By on May 12, 2008

cut.JPGBMW enjoys vast reservoirs of consumer goodwill. How else can you explain the German automaker’s ability to flourish despite recent engineering and design faux pas? General Motors would have been a lot further along in its death spiral if it had introduced indigestible shapes, indelicate Bangle butts, interminable run-hard tires, unfathomable iDrive and the ubearable SMG transmission. And so, the M3. Does the new M3 Coupe restore the roundel’s rep, or does it signal another misguided attempt to perpetuate the ultimate driving “lifestyle?” 

If you consider a gold Rolex Datejust restrained (which, in a way, it is), the M3 is a subtle-looking car. With the aforementioned flame surfacing adorning the base 3-Series, BMW’s M people headed to the ‘hood for inspiration. The M3’s power dome and flanking indents compete with its gaping maw and steal-me side mirrors for bling props, whatever that means. With a black carbon fiber roof, the overall effect is inconspicuously ostentatious.

resized.jpgThe M3’s cabin remains cleanly styled and elegantly proportioned. The Coupe’s sports seats are exactly what the 1-Series ordered, but didn’t receive. The armrest is a welcome upgrade, while the anthracite headliner continues to provide hush, hue and aroma. My tester’s fox-red (a.k.a. borderline bordello) Novillo leather added to the eau d’M3. Optional carbon fiber leather is the Fran Drescher of trims (far more appealing than it sounds). The M3’s steering wheel is the same diameter as my wife’s wrist, and just as pleasing to hold. 

Unfortunately, I find the manual M-cars virtually impossible to drive smoothly. And that means the new dual clutch M Drive transmission. And that means the $3250 Technology Pack. And that means… iDrive. It’s still a riddle wrapped in an enigma powered by Intel (for all we know). 

side.JPGThe M3’s stubby M Drive transmission stalk looks both alien and intimidating. It offers a “comprehensive range of choices:” five shift programs (in automatic mode) and six shift programs (in manual mode). Only the country that gave us Werner Von Braun could imagine that a driver needs 11 shift modes from a seven-speed automated manual transmission. When would I have time to sip my latte, nibble on my croissant or check my Blackberry? 

But wait, there’s more! How about programmable adjustments to the suspension, steering and throttle mapping? RTFM uber alles baby.

smoke.JPGIgnoring Stendhal syndrome, I fired-up the M3’s small block V8 and reveled in its raspy bark, anticipating what 414 ponies might achieve with 3704 pounds to motivate. I chose comfort suspension and the quickest shift program, left the power button off and kept the steering in normal. Throttle tip-in was limousine smooth, with a slight hesitation; I imagined that I felt the clutch engaging during this process. And then… auf wiedersehen pet.

To say the M3 is ferociously quick is to say you don’t mind revving the 4.0-liter V8 to 8300 rpm. Why would you? Like Ferrari’s entry-level models, the sounds coming from the M3’s mill on the way to peak power make the journey half the trip– as in LSD (and I don’t mean Limited Slip Differential). In absolute terms, we’re torquing 4.6 seconds to sixty. In the real world, it’s a gut punch sandwich with a side of sideways.

front.JPGThat is, of course, once you turn off the M3’s DSC. Even with Nanny in attendance, the understeer-at-the-limit M3 clips apexes effortlessly. With its weight-balanced, highly evolved chassis and fearsome stoppers, the M3 is both a track day weapon and an everyday supercar. If there’s a chink in the armor, it’s the uber-3’s over-light (yet laser precise) steering. It’s a damn shame that Bimmer’s ceded the world’s best helm feel honors to the Sultans of Stuttgart (a.k.a. Porsche).

