Reviews

2011 BMW M3 Walk Around

The M3 sedan, coupe and convertible are clearly based on their counterparts in BMW's familiar 3 Series line but are suitably distinctive from just about any angle. The M3s are also distinguished by things that aren't obvious to the eye, including more extensive use of lightweight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber in both the body and chassis.

Virtually all of the M3's forward frame and suspension components, for example, are constructed from aluminum. This design helps shave precious pounds from the car's overall weight, yet retains or increases rigidity in the chassis design. The M3 coupe and convertible shift overall weight distribution compared to the sedan, moving a bit more of the weight toward the rear of the car for sporting handling characteristics.

The M3 front ends feature BMW's familiar double-kidney grille, with flat headlights housing high-intensity Xenon lamps. The air intakes are larger than those on the standard 3 Series cars, and the M3s forgo the foglights featured on other 3 Series models. With the M3s, BMW uses this space for larger intakes that allow more air to flow into the engine compartment.

One stand-out feature on all M3s is the power-dome hood, with a pronounced bubble that makes room for the V8 engine underneath. The hood dome is flanked by an air intake on each side, allowing still more air into the engine compartment. Yet the hood itself is stamped from aluminum, so it's lighter than that on standard 3 Series models.

All M3s have wider front fenders than the standard 3 Series to accommodate wider tires. Those fenders are prominently flared, and fitted with the trademark M3 gill slits. The rear end sports another of the M3's familiar design cues: four tailpipes. A big air dam under the front bumper and a smooth, flat underbody contribute to excellent aerodynamics, with a drag coefficient of only 0.31.

The M3 coupe's roof is exactly the same size and shape as that on the standard 3 Series coupe, but it's made of carbon fiber. This lightens the body considerably, and lowers the M3's center of gravity for better handling and even more stability during quick left/right/left maneuvering at speed.

In profile or front three-quarter view, the convertible closely resembles the coupe. Its front end, and the arc its roofline, are nearly identical. The difference, of course, is the convertible's retractable metal hardtop, which opens or closes at the touch of a button in just 22 seconds. The top folds in three pieces and stows itself under the trunk lid. That lid is hinged both front and rear, so that it can open toward the back to swallow the folding top, and from the back to load the trunk.

Thanks to the weight of the convertible's operating mechanism, as well as body reinforcements intended to maintain structural integrity when the top is open, the convertible is nonetheless the heaviest car in the M3 line. It weighs in some 440 pounds higher than the lightweight coupe.

The M3 is available in fewer standard colors than what's available to the 3 Series line. Just about any color can be special ordered, however, at an additional charge.

Interior

The M3s share basic interior layout and design with corresponding models in the standard BMW 3 Series line, though the M cars add some extra-racy features and special trim. Four interior colors are offered, and the Premium Package includes your choice of blue-gray brushed aluminum, carbon leather, or wood trim.

There are subtle interior differences between the M3 sedan, coupe and convertible, but the essentials, including dashboard, console and front seats, are the same across the three body styles. The soft vinyl and plastics improve on previous generations in both appearance and feel, and they put the finish on better footing with the best in class.

The M3 interior looks racy from every angle. The special small-diameter, high-grip leather-covered M steering wheel has redundant controls for the audio system and optional telephone. Complimenting the steering wheel, the competition-flavored, body-gripping front bucket seats have special foam that increases upper body support in fast corners. There's the usual array of discreet red, white and blue M decorations on the seats, door panels, and instrument panel. The white-on-black instruments have red pointers, and the tachometer changes its yellow-line and red-line limits depending on engine oil temperature. This feature is intended to prevent premature engine wear on cold days.

The M3 has no keyed ignition switch, relying instead on a slot-type key fob and a starter button. We're not sold on its benefit over a conventional key. The fob slides into a slot next to the steering column, and you push the button to fire up. The Comfort Access option makes everything automatic, and the thinking here is more obvious. With fob in pocket, the doors unlock automatically as the driver approaches, and the seats are waiting in their proper position. The driver just pushes the start button, and pushes it again when it's time to get out. We'd prefer a traditional key, but that isn't an option.

The M3 offers optional Automatic High Beams. These sense oncoming traffic and switch between standard and high beams without driver interventions. We prefer to operate our high beams manually.

The center console in the coupe and convertible goes all the way to the rear seats, and wraps around the driver seat to make a cozy, comfortable cockpit.

The rear accommodations are actually a little better in the M3 coupe than in the sedan, though access is more difficult in the absence of rear side doors. There's decent legroom and more shoulder room. It's almost like sitting in a little limousine. There are even buttons on the outside edge of the front seats, in the shoulder area, so those in back can reach up and power the front seat forward to ease exit from the rear of the car.

The trunk is largest in the sedan, though still smaller than many comparably sized competitors (12 cubic feet capacity). The 3 Series coupe's trunk is smaller still (11.1 cubic feet). A separate compartment under the trunk mat, measuring 1.75 cubic feet, adds some space for small items that won't slide around. The convertible offers just 9 cubic feet.

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