A Little Jekyll, but Mostly Hyde
Schizophrenia. Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Jekyll and Hyde is one of split personalities. Dr. Jekyll is a well-mannered, well-respected Londoner who becomes the wild and monstrous Mr. Hyde at night. As the story goes, Jekyll tries to tame his transformations, but he eventually gives into the urges of edgy alter ego to permanently become Hyde.
And so goes the story of the 2011 BMW M3.
On the outside, the M3 is still a 3 Series, but angrier. The same familiar headlights, taillights and profile are accompanied by lower ground effects, quad exhaust and a bulgy hood–all of which hint at what lies beneath. Special M3 badges adorn the trunk and side vents, so there’s no mistaking it for a 335is or 3 Series with M Sport accessories.
The interior is simple, even Spartan. Tightly bolstered seats are meant to keep the driver in place, and they do that well. They’re so tight, though, that larger individuals may find them uncomfortable, and will likely have to adjust the bolsters to a looser setting. The wheel is thick and communicative, and the aluminum paddle shifters are designed the way they should be–upshift on one side, downshift on the other. There aren’t many buttons on the dash, which forces you to use BMW’s iDrive infotainment system. Though much improved from the past, iDrive still isn’t intuitive, and the driver will need to spend some time with the owners’ manual to get acclimated.
Our BMW M3 test car was equipped with navigation, push-button start and the M double-clutch automatic transmission with Drivelogic. Push the button and go.
Make no mistake, the M3 has attitude in excess. Its 4.4-liter V8 is loud and gratifying in a V8s-should-all-be-so-lucky-to-sound-like-this kind of way. Switch the settings to M Dynamic mode, and it handles in a way that makes every street bend feel like a Le Mans race. No matter how hard the car is pushed on normal roads, the driver will never experience the M3’s breaking point without taking it to the track. Barely flinch and car crosses three lanes. Take a corner, and the tail hangs out with poise and control that offer the driver a God-complex. Plus, it’s fast. Crazy fast.
But there’s a downside to all of this excitement. A daily driver, the M3 is not. Around the city, the suspension is wound so tightly that the car is uncomfortable on less-than-freshly-paved roads. Move the settings to Comfort mode, and the car starts in second gear, which makes the engine feel sluggish and lazy. Drop the convertible top, and it’s a challenge to fit even a briefcase in the trunk. It’s a car of many compromises.
Fuel economy is rated at 14 MPG in the city and 20 on the highway, which earns the M3 a $1,700 Gas Guzzler Tax in the US. The base price on the M3 Sedan is just under $56,000, but the range-topping convertible can be equipped all the way up to staggering $90,000. At that price, there are several other cars in its competitive set, including the Lexus IS-F, Cadillac CTS-V, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, Audi S5 and even the Porsche 911 Cabriolet.
There’s no question as to whether or not the M3 is an absolute thrill to drive–it is. For drivers seeking the epitome of the 3 Series performance experience, this is the car for you. But, if you’re looking for something to drive around town and only occasionally rev for your friends, we’d recommend saving $15,000 and buying the BMW 335i instead.
The BMW M3 is both a Gentleman Jekyll and a Heinous Hyde, but it’s more monster than doctor.