Once I’d programmed the M-Drive button appropriately, I could instantly switch from relaxed trundle to max switchback attack and back. Using the paddles, you can shift from automatic to manual mode simply by flipping the handle to the right. the cod slushbox isn’t as transparent as Audi’s DSG paddle shifters; I still felt like I was working an automated manual rather than something truly automatic, but it’s still highly livable.

three.JPGAs was the M3’s tolerably firm ride. That said, my tester came with 18” wheels mounted with PilotSport non-run-flat tires– which contributed as much to the M3’s ride comfort adjustable suspension. Even the softer shoes were noisy at speed, but their performance and relative spinal-friendliness made the sonic disturbance a minor inconvenience. Besides, the M3’s sound system’s excellent– and offers six more programmable buttons (which allow you to circumvent iDrive.

In my more relaxed moments with the M3, I began to wonder whether I had found the perfect GT. Only the model’s meager fuel economy and commonplace design prevent this conclusion. In the end, BMW’s seemingly bizarre technology won me over. AMG has a lot to worry about. Over to you Justin…

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47 Comments on “2008 BMW M3 Review...”

  • avatar

    Sounds good. It would be in the “buy range” for me if it was $20k cheaper and at least 500 pounds lighter…

  • avatar

    Remember when the fender vents were one of the main, cool things that set the M apart? They’re just too common now to be distinctive here; you almost don’t notice them.

  • avatar

    I didnt even know the DSG was available. Thank you. Interesting review, perhaps the M3 is the GT of the future.

  • avatar

    Nice review, but BMW is based in Munich, not Stuttgart. Mercedes-Benz is Porsche’s crosstown rival.

  • avatar

    Hey You can’t argue with Shoemaker and Top Speed(I like your last name by the way the sound like a Formula 1 driver).

    I have seen a lot these and I should say it is astonishingly fast and aggressive.

    Aggessive? Because you can hear it moan like a German perverted engineering.

    Wanna buy this car? it’s worth it but keep it tight on your wallet.

  • avatar

    I was all set to not like this car, with the awesome 335i just a chip and aftermarket suspension away from trashing it, but then a dealer was gracious enough to rev the engine. That sound, in itself, was enough to sway me.

  • avatar


    Nice review, but BMW is based in Munich, not Stuttgart. Mercedes-Benz is Porsche’s crosstown rival.

    My bad. I’ve got a mental block. Text amended.

  • avatar

    This is another amazing car in a long line of amazing cars!

    Of the Zealots, for the Zealots, by the Zealots!

  • avatar

    I don’t really know what to think of this new M3…

    It’s no doubt better than the C63 (only thing that has going for it is the engine note) and probably the RS4, but the E46 M3 was just so good, this one has almost too much to live up too, and it doesn’t deliver on all accounts.

    The overly light steering for instance…What is that about? And I’ve also read in some other reviews the seating position is quite “unlike-BMW” high and can’t be adjusted quite low enough, which has always been a strong point of BMWs in the past, because seating as low as possible is what you want when cornering at the limit.

    Finally, the previous M3 looked very good, but I don’t like this one as much as a coupe. I’ve grown to like the regular E92 coupe, but as an M3 not so much.
    The rear looks weird with the bulbous wheel arches, the big taillights and than the relatively midmounted dual exhausts…it makes it look narrow and not in tune with the rest of the car. Almost like a drivetrain mule…
    This red isn’t doing anything for it either.

    I do like the look of the M3 sedan, although I don’t care so much for the regular E90 sedan, that’s the one I’d probably have. The vert has its appeals too, but I’m opposed to the idea of an M3 with added 450 lbs weight and less rigidity. In that case better buy the 335 convertible instead…No chip needed, more than enough torque to cruise along, save a little more money, buy a E46 M3 for the track days…done

  • avatar

    Good to see that the M3 still gets it so close to perfect!

    Personally, I am fond of the hood bulge! Have I mentioned I drove an Eagle Talon for 10 years?

    The only things BMW could do to improve this car are dropping about 200-300 lbs. and resurrecting the driver-oriented center stack.

  • avatar

    So it’s a typical BMW – over-styled, over-teched, over-weight and over-priced.

  • avatar

    And over here.

  • avatar

    Why is it that the E30 M3 is still more desireable to me than this one?

  • avatar

    I’m with keepaustinweird – while I’m sure it’s a very capable car, this M just fails to excite me like the E30 M still does.

