It wasn't exactly a dirt road; it was more like a wet clay road that I was driving along in a 2011 BMW M3 Coupe outside of Chelsea, my cousin Matt laughing beside me.

Initially, I thought the mud wouldn't have enough nerve to stick to the fenders of this $60,000 performance 3 Series. I was wrong.

I also never thought the entire back end would wiggle like Jennifer Lopez at divorce court every time I shifted gears. I was wrong there, too.

As the 4-liter V-8 sang louder and louder, as the revs stacked higher and higher, I'd push in the clutch for the manual six-speed, change gears, gun it again and feel that little shimmy. And then watch the stability control light kick on for a second and feel the tires finally grab the road and launch us even faster.

Four hundred and fourteen horsepower will do that for you. It also makes Matt, who typically drives a Ford Excursion to carry his litter of children, giggle at every gear change. The engine also produces 295 pound-feet of torque. (All that power, however, does come at the price of 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.)

These are not ideal driving conditions for one of the most complete performance cars available today.

Typical BMW M3 drivers try not to race along country roads; they're more accustomed to racetrack tarmacs and concrete highways. On these surfaces, the M3 is blistering fun. The steering is taut, but not too taut. The body is stiff but not too stiff. The suspension is aggressive, but not too aggressive. It's the baby bear of performance — just right. The optional M Dynamic Damper Control allowed me to select the right driving mode (Sport) and have the car adjust to that.

The car's performance only encourages you to drive harder, to drive faster, as it turns every corner into a challenge and every straightaway into a launch pad. Why not have a little fun?

Even on slippery wet clay roads, the M3 seemed to know what to do even before I did.

With a 0-60 speed well under 5 seconds, the M3 would nearly instantaneously adjust to the poor conditions, straightening itself out and making me look like a much better driver than I really am.

Even the massive four-wheel vacuum-assisted cross drilled compound disc brakes help you reel in this car a little later than most passengers would like.

A high tech look

Just walking up to the M3 will make you think a little faster. It's sharply cut and the carbon fiber roof panel gives it a certain high-tech look that other cars just don't have. But it's more than just that. It's the way the car's metal is cut. Its edges are sharp; the hood's double creases and power dome make it more pronounced. The A line is subtle but distinct, and there's that beautiful sloping roof line. Even the fender vents that have a three-dimensional effect when the big doors are open add elegance.

From every angle, the M3 demands the same respect as a loaded gun. If you handle it wrong, it might go off and hurt you.

Inside the cabin the M3 includes all of that M Series badging that owners want to see (or at least they want their passengers to see).

There's the M instrument cluster with red needles to remind you how fast you're going.

The racing seats are extremely comfortable and will hold you snuggly in place even through the tightest corners. And the cockpit is laid out with only one person in mind — the driver.

All of the luxury features you'd expect come with the M: Bluetooth, navigation, ambient lighting, brushed aluminum trim and rain-sensing windshield wipers (which came particularly handy on this particular day of driving).

While there may be some downsides to this car, such as the barely usable second row and a trunk that certainly couldn't carry all of Matt's luggage, none of that seemed to matter.

Steps up its game

No, we just continued to blister on down the road, swerving past potholes and incorrectly guessing where the apex of any particular turn really was on a dirt road.

When we finally hit some blacktop, the M3 seemed to up its game for us, sticking tightly to the line I had planned through the corner, the steering wheel never moving an inch as I held it.

Matt, holding one hand on the dash and the other gripping the door handle, appeared to be pushing at the imaginary brake he thought was on the passenger's side. So I brought the car to a stop on the quiet road, just as the rain stopped.

Maybe Matt should have a chance at trying out the real brake instead. So I opened my door and we switched seats. His evaluation was more like, "Wow," as he clicked through the car's gears, slowly gaining confidence.

By the time we had finished the return trip, he was a natural half-speed race car driver — matching revs on his downshifts, holding gears through their power curves, and leaving me reaching for that imaginary brake.

Of course, don't tell Matt.

sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217