.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Rubber in Second. And Third.

September 09, 2009

Here's one thing I love about our M3. You can't do this in the GT-R. And just listen to that thing.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

Coffee and doughnuts

September 10, 2009

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?

BMW's got them covered. These wacky cantilevered beverage holders pop out like magic from the instrument panel (IP), and probably work best with bottled drinks.

You love the Big Gulp? Forget it.

And I recommend you don't even think about sticking a hot double half-decaf latte in one of them if you want coffee with your doughnuts.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Evaluation Engineer @ 8300 miles

Some Answers

September 10, 2009

Answers to some of your questions in the Open Thread post:

By adavis2493 on September 8, 2009 4:11 AM
How's it over speed bumps?

Stiff, but OK if you do the recommended speed. You have to watch the front end in driveways, though.

By ahightower on September 8, 2009 5:46 AM
I just want to revive the debate over why you would ever put such a dull color on such a wicked car. ;) Seriously though, I'd like to know more about the luxury features and its highway cruising behavior. Is it quiet on the open road? Is it a road tripper like the 7-series, or too busy and buzzy and harsh like the Evo and STI?

Luxury features: Well, it has those heated red leather seats which are pretty nice. It has headlight washers, a navigation system, iPod adapter, moonroof, satellite radio and a good audio system. I like the door handle lights that are in the picture above.

One thing that bugs me is it doesn't have a lot of interior storage. It has a center storage compartment that holds an iPod and has enough space to put some stuff. But I like to have center cupholders so I can put my parking access card, my blackberry and my camera in there — things I like to have handy. No, I don't talk on the phone or text while driving. But I am guilty of checking my email at stop lights. Our M3 is keyless, so I need a place for the keyfob. I like to keep it where I can see it.

Highway cruising behavior: Yes, it is quiet on the open road, not Hyundai Genesis quiet, but it's not loud like a muscle car. It's pretty squeaky right now, though. Those seats are really talkative. We have to do something about them. I wouldn't call it a highway cruiser like the 7 Series. It has a tight sporty suspension but it doesn't shake you to pieces like the GT-R. It's comfortable.

By dougtheeng on September 8, 2009 6:03 AM
Thoughts on the hood bulge? Do you like it or find it to be over the top?

Donna likey. I think it's subtle, not showy. The thing I like about the M3 is that it's a stealthy monster. It doesn't have in-your-face sports car looks.

By kingkhalas on September 8, 2009 9:09 AM
For people who live in heavy traffic areas with a long commute in bumper to bumper (like Los Angeles)... Would you recommend the Manual vs. the Dual Clutch Auto?

The M3 is so easy to drive that I would recommend the manual, even in commuter traffic. I'm usually lazy about that kind of thing, but I was stuck in traffic on the freeway last night, and the M3 doesn't bother me a bit. Hill-hold helps a lot. And the clutch isn't so stiff that your left leg starts to wear out.

By subytrojan on September 8, 2009 10:34 AM
Nice shot! Where was it taken?

Scott Jacobs took that shot. I'll ask him and get back to you.

@ achenato
Nice car.

Worth It

September 10, 2009

Over on the M3 open thread, nealibob voiced a concern that's probably on a lot of people's minds: "I have to wonder why one would pay the premium over a 335i...I just do not see the point in shelling out 25+% more...without contributing much to performance."

Answer: If you care about maximal handling capabilities and the unadulterated thrills of a high-revving naturally aspirated motor, the M3 is worth every additional penny.

As a few commenters mentioned in that thread, the 335i (even with the Sport Package) feels soft and undisciplined at the limit compared to the phenomenally athletic M3. The M-specific suspension tuning, enhanced in our long-termer's case by the exclusive adjustable dampers, is night-and-day sharper than the regular 3er Sport Package setup in hard cornering.

And when you're driving at 10/10ths, there's no substitute for the instantaneous throttle response of a naturally aspirated motor; moreover, the M3's 4.0-liter V8 is inherently more engaging because it actually requires you to think about what gear you should be in (and rewards you in a big way when you get it right), unlike the twin-turbo six and its shelf-like torque curve. Sounds a whole lot better, too, though I have to agree with those who've said it's too refined for its own good. I once described the E46 M3's inline-6 as "feral" — wish I could say the same of this V8.

Overall, I'd liken the M3 to a high-end digital SLR camera. Its cheaper sibling may offer most of its features for less coin, but if you're an enthusiast who really sweats the details, the only reason you won't ante up is if you can't afford to.*

*Unless you'd rather scour the classifieds for a low-mileage E46 M3 with the Competition Package. A subject for another day.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor @ 8,268 miles


September 11, 2009

Probably my favorite thing about the M3 is that every time I drive it hard it reminds me that I'm not the first person to do so. Generations of development engineers have hammered this car into shape and it shows. In more than just the way it drives.

Enter exhibit one: Lift the hood and you'll quickly notice that the ducts on either side of the hood's power bulge are there for a reason. Well, at least the one on the driver's side is.

The duct on the driver's side of the hood is functional and feeds air from in front of the windshield into the M3's massive airbox. It's details like this that make this car what it is. I'd wager the placement of these ducts isn't coincidence, either. I could say that as airflow over the hood changes direction to bend around the windshield there's a high pressure area created directly over the duct. I could say that, but it would be spececulation.

And speaking of the M3's massive airbox, take a look at that thing. It consumes a disproportionate amount of underhood real estate, does it not? I'd say there's no shortage of tuning (be it for sound or power or both) going on there as well.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 8,472 miles

Tour de Airbox

September 14, 2009

This should help make up for last week's redundant airbox post. With the airbox lid removed we can see some impressive details which allow this monster to breathe. The bottom arrow points to one of the airbox's three intakes. This one supplies air which is gathered through the twin-kidney grille and routed above the radiator to this hole.

The top arrow addresses your questions about water draining into the airbox through the hood duct. The small slit in the bottom of the airbox offers drainage for small amounts of water. However, should some genius decide to run a garden hose in that duct, the overflow would simply drain out the intake hole in the front bumper (driver's side) which is the lowest point in the airbox. Click through for more details.

This view offers perspective from above and behind the filter with the camera facing forward and down into the airbox. The arrow in the foreground points to the same water drainage slit we saw pointed out by the top arrow in the above image.

The upper arrow in this image points to the daylight visible through the duct in the front bumper (see below).

BMW has done an elegant job of offering a huge amount of cool airflow to the engine without risking drowning the air filter and hydro-locking the engine. There's ample opportunity for air to get into the airbox and ample opportunity for water to escape.

And just to make it harder for you to mess with it, those crazy Germans attached the airbox lid with eight of these Torx fasteners

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 8,671 miles

Good Car. Lousy Sedan.

September 15, 2009

What's the point of a sedan?

Well, it's got 4 doors - presumably to facilitate easy ingress and egress of passengers to the rear seats. It's probably got a decent trunk on the back of it too, you know, for stuff. In other words, it's safe to say that someone who buys a sedan carries 2-3 other people and their assorted stuff, on a regular basis. I'm sure there's a fair amount of people who buy them to appear older and more responsible, but those people are sad and we won't be talking about them.

The (my) problem with the M3 sedan is, if you're going to spend your days driving around with friends and family in the back seat and all of their stuff in the trunk, the M3 is a little pointless. While you might relish attacking freeway ramps and back roads, I doubt your friends and coworkers are going to appreciate getting thrown around like dice in a back alley on their way to an Olive Garden. Trust me, you showing off your bonkers car and questionable car control skills to your friends is going to get old.

Imagine if you had a family.

If your wife didn't wind up losing her voice screaming at you to slow down, regurgitating her lunch all over the dashboard or poking her eyes out with a mascara wand as you clip that perfect late apex, someone's going to call child protective services because your baby's going to have all the hallmarks of Shaken Baby Syndome.

The ride is just too stiff, and the temptation to destroy every road you drive is too great in this beast. Not mention the back seat isn't even that roomy. Sorry, M3's were born as two door cars and that's how they should stay. You want a good sedan? Buy a G8.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 8,714 miles

Seat Wear Already

September 18, 2009

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.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief @ 9,018 miles

Which Would You Choose?

September 18, 2009

Yesterday I drove our long-term BMW M3 Sedan to a double-secret location to drive the 2011 Infiniti M37 and Infiniti M56.

While there it occurred to me that the M56, which will go on sale in April, will pack about the same horsepower as our M3 (Infiniti says more than 400). Then I realized that the rear-wheel drive Infiniti (all-wheel drive will be available) will also cost about the same as the M3 sedan, which starts at $55,000.

Obviously the M56 is larger, but is that such a bad thing?

So which would you choose; M3 or M56?

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

Which is Best?

September 21, 2009

I put about 500 miles on our long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan this weekend. To say I'm enamored with the machine is like saying Megan Fox looks good with her back arched.

Then on Sunday I found a rerun of Top Gear on my DVR list. It was an old episode with a comparison between the new M3, the Audi RS4 and the C63 AMG Mercedes. (If you've never seen it I've included the videos on the next page.) So I crack a beer, grab the couch and watch it.

An hour and three beers later I found myself thinking; "Which would I want?" Obviously there isn't a bad call here. These are three great cars anybody would be lucky to own, but they are quite different from one another.

At first I tell myself I would choose the M3. After all, it won over the C63 in our comparison test about a year ago and it's without a doubt the best all-arounder. But I am from Jersey, so the Benz's big cubes and billows of tire smoke are appealing.

