Single-Minded Performance | The 2012 BMW M3 coupe

December 2011/January 2012 View more


Driving the 2012 BMW M3 coupe can feel like launching a brute force attack on the road. Armed as it is with a 414-horsepower V8 and handling that routinely enables the amazing, this is a car that seems purpose-built for people who truly like to drive.

At the most basic level, the M3 is fast. Stomping on the accelerator is like crying “havoc” and letting slip the dogs of war: The engine roars, the tachometer races to its 8,400 RPM limit, and the full-boil forward thrust turns the scenery a bit blurry.

For all its power, though, this four-seater feels predisposed to remaining calm. The accelerator is remarkably easy to modulate, so the power is not just on or off—you can dial in as much or as little as you want. And if you don’t affirmatively signal your intent, the car is content with docility; tapping into the M3’s reported 4.8-second 0-to-60 capability actually requires above-average pressure on the accelerator. It’s as if BMW is telling you, “Look, we’re happy to give you all this power. We just need to be sure that you really want to use it right now.”

NMAG1211_ForTheRoad_2The M3 comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, which will make the purists happy. Many buyers, though, will opt for the dual-clutch automatic transmission—a technological marvel that is automatic in the sense that the driver never touches a clutch pedal, but is much more of an enthusiast’s instrument than a traditional automatic.

For starters, when you shift from neutral or reverse into drive, the default setting is manual mode. That means you need to be ready to lay your fingers on the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Really interesting things start happening, though, when you shift into full automatic mode. Upshifts and downshifts occur so quickly and fluidly that you might find yourself in seventh gear at just 40 miles per hour—then, in a blink, be way down in second gear as you take your foot off the throttle to coast toward a red light.

This shift programming has two related effects. First, the relentless downshifting can cause the transmission to feel a bit herky-jerky in stop-and-go traffic. Second, and more in line with the M3’s raison d’être, the transmission is always poised to deliver explosive power. With one clutch for the even gears and one clutch for the odd, the right gear is always on deck.

(One more tidbit about the automatic, and something you might want to tell valet parkers before you trust them with your keys: There is no “park” button. Put it in neutral, or just leave it in gear. The transmission will put itself into park when you shut down the engine.)

The M3 pairs its fantastic engine/transmission combination with Newton’s own brakes. You know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? The M3’s stopping power is as fierce as its acceleration. And like the accelerator, the brake pedal lets you administer just the right amount of grab.

NMAG1211_ForTheRoad_3“Drive responsibly” takes on a new meaning here, because you can stop more quickly than virtually any car that might be following you. In the M3, you’ll learn to be especially mindful not just of how closely you’re following the car in front of you, but how closely you’re being followed.

The final element of the rear-wheel-drive M3’s general awesomeness is its suspension, which seems to translate every bit of steering-wheel input into deliciously accurate movement. How responsive is the car’s handling? If Harry Potter had to replace his Firebolt with a sports car, he would not be disappointed piloting the M3.

The 2012 BMW M3 coupe will cost you $58,900, plus a $1,300 gas guzzler tax. For that base price, you’re getting single-minded engineering, not luxury. So, for example, you’ll have a monastic interior and standard cloth seats—but an utterly cool carbon-fiber roof (because lower weight up top translates into a lighter car and a lower center of gravity, for better road holding). Options range from the performance enhancing (hard to believe) to the types of comfort and convenience features you’d expect to find on a car at this price.

Photos courtesy of BMW of North America, LLC