The Ultimate Driving Machine with Ultimate Performance
2012 BMW M3 Review: What Is It
Even though the next-generation BMW 3 Series sedan is already on the roads, the full rollout of all the new 3 Series variants will probably take another year or two. This includes the high-performance M3 which soldiers on in 2012 wearing the previous design, and it will only be offered in coupe and convertible body styles. After 26 years on the market, the BMW M3 has become the benchmark to which most sports cars are compared, but with the competition growing and getting much better in recent years, we had the chance to spend a week with the 2012 BMW M3 Coupe for this road test and review to see if its lost any of its luster.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Regensburg, Germany, the 2012 BMW M3 Coupe has a starting MSRP of $60,100. This $21,400 adds in plenty of performance goodies, but the car used for this review added to the list with about $8,200 worth of options raising the as-tested price up to $69,595. This is very close to the starting price of the M3 Convertible, and as is the case with most high-power sports coupes, this price also includes a hefty Gas Guzzler Tax adding $1,300 to the total price. Not surprisingly, this price range offers a wide variety of performance cars, but not until recently has the BMW M3 had an real serious competition to deal with.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: What It's Up Against
For the longest time, there was relatively little direct competition to worry the BMW M3, but recent sport coupe entrants such as the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe, Audi S5, Cadillac CTS-V Coupe have all made this an exciting segment. In addition to being the benchmark for other entry-level luxury cars, the BMW 3 Series is also one of the best selling with sales so far this year topping 40,000 units. This represents an impressive increase of 15.3 percent in sales year to date versus 2011, but since BMW does not break down the different body styles in its sales, this figure includes coupes, convertibles, sedans and wagons. Starting with the next-generation version of this coupe, which is due out in 2013, it will be renamed the 4 Series.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- no M3 Sedan for 2012
How It Looks:
Following a slight design update in 2011, the 2012 BMW M3 Coupe carries over with the same styling as last year. This means that the antagonistic design still features like wider fenders, the bulging, vented hood and a carbon fiber roof panel - a sunroof is an option on the M3 but eliminates the carbon fiber roof detracting from the car's performance and unique styling. Not only does this roof panel reduce the M3's overall weight, it also gives the car a lower center of gravity. A sporty body kit finishes off the M3's characteristic styling with aggressive front and rear fascias, lower side skirts and quadruple exhaust outlets. Our car also came with the optional ($2,500) Competition Package which adds the staggered-width, 19-inch wheels and a lowered suspension that drops the M3's stance by 10 millimeters, and the whole look was finished off with a $550 Mineral White Metallic paint color. Adding to the M3's ferocious appearance, all 3 Series models come with the iconic "angel-eye" headlights which probably even more recognizable than Audi's LED running lights.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- iPod/USB adapter, Bluetooth and BMW Assist now standard
How It Looks and Feels:
Generally speaking, when we get behind the wheel of most cars with as much performance as the 2012 BMW M3, there are usually sacrifices that are made in regards to overall comfort with the common ones being hard seats, cramped interior space or excessive cabin noise. First and foremost, the BMW M3 is a driver's car with supportive, leather-wrapped sport bucket seats and a perfectly sized steering wheel with easy-to-reach shift paddles (standard on DCT-equipped models), and we appreciated the red and blue stitching on the steering wheel matching the iconic M logo. Acting as a stylish contrast in this mostly all black interior, our test car also came with real brushed aluminum accents on the instrument panel and door panels, and it was well worth the added $500. There were a few small gripes we had about the M3's interior (including the numerous buttons and small back seat), but the biggest complaint we had with this interior was the automatic seat belt arms. These arms help push the seat belt forward to the front occupants so they don't have to reach back, but in all honesty, it really didn't save that much time or hassle... not to mention it's just one more thing that could break in the future.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- carried over from 2011
How Does It Go:
Resting beneath the bulging, vented hood of the 2012 BMW M3 is a 4.0-liter V-8 that turns heads when it is fired up thanks to throaty and burbly exhaust note. The engine can also snap necks with exciting acceleration that gets the car from zero to 60 miles per hour in about 4.5 seconds (according to BMW) thanks to its 414 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. What the M3 lacks in low-end grunt, it more than makes up for with the high-revving delivering its peak power at 8,300 rpm. Our car came with the quick-shifting, seven-speed M Dual Clutch transmission, but a six-speed manual gearbox is also offered. The DCT makes the M3 a great daily driver without taking away any of the car's fun, but regardless of the transmission, all 2012 M3 models are rated with EPA fuel economy estimates of 14 miles per gallon in the city, 20 mpg on the highway and a rating of 16 mpg in combined driving.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: How It Drives
Before we get into how much fun it is to push the 2012 BMW M3 to its limits, first we must mention how easy it is to drive as an everyday vehicle. Normal driving modes, standard auto stop/start and a soft foot can easily match the estimated fuel economy figures, and the suspension, while on the firm side, is surprisingly comfortable. Open the M3 up, however, and drivers are rewarded with one of the finest sports cars under $100,000. Few other cars on the market can feel as at home on city streets as they do on the racetrack like the BMW M3, and while we weren't able to get our test car onto a road course, we could still tell this car is perfectly balanced. Optional adaptive suspension dampers (part of the Competition Package) further give the BMW M3 confident, responsive handling in tight turns, and a launch control system and locking rear differential team up to optimize traction. The DCT delivers lightning-fast up shifts and rev-matching downshifts, and numerous driver controls help fine tune the M3's attitude. If there's one thing we had to gripe about the M3, it would be that the abundance of controls, buttons and switches might be a little overwhelming to some drivers, but we think this is an acceptable trade off for a car that has the acceleration of a Porsche 911 with the handling abilities of a Mazda MX-5 Miata.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: Final Thoughts
The 2012 BMW M3 does three things extremely fast: go, stop and drink gas. If this is the kind of car you're looking for, than the M3 is pretty much your perfect vehicle. Not only does the 2012 BMW M3 stand up quite well against the new wave of competition, there is plenty to look forward to in the future of BMW's venerable compact sports car which is expected to drop a lot of weight without giving up any of its power or performance. The competition may have caught up with the M3 for now, but we certainly aren't counting out BMW and its next generation of M performance cars awaiting us in the future.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe Review: Pros and Cons
- practical everyday driver offering racecar-like performance
- incredible handling
- powerful engine with perfect exhaust note
- low engine torque compared to rival sport coupes
- too many controls, buttons and switches in the cabin
- auto stop/start feature is always off by default
BMW provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross