2009 BMW M3 Review & Road Test
Adding two doors has only served to make it better.
- 2009 BMW M3 Sedan manual - $145,000
- Electric Sunroof - $2920
- Words by Karl Peskett Photography by www.ozcarsightings.com
When you get the 50 per cent or 60 per cent derivatives, you're on a winner. The smoothness, the flavour - it's just so beautiful. There's a depth and richness to it, and it's completely addictive.
Now, almonds are okay, too. Not my favourite nuts mind you, but they're pretty nice. Now, add the almonds to the dark chocolate, and what a combination it becomes. You'd think that adding something to something else that by itself is already pretty good would detract from the experience. Not so.
Just have a look at the M3 Coupe, for example. Here is a brilliant piece of machinery that you'd think would be impossible to make better, but it has.
BMW has added two doors to its flagship 3 Series, and in this testers eyes, at least, it's now a better car.
Sure, it may be compromised in a few areas for the hardcore fans, but as a family man, having a sedan means I can have my cake and eat it too. Or should that be dark chocolate? I digress ...
The ease of entry and exit for passengers gives me all the reason to convince the missus that it's the ideal car.
"Yes, honey, we can put the baby seat in the back. Yes, it will take a pram. Yes, your mother can come with us for a drive." Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. A coupe is simply impractical. A four door? That's a whole other story.
You may remember we took the M3 convertible for a spin a little while back, and then the Melbourne boys headed up the Sedan against Lexus’s newcomer, the IS F. Both those cars were DCT-equipped, so imagine my joy as I opened the driver’s door to this week’s test car. There it was, in all its moveable glory – a manual transmission.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I was able to control that harmonious, glorious engine with my left hand and right foot. As nice a feeling as that was, it was only going to all come together when I had confirmed the gearbox was at least half decent. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, sliding behind the wheel, there was something missing. Yes, the 'M' button was gone. That means that the trick dampers were gone, too, because not only did it control transmission, stability and traction control settings, but also the ride. Surely this is a disaster? The sedan has been de-specced.
Worse than that, you’re stuck with one ride setting only. What if it’s too harsh? What if it’s too soft? What if it crashes every time you hit a bump? All the “what if” questions were running through my head.
Rather than let them worry me for the time being, I decided to flick over the engine and let the intoxicating sound of one of the world’s best V8s work its magic on my synapses. Ah, that’s better. All’s right with the world.
A few years ago, BMW was criticised for fitting its cars with ill-riding run-flat tyres. There was a jitteriness as a result of the inflexible sidewalls. Mostly, the run-flats have improved, and the ride is now acceptable. We're generations down the track and run-flats are still the norm on the 3 Series range - with one notable exception - the M3.
As a result, the best riding car in the 3 Series range is - you guessed it - the M3. That's despite having very stiff springs and dampers because the absorbency of the shocks marries up perfectly with the sidewall flex of the Michelin Pilot Sports meaning the M3 Sedan has what I would call the best ride of any sports sedan on sale today.
Considering the capability the M3 has, there's nothing that compares in the ride department, and why does that matter so much? Well, it's a sedan. Having four doors means there's more than a hint of utilitarianism to this car, and that means you're going to be taking passengers.
In my case, it was the wife and child. Expecting some sort of roasting for bringing home another high powered, hard riding sports sedan, the wife fell in love with it within the first hundred metres. You see, you could take someone in a neck brace and you wouldn't get any complaints. It really is perfect.
Now I'm thinking the reason the better half was so enamoured was a bit more than just the ride.
The baby seat was dead easy to fit, the boot was a decent size (although not quite as practical as Lexus's IS F, which has a larger opening), and there's enough storage around the place to take care of books, papers and nail-files.
To prove the point, we decided to make a day trip to meet with friends who were staying in Bunbury, a coastal city around 200km south of Perth. It was a long weekend, so we were expecting stop start conditions and heavy traffic the entire way there.
Thankfully, it wasn't too heavy, but in the typical merge areas there was the usual delays. The M3 proved that its light clutch and slippery gearbox are a great combo, with an ease of use that would put a Toyota Corolla to shame. But although the clutch is light, there's plenty of take-up in its travel, and hardly any free-play.
The gearbox works best once warmed slightly, but there's a satisfying rubbery click when placing each shift in the gate. Initially you think that it will resist quick changes, but the six-speed proves you wrong, with slams being taken as well as glides.
And work the 'box we did, especially in the overtaking lanes on the trip down. Snick it back to third, plant your foot, and the best V8 ever made sings its lungs out, yowling to the heavens like a race-tuned special. Bystanders can't help but take note as the motor wails at over 8000rpm, sounding nothing like a V8 could, but everything like a V8 should.
The on-centre steering feel is about the only weak point in an otherwise perfect package. There's electric assistance that removes some of the feel around centre, however the sharp turn in, and weighting make up for it. The lock to lock wheeling is consistent and the resistance when loaded up mid corner is beautiful. It also responds very quickly when the rear steps out and you have to turn quickly to counter the oversteer.
Using the M-differential, you can hold the slide by purely using the throttle. It's an amazing feeling that you can flow from bend to bend as quickly as you dare, with the chassis supplying brilliant balance, and the tyres awesome grip. Yet, you can drift through those same corners like a pro, not ever worrying about it turning around a biting you. It's about as controllable a rear-wheel-drive car as there ever was.
Yet after our day of catching up with friends, it sauntered home, burbling a beautiful eight-cylinder symphony, enveloping its passengers in a wave of comfort and quality. It's one of the few cars that you can take to a racetrack, blast all day, and then feel relaxed on your drive home while you pick the kids up from school.
Not to mention having all the fruit, including TV, DVD, I-Drive with voice commands, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, SatNav, etc, the M3 Sedan may have been despecced, but it's hardly lacking.
That combination of perfect ride, excellent steering, brilliant balance, practicality and possibly the best engine ever made makes the M3 Sedan the complete package of the year.
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