In the automotive industry, we have to deal with all sorts of vehicles – cars, trucks, SUVs, even the dreaded minivan. But sometimes, it all pays off when we get something special in to test. And sometimes, we get to drive that special car through the Smoky Mountains. That happened to be the case last weekend when BMW dropped off a shiny new 2010 BMW M3 Convertible. “To the mountains!”
First and foremost, let’s talk about this engine. While most manufacturers are swapping out their high-displacement engines for smaller, more fuel efficient powerplants, BMW is going in the opposite direction, much to the delight of enthusiasts worldwide. For the fourth generation (2008-current) M3, BMW dropped in a high-revving 4.0-liter V8 engine producing 414 hp, and it was the right move. Not only has power been increased by somewhere around 22%, but the V8 actually weighs 33 lbs less than the old inline-6. Now this 4.0-liter V8 we’re talking about – enthusiasts call it the S65 – happens to be one hell of an engine. It’s one of my favorites, and is based off of the V10 mill found in the M5 and M6. Crank up the engine with the push-button start and it roars to life, idling just below the “this thing’s about to blow up” mark.
On to the transmission. Our test model was equipped with BMW’s optional $2900 7-speed dual-clutch auto-manual transmission with paddle shifters. This 7-speed gearbox is one of the best I’ve driven in a sub-$100k car, and allows for insanely quick shifting. The dual-clutch system works very well, which allows the next gear to be in place while the previous gear is being deselected. The result is near-instantaneous shifting. Despite it being faster, however, I prefer to row the gears manually with the standard six-speed manual transmission. It provides a better driving experience and saves you almost $3,000.
The 2010 BMW M3 is an incredibly special car to take through the mountains. The incredible V8 engine’s 414 horsepower and a sweet exhaust note make it extra fun to downshift to 2nd and tear through tunnels at speed. What a sound. Retracting the convertible hardtop provides an excellent panoramic view of scenery and allows for less obstruction between you and the exhaust. But the real winner here is the M3’s handling ability. While I won’t get into details about how fast we were going, suffice it to say the M3 takes hairpin turns with ease, and doesn’t complain about it one bit. Tight and responsive handling at high speed give confidence, while the optional Electronic Damping Control (EDC) provides a Sport, Comfort, and Normal modes selectable through the car’s iDrive system. It also helps that BMW has some of the nicest-feeling steering wheels on the market.
Press the inconspicuous “M” button on the steering wheel to make the car really come alive. This activates “M Drive” mode, essentially turning your cruiser into a track car. Assuming you have M Drive set up properly through iDrive, EDC is set to “Sport,” stability control switches to MDM mode allowing for more wheelspin, and engine response is increased to its Sport Plus setting. Have fun.
The optional navigation system is one of the best on the market. It incorporates some of the more advanced tech available these days including Real Time Traffic Control, and even lets you use a trip planner to add up to 30 stops along one route. The high-def screen is beautiful, giving plenty of detail. While the controls can be tricky to learn at first, the features make it all worth it. The 3D map mode is incredible. I’m not talking “lay a 2D map on its side” 3D, but a true three-dimensional view of what’s ahead. Very cool on hilly terrain:
The M3’s retractable hardtop is a mixed bag. While having a drop-top for a mountain excursion or cruising in a scenic area might make it worth it, the top does have its drawbacks. First, it will set you back an additional $8,650 above the coupe’s already high $58,400 starting price. Second, and probably most important, is the performance effect. The convertible weighs in at a hefty 4,145 lbs – 441 lbs heavier than the coupe. While the coupe can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in a brisk 4.6 seconds, the convertible hits the mark in 5.1. Lastly, the top does take up some significant space in the trunk. We still had enough room for a weekend for two, but you couldn’t bring much more than that without keeping the top up or stowing everything in the rear seats. A small price to pay for an open top experience, for some, but it’s something to keep in mind. One cool feature in the convertible – special leather than reflects the sun, keeping the seats from getting too hot.
BMW’s “Ultimate Service” plan is unique. For the first 4 years or 50,000 miles, you get the limited warranty, and they’ll do all of your regular service and maintenance at no cost. We’re talking oil changes, wiper blades, brakes, and regular inspections. Also included is 4-year, unlimited mileage roadside assistance.
Pricing for the 2011 BMW M3 Sedan starts at $55,400, Coupe starts at $58,400, and the Convertible $67,050. When picking out your M3, you get a choice of white or black paint. For anything else you’ll pay an extra $550. If you want the “extended leather” – meaning it’s also on the dash and center console – you’ll need to fork out an extra $1,100, which strangely forces you to add the $2,100 navigation system. “Titanium Shadow” trim is standard, or you can opt for brushed aluminum, wood, or the very cool carbon leather trim for an extra $500. Various packages add stuff like M Drive, Navigation, EDC, and heated front seats, some of which are available as standalone options. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, or the 7-speed double-clutch system tacks on $2,900. New for 2011 is a $2,500 Competition package available for the Coupe and Sedan that lowers the suspension 10 mm, adds 19-inch wheels, a wider track, and reprogrammed EDC and stability controls.
Before You Buy
The BMW M3 is one of the best sports cars on the market, particularly the coupe. Expensive, yes (our test model would set you back $77,215,) but there’s really nothing else that compares to its overall package of refinement, sporting ability, sexy looks, and drivetrain. What comes close? Audi’s S5 notches in between the M3 and 335i, but doesn’t have that connected-to-the-road feeling that the Bimmer conveys so well, which I’m afraid the industry is moving away from. Same with the Mercedes C63 AMG, Lexus IS-F and Cadillac CTS-V sedans – all have similar numbers, but none match the driver-car connection of the M3.