  • avatar

    “# Robstar :
    May 12th, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Sounds good. It would be in the “buy range” for me if it was $20k cheaper and at least 500 pounds lighter…”

    $45K and 3000 pounds? I’m sure BMW wants to lose money on every sale.

  • avatar

    Can you name another car currently on the market that will seat 4, that is under 60k that is better? I can’t think of one.

    So by the end of the review are we to expect a M3 2nd take by Justin where he slams it for some reason?

    I nominate Johnny for a 2nd review, to see how it compares to the RS4 he drove. Still the best review this site has ever done.

  • avatar


    What, you mean reviewing a Ferrari isn’t tough enough for you?

  • avatar

    “$45K and 3000 pounds? I’m sure BMW wants to lose money on every sale.”

    Actually dropping 500 would bring it to 3200 pounds. With that, they could reduce the hp and have it just as fast, and hopefully, drop the price. I guess then you are getting into 335/135 territory…..

    I also wouldn’t mind dropping heated seats, and other frivoulous stuff to make it more of a “sports” car. Keep the leather and the interior and drop the non performance-based electronic gadgets. That would be an M3 I’d really look at.

    For the money I’d rather have a cayman S or lotus elise.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Ok, I have not driven an e30 M3. I’ll get that out of the way right now. But what’s with the absolute obsession?

    It’s not a beautiful shape (and I like e30’s alot).

    It’s got a big-arse 4-cylinder engine in it, not an inline six.

    It won a ton in the late 80’s and was an awesome production vehicle, starting the M3 namesake. It still competes today with heavy modification, and is a rock-solid car. It was german-engineering defined.

    And, from what I’ve read, it has some of the purest road-feel of any car.

    But what about it makes perfectly sane people say that the 2001-2006 M3 was no e30 M3. The 1995-1999 e36 M3 just wasn’t as good. And now, the e90-92 M3 just doesn’t inspire the same lust?

    Maybe I just need to go drive one…


    P.s. I do lust after the e39 2001-2003 530i 5-speed. But I consider that car to be a thing of beauty :)

  • avatar

    The iDrive isn’t, believe it or not, powered by Intel (yet…). BMW and Intel have announced a partnership, though.

    According to Electronic Design:

    “The circuitry supporting iDrive was a group effort and continues to be a moving target. Firms contributing electronics technology and/or design assistance to iDrive, in addition to Immersion Technology, include ALPS, Analog Devices, Freescale Semiconductor (formerly Motorola’s Semiconductor Products Sector), Harman Becker, NEC, Oasis Silicon Systems, Renesas Technology, Sharp, Siemens, STMicroelectronics, and Toshiba.”

    The primary supplier for the micoelectronic brain is Renasas Technology.

    The complete article can be had here:

    It’s actually a really good read.

  • avatar
    Jim K

    I haven’t driven one of these yet, so I will reserve final judgement until I do.

    I want to love this car but I am having a hard time. Too heavy, too complicated etc. From what I just read in the Roundel, you have to get the Technology Package to get the progammable Sport steering/throttle etc. options, but the Technology Package includes idrive. So we are forced to get idrive to have the programmable performance options!!!!! I sure don’t want idrive.

    I am sure it is an absolutely great GT car, but it sure isn’t a true sportscar.

    I am a big BMW fan and had an e36 M3 that I loved. I currently own a e39 5-series Touring, so I am a big BMW fan.

    I’d definitely take a Cayman S instead.

  • avatar

    Why can’t BMW use clutches that engage smoothly?Ford and GM figured that out a long time ago.
    No clutch in my AMG either.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned the new M3 for 3 days now so I may be able to make a few comments. Styling? Always a personal thing, but, to me, the E92 far and away looks better than the previous iteriation. Mine has a manual. (I don’t have the connections that Jay has to get the dual clutch meaning the M3’s now for sale are all manual) I actually prefer a manual and find that after the ‘learning curve’ shifting is smooth and easy. It has the usual BMW notchiness when engaging the next (previous) gear, but it’s a split second timing thingy. The ride in comfort is no different than the 335i and the normal setting is very livable. I prefer the sport power setting, but that’s me. It may be a bit more conservative, fuel wise, in the normal setting. I’ll find out. I did a couple of 55 miles runs up the 280, into SF and back, here in NoCa and found I average 21.5 at a sedate 80 with a few 90+’s thrown in. (You would have to drive the 280 to understand) I really like it, so far, and the long range plan is to track it after suitable break-in. OBTW, first oil change is at 1200. Free of course. :) And hell yes it’s fast, even sticking to the 5,000RPM max for the initial run-in.

  • avatar

    I drove one of these the other day, and wasn’t as impressed. Part of the problem was no doubt that there are no challenging roads near the dealer I went to. So I couldn’t push the car near its limits.

    At 5/10, I found it hard not to focus on the overly light steering. I played with the two settings, and could not detect a difference between them. I prefer the much heavier steering in the 1. I also remember the steering in the regular 3 feeling better.

    In general, the car felt large and heavy to me, somewhat like a downsized 550i rather than a hard-edged track car. My suspicion: they’ve been pulled in this direction by AMG and Audi.

    I didn’t think the engine sounded as good as Audi’s V8. But then Audi’s V8 sounds fantastic.

    I drove the manual, and did find it hard to shift smoothly. I don’t think this would be a problem after a few days.

    In terms of power, I recall the 335i feeling stronger in typical around-town driving. Sure, the M3 is more powerful up near the redline, but there’s little occasion to take either the M3 or the 335i there in typical driving.

    End result: I’m not sure how the new M3 makes sense for 90+ percent of enthusiasts when compared to the less expensive 335i.

    I know this site has dumped on the 1. But those into quick, moderately heavy steering might well prefer the 135i to either 3.

    TrueDelta is unlikely to have a large enough sample of M3s to provide a separate reliability result for it–but if we do we’ll report it. The regular 3 has been racking up an average record.

  • avatar

    I feel like I must make a comment about idrive. You need to spend about a 1/2 hour and idrive is easy. Jay mentioned the 6 programable buttons under the radio. These buttons are not limited to radio stations. You may, for instance, program nav destinations. Button 1 – send me Home. Once you enter your initial settings the way you want your BMW to operate, you don’t go back. Voice commands take care of the entertainment stuff and nav. That’s it unless you want to tweak something. It is NOT something to fear and the generalizations from the past just aren’t applicable to the present models.

  • avatar

    I am certainly beating the dead horse again, but the porking out of the 3 series was likely a bad idea. It gave us room for the 1 series, but they executed that car lamely. The world was not asking for a scaled down 3.

    The world was BEGGING for a lightweight platform that did things right without all the crap. I always preferred BMW to Mercedes because the cars felt more nimble and fun to drive. If the car is going to feel heavy, why bother? Sure, the power to weight ratio is still good, but that benefit ends when you throw it into a corner.

    Note to Munich – speeding is becoming an impossibility. Make cars that can turn, or no one will believe you still make the Ultimate Driving Machine.

    My comments may be out of place here, because the M is supposed to be the high power model. I say this here anyway because I pray the BMW folks make an M version of the 135 by adding nothing which does not replace something else heavier.

    While I am really dreaming, could they bring us the hatch in the light weight version? Another idea that would not appeal to me, but may sell would be an AWD hot hatch to beat the WRX and Evo.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand M3 should be the King of All BMW. well just watch this videos and judge for yourself.

  • avatar

    My dad test drove an M3 coupe a few weeks ago, and it was amazing. Absolutely perfect is the only way I can describe it. He’s really thinking about getting one.

    Also impressive was the fact that we comfortably had four people in the car: my dad, the salesman, me, and my brother. My brother and I fit very easily into the back, and we’re not small kids…

  • avatar

    If the 2008 BMW m3 has a bad clutch I think it cannot do 0-60 in 4 seconds. that is faster than a Porsche 911

    I don’t like BMW but this one I can say it is fast and faster.

  • avatar

    Will BMW ever build a real CSL again? I drove the E46 M3 CSL for a few weeks in Edinburgh, and it was (except for the SMG) a huge step closer to what the M3 really meant to me.

    There is nothing wrong with BMW milking the M3 brand by catering to the badge-conscious douchebags – it is profitable business, and pimping the name out to well-heeled posers is a good way to monetize their cred.

    But will they _also_ build a really serious version with a different name for those who couldn’t care less about the badge as long as it really delivered the goods?

  • avatar

    I am sure it is an absolutely great GT car, but it sure isn’t a true sportscar.

    I don’t know if I would be that harsh, but I agree with the gist of what you are saying. What separates this from being a true sports car is too much content and too much weight. The purity of the M formula has been diluted. This is phenomenal car for what it is, but it’s not what it should be. M should not stand for MASS. Maybe this car could slot between garden variety 330s and a “real” M3. The real one would lose iDrive, some luxury stuff, and (most importantly) about 500 pounds of blubber.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The tested M3 is everything I dislike about contemporary automobiles. It has 414 hp 3704 lbs and iDrive (which IIRC is a version of Micro$oft Windows).

    According to, the 1990 M3 had less than half as much power (192 hp), but it was pushing almost half a ton less of metal — 2865 lbs. It had neither iDrive nor an 11 mode manumatic. I’ll bet it was more fun to drive.

  • avatar

    Detroit made SUV’s into the ‘defacto standard’ vehicle to keep profit margins high. The luxury German marques are doing the same with NASA-spec (er sorry, ESA-spec) electronics. There is no going back to simple, lightweight cars; they have to keep the price where the demographic lives — they don’t want the likes of me (less than $100k A.I.) owning one.
    Yeah, ‘sour grapes’; I’d love to be able to own one.

  • avatar

    But will they _also_ build a really serious version with a different name for those who couldn’t care less about the badge as long as it really delivered the goods?

    First of all, I don’t really think the regular M3 is a car for badge snobby douchebags. People who buy an M3 could have bought an AMG but decided not to and make the better choice. Talk about badge snobbery and not delivering product; AMG is probably the definition of that.

    With the M3, even with it’s obvious flaws, you still get a quite sensational car which has one real fault, namely that it could have and probably should have been even better for the concept AND the money (and that means lighter and with more steering feel). All the previous M3s have been terrific cars, espcially the E30 and E46…

    To answer your question though, I’m pretty sure there will be a CSL version, with about 450HP and less weight, it makes so much sense they can’t not make one. By the way, initially BMW was planning on making a M6 CSL as well, but I guess since it would still be heavy and not really CSL worthy they decided not to.
    Maybe they thought only badge snobs would buy it and it would dilute the genuine brand image that the M division enjoys.

    I once read an interview with the head of BMW’s M division, when asked about a possible X5 M, because the ‘Mericans wanted one. He said they wouldn’t built one because it wouldn’t fit the ‘M concept’ and basically it would make the M brand look stupid and meaningless, because M is not only about engines, but just as much about driving dynamics and experience (AMG gripe)…Hence also, no M7.

    Now if they suddenly decide to make an X5 M anyway I’ll eat my words and say Ms are for badge snobs.

  • avatar

    I can understand the love for the E30 M3 based on the weight and purity of handling, but the power train is a bit underwhelming.

    At the highest trim level, the 1990 Eagle Talon/Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser were putting out 195 bhp at curb weights similar to the E30 M3 for far less $$$. Admittedly, the weight distribution and clutch action on these vehicles lagged the E30 M3 significantly. Steering and seat of the pants feel wasn’t bad for the price range.

    I would also argue that the Porsche 944s of the era were even stronger E30 M3 competitors with a far more desirable shape.

    I actually did see an E30 M3 in my area a few weeks ago. It was being driven like a Buick Skylark, by a driver who looked like he should be driving a Buick Skylark. Quite sad really.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    Some people have touched on it, but I’m going to come out and say it: Who cares??? It’s the latest and greatest M3. It can leap tall building in a single bound, accelerate so fast time seems to stand still (if not go back) and break the speed of sound. Unfortunately, I do not race; I drive on public streets. The speed limits is 65 mph (at most) and a good deal of the time I can’t do that for traffic congestion. In my world, the 335 pretty much maxes out what I can use. The M3 is superfluous like all near supercar and honest to goodness supercars. All I can do with cars like this is cruise and have fantasies of using their potential. Which makes all these cars VERY expensive wet dreams.

    Need I say more???

  • avatar

    My main objection to the style is the feline eyes. The rest of the car is not bad, and I quite like the Bangle look on a four door sedan. But technologically, the car sounds like it violates the KISS principle at every opportunity. I’ll pass.

  • avatar

    “Only the country that gave us Werner Von Braun”

    I’m sure the Polish would be honoured – you might want to check where Herr Von Braun was born!

  • avatar

    Even though I’m part of the Nintendo/Playstation generation, the electronics in this car sound like overkill. To be fair to BMW, this applies to a number of other automakers today. I could (barely) afford to buy this car but if given the choice, I would rather buy a mid-90’s M3 for the purity of the experience.

  • avatar

    @Nicodemus: Wernher von Braun was born a German, in Germany.

    From “Born March 23, 1912(1912-03-23) Wirsitz, German Empire“. Sure, that “Wirsitz” is a link to… But that’s just because that evil bastard Woodrow Wilson ripped it apart from its country in that abomination, the Treaty of Versailles — turning the majority of its population, presumably including little Wernher, into refugees.

    It certainly doesn’t change the fact that Wernher von Braun was born in Germany and was as German as can be.


  • avatar

    How is it (or why) can’t BMW make a smooth shifting manual?

  • avatar
    The Franchise

    Just picked one up last Friday. My only complaint about the car is the loud “fasten your seatbelt” ring that repeats over and over for what seems like 5 minutes. Anyone know a cheap way to disable that annoying sound without messing up the car?

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    I commented earlier, but changed my user name. My dad bought one, and it’s amazing. I’m not even that good at driving stick, and I found it easy to drive smoothly. And my dad let me drive it 200+ miles on the highway.

  • avatar

    There is a setting in I-drive that you can use to change the volume setting on the “chime”. I forgot how to access it, but check your manual..
    Hope this helps, and you are right, it is obnoxious!

  • avatar

    NIce Review! The story always is the same with BMW and the results of proper engineering and performance always bring one word into my mind…. Impeccable! Once again BMW have defied the odds with the M3 and has set the standard by which engineering and performance is set and not to mention leaves all other manufactures with the question how did they? and how do we? While other cars may have better aspects than the M3 when you want the complete package you chose The Ultimate Driving Machine. I am also glad BMW has made the M3 available in 4 doors as sort of a 4 door race car to mimic its Steroidical big brother, The M5! Now 4 can enjoy the ground gripping rocket on wheels that sounds like a F1 race car and handles just as well!

  • avatar

    The new M3 is a stunning automobile as the M3 always has been in the past. I like the lines and styling of all the new BMW’s. Most people do not, but I like the automotive architecture that is BMW. The M3 looks smooth, sharp, and has a modern yet timeless look. It is not to radical that you are like what is that? It captures old lines but delivers new. The performance and engineering are impeccable which always comes standard with a BMW! I am glad that they included a 4 door version of the M3 also. It’s sort of a 4 door rocket on wheels that resembles its sterodical big brother, the M5 which is one of my favorite cars ever. Comparing the two you have beauty and the beast. The M3 a beauty in performance and handling second to none and the M5 a beast of brawling power and muscle that wipes any sedan off the road. I think the M3 is a big hit and has left all the other auto manufactures wondering!

  • avatar

    I’m lucky to have both the C 63 and the M3 sedan in my garage, the M being the daily driver. It is quite simply the best car on the planet, the c 63 however is the car to drive when angry. The exhaust roar is unlike anything I have heard- traded my 08 911s for this and never missed it.

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