But this time I choose beauty over burnouts. This time I choose the Audi RS4. Yes, I know they don't make them anymore and I know it's the slowest of the three. I can't help it, I still want one.

We've never compared an M3 with a C63 and an RS4 in a direct comparison test. But the RS4 has gone head to head with the BMW M5 manual and the toe to toe with the Lexus IS-F and it stands undefeated.

Fact is, for me the RS4 just has an "IT" factor that the M3 and the C63 lack. I don't know if it's the sound of its V8 or its slammed squat stance or the fact that most folks never heard of it, but the Audi pushes my buttons. Maybe it's because it was only available with a manual gearbox, unlike the M3 and C63, and it's a sedan bought only by true enthusiasts, while every wank in L.A. seems to own an M3 or an AMG.

Bottom line is; I just want one. I think it's cool. When I see a guy driving an RS4 I pang with jealousy, even if I'm driving our long-term M3.

Which one would you choose?

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

Me Like The M Button

September 21, 2009

This weekend I made friends with the M button on the steering wheel of our long-term 2009 BMW M3 Sedan.

If you don't know, the M button allows you to set up the car to your personal taste (ride quality, throttle response, steering effort and stability control setting) with the push of a single button. First you need to use the cars iDrive system to make your menu choices (photo on next page). It's a simple process that takes (literally) about a minute. Then the car remembers how you want it set up and those settings are activated when you push the M button.

The M5 has the system too, and it's really a great feature more car company's should emulate.

Here are my chosen settings for the M3's M button which you select very easily through the iDrive system. I'm sure everyone would do it up a little differently, which is of course the point. The M button allows you to tune the car to your personal taste.

Push the M button on the M3's steering wheel, which I do as soon as the car is running, and you get the green indicator light informing you that the M3 is now as you like it.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief @ 9,316 miles

Video of the Variable Redline

September 23, 2009

We've posted about the M3's variable redline before. Start the car cold and the BMW's tach shows a lesser redline (How much less depends on temperature.) and then the redline adjusts as the car warms, eventually reaching the engine's true redline which is 8,300 rpm.

Thing is we've only shown you photos and this is the kind of thing that demands video. So I shot some. Yesterday morning. But I warn you now, it's very, very, very, very, very boring. It takes 8 minutes before the BMW says it's free to be revved to 8,300 rpm.

But don't fret. For those with ADHD I've posted a much faster version of the video on the next page. Enjoy.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

So Refined It Could Sometimes Be a 335i

September 25, 2009

Yesterday, our long-term 2009 BMW M3 sedan escaped from LA. We left late. I turned on public radio. My passenger chatted about work. The ride was composed, compliant and not-at-all busy, even on the I-405 freeway. The 4.0-liter V8 was loafing in 6th gear and barely audible. I was perfectly situated in the cockpit — the driver seat was supportive yet the lateral bolsters never felt too confining, and the steering wheel was positioned exactly as I like.

We arrived. I realized I hadn't given a single thought to our E90 M3's Motorsport identity (whereas in our departed E46 M3, it was all I thought about). I could have been in a 335i.

Then, I looked at my watch. Hmm, we got here awfully fast. And the fuel light did come on around 230 miles. So, there it is, a morning commute in a 2009 BMW M3.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 9,551 miles

iDrive Isn't So Bad Anymore

September 28, 2009

No assessment of a current BMW seems to matter until iDrive is discussed. Well, I'm here to tell you to get over it. iDrive works just fine now.

Maybe it's still not the most intuitive interface ever invented, but it's not that bad either. The fact that BMW added a few hard buttons around the control knob helps. Even if you don't use them, however, it's still easy to find your way around.

Which is nice, since there's plenty of functionality built in to the system. From Bluetooth and navigation to setting up the "M" button settings, the iDrive menu pretty much does it all. Sifting through the menus is fairly simple as it involves turning the knob more often than pushing it in one direction or the other. I drove the M3 all weekend and I never once cursed the system in vain. As far as I'm concerned, it's a non-issue.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 9,621 miles

The End Of The M As We Know It

September 30, 2009

When I first heard rumors that the next BMW M5 would ditch the glorious 5.0-liter V10 in favor of a twin-turbo V8, I didn't buy it. No way. M cars are for purists who know there's no substitute for a purpose-built high-revving naturally aspirated motor. Porsche would sooner slap a turbo on the 911 GT3 than the Motorsport division would turn to forced induction.

But then the X5 M and X6 M happened. A triple whammy for M loyalists. Not only had BMW violated the unofficial turbocharging taboo, it had also reneged on its promise "to keep the Motorsport realm pure and only include cars" — and thrown in the second-ever M-badged conventional automatic transmission for good measure (the E36 M3 had an ill-advised slushbox option). In one fell swoop, the M brand went from a symbol of unadulterated driving passion to something disturbingly like AMG.

Since then, of course, the M5's twin-turbo V8 has been confirmed, and it will surely find its way into the next M6 as well (if there is one). Which means that in a couple years, the M3 will be the last naturally aspirated M car standing. And why should we believe that the next M3 won't be turbocharged too? If you're with me in finding the current M3 a bit too emotionally distant for its own good, just wait till it's got a blown motor under the hood like every other M.

A turbocharged engine simply can't match the instantaneous throttle response of a naturally aspirated one, and no amount of low-end torque can approximate the thrill of winding out a classic M motor to its 8,000-ish-rpm redline. I thought the Motorsport folks understood that.

Guess not.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor @ 9,640 miles

Best Sedan (sniff, pout) Ever

October 02, 2009

As our 2009 BMW M3 nears its 10K milestone, it feels as tight, powerful, and tacitly capable as it did the day it arrived. The current E90 M3 has been derided as being a sell out by those who feel the M3 peaked with the E36 (or even E30). Regardless of whether you feel this is the best M3 ever, it is perhaps the best sedan there is at any price. Here's why...

The 2009 BMW M3 Sedan is honest about what it is. I mean it doesn't attempt to be anything other than it is and it does everything that's expected of it. Sure you could say that a Prius is just as honest and I wouldn't argue with you. But this sedan combines just enough practicality and luxury with that rarely-achieved driver-machine bond. The most obvious clue is in how the seat holds you tight and makes you feel like you are truly a required part of the hardware (and software). Then you'll notice how the steering allows you to feel like you've got the palms of your hands on the tarmac. Finally, the way it rewards (and sort of even thanks you) for doing things correctly (like up- and down-shifting, trail braking, and so on) makes you realize others who value such things have been sitting exactly where you are, doing precisely what you are doing, and insisting that it behaves as it is. Only a handful of cars have felt to me as if they've been designed and engineered from the driver's seat where Hans-Joachim Stuck himself was calling the shots. Don't get me wrong. This car isn't hard to drive. It's not even scary to drive. No, it's just that when push comes to shove, the car gets better the more you ask of it. And in case you were wondering, the other three honest cars that come to mind at this very moment are the Porsche 911 GT3, Ferrari 430, and Mitsubishi Evo IX GSR (didn't see that one comin' did ya?).

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 9,911 miles

10,000 Miles and Not Much To Report

October 05, 2009

I was kind of hoping something would have gone disastrously wrong with our M3 by now. Maybe a tranny explosion or complete electronic meltdown. At least then I would have a reason to scoff at its sky high price. Then I would look at it and wonder if it was worth all the money and headaches.

But I crossed the 10,000 mile mark this weekend and realized that not much has happened. We've been wringing it senseless for months now and it doesn't seem to mind a bit. It's suspension is tight, there are no rattles and it feels at fast or faster than it did the day it arrived. Wish I had $70K, I'd get one for myself.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 10,000 miles

A Bargain If You Really Care

October 05, 2009

I was kind of hoping something would have gone disastrously wrong with our M3 by now. Maybe a tranny explosion or complete electronic meltdown. At least then I would have a reason to scoff at its sky high price. Then I would look at it and wonder if it was worth all the money and headaches.

But I crossed the 10,000 mile mark this weekend and realized that not much has happened. We've been wringing it senseless for months now and it doesn't seem to mind a bit. It's suspension is tight, there are no rattles and it feels at fast or faster than it did the day it arrived. Wish I had $70K, I'd get one for myself.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 10,000 miles

It's All in the Name of Aerodynamics

October 07, 2009

At least that what this odd detail on our M3 looks like to me. I only noticed it over the weekend, so clearly it's not much of a styling issue.

It appears as though this odd cut line was made so the mirror housing could fold in, but it doesn't look particularly well finished, especially for a car that's so utterly spectacular in virtually ever other respect.

Surely, there must be a good reason for the lapse in detail here. Any suggestions?

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 10,022 miles

Power dome

October 08, 2009

This is the view you command when you're behind the wheel of our long-term 2009 BMW M3.
The power dome in the hood is in plain view. You don't need any M badges to remind you that this is the 3-series big dog.

Just glance out the windshield and look at that bulge: it tells you that this isn't just another USC-stickered 328 that litters the West Side of Los Angeles.

This is the all-conquering, magnificent-sounding, V8-powered M3, at the height of its existence.

Because, as Josh said, it's all downhill from here.

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ 10,200 miles

Engine Oil Low, Add Engine Oil

October 11, 2009

It's no secret to anyone who's ever owned / driven / seen a BMW M3 that these things burn oil. >100 hp/liter and an 8,400 rpm redline will do that to a motor. But this blog isn't about that. Not really. By now we all know it happens and we know that the oil costs $20 from the BMW dealership.

Nope, none of that is news. It would be like putting up a new blog each time we fill the tank with gas. What this is about then is the handy warning systems deployed by the M3 when the oil dips below the "safe" zone.

