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REALITY CHECK

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Published on Mon, Aug 30, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

REALITY CHECK

By JOHN GRAFMAN

In my last hour with this BMW overachiever, I began to dread returning to the grind of everyday, real world cars. The reason is easy to understand. Simply stated, the BMW M3 makes the incredible seem rather normal! No matter how hard I push it, the M3 eats up whatever is dished out and asks for more! The convertible exceeds the vast majority of cars in street performance. It out accelerates and out handles so far beyond the levels of most others that it takes the driver considerable time to adjust. Effectively using all this talent requires some getting use to. A jaunt down to San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium from OC gives both my co-pilot and me the seat time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

From the first moment, the 3 Series interior is relatively easy to become acclimated to. The seats even without lumbar adjustment fit like a glove to my backside. Oddly the tilt steering wheel is neither power operated nor adjusts as far downward as I prefer. The sound system provides enough oomph to be heard even when barreling along with the top down. The station adjustability while versatile lacks simplicity. The audio system can be distracting with its complexity, however the steering wheel controls go a long way to making driving less of a hazard. Without a multidisc changer in-dash means that too much effort is being focused on switching disc instead of driving. The sound that emits from the tailpipe is even more commendable (i.e., we love it!). If this isn’t inspirational enough to drive fast, nothing is. Words are a poor substitute when it comes to replicating this sound, so I won’t even try. I will say that the tone is low and loud enough to motivate and not so loud as to aggravate.

On the road to and from San Diego we encountered both snarling traffic and wide-open expanse of road. The M3 works well under all circumstances. Once the SMG (sequential manual gearshift) is figured out, the rest is easy. A few words about the SMG. This is truly a clutchless manual with the full automatic operations available. In the manual mode if you don’t lift between shifts you will be in for some neck snapping action. If you treat it just as you would a manual, all will work fine. Just let your left foot take a vacation. The transmission has a graduated scale as to how the shifting occurs just like the manual; this transmission (the clutchless clutch) can be engaged slowly and smoothly, or fast and hard. The paddle shifters behind the steering wheel are fairly intuitive. Either the paddle shifters or the center console shifter will take the transmission from automatic to manual mode just by tapping up or down a gear. The trick is to remember that the car is now in full manual mode. Extra points go to BMW in figuring what most of their competitors can’t. If a car doesn’t have a classic stick but rather a transmission along the lines of the SMG or any other sequential auto, it is imperative that the readout displays a bold indication of what gear the car is actually in. Otherwise, it is all too common not to be in the optimal gear the driver desires. Case in point: With this six-speed on the highway it is difficult to tell whether the car is in fifth or sixth gear without a bold display. There is no doubt at all that the M3 is a driver’s car. The two-door layout says loud and clear, passengers are a secondary concern. The thick steering wheel surprisingly makes other cars feel down right girly-man (boy, I know I’m going to get it for this!).

The structure of the car is sound. Even with a number of miles on the odometer, the car feels