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.