This is first. When you start the M3 the center of the IP is occupied by a an exclamation point and a smaller one next to the mpg readout. (This warning happens for about 5 seconds. Sorry, this is the least blurry shot I managed to get.)

The icon next to the mpg readout stays on permanently until you fix the problem.

The next warning is here, at the top of the navigation system. The car is even so kind as to direct you to the first step down the e-rabbit hole that is BMW's idrive.

The final warning is on shut down and it's just a picture of an oil can and an irritating audible ding.

This is the only way to stop the warnings. Note the high-tech way we tell the gold-bottled BMW oil from the gold-bottled VW TDI oil — a sticky note.

There are two ways to look at this 1) This is a 414-hp V8 with instantaneous response, oil is critical to functionality and thus BMW wants to keep it going. 2) This engine is very, very expensive and if you forget to put oil in it, BMW wants to make sure there are enough warnings that if it blows up, they're not responsible.

All I know is that I want as many warnings re maintenance as I can get. Modern cars that don't offer some sort of minder are my new pet peeve. (*cough* Hyundai *cough).

Your take: Maintence Reminders: Are they making us lazy, or are they keeping our cars better cared for?

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 10,172 miles

Another day, another E-warning

October 13, 2009

On Sunday I asked the question, "Maintenance Reminders: Are they making us lazy, or are they keeping our cars better cared for?" and there were mixed results. Mostly, though, you thought as I do: It's best to be aware, but at the end of the day, having a computer tell you what to do is a handy back-up.

Trouble is, sometimes you encounter a problem soon after taking preventative action. For example, Friday night, some 48 hours before this warning, I checked the tire pressures on the M3 before a slightly spirited run through SoCal (which we'll get to in another post).

At this reading the driver side rear tire read 28 psi instead of the 35 the door sticker wanted. I gave it a visual inspection, rolling the car back and forth, saw nothing hit the closest gas station, got back up to 35 psi, and then drove the 4 miles home.

The M3 is at Stokes now, we'll know more soon.

Follow the jump for more pictures of the warning systems BMW employs for this issue.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 10,565 miles


October 14, 2009

Maybe my eyesight is getting worse. Or much, much better. Either way, I managed to hit a screw at the exact intersection of the sidewall and the tire tread. Bullseye! And by 'bullseye', of course I mean, 'damn.'

Short story short: A new Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 size 265/40ZR18 rang up an as-installed cost of $420.81 and took Stokes Tire Pros here in Santa Monica about an hour to do and about 12 hours to locate a tire.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 10,577 miles.

2009 BMW M3 — The Ultimate Commuter Car

October 19, 2009

(Our 2009 BMW M3 awaits its next freeway adventure. Photo by Andrew Reed.)

I've always said I would never own a BMW. I just hate the image. I'm sure you've all heard the joke about the difference between BMWs and porcupines. Sorry, I can't deliver the punch line here.

But after spending serious time in the 2002 BMW M3, the 2008 BMW 135i and now the 2009 BMW M3, I'm changing my tune.

I think that the BMW is the ultimate commuter car. Here's why.

I hit the 405 freeway in Los Angeles every morning at 5:45 a.m. Everyone on the road knows it's about to turn into gridlock so they drive like the pagan hordes were coming over the horizon. Five lanes wide and everyone is cutting in and out. But in a BMW, you feel you have everything at your disposal to cope with this chaos.

Specifically, you have more tools to work with than any other car. You can out-accelerate anything to merge into openings in other lanes (rather than dropping back and merging with less rear visibility). The brakes are so strong they give you security at the other end of the speed equation. And the handling is razor sharp for any kind of unexpected maneuver the situation calls for. Plus, the seats offer more adjustments than a chiropractor; the '09 M3 seats fit me like a glove.

Basically, it's like driving around in a safe on wheels. Then, throw in good resale value and decent fuel economy (I know, I know, it takes premium) and it all adds up to an attractive and surprisingly practical package.

So, I'm not saying I'm going to turn into a porcupine, but if I had to buy a commuter car I'd look for a well-maintained 3 or 5 series.

The Need To Run Wild

October 22, 2009

I love our 2009 BMW M3, just the way it feels, the way it sounds, the way it drives. It seems like a bit more car than I can handle, though. I'd be wracked with guilt if I owned it and didn't drive it the way it needs to be driven. To me that would be equivalent to keeping a wild animal as a pet — they'd never get to realize their true potential. This baby does 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, 60-0 in 105 feet and slaloms at 70 mph. The average driver, like myself, just wouldn't know what to do with that.

Fortunately, our car gets its share of hard driving so I don't feel as guilty simply enjoying its luxuries like that very effective seat heater, red leather seats and, oh yes, superior passing skills.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 18,202 miles

Sedan Makes More Sense

October 29, 2009

Picked up this little number from the local furniture store recently. For a second I thought about running home to get a bigger car, but I figured it was worth trying to squeeze it in to the M3 first.

Sure enough, with a little adjustment of the front seat I wedged it in there. Could I have done the same in the M3 coupe? Maybe, but to me this was just another instance of why the M3 sedan makes more sense.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 11.055 miles

Versus GT-R

November 02, 2009

We used our 2009 BMW M3 sedan as a chase car to shuttle the GT-R to a service appointment this morning. Seeing the two beside one another made me wonder just how they sized up in terms of performance. Check out these numbers. Then look at the total package.

Which would you choose?

M3 Sedan
Price: $67,370
0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds
1/4-mile: 12.9 @ 111.0 mph
Slalom: 71.8 mph
Skidpad: 0.93 g
Service: 4-yr/50,000-mile free scheduled maintenance
Cost to date: $500.00 (@ 12,000 miles)

Price: $73,165
0-60 mph: 3.8 seconds
1/4-mile: 11.8 @ 118.6 mph
Slalom: 74.0 mph
Skidpad: 0.93 g
Service: Pay as you go
Cost to date: $8,000.00 (@ 30,000 miles)

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 11,210 miles

Best Car in the World

November 07, 2009

Disagree with the title? You haven't driven one enough. I know I hadn't when I disagreed.

I guess a little back-story on me: I've never been a big BMW fanboi. Give me the keys for a weekend and I'll head for the canyons, sure, but if we're talking my money, my preferences, I'd prefer a more tank-like Mercedes, especially if it's an AMG Mercedes.

BMW's, the M3 in particular, has always felt fragile to me. They're light and twitchy and hyper-responsive. If you've ever held a small bird in your hands, it's kind of like that. You just expect the whole thing to up and die from hypertension at any moment. AMG cars are like dogs. Bid dogs. They're sort of lazy until something sparks their interest (Squirrel!) and then it's GO GO GO until it decides to change course.

The 2009 BMW M3 sedan, though, is different.

What you're about to read are real, raw impressions. Copies of text messages to-and-from co-workers dating to the first time I took our 2009 BMW M3 home. (And yes, we all have full-keyboard phones which makes this whole thing much more readable.)

Friday, 18:30 to Sadlier: "Drove M3 home. Not impressed. Lousy clutch. Would rather 335d + cash. Nice wheel."

Friday, 18:31 to Riswick: "M3 thoughts? I'm not sold. Much rather C63. Think even prefer 335d."

Friday, 18:35 from Sadlier: "You're off your meds again, aren't you?"

Friday, 18:35 to Sadlier: "No torque. Long shifts. Engine @ idle sounds like a dryer full of buttons. Appears to get 11mpg."

Friday, 18:37 from Sadlier: "Come trade me for SX4 then."

Friday, 18:40 to Sadlier: "No."

Friday, 18:41 from Riswick: "No."

Satuday, 08:45 to Riswick: "Just drove canyons. Wow. What a car. Stupid-high limits."

Saturday, 08:47 to Sadlier: "Yowsah. Steering. Brakes. Steering. Shifter. Clutch great at 7/10ths. Scary fast w/o being scary."

Saturday, 08:51 from Riswick: "Still want that 335?"

Saturday, 08:52 to Riswick: "They still make that car? M-mode = Mike's mode."

Saturday, 10:12 from Sadlier: "Yeah?"

Saturday, 10:23 to Sadlier: "Yeah. Could be the best car I've ever driven."

Saturday, 10:25 to Chris Walton (chief road test Editor): "Can you think of a car any car with better steering/brakes/engine/trans/clutch? Short of 911gt3?"

Saturday, 11:40 from Chris Walton: Uh're getting' it.

Saturday, 11:51 to Chris Walton: "This is the best most complete car in the world. It's actually a bargain for what you get. Wow."

I spent the rest of the weekend driving and not texting, but my brain was thinking essentially the same things over and over again.

1) This car is far too fast for normal people to drive every day (see for example, the kid who smoked Lutz and his CTS-V last week.)
2) With all of the performance things this can do, combined with all of the lux/tech features, this car is as close to perfect as is currently available.
3) As good as it is, it's still a little sterile, a little surgical. This is a better car, but I still want a C63.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant

Simple Where It Needs To Be

November 11, 2009

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

Nine Observations on other Drivers

November 12, 2009

Guess where we went yesterday? Sadly, the M3 didn't see any track time — but another long-termer did. You'll have to wait for the whole surprising story later.

But on my drive back, I found myself categorizing my fellow motorists and I came up with 9 to start. I promise it'll be fun — jump with me...

Careful Calvin: Characterized by a) leaving a minimum of 10 car-lengths between himself and the vehicle directly in front of him, regardless of traffic conditions and seemingly oblivious to the line of cars behind him — or to the steady stream of cars diving in front of him that often causes him to; b) apply brakes randomly and at irregular intervals that sometimes coincide with brake lights in his own lane, but more often with brake lights from lanes other than his own. Related: Hybrid Harvey; Opposite: Tommy Tailgater.

Hybrid Harvey: Characterized by his desire to inconvenience and frustrate all the other conspicuous consumers on highways and byways across the country by refusing to maintain any semblance of traffic rhythm or pace in an effort to gather as many "you're bitchin'" economy indicators on his LCD display thereby reaffirming his already self-affirmed sense of smugness and caring more about the planet than everybody else. Note: he is completely unaware that the car for which he has overpaid is less cost-effective and has a more negative impact on the environment the long run than a traditionally powered new vehicle. Also, he believes his farts are odorless.

Bobby Flat-Biller: Characterized by driving a heavy-duty pickup truck with a lift-kit, roaring mud tires mounted on black and chrome 22s, dangling truck nutz, and proudly displaying stickers on the back window making reference to a) Glamis, b) Mud, c) West Coast Choppers, d) your sister, e) all of the above. Usually seen wearing a branded baseball-style hat with the bill as straight as a Tennessee State Trooper's hat, tattoos, and "just try me" attitude. Opposite: Hybrid Harvey.

Billy Brightson: Characterized by his apparent lack of photoreceptor rod cells within his retinas causing him to drive with his high-beam lights on regardless of traffic and/or road conditions. May be observed a) from two-miles ahead of you in opposing traffic lanes; b) in your rear view mirror on almost any drive home at night. His anatomical condition leaves him impervious to quick flashes of your own high-beams (or sustained washer-fluid blasts) to demonstrate your lack of comfort with his chosen lighting array.

Tommy Tailgater: Characterized by his lack of respect for the laws of physics which suggests that a car-length of distance between your rear bumper and his front bumper would not be a sufficient amount if you were to slow at a rate any greater than 0.1g. Often accompanied by Bobby Flat-Biller and Billy Brightson.

Dexter Darter: Characterized by his obsession with the patch of real estate between two cars in a lane adjacent to his own (on either side) where he apparently finds solace from his own pathetic lane of traffic which is apparently in his way. Often seen in state of perpetual frustration as he a) ends up going backwards in traffic, and b) is apparently late for an important engagement unlike you unmotivated novices.

Lucy the Lurker: Characterized by by her complete lack of will wherein she cannot drive at a pace of her own choosing and must rely on your progress to select a speed. She is often found in your vehicle's blind spot or directly next to you as you attempt to either speed up or slow down for a lane necessary to a) merge or b) exit the freeway. Related: Passive Aggressive D-bag whose description is a) unnecessary and b) NSFW.

Betty Brakington: Characterized by her lack of ability to determine what is appropriate amount of pressure to apply on the brake pedal for any given circumstance causing her to either under- or over-estimate the amount of slowing that is needed to avoid a traffic hazard. Any vehicle bearing the slightest resemblance to one that is driven by law enforcement (either in motion or parked on the side of the road) will cause her to jump on the brake pedal regardless of her proximity to posted speed limits. Note: she may be a physically challenged American who possesses only one eye thus rendering depth perception impossible and only a best guess. Or maybe she's just a bad driver.

So those are 9 that come to mind right now. I'm sure you've got more. Let's see what you can come up with. I dare ya.

Oh, and the M3 is still the best all-around sport sedan extant on the planet and it got stellar fuel economy on my drive home. I saw 25 mpg right before I got the camera out for this photo.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 11,695 miles (as of this morning)

2009 BMW M3 vs. Everyone Else

November 18, 2009

What is it about certain cars that bring out the drag racer in other people? Or maybe it's just L.A. I've experienced stoplight challenges when I was in our GSR and our GT-R but the list of challengers to our 2009 BMW M3 seems to be more diverse than the tuner cars after our long-termers with rear spoilers. Case in point, the following are cars with drivers who I've encountered at various stoplights in the past 24 hours who think they're faster than our 2009 BMW M3, which can hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.

  • 2005 Ford Mustang 5.2 seconds
  • 2006 Honda Civic Si 5.9 6.8 seconds
  • 2007 Infiniti G35 5.5 seconds
  • 2008 Porsche Cayenne S 6.4 seconds

My guess is that they assumed our BMW was a regular 3 Series, but even that will go from zero to 60 in about 5.3 seconds. ::Shrugs:: Have you ever done that? Size up the competition at a stoplight and consider if they're worth the effort?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Tire Pressure Warning System

November 30, 2009

I'm really tired of seeing BMW's Tire Pressure Warning System in action. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the advance notice regarding a slowing dying tire, but I'd prefer tires that simply didn't get punctures (or at least not when I'm driving on them).

I saw a similar screen in our Long-Term 2009 BMW 750i less than a month ago, so forgive me if I feel I've reached my Tire Pressure Warning screen quota.

In this case the screen popped up when I first started our BMW M3 last week. I hopped back out, grabbed my tire pressure gauge and confirmed it was at 21 psi. Hmm, that's odd. A few blasts with a tire pump had it back up to the prescribed 33 psi, with no visual or audible signs of a leak.

The next morning I got in, started the car and got the warning screen again. This time I simply drove it the local Discount Tire store (after confirming it still had 23 psi) and told them my right front tire had a leak. After about a 20-minute wait they hoisted the M3, pulled the wheel and confirmed a small screw had punctured the wheel right in the center (between two tread blocks).

Another 30 minutes and the car was ready to go. Total cost: $0. Discount Tire does not charge for basic, simple tire repairs. This is probably the fifth car I've taken to them over the past seven years, and I'm actually starting to feel guilty about taking advantage of their generous policy. And no, they don't know I work for Edmunds or that I was going to cover this incident on a Web site.

But to help curb my guilt I will offer a genuine endorsement for those who don't already know about Discount Tire's repair policy: It's a great deal if (actually, make that when) you get a small tire puncture and subsequent air leak from road debris.

Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief at 12,380 miles

iPhone Holder? No. iMac Holder? Yes.

December 02, 2009

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.

On the other hand, our long-term M3 proved perfectly sized for carrying home a new Apple iMac my Dad bought during his Thanksgiving visit. I knew we could fit it in the car, but thought it might involve rear seat space. Turns out a 27-inch iMac, in the box, snugs up almost perfectly between the rear seat back and the M3's trunk lip, with room for a wireless printer left over.

If only the M3 could hold smaller Apples as well as it carries larger ones.

Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief @ 12,450 miles

In Need of Oil

December 06, 2009

Yesterday our long-term 2009 BMW M3 informed me that its V8 needed a quart of oil. Easy enough. I checked the owner's manual, which stated very clearly that BMW recommends Castrol brand and the engine needs synthetic oil in a variety of acceptable viscosities.

I bought a quart of Castol Syntec 10W-40 and poured it in. Cost? $6.99 plus tax.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief @ 13,004 miles


December 06, 2009

If we had the opportunity to choose one car from our fleet that we could call our own, the BMW M3 sedan would probably top many of our editors' lists.

I know it would be on the tippy top of mine (now that my beloved GT-R and R8 are gone).

It's fast, it's quick, it's sexy, it's powerful and it's ridiculously easy to drive.

Our 2009 BMW M3 is car of the week.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Short 6th

December 07, 2009

As you can seen in the photo above, at 80 mph the 4.0-liter V8 in our long-term 2009 BMW M3 Sedan is at about 3,400 rpm in top gear. This is not a problem considering the M3's V8 is very smooth and redlines at over eight grand, but it is in stark contrast to our long-term Camaro SS, which is geared much taller.

At 80 mph in 6th gear the Camaro's 6.2-liter V8 is lumbering along at just 1,860 rpm, which I posted about a couple of months ago. Which do you prefer? I think I'm in the Camaro's camp on this one. I don't see any reason for the BMW not to have a taller 6th gear, especially when gas costs what it does, and the M3 runs on pricey premium.

Oh and I should point out that the BMW's EPA highway rating is 20 mpg, while the much heavier Camaro, which is powered by a larger, more powerful engine, is rated at 24 mpg.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

Now My Kids Call It the Mtree

December 07, 2009

"You want me to put this tree on THAT car?" the Xmas tree guy said in amazement.

"Yup," I replied. "It'll be fine. It's only a 10-footer."

"Whatever pal, it's your car."

The best part was on the way home, when we stopped at a redlight next to a guy in a Suburban with teeny five-foot tree on his roof. He thought I was a fool. And I was thinking the exact same thing about him.

And no, the tree did not damage the BMW.

Fact is, before the SUV began its reign as America's defacto familymobile 20 or so years ago, millions and millions of Americans got their Christmas trees home on the roof of a family car, and they did it that way for 80 or 90 years. Yesterday I proved this is still possible, regardless of what that jerk in the Suburban thinks.

Besides, now my kids call it the BMW Mtree.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

Truly Keyless Entry

December 08, 2009

See those five small ribs on the M3's door handle? That's how you know this car has the optional comfort access system.

That's BMW's name for keyless entry. Actually, it's more like buttonless entry as it simply means you don't have to push the unlock button to open the doors. In this case, just grab the handle with the fob in your pocket and it opens.

This is a slight variation on the soft, rubber button used most often on less expensive cars. Seems like what was once a mark of technological distinction is now considered an unsightly blemish. A perfectly reasonable solution as far as I'm concerned.

Is it odd that it's optional on a $60K sedan? Yes, it is. Almost as odd as being optional on a $90K sedan.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

Open Thread: Part 2

December 08, 2009

What do you want to know about the 2009 BMW M3 sedan?

Have you driven one, ridden in one, dreamed of one, seen one on the road?

Write your questions and reviews in the comments section.

Any details you want a picture or video of?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Don't Rely on the Back Seats Too Much

December 09, 2009

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

Cool Ride to the Awards Banquet

December 09, 2009

Last night the Motor Press Guild (MPG), the local association of automotive journalists, had its usual holiday dinner and presented its annual Dean Batchelor Award for accomplishment in various categories. Senior Photographer Scott Jacobs and Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr were both up for hardware in the photography category (although since Jacobs won the category last year, we figured another award wouldn't be in the cards for the boys). That's Jacobs' picture above and Niebuhr's below.

So it happened that we chose the 2009 BMW M3 for our ride to the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, near the Los Angeles airport. It was a cool ride, perfect for this sort of thing. But maybe not for the reasons you think.

These days, you see hot rides, not cool ones. It's not exactly about large pipes, tall wheels, and the big wing, but standing out is still the prime directive. Like, I saw a Camaro the other day that should have been wearing a muzzle.

Whatever the ethic of hotness that's current on the street, the BMW M3 is the opposite. Even if you imagine yourself as a sedan guy, if you like the big silk tie with the Windsor knot and the Breitling wristwatch as big as an Oreo cookie, this car is not for you.

This car is so cool that it's practically a throwback to the 1960s. And we're not just talking about Euro style here, whatever you might think of the surfacing of the body panels and the addition of the bulging hood to enclose the V8 engine. Instead the M3 Sedan is a car first and then a fast car second. You drive it around like a regular transportation with neither discomfort nor embarrassment. It's a very, very nice place to be, and the six-speed manual transmission gives it a plain-spoken directness that's a welcome relief.

But when you need something special from this car, it's there for you. Acceleration, cornering, brakes — whatever you want. And no flipping of levers or configuring the software required, really. Maybe that's the essence of cool. When you say something, you can back it up. No shouting required.That's the message the BMW M3 sedan is sending.

It's enough to make you start wearing a skinny tie.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor

Hear a Rattle?

December 10, 2009

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

I Really Like M DCT, But --

December 10, 2009

In the summer of 2008, I spent a week driving a 2008 BMW M3 convertible with BMW's M DCT seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox. The M3 convertible is too heavy to be taken seriously as a Motorsport division plaything, but that automated manual gearbox is good, very good, and maybe my favorite of all the twin-clutch transmissions I've tried.

In traffic, the M DCT was almost as smooth as an automatic, and there even seems to be a slight "creep" factor programmed in for parallel parking. But on back roads, where you really should be spending most of your time with any M3, the transmission almost takes your breath away with the quickness, sharpness and border-line violence of its gearchanges.

So why I do drive around in our 2009 M3 sedan, working the rubbery linkage of its six-speed manual gearbox, thinking to myself, "Well, if I had to choose, I'd take the conventional six-speed..."?

Answer: Because I am stupid. And have too much pride. I insist on doing my own shifting, even if I'm not as quick or as smooth. I want to be slower through the canyon and around the road course.

(In all seriousness, though, M DCT shouldn't be your choice if you're wanting to be the quickest out of the hole. If you read our test, you'll remember that its launch control is tricky to use and deactivates itself as soon as the clutches get hot. You'll get a harder launch with the regular six-speed.)

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 13,489 miles

Versus BMW M3 Coupe

December 11, 2009

BMW M3 Sedan versus BMW M3 Coupe. Both have the same 4.0-liter, 414-hp V8 and both wear Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 summer tires. Check out the vitals of our long-term sedan alongside those of the last coupe we tested. Is there a clear cut winner? Which would you choose?

2009 BMW M3 Sedan
$67,370 (as tested)
0-60 mph: 4.5 sec (with 1-ft rollout)
1/4-mile: 12.9 sec @ 109.8 mph
60-0 mph: 105 ft
Slalom: 70.0 mph
Skidpad: 0.90g
Weight: 3,710 (as tested)
Fuel economy (avg): 16.0 mpg
Tires: (F: 245/40ZR18, R: 265/40ZR19)

2008 BMW M3 Coupe
$65,775 (as tested)
0-60 mph: 4.3 sec (with 1-ft rollout)
1/4-mile: 12.7 sec @ 112.0 mph
60-0 mph: 100 ft
Slalom: 73.3 mph
Skidpad: 0.95g
Weight: 3,590 (as tested)
Fuel economy (avg): 15.6 mpg
Tires: (F: 245/35R19, R: 265/35R19)

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 13,500 miles

Fixed, but in a Temporary Way

December 14, 2009

Once again, our friends at Stokes Tire Pros came through in a jiffy. The right-rear tire with the screw in it was repairable, but they also knew we had the left-rear replaced only two months ago. The right-rear has only a few thousand miles to go before it, too, needs replacement.

Having the car up on the lift also gave me an opportunity to shoot a few cool photos of the undercarriage. Follow the jump if you care to see them.

As soon as the guy yanked the screw out, the tire began hissing.

Cool stuff, eh? I'm a little shocked at how clean the undercarriage is considering the rain this weekend.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,410 miles

Screwed, but in a Special Way

December 14, 2009

I was fortunate enough to have the M3 this weekend, and even on the freeway, in steady rain, the 414-hp RWD M3 maintained its composure and its "better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts" character still shined through. So much so that my wife could tell I was driving the M3 with more gusto and enjoyment than most weekend cars. She asked, "So, is this car special?" To which I replied, "Oh, Hon. You have no idea..."

Sure, there are "better" cars on paper; more powerful, more nimble, less expensive, and some would say better looking. But as I listed for my wife all the things that make the M3 the ultimate 3 Series sedan, I realized that it wasn't the parts list, but rather its character that had me hooked.

There's a short list of cars that for me are far better than the sum of their parts: this M3, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, and the Porsche 911 GT3 come immediately to mind. Yes, they all have an enviable parts list and should be "special" for the amount they cost, but there's more to it than that. It's how the parts are screwed together, the way in which they interact, and the fact that somebody, with an even greater knowledge than me of what makes a car feel the way it does, tuned all its systems to a level of harmony that few manufacturers have ever achieved — and others fail to even notice.

There's one manufacturer (who shall remain nameless) who has a knack for making a vehicle look competitive on paper, even superior in terms of track results, but rarely does the vehicle feel "right" or come close to overall benchmark status because the feedback is all wrong.

Not so in the M3.

After explaining all that to my wife, she said, "I'm happy for you — now can you please stop driving like that?"

"Sorry, Honey. No can do. It wants to be driven like this; it needs to be driven like this — I owe it to the guys who designed and built it."

Oh, and last night, a Sunday night, at around 4:30 pm, I noticed this giant screw-head in the right-rear tire. I checked the pressure, it was the same as the left-rear and from the look of the screw's head, it had been there some time. Rather than run around town and bribe some tire store guy to stay open to either patch or replace the tire, I decided it was safe enough to wait until this morning and take it to Stokes.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,405 miles

Low washer fluid

December 16, 2009

The windshield washer fluid in our long-term 2009 BMW M3 is low.

The telltale between the meters in the pic above shows that. But I couldn't find any mention in the Navi display (under the service menu) through the iDrive.

BMW does give you a single auditory chime that's exactly the same as when you unlatch the seatbelt or leave the parking brake on (the first click), so you have to look at the meters to see what's going on. Not that I've done either of those other two.

UPDATE: I just came back from adding washer fluid. Hit the jump to see my surprise.

When I went to fill the washer fluid, I was greeted with this filler opening.

As you can see, the filler spout is black plastic and quite opaque, not the translucent plastic with which I am more familiar. And there's no fluid reservoir either, the tube just disappears underneath.

You'd best add washer fluid to your M3 — slowly.

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ 13,471 miles

Fantastic Navigraphics, but "Real-Time" Traffic..?

December 18, 2009

I love, love, love the BMW M3's screen. It's wide, it refreshes quickly, it's easy to read, and BMW have figured out a way of dealing with polarized sunglasses without needing to cock your head like the RCA dog. What's more is that the screen remains (largely) immune to reflected, direct sunlight so it doesn't wash out. Finally, the method of showing traffic flow on the new iDrive is better than any other in the business. If you ask it show traffic conditions, the map goes all shades of gray except for the color-keyed traffic flow. Cue Guinness commercial with guy belting out, "Brilliant!"

Now, all those attributes would be great if the traffic info (streamed from satellite sources) were up-to-date. Alas, good technology, even tech that's less than a year old, is only as good as the information it digests and displays.

Okay, that was lame, so here are two more shots a few minutes later but up real close... Notice all the red bits on my Blackberry that don't show up on the BMW?

I know, I know. I should be happy, overjoyed even to be driving an M3 home. You'd be justified in saying, "Wah, the real-time traffic in my (borrowed) $67,000 414-hp RWD BMW M-freakin'-3 isn't telling me the whole truth."

To which I would say, "Yeah, the M3 RULES in every other way a car can — I'm extremely fortunate — but I'm just sayin'"

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,650 miles

Damping Control Too Aggressive For My Tastes

December 21, 2009

Took the M3 on a nice slice of Mulholland Highway yesterday. The engine still feels brilliant along with the brakes and steering. I've noted before that the "sport" button is a bit overkill, and now I'm convinced that the Electronic Damping Control is a similar piece of unnecessary hardware.

