In city traffic, the M3 occasionally wants to lunge, but slow takeoffs from stops become possible. The DTC shifts up to its top gear, which happens to be seventh, quickly. However, seventh is not a particularly tall gear, as the engine will still be running at a relatively fast 3,000rpm when the car is traveling at freeway speeds. BMW kept its focus on performance, not fuel economy, when specifying the gear ratios.
The one nod toward fuel efficiency comes in the form of an idle stop feature, mercifully turned off when you start the car. Idle stop shuts down the engine when the M3 stops in traffic. It happens subtly, so that it takes a moment to notice the lack of vibration and engine hum. Taking your foot off the brake causes the engine to roar back to life, not fast enough to set a new 0-to-60 mph time, but good enough for typical traffic.
Idle stop is useful at times, but annoying at others. You don't want to use it in stop-and-go traffic, but it's great at long lights or train crossings. But it also requires forethought: if you are stuck at a train crossing, turning the feature on won't shut down the engine. It only works if it is already activated when you drive up to stopped traffic.
Although BMW managed to make the car drivable in mundane situations, it shines in full performance mode. Get the drive program, EDC, Power, and DSC all set properly, and the M3 gets out from under its bushel to show the world its light. And what a glorious light that is.
A launch control program takes advantage of every little erg produced from the engine to move the car, without burning off otherwise perfectly good power by letting the wheels spin. Launches are controlled but fast. The engine's high horsepower-to-torque ratio means the M3 has power at speed, perfect for recovering lost momentum after coming through a turn.
But plenty of cars go fast in a straight line. The M3 takes on corners as if it were the engineer who initially planned the curvature of the roadbed. In Sport mode, the EDC keeps the chassis low to the ground, pushing each tire for maximum contact with the pavement. The steering responds like the most dedicated border collie, going exactly where you point it.
Characteristically for BMW handling, the DSC in Sport mode lets the back end step out a little. Learn how much, and the car rewards you with a predictable pivot at the apex of sharp corners. The brakes allow excellent modulation leading up to a corner, and the DTC makes downshifts as fast as changing channels. Accelerating out of the corner, you can upshift while keeping the gas pedal down firmly, and the car will respond with satisfying power.
The M3 has limits, but it takes some serious driving to discover them. The car performs excellently well on public roads, but a track is the only place to really get the most out of this car.
Of course, the M3 can be had with plenty of electronic gear in the cabin that isn't related to the track experience. BMW offers a top-tier, hard-drive-based navigation system. And the best reason to choose that option is the LCD that comes with it, giving better access to the different performance settings available in the car.
But with the stock radio, BMW does a reasonable job of presenting contact lists and iPod music library information. The two-line display lets you select categories such as artist or album, then scroll down a list of items in a music library. The system also indexes USB drives, presenting the music library in the same fashion as an iPod.
The stock audio system produces better sound than many cars' premium systems. Although not bursting with watts, the basic system has excellent balance, overloading neither the highs nor the bass. The speakers have a quality sound, with good distinction for each instrument. Bass is satisfying, but won't rattle the door panels. The audio source selection is good, and includes HD Radio, but Bluetooth streaming is missing.
The Editors' Choice Award-winning 2011 BMW M3 Coupe might seem like a monster of technology, but all that performance gear contributes to amazing driving performance. As usual, BMW's engineers threw every bit of know-how they had into making a superior sports car. They also didn't let fuel economy issues hold them back, as the M3 is all about fine control at high speeds.
Although CNET's M3 left out most of the available cabin tech, we have tested navigation and premium audio in previous reviews, and found little compromise in that area. BMW still needs to bring Bluetooth streaming audio to the M3, and to the entire 3 series, but iPod integration is excellent and HD Radio comes standard.
|Model||2011 BMW M3|
|Power train||Direct-injection 4-liter V-8, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||14 mpg city/20 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||15.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible, single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive (with navigation), USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||16-speaker, 825-watt system|
|Driver aids||Parking distance sensors|
|Price as tested||$68,175|