2011 BMW M3 Sedan Road Test Review

Arv Voss - CAP staff
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The M3 was first offered in 1986 as a homologation special allowing BMW's entry into the German Touring Car Championship. Its popularity and steadily increasing sales for each iteration motivated the German automaker to continue developing this unique combination of driving dynamics, comfort and luxury in a compact machine, offering a new version each time the underlying 3 Series was reborn. North America first saw the M3 sports sedan concept in 1988.
 
That first M3 produced 192 hp from a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine during its 1988-1991 model year run. A small run of 45 282-horsepower Euro-spec 1994 M3s made it into Canada and despite a hefty (for the time) $59,900 sticker price, sold out in only three days. A more widely available version, also sold in the U.S. arrived in 1995 with a 3.0-litre (and later, 3.2-litre) 240-hp inline-six powerplant.  In 1997, the first M3 Sedan joined the BMW family and the first M3 Convertible followed shortly thereafter. Available as either a coupe or convertible from 2001-2006, the M3 was again offered with six-cylinder power, this time making 333 hp from its 3.2 litres. From the 2002 model year, this vehicle featured BMW's first use of the SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) for the US market – which, I might add, was not a big hit.
 
The M3 Sedan for 2011 features a V8 engine, a first-in-a-series production BMW M3 (along with its coupe and convertible counterparts) and is priced at $69,900. It also features driver-adjustable settings for crucial dynamic controls including steering, damping and stability (and an available steering-wheel-mounted "M Drive" button to store the preferences). In addition, it has a sporting interior that may be optimized to suit the desires of individual drivers, with a comprehensive entertainment/navigation system operated through BMW's iDrive controller, which is now more user friendly than when first introduced.
The new V8 powerplant is a 4.0-litre, DOHC, 32-valve unit with M Double-VANOS steplessly variable valve timing and electronic port fuel injection. It produces 414 horsepower at 8,300 rpm while also developing 295 pound-feet of torque at 3,900 rpm.
 
There are two transmission choices: a six-speed manual gearbox, or a unique 7-speed double clutch automatic transmission with Drivelogic that changes gears with no power interruption. This means that the driver can keep the accelerator pedal nailed to the floor during the shifting process.
 
Drivelogic control offers 11 different shift programs to suit driver needs, consisting of five programs that allow for automatic operation of the transmission as well as six manual programs.  Manual shifting may be done via a new sports shift lever exclusive to the BMW M3 or via steering wheel mounted paddles. Upshifts are accomplished by pulling the right-hand paddle, while the left paddle is used to shift down. Power is delivered to the rear wheels.
 
The M3's suspension consists of a double-pivot strut-type with aluminum components up front for reduced unsprung weight, while the rear setup is a 5-link system.
 
Braking is accomplished by four-wheel cross-drilled, vented discs, with ABS, DBC and DSC. The M3 rolls on staggered Continental ContiSport Contact tires: 245/35 ZR 19 forward and 265/35 ZR 19 aft.
 
Visually, the 2011 M3 sedan clearly sends a serious performance message. The familiar twin-kidney grille is still present but there are also three large air intakes to facilitate the engine's breathing. The aluminum hood features a power dome not present on the base 3 Series sedan, and the side panels sport the tri-color (blue/purple/red) M logo set in what the designers refer to as gills. The leather steering wheel stitching is in the traditional red and blue zigzag theme. The M3 Sedan's muscular looks continue in the rear – with the design mirroring the front end look.  A discreet lip spoiler appears on the trunk lid, optimizing the car's streamlining while reducing lift. The contours of the split diffuser beneath the rear bumper reflect the shape of the air intakes at the front of the car as the air guide and the dual tailpipes move towards the car's centerline. Another styling feature is the circular shape of the twin dual tailpipes in typical BMW M style.
 
My test 2011 BMW M3 sedan was finished in Interlagos Blue metallic paint, while the interior was executed in Anthracite Black leather and cloth, with Satin Silver finished trim accents. The base sticker read $69,900, while final tally reached $77,095 after adding options which included the metallic paint, the navigation system, M Double-clutch transmission and, iPod and USB adapter.
 
The 2011 M3 Sedan is a remarkable driver's machine that is actually a cut above what the earlier 5-Series used to be. In fact, that seems to be the case across the entire BMW lineup of late – the example within a particular series surpassing, or at least equaling the capability of the previous iteration of the next series up the ladder.
 
The M designation unquestionably stands for muscle in a big way. The healthy 414 horsepower V8 comes ready to rumble. There is a separate throttle butterfly for each cylinder, providing a constant and immediate reaction to accelerator pedal input. It is the most powerful M3 sedan ever, weighing in at 14.9 kg less than the inline six-cylinder that preceded it, and carrying on a legendary racing tradition. It is the fastest production engine produced to date by BMW, capable of reaching 8,500 rpm. Team the athletic mill with the stellar, optional (a $3,900 investment that's well worth it) M Double Clutch gearbox with Drivelogic and a progression of seven gears, and you have a sedan that can make a believer out of a skeptic. It is a performance beast that may be tailored to suit the driving mood of the driver by pressing the wheel-mounted "M" button after setting up the parameters that are accessible via the now more user-friendly iDrive controller dial.
 
To enter the "M" world, one must first buckle up, or putting the gear selector into the drive mode defaults to Neutral. Once buckled in, the first bump to the right enters the manual shift mode – a second bump will set up the automatic shift mode. The manual mode may also be accessed via the wheel mounted paddle shifters.
 
Acceleration is blistering even in the normal automatic mode, but press the "M" (this time it stands for Magic), and wonderful things take place, at an even more rapid pace. Driving characteristics are literally customizable to suit virtually every potential driving mood or scenario.
 
The ride quality is firm, as one might well expect in a car of this calibre, but not really intrusive at all. The damping level may be adjusted electronically, through Sport, Normal and Comfort modes. Stability is incredible, especially with the Competition Package's larger wheels and lower profile tires, as well as unique suspension tuning.
 
Steering is positive and precise, with the Servotronic power assistance offering two different control maps that are activated through Normal and Sport modes via a console mounted button. The input effort required in Sport mode is higher, while the Normal mode requires a reduced effort.
 
Bringing the M3 four-door to a stop presents no problem either with the compound brake system featuring internally vented, oversized, cross-drilled cast iron discs. Added to the car's tailorable control features are systems such as ABS, DSC, ASC, CBC and Start-Off Assistant.
 
Mastering all of the M3's system isn't necessarily a piece of cake – referencing the owner's manual is recommended to maximize the potential enjoyment and proficiency.
 
Factor in BMW's Ultimate Service which includes: BMW's Maintenance Program (a no-cost program); BMW Roadside Assistance; BMW's New Vehicle Limited Warranty; BMW Assist and BMW Assist Safety Plan, and the 2011 BMW M3 Sedan becomes a real value despite it relatively high price tag. In other words, it's worth it.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, BMW, 2011, M3 Sedan, $50,000 - $74,999,

Organizations: BMW

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