Dial in the stiffest setting and the whole car turns into an unyielding piece of aluminum and steel. There is almost no roll while turning or dive under braking. It feels like your very own NASCAR stock car.

Which is great if you're on a track. On a normal road it's not quite so enjoyable. The whole car feels nervous as it bounces and jumps over every imperfection in the road. It may be more capable, but it's not necessarily more fun.

I prefer to have a little give in the car so I can feel the suspension working a little, not to mention feel confident about predicting when it might stop working. Besides, there's already so much capability baked into the car, so it's not like you're missing out on much in the normal setting.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

Battery location

December 24, 2009

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!

It's the battery of course. Two things are interesting. First, you can see that there are two positive cables running out and routed to the engine bay of the car (positive lead can be seen in bottom right pic.)

The second is the truly nasty look of that recycled trunk liner material. But we're only talking about the hidden part, the side you see everyday is fine. And I like that BMW and other carmakers are increasing the content of recycled materials in areas normally out of sight and touch.

Christmas bonus! Extra pics showing the esquisite detail Bryn's InsideLine gingerbread garage.

Happy Christmas!

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ 13,700

Showing Its Age

January 04, 2010

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.

Oldham already addressed the driver's side seat bolster last fall, but the wear is increasing rapidly from what you saw last September. Is it just me or does this kind of patina look better on black leather? It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the red leather and this is part of the reason why.

On the up side, I just spent 850 miles blasting around in the M3 over the holidays and am reminded again why this car is a segment benchmark. It is a car I would happily own. Even with the wear.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

The Beauty of M

January 08, 2010

It's Friday morning. You're about ready to head out to work when your wife asks for a favor: Can you drop the kids off at school on your way? "Sure, honey, I can do that," you tell her. You pack up the kiddies in the back of your 2009 BMW M3 sedan, thinking to yourself that you bought the sedan over the coupe just for situations like this.

For 15 minutes you slog through city traffic while entertaining the kids with satellite radio's Radio Disney (it's for the greater good, you say to yourself). Surrounded by minivans and crossovers, you drop the kids off at their school. Now you've got another 20 minutes of commute. Your brain is largely shut down, thinking about the project you have to do once you get to work. But then a favorite song of yours comes up on the radio. Your brain flickers to life. Your fingers grip the blue-and-red stitching on the M3's steering wheel. Coming up to a right-hand corner, you reflexively snap off a quick rev-matched downshift, the M3's V8 barking in response. Yes, you think, that was kinda fun.

You've only got about a mile of city streets left to the office, but the roads are relatively clear. You thumb the M Sport button. The M3's throttle sharpens, its steering weighs up, the suspension braces itself. Now you're hard on the throttle, winging the V8 up to 8,000 rpm. Another corner. Another rev-matched downshift. Coming out of the corner, you purposely add more throttle than really necessary. The rear end swings out a bit before a smidge of counter-steer and the relaxed stability control reigns it back in. One more quick burst of V8 speed before your office building looms.

Your cell phone gets a text. "Thanks for taking the kids! Did it go OK?" You've got a grin. "Yep, it was fine," you text back.

This is why you buy a BMW M3.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Another Quart of Oil, Please

January 11, 2010

Ever since I got the keys to the M3 last week, I've noticed that the car has been queuing up its various electronic one-quart-low engine oil warnings (as previously detailed previously by Mike here.) This is, of course, not the first time we've had to top off the oil level with an additional quart. Just last month Scott added a quart at 13,004 miles.

My intention was to add just one-half of a quart of oil, but due to my initial unfamiliarity with the M3's oil monitoring system, I ended up adding a full quart. What happened: I first added half-a-quart and fired up the car. The engine oil sensor is always a bit finicky; you have to wait for it to give a readout, like when you're booting up a computer or something. When a reading came up, it was showing an oil level nearly the same as it was before I added the quart. Hmm. Worried that the oil level might have been way low, I shut 'er off and added the rest of the quart.

This time, though, I drove around some more and waited longer. And at this second measuring, the M3's sensor showed that a full quart had been added, with the engine oil level now at the top hash mark. Interestingly, the owner's manual has this to say: [When oil level down to minimum] "Add engine oil at the next opportunity, but no more than 1 US quart. Add at least .05 US quart, otherwise the oil-level monitor will be unable to display the value reliably. " So there you have it.

Also, there was some commenting back-and-forth from Erin's oil change post about where to buy oil. Like Erin, I ended up getting a quart of Castrol 10W-60 at my local BMW dealer (10W-60 wasn't at Walmart). It was still expensive, though considerably cheaper at Weber BMW of Fresno than BMW of Santa Monica: $14.16 versus $20.87.

In other news, it occurred to me that we haven't had our M3 serviced since its first service back at 1,400 miles. According to the car's iDrive, we've got about another 1,300 miles before we're due for an oil change.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 15,046 miles

Random Pictures Edition

January 13, 2010

What do a cat, an Edmunds fuel mileage log book and a Lexus IS-F have in common? Nothing, really, though they're included in a few eclectic photos I took this week involving our 2009 M3. They follow after the jump.

I caught my neighbor's cat napping on the hood of the M3 on Monday after I had parked the M3 in my driveway. Normally, I like cats, but not when they're putting paw prints on my car. Plus, there's probably something unlucky about having a black cat on a white car. Get off, cat!

I had flipped to the back page of the M3's fuel log notebook for a scrap piece of paper when I discovered the above scrawl. I don't know which editor wrote it, or why. But it's sage advice when driving a $65,000 M3. Probably an apt metaphor for getting through life, too.

I had parked the M3 at my local grocery store last night and, upon returning to the car, found somebody had parked his or her Lexus IS-F next to mine. Coincidence? Probably not. I thought about waiting to find out who the owner was, but then I realized I had better things to do. Note both cars have the white paint/dark wheel combo. (Pictures taken with a cell phone.)

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Dirty Exhaust Tips

January 15, 2010

So our BMW M3 burns through its fair share of oil. And lo and behold, the exhaust tips are quite sooty. Dirty tips bug me, so I'll be cleaning them up this weekend. I've got a couple ways to go about it on my own car, but anybody want to recommend a particular technique or product they're fond of for cleaning exhaust tips? I've got four tips to experiment on.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Riding Out The Rain

January 20, 2010

As you might have noticed from a few previous posts, it's been raining a lot in Southern California this week. It's about as bad as Mother Nature gets around here ... if you ignore the occasional fires, floods, mudslides and earthquakes, that is. Yesterday was an interesting test of our BMW M3's wet-weather traction abilities. I was driving in heavy rain along the Tejon Pass, a hilly, 50-mile stretch of Interstate 5 colloquially called the Grapevine.

Having talked to some tire industry people over the years, I've come to learn that summer tires aren't inherently traction-deficient in wet conditions compared to all-season tires. In fact, in Inside Line's All-Season/Summer/Winter Tire Test, summer tires handily beat all-seasons in acceleration, braking and handling during wet conditions. The other nice thing about the M3 is its high level of communication with the driver — if the tires are starting to lose traction because of water, you'll know about it.

The downside to our long-term car is that the tires are getting fairly worn (actually, three out of the four, since we recently replaced one due to a puncture). And this, according to Dan Edmunds, our in-house engineering/suspension guru, is a big determinant in how well a tire copes with standing water. Basically, the less tread depth there is, the less effective the tire becomes at evacuating and sequestering water.

Anyway, the M3 was generally fine yesterday. There were places that the M3 hydroplaned a little, but in general a reduced speed and some attentive driving were the only things required to keep the M3 safe. I was worried more about some other drivers (both of cars and big rigs) who didn't reduce their speed or respect the road the conditions. And judging by the variety of accidents I saw, I'd say some of them learned a harsh lesson.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 15,374 miles

The Audi's Seats Are Good, These are Better

January 22, 2010

Remember earlier this week when I raved about the seat in the S5? Well, a night in the M3 reminded me that the BMW's seats are even better. And it has about the same amount of mileage on it.

I did notice that the M3's seats are definitely showing more noticeable wear though. Check out that left side bolster. So which would you prefer? Seats that feel great but look a little worn at 15K? Or seats that feel almost as nice, but don't look more than a few thousand miles old?

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

Sporty Steering Wheel Part 2

January 25, 2010

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

Over Due

January 25, 2010

We're 600 miles late in reporting that our 2009 BMW M3 sedan has passed the 15,000-mile mark. Other than some tire issues, this staff favorite has been good to us.

Here's a beauty shot for your enjoyment.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 15,606 miles

Some Puddle Lamps are better than others

February 01, 2010

Maybe it's the white paint, maybe it's the white LED light, but the puddle lamps on the 2009 BMW M3 Sedan are very effective.

See what I mean?

By the way, the right-rear rattle is gone.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 16,155 miles

Can't Quite Get Comfortable Enough

February 03, 2010

Two things:

1) Can't figure out what's causing that rattle on the passenger side. But I hear it clearly even when I am flooring our 2009 BMW M3. It's definitely not the passenger-side seatbelt. It sounds like the door is rattling, like when you don't close it all the way. But I checked and they were both securely shut. Hmm.

2) Even though the M3 comes with a slew of seat controls to ensure that every driver is comfortable behind its wheel, for some reason they just weren't working for me. I couldn't seem to adjust the seat so that I was close enough and low enough to operate the clutch pedal. The thigh extender wasn't extended and I pressed the seat down button as low as it would go. It's funny because I don't recall it being this uncomfortable the last time I drove it back in November.

