The current generation BMW M3 is one of those rare cars that does nothing wrong. Power, handling, comfort, looks, it has it all. It is not the best in any one particular field; there are cars that have more horsepower, or better handling characteristics, but when it comes to the overall package, there’s nothing on the road today that can match it.
We’ll start with the engine. BMW’s M cars have been known for their engines since they first hit the market a couple decades ago, and the 2009 M3 is no different. The naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8 puts out 414 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, enough to satisfy your need for speed, but not so much as to make the car feel unsteady. Each of the engine’s eight cylinders has an individual throttle butterfly which is controlled by the M3′s electronic “drive-by-wire” throttle system. The result is an incredibly responsive engine that has plenty of power on tap when ever you need it, and the 8,400 RPM redline makes for some wild, prolonged, push-you-into-your-seat acceleration.
Handling the power of the engine is one of two transmissions, a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch or a more traditional six-speed manual. DSG transmissions, and particularly their paddle shifters, are a bit of an annoyance to many drivers, receiving disparaging comments about being inconvenient, bulky, and over the top. And most drivers don’t even use them, allowing the computer to control the shifts like a traditional automatic transmission. BMW, however, has figured out the magic formula. The paddles aren’t intrusive, they travel with the steering wheel (some cars have the paddles in fixed positions, making it near impossible to shift while cornering), and they provide smooth shifts. No awkwardness, just a great driving experience.
The handling is there, too. The M3 comes with the expected bevy of electronic controls with three-letter acronyms (DME, DSC, EDC, etc.) but what makes these features truly great is that you almost never notice them. Use, the Dynamic Stability Control will be on most of the time, but you’ll rarely feel the gaze of this electronic watchdog. And when it does kick into action, you’ll be thankful because it’ll keep you on the road. Of course, for the truly adventurous (or the track-day drivers) you can turn all the electronic controls off and powerslide around corners with reckless abandon. Also, there’s a little button on the steering wheel with an “M” on it. Press this button and you can activate a pre-programmed driving mode that adjusts the throttle response, stability controls, and the suspension’s EDC (Electronic Damping Control). You can use the factory preset or custom-tailor the “M” mode to your exact specifications.
The interior is a welcoming place, as well. More than a few sports and performance cars on the market skimp on the comfort in order to deliver a better driving experience. The M3 laughs at this idea. The leather upholstery is supple and comfortable, there’s plenty of leg room in the back (assuming you’re under six and a half feet tall), and the cockpit setup provides the driver with all pertinent controls within easy reach. Some have labeled BMW’s interior design choices as rather spartan and, well, “German,” but that’s just fine. This car was made to drive, and drive comfortably. It wasn’t made to be a mobile office or an RV. It does what it’s supposed to, and it does it well. What more do you want?
Lastly, we come to the price. The 2009 BMW M3 sedan starts at $54,850, the coupe at $57,850, and the convertible at $66,500. Once you put on a few options, that price will jump by about $7k-13k, depending on how many bells and whistles you want. The M3 is definitely not a cheap car, but it provides a perfect option for those who are looking to get a nice sports car. You could easily spend M3-level money on a Corvette, a Viper, a Porsche Cayman, or any other number of sports cars. What none of these provide, however, is everyday practicality. The M3, particularly the sedan variant, is just as good at bringing the kids to soccor practice as it is at blasting from 0-to-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. The car really is an example of having your cake and eating it too.