Review: 2011 BMW M3 Coupe with DCT
Do we really need yet another exalted review of the E92 BMW M3 Coupe? Should we heap even more praise on the altar of this modern day automotive deity? The answer, of course, is an unequivocal ‘yes’ — this is a vehicle which undeniably deserves its stellar reputation and our unabashed adulation. But what is it exactly that makes this car so special and meritorious? And where, if anywhere, might this incredible machine fall short?
The 2011 BMW M3 Coupe is a standout even among the all-star class of uber-performance luxury cars it competes against, i.e., Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, Lexus IS-F, Audi S4/S5 and Cadillac CTS-V. It’s truly a wolf disguised as a sheep with few visual hints of its mighty muscles and sharp fangs. The platform’s chassis is already an excellent starting point and BMW M tuning wizardry does a tremendous job of syncing the driver with the car for a level of control and engagement that is becoming increasingly difficult to find.
For those with a keen eye, the differences between the BMW M3 and the standard 3 Series are easy to spot. The carbon fiber roof is a tell-tale sign as well as the large bulge on the hood. There are also M3-specific 19-inch alloy rims as well as a quad-tip exhaust that further differentiates this model from its tamer brethren. But other than the latter and some slightly tweaked side sills and a rear diffuser, you might not even notice if you aren’t a serious enthusiast.
The materials and fit and finish inside the car are definitely premium but don’t necessarily feel as luxurious as some of the other marques. Our model is equipped with the Anthracite and Black Cloth/Leather package with Blue-gray brushed aluminum accents. This combination gives the cabin a cold, dark and machine-like feel which only adds to its allure in my humble opinion. But, on the flipside, it can be said that the overall vibe tends to be aesthetically neutral. Serving as a constant reminder of the caliber of vehicle you are driving are the “M-Power” stamps on the door sills, shifter knob and the gauges.
The seats of the M3 are extremely comfortable for long road trips yet have enough side bolstering to hold you in place during hard cornering around town or at the track. The cloth seating surfaces with white accent stitching are a nice touch. The front is roomy but people stuck in the back will be cramped and forced to deal with limited headroom. One really useful addition are the automatic seatbelt arms which deliver belts to the folks in the front, eliminating the need to throw your right arm over your left shoulder (or vice versa) and blindly grab around.
Overall, everything is laid out well and easy to access and use. One thing we’d love to add would be bins, holders and cubbies in which to toss things like wallets, workout gloves and gum.
Under the Hood
The original M3 that graced our shores was equipped with a 192-horsepower in-line four-cylinder engine. We have come a long way since then and the 2011 model serves up 414 hp by way of a 4.0-liter V8 engine with a 8,400 rpm redline and 295 lb-ft of torque. This replaces the outgoing V6 and sheds an impressive 7% from that model’s weight while improving horsepower by 24%.
Fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway with an average of 16 mpg. Unfortunately this puts it in the official gas guzzler bucket with the associated $1300 tax. There is an auto start/stop function that comes standard which cuts unnecessary power consumption for a minute increase in fuel economy. Driving the car hard will undoubtedly drop you below the 14mpg city rating.
BMW incorporates an impressive array of technology into this engine. Butterfly valves are set at every cylinder to control the flow of fuel, and an anti-knock system incorporating sensors checks the spark plugs and adjusts the ignition profile as preventative measures.There is even a wet sump oiling system with two sumps, one placed fore and and one aft of the front axle, to assist with any type of hard driving while at the track or in heavy braking conditions.
Compared to many cars in its class, our model comes without niceties such as lane departure and blind spot warnings, adaptive cruise control or parking sensors. We do get to enjoy heated seats, an iPod and USB adapter for the stereo system which includes HD Radio, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, a tire pressure monitoring system and Xenon headlights. The lack of gadgetry is curious for a car that runs just shy of of $70,000.
The M3 accelerates off the line like a world-class sprinter in the Olympics. You feel your body get heavy as you are pressed into the back of your seat while the car sprints from 0-62 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Launch control ensures near perfect runs and is very easy to activate.
The BMW E92 M3 comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission but our model is equipped with the seven-speed M-Double Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic, a $2,900 option. This transmission is comprised of two computer-actuated clutches that move the non-engaged clutch between gears, either up or down from the current one, based on an educated guess from inputs such as acceleration or braking. The end result is a system that is much faster than any speed a human being on a manual transmission might manage.
The system is slightly confusing at first since what appears to be a shift knob sits in the center console. It may look similar to a normal gearbox but actually replaces the traditional stick configuration in a novel way. Closer inspection reveals the designations of D/S, R, N and a +/- sign. There is no ‘Park’ selection as this happens automatically when the car is turned off while in neutral.
Pushing the knob from left to right moves it from ‘Neutral’ to ‘Drive’ which gets the car rolling in automatic mode, a super smooth process as the Getrag systems clicks through the various gears. A second push to the right kicks the car into manual sequential shifting mode. Gear changes can either be accomplished by pushing the knob up or down or, as a better option, using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
But here is where things get really interesting… Just behind the shifter is a small rocker switch which can be used to select a variety of driving programs. In automatic mode, five of these become available; in manual mode six are offered. Ticking from left to right, each successive move increases aggressiveness. And if that’s still not enough control for you, to the left of the shift knob are additional buttons that offer even more options. The ‘Power’ button increases the sensitivity of the accelerator while the ‘EDC’ button allows you to switch the suspension between ‘Comfort’, Normal’ and ‘Sport’ modes. You can even turn off DSC altogether and throw caution to the wind. The Competition Package includes the Dynamic Damper Control, a $2,500 option.
If some bozo rolls up to you at the light and starts gunning his engine, you probably don’t have enough time to dial in all of your settings. Lucky for you, BMW includes an ‘M’ button on the right-hand side of the steering wheel which serves as a programmable control for quick selection of your favorite setting. By default it puts DST into ‘Sport’ mode but you can also dial in one of the 11 driving modes as well. And if you want to get really crazy, you can toss in the ‘Power’ function too.
In practice, for daily commutes, leaving the ‘Power’ function off, the suspension in ‘Comfort’ mode and the driving program set to the lowest setting, driving is still quite satisfying and the car will giddyup when necessary. On the other hand, with everything dialed up to its maximum setting, the M3 has a tendency to lunge and jerk during slow take offs– so you’d be well-advised to be ready to floor it and roll out hard. The gauges in the vehicle are phenomenal and the M-Tachnometer shows the red line climbing as oil temperature increases. Downshifts are flawless as rev-matching creates a nice snarl from the engine with little perceptible jarring. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for upshifts. Without the use of a torque converter, the gears can grab hard when pushed.
As far as suspension goes, there is a 52.2/47.8 front to rear weight bias. A rack and pinion system up front, held in place with struts, and a multi-link set-up in back, keeps things rolling along smoothly. Even in the ‘Comfort’ setting the ride is still firm but we never feel anything particularly rough. There is very little body roll and turn in is excellent. Steering is on-center and feedback is somewhat muted but still responsive. Stopping power is extremely impressive and fade free and comes by way of 14.2 inch cross-drilled and vented front rotors and 13.8 inch rear rotors.
The E92 BMW M3 is definitely deserving of its accolades because for all intents and purposes it meets and usually exceeds its mandate. The significant upgrades to the brakes, suspension and the engine make the car a stellar performer. Hard as it is to find fault with this incredible machine, something is missing.
The original M3, introduced in 1986, was created so that BMW could compete in the DTM Race series. Since then this car has served at the pinnacle of performance luxury vehicles, truly an epitome of the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” That said, what made cars such as the E30 M3 and E36 M3 so much fun seems to have been compromised in this latest iteration.
The M3 has always tipped the race car/luxury sports car scale in favor of its motorsports lineage. However, this 4th generation model seems to tip the scale too far in the opposite direction. Certainly the car has gained significant weight with age and so consequently lacks that tossable feeling of the older models. But in the process it has also somehow lost the purity of those early vehicles.
The BMW 335i, which seems intentionally muted, is only 4/10ths of a second off of the 0-62mph times of the M3. Toss in a tune and an LSD and it will match the M3 in a straight line without difficulty. Sure, it won’t handle as well (and you’ll void the warranty) but it won’t be that far off either… My hope is that the next generation M3 recaptures the soul of its earlier versions while still retaining the magnificent BMW engineering.