Since I wasn't comfortable and my left foot was just hovering in the air, my clutch work suh-hucked. Felt like a newbie all over again when just the night before I had a rip-roaring time with our Mazdaspeed 3. I know it's just me since none of the other drivers have complained about this. But I figured it was something to point out. Any theories...besides mean ones, that is?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 16,211 miles

Due for Service

February 05, 2010

This morning I fired up our 2009 BMW M3 and this is what it told me. Turns out we're due for a service. We'll set up an appointment next week and let you know how it goes.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 16,300 miles

Learning to Love the M Button

February 08, 2010

Awhile back I wrote that the M3's electronic gadgetry was overkill. Too much of a good thing was my general sentiment. It was already more than capable as is, why add a bunch of buttons that make it feel all tensed up and nervous?

On a long to the Ojai valley about 90 miles north of L.A. (that's one of the town's landmark arches in the picture, look closely and you'll see it was built way back in 1999) I gave the M3's "M" button another shot. It more or less coordinates all the possible means of electronic changes like the throttle control, dampers and stability control. You can set it up any way you want, but one of our resident track jockeys had already dialed in a nice setup, so I just pressed it and went.

Just as I had remembered, the car feels like it's wound too tight all of a sudden. The throttle gets twitchy and the suspension turns stiff. On the highway it's not terrible, just slightly annoying. Once I got used to it, however, I could see the appeal. The car feels like one of those dogs pulling its owner down the sidewalk, it just wants to go.

Once I turned off onto some more interesting roads, I let it loose and the M3 felt just about perfect. If anything, it's a bit too capable, willing to go a little faster than is safe on public roads. That edginess that makes it a little too jumpy around town turns into a directness in corners that quite satisfying. Not required by any means, but a definite step up. After arriving at my destination I could see why the "M" button gets to be addictive to some. I'm guessing it's the roads it entices you to drive as much as it is the added performance. Either way, I'll admit to wanting one now.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 16,495 miles

Our Favorite Caption

February 12, 2010

Thanks to bobjonesesq for this week's favorite caption. You guys are the best. There were so many good ones to choose from.

Here are the others that made us giggle:

M3 vs Prius: Which one generates the most SMUG? (lowmilelude)
Green with envy! (ergsum)
Autobahn vs Autoblah! (ergsum)
I'm here, offsettin' ur greenhouse gas emissions. (cx7lover)
Smokey Burnout and the Green Bandits (e90_m3)
Give me a brake! (adavis2493)
The Green Hell (e90_m3)
Made contact with locals today relationships already strained. (hybris)
Prius Envy (ergsum)
The Fast and the Priuses (ergsum)
Didn't you get that memo? (mrdang)
Bimmer vs. Bummer (aleclance)
Oh sorry guys, didn't notice you were in the middle of a bored meeting. (sherief)
Did you guys see that Top Gear episode, where I beat you in a mileage test? (sherief)
Assaultin' batteries. (misterfusion)
I'm dating Triplets (bluepunk82)
The M3 suffers an outbreak of Priusis. (ergsum)
All your carbon footprints are belong to me. (ahightower)

I made a special category for Star Wars references:

Look sir, droids! (sherief)
It's a trap! (71vetteboy)
Help me, Bei-Emm Duhbiou; you're my only hope. (ergsum)
Mos Eisley shopping center: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious. (ergsum)
Uncle Owen, this M3 unit is a badass motivator, look! (ergsum)
I have a very bad feeling about this. (ergsum)
These are not the droids you're looking for. (sherief)
There is a great disturbance in the Green Force. (ergsum)

What was your favorite?

P.S. Click here for video confirmation of the happy dance.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor


February 12, 2010

Another 16 hour day. Meetings. Politics. Email. Conference calls. Conference rooms. Skype. More meetings. More email. More politics. Fewer people. More effort. More hours. Less satisfaction. It's another day in the cubicle. Another day dealing with the boss. Another day working for the man. Another day in the Matrix.

And then you walk out to your M3.

Life is good.

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

You Write the Caption

February 12, 2010

Senior Editor Ed Hellwig sent me this photo of the 2009 BMW M3 surrounded by Priuses.

We suggest: More Gas for Me

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

King of the Hill

February 18, 2010

Know what I liked most about our BMW M3 was last night? It wasn't its sweet, purring V8 — nope. It wasn't its unparalleled handling, nor its heated seats that do a back good after a long day spent chained to the computer screen.

What I liked most about the M3 last night as I waited behind a line of cars, halfway up the steep incline that leads out of our underground parking dungeon, was its hill-start assist. Works like a charm and makes starting on a slope nothing more than business as usual.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor

Service at 17,000 Miles

February 19, 2010

Our service visit to Long Beach BMW was quick and cheap. Free scheduled maintenance covered the cost of the oil, oil filter, air filter and the typical moving parts inspections.

We had scheduled the appointment for our 2009 BMW M3 by phone. At the time we were warned, "Be sure you are on time. If you are more than 10 minutes late we will not take your vehicle and you will have to reschedule." We couldn't tell you if the threat was legitimate or not because it worked on us. We showed up on time.

A couple of hours later we received email notification that the service was complete. That was a welcome change to the usual phone call. Welcome until it was followed by multiple spam advertising messages from the dealership. Three before the day was up. We unsubscribed and the barrage stopped. Our phone rang the next day, "This is Long Beach BMW. We see you missed your appointment yesterday. When can we reschedule?" After explaining that we had in fact shown up, and on time, the call ended.

We were satisfied with the pre-service experience. But post-service communication can use some work.

Total Cost: None

Days out of Service: None

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 16,895 miles

A Little Rake Goes a Long Way

February 22, 2010

As you can see, our BMW M3 has rake. I'm referring to that slight tilt forward that makes it looks like it's ready to take off even though it's just sitting there. The look is a combination of its actual tilt and the rising waistline of the car.

This used to be a common design theme that you would see if everything from sportscars to station wagons. Now you see all too many cars that are cursed with slab-sided lines and a perfectly flat stance. Some cars can pull it off e.g. Chrysler 300, but most can't. On the M3, it's actually a pretty subtle design cue, but it makes a big difference when you see the car on the road. Those big meats on the back help too.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 17,181 miles


February 25, 2010

See that tread pattern on the rear tire of our 2009 BMW M3? Huge tread blocks, shallow grooves, narrow sipes — this looks like an out and out performance tire, right? Throw in some tire wear for good measure and they probably suck in anything but bone-dry conditions, right?


A couple weeks ago, the Los Angeles region experienced ususual amounts of rain. Really, any amount is unusual, so maybe that's not saying much. But we did get pretty much deluged.

I was driving the M3 back from Burbank when the skies opened up yet again, adding to the already-flooded roads. But what's this? Oh, it's hail mixed in with the rain. Great. This ought to bring the region's irrationally terrified motorists to their knees.

It did, but the M3 was unfazed by the conditions. I mean completely and utterly care-free. Not even a hint of hydroplaning in any of the countless standing water patches it tore through. It was nearly as though the road was dry for the M3 and wet for everyone else, such was the car's unflappable nature and, uh, large speed differential.

This M3 is a hell of a car, and its wet-weather composure simply reinforces that notion.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

The Clouds Parted

March 01, 2010

Perspective is a good thing. You'll probably roll your eyes at what I have to say here, but I do get spoiled with the cars we have available from time to time to drive. I can take things for granted and don't always appreciate a beautiful machine when I drive it.

I own a Mazda 3. It's a solid car. Does nothing great, but does a pretty good job at most everything to make it a well rounded car. For the better part of two weeks I've been in that, and no long term/test cars. I thought my 3 was peppy and fun. It wasn't until I got into our BMW M3 over the weekend did I realize my car is a dog.

I know, "No sh**, Sherlock. It's an M3 with a V8." It's not fair to compare the two, I grant you that. But the perspective of Mazda 3 ownership just makes you realize how awesome the M3 is.

It's pretty. It's got a muscular shape that exudes an "I like to go fast" attitude. It's got a beautiful growl, a responsive throttle and a fat steering wheel to control it all. I purposely drove late at night just so I could hit those freeway entrances and blast through the gears with no traffic and no worries. Just hearing that sucker scream as I hit fifth gear brought a big smile to my face. I wish I could own this mean machine on a full time basis.

Come Monday morning and back to the 3. Talk about letting the air out of my balloon. On the way out of the garage I stared at the M3 like that one hot college girlfriend I let get away because I was an idiot. Right as she left my sight I knew I missed her. You never really know what you had until it's gone.

Hell, maybe next weekend I can ask for the keys again?

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

Does It Sound Good at Startup?

March 03, 2010

Crank the volume on your speakers, as this was not shot with the best camera or by the best videographer (also, the sun suddenly went nova while the video was being shot... go figure). So listen and then decide if you're yay, nay or meh.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 17,748 miles

Which Wheels Do You Prefer?

March 06, 2010

First off, please excuse the photo, I know it's crap but I wasn't about to put off my Saturday morning bagel and coffee for a better angle. Anyway, it just so happens that an identical white BMW M3 parked next to our long-termer. It had the red interior and everything, but as you can sort of see, the owner chose to go with the larger wheel and tire combination.

We liked the look and ride quality of the slightly smaller 18s, but it's rare to see one so equipped. What look would you choose?

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line

Keyless Access That I Actually Use

March 08, 2010

I usually have little patience for keyless access/ignition systems — I don't like it when they're slow to recognize I'm carrying the keyless remote and I don't like feeling around for little rubber buttons on door handles to unlock the rear doors or lock the car after I park it.

But after a weekend with the M3, even I have to admit its keyless setup is useful. When I approach on the driver or passenger side with the key in my pocket or bag, the system immediately detects it and unlocks all the doors as soon as my hand brushes the door handle to open it. This is particularly nice in bad weather, because I don't have to worry about family members getting rained on for any longer than necessary.

After I park the M3, I just touch the texturized section of the door handle and then it's all locked. Easy.

Still, would I pay for this feature if I bought an M3? Ah, well, there's not really much choice is there? BMW lumps keyless access in with navigation and the programmable M button in the Technology package. If you want that M button in your M3, you're taking it.

By the way, it rained torrentially over the weekend, and I heartily agree with Jay — the tires on this car are excellent on wet roads.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 17,701 miles

Personal Day

March 09, 2010

I didn't come to work yesterday, and one thing I did with my free time was to take a real drive in our 2009 BMW M3. I've made far too many laps on the freeway in our sedan not to get it on a proper back road.

Well, my first choice for a back road (the northwestern-most section of Mulholland Highway) was strewn with rocks that had fallen from the cliff-faces during the weekend storms. After gingerly picking my way around those, I decided to check out Yerba Buena. This little road is rougher, tighter and narrower — but has fewer canyon walls looming over it.

Well, I have to eat a slice of humble pie now. The M3 was not as much fun on this road as our departed 2008 BMW 135i, a car I often said was boring. Partly it was an issue of size. The M3 sedan is significantly longer (180.4 in. vs. 171.7 in.), wider (71.5 vs. 68.8) and heavier (+ 300 pounds), and just did not fit as well on the road. I felt less comfortable diving into blind corners.

The other factor was suspension tuning. Our 135i had a soft setup for a BMW, and this allowed it to smooth out a lot of the roughness on Yerba Buena. Our M3's ride felt brittle by comparison. I didn't touch the EDC button, so the adaptive dampers remained in their default, least sporty setting, but the damping was still too aggressive for this road and the car felt nervous.

I couldn't end the day on at note, though, so we finished up on a smoother road where the M3 was happier. I enjoy the howl of the 4.0-liter V8 on its way to its 8,300-rpm redline, and I love the exhaust snort upon a smoothly executed heel-and-toe downshift.

The car is so quick coming out of corners, and there's so much grip, that it's almost a little too much for public roads littered with rocks and shared with cyclists. Perhaps my next personal day will find us on a racetrack.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 17,792 miles

Editors' Favorites Number Two

March 11, 2010

By the slimmest of margins, our 2009 BMW M3 sedan overtook the GT-R for second place. Its one-year test is not quite done, but it's obvious that the M3 has long-lasting appeal due to its combination of exemplary performance and everyday practicality.

Interestingly, there seems to be two camps within our editorial group; of all our 20-plus editors, only one voted for both the GT-R and the M3. Everybody else, if they voted at all for one of these two cars, made their choice an exclusive pick. Blue state versus Red. GT-R versus M3.

And with that, Editors' Favorites Five, Four, Three and Two are done. Tomorrow we conclude with Number One (hint: it's not the Veracruz). Following that on Monday, we'll also have the runners-up and the winner (?) of our Biggest Long-Term Loser vote.

Tapping Into My Darkside

March 11, 2010

It's no surprise that our 2009 BMW M3 was voted as the No. 2 long-term favorite of our editors. I know I love it. The only thing is that I also realized that if this were my car I'd be such an a-hole. I'm not saying that every M3 owner is an a-hole, just that I know I would be.

It seems like when I get behind the wheel of this car, suddenly everyone in the world doesn't know how to drive. Why so slow, people? The M3 aggravates my impatience.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 17,861 miles

Savouring the Steering at 2/10ths

March 12, 2010

I had an appointment last night up in Calabasas on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains. I also had the M3. 1 + 1 = Weeeeee!

However, as it was rush hour, I not surprisingly got stuck behind the typical Toyota Prius or Toyota Sienna or Toyota Avalon that chugs along through Topanga Canyon at between 5 to 10 mph below the speed limit. I don't write this as a set-up to an unintended acceleration joke (though you're encouraged to make them), it's just a fact.

As such, any sort of glorious canyoning was kept to brief bursts. They were enjoyable bursts, but most of the time I was caged into a 2/10ths driving experience. Yet, like slowly savouring a sip of fine wine or a bite of molten chocolate cake, I found I could still appreciate the M3 while traveling slowly through a canyon. With Dave Matthews' Before these Crowded Streets providing a chill soundtrack, it was almost therapeutic.

With my fingers delicately holding the chunky M steering wheel at 3 and 9, I paid attention to every little nuance of the road that transferred from the tires up through the steering and into my fingers. It's like reading Braille. I could indeed "feel" the road, almost as if I was being dangled off the front of the car on a boom.

The weighting is also near about perfect. So many times automakers dial in a bunch of effort at speed so that the steering seems sporty — especially with variable electric systems. No thanks. The M3 remains relatively light, making it all the more easy to understand what's going on at pavement level.

I realize I lack the vocabulary to truly express how good the steering is in the M3, but I walked away once again impressed with what can set BMWs apart from the pack. Unfortunately, with electric systems and BMW's new adjustable driving settings, I fear that this greatness will be lost at the hands of a tiny fuel economy improvement and the desire to be everything for everyone. Frankly, if you think the M3's steering is too NVHy for your liking, buy a Lexus. I'll gladly savour excellence.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 17,930 miles

Brilliant, But Would I Buy One?

March 15, 2010

This is the question I posed to myself this weekend. Sure, I essentially wrote it a love letter on Friday, and another canyon drive (this time a wee bit faster) reinforced my appreciation for this brilliant machine. However, on a day-to-day basis, I fear that its frenetic nature would grow tiresome, like being friends with Jim Carrey. Sure, great fun on the weekends, but sometimes you just want to relax and watch some TV.

Usually, the "should I drive a sports car every day?" debate centers around ride quality and space issues. Well, those aren't the M3's problems. The ride is actually quite comfortable and the thing is a sedan, after all. My issue is that it takes due diligence to drive it smoothly at normal speeds around town. The M3 is a performance machine and it wants to be treated as such, yet sometimes you just can't or don't want to blast away up to 7,500. Getting the clutch and throttle application just right to prevent herking and jerking takes a lot more concentration than in the S5 or in the easiest car to drive smoothly ever, our new GTI. There's also a fair bit of road noise. These are problems, they are inherent sports car compromises.

As such, I think for the M3's price tag of $67,370, I'd opt for something a little more neutral in character. Something a little more civil for those times away from a canyon and/or in the presence of a girlfriend who'd quietly prefer her travels not to feel like a roller coaster. The E550 Coupe would probably have the exact opposite problem (like being friends with Jim Cameron), so perhaps the answer is an S5, or perhaps a 335i and a boat load of cash.

Either way, I probably wouldn't buy an M3 ... but I'm certainly thrilled to drive it whenever I can.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 18,021 miles

Does It Have to Be Red?

March 23, 2010

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

You've Got To Be Kidding Me

March 23, 2010

Another week, another BMW tire repair. This time it was the left rear on our M3. No TPMS warning, just caught it at the gas station when checking tread wear.

Stokes fixed this one for $25.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

The case for nav...and dipsticks

March 29, 2010

About a week ago I posted my annoyance at the GMC Terrain for not allowing navigation inputs while driving (there is voice control for it, but that's another blog. Hint: it's not great.). 1487 hit the nail on the head, "apparently GM is taking notes from Toyota with regards to using nav while moving. Thats a shame." While others went a different direction, wondering why I'd ever bother with built-in nav in the first place. Something about maps and motor clubs and other things I don't understand.

Here's why I like navigation: I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Vegas (really, I was forced into it, "Surprise, Magrath, get to Vegas. Your assistance is needed.") and in Henderson I checked the oil via the little computer which said, roughly, "Hey, you're low on oil. Still OK, not great, though." To which I replied, "Hey, iDrive, can you point me to the closest BMW dealership? Yes? Great." I didn't have a map. I don't think I'll ever own a map.

Sure, I could've used my blackberry to similar results, but this map is bigger and faster and has better resolution. It's a cool, handy toy that, in the M3 at least is in a very attractive $3,250 bundle that comes with comfort access — along with not owning a map, I hope never to own another key to a car — M-drive button (!), and the electronic dampers. All of those things are awesome on this car and I figure if you're buying an M3, get this package instead of the $2,900 waste-of-a-great-car automatic.

As for that dipstick thing in the title...well, jump for some raning.

So I check the oil via the stalk-mounted button and the level is below the indicator in the middle. I'm about to do a lot more...enthusiastic....driving in the near future and I'd be happy if the level was right in between the two marks.

So my brain says at this point half a quart should do it. I pop the top and add half a quart.

Exciting, I know. So after that's done I drive to my hotel and then to my destination. That's about 20 miles. The computerey-thing tells me that, after re-evaluating itself — I knew this because it looked like a clock for about five minutes — that the oil level was STILL below the center mark! Fine. Another quarter of a quart. (Sorry, no pictures of that.)

Drive another 30 miles. Computer computes. At least one power on-off cycle. Tells me that there is STILL no change in oil level.

Final fourth of that quart goes in.

Computer computes.

...and computes.

....and computes.

Some 90(!) miles later it stops being a clock and starts being an oil meter again....

SONOFA.... Seriously? This would not happen with a dipstick and a rag.

Technology. She's a double-edge sword.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 19,357 miles


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

Retained Value
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. 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.