Lexus IS-F, Meet The BMW M3
From the hood to the wheels, and all the way back to the exhaust pipes, this car puts a little fear into your blood. The blue metallic paint, carbon fiber roof, and the chrome exhaust pipes aren’t flashy, but they do give off the perfect performance look. In the attempt to match the competition - most notably the Lexus IS-F - we had nearly every option put onto this car, bringing the price to right where we wanted it; $66,000. Sometimes we amaze even ourselves.
One interesting note with the M3 is driving it in cold weather. Not that it was cold out though, just in the mornings before the sun had risen. Most of time we wouldn’t be awake at that time for any reason, but the temptation of an early morning drive was just too much. The BMW’s motor is limited while it’s cold, but once it warms up, all hell can then break lose. Other publications have reported that first and second gear can be stiff when cold, but we never had that issue.
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As we started in the introduction, the BMW M3 looks very German and very good. The exterior paint job was just stunning, as was the leather interior and the dark gray wheels. Compared to the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and the Lexus IS-F, the BMW is a tad more downplayed.
The interior is classic BMW, which is a good thing in this case. Being a sports car, there is a touch of carbon fiber on the dash with colored stitching on the steering wheel. There are also some M badges laid out through the cabin, but it’s never gaudy. The leather seats and surfaces are pleasant to the touch and very well put together. This top-notch quality would make the M3 a very usable car on a daily basis. Even the iDrive has been redone, which was as needed as a salary cap in baseball.
The one area that makes the M3 so special is the fact that, despite it’s more aggressive look and monster V8 motor, it’s very refined. We got the manual transmission, which we would never usually complain about, but for comparison reasons we had hoped for the paddle shift automatic. The gearbox was a bit rubbery, but that wasn’t really a problem. It’s light and short throws are perfect for spirited driving.
Under the hood was a 4.0-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and it can rev to 8300 RPM. That is just insane. There’s even an energy recovery system that uses the energy released when the brakes are applied to power the onboard electric systems. Nerdy we know, but fairly interesting nonetheless. Torque is only 295 pound-feet and this is a tad disappointing. BMW claims that 85 percent of its peak torque is available across a rev range of 6,500 rpm. The M3 can hit 60 miles per hour in just 4.8 seconds and then on to 155 mph.
On the road, the engine is very refined, but stomp on the throttle - which you’re going to do at some point - and the V8 growls into life. It’s not all fun and games though. The speed of this car can get you into some serious trouble and not for the reason you would think. With the limited torque, you aren’t thrown back into the seat and the acceleration doesn’t feel rapid, so when you look down and realize you’re going over 100 miles per hour, it can be a bit shocking. We like the old motor a bit better for that reason.
To the casual eye, the suspension of the M3 will look a lot like the normal 3-Series. Yet, in order to save weight, the whole setup has been redone in aluminum. Also new to the M3 is the M Power limited-slip differential. All of these toys are working with the big 18-inch custom tires.
Our M3 came with BMW’s Electronic Damper Control system, which allows the driver to choose among three different damper settings. In the softest setting, the system will allow the M3 to feel like a normal 3-Series, but switch it over to the hardest and it becomes a very firm racing machine.
To make things easier, BMW has given the driver an M button on the wheel. Press that button and the car becomes violent. Everything is set to the most aggressive settings, making the M3 very fun to drive fast.
The steering is very precise and firm and the throttle is more responsive. In this mode, the M3 feels light and nimble. This is a very accurate machine, but it’s also fun to thrash it around a bit, something it doesn’t seem to like doing.
That being said, powerslides are easy to control and are easily done. The car has a tendency to understeer and, with a small touch of the throttle, the back end will slip right around. It’s not all good news though.
The steering isn’t as communicative as a Porsche and the weighting seems a bit off. The brakes are also an interesting area of conversation. We know that they were designed for performance use, but they still seemed to fade after hard driving.
Still, considering there is no Audi RS4 on the market in the United States, the M3 is the king of the performance coupe. There was a sedan on the market, but it was dropped for 2011.
The V8 is strong, the steering is good, and the styling is spot on. It might not be as fast as the C63 AMG or as nimble as a Porsche, but it’s a machine that can be used on a daily basis. That being said, the performance is brilliant, but is it that much better than the 335i Coupe? We’ll let you decide.
In the upcoming days we will be taking the M3, IS-F, and the Mercedes Benz C63 on a head-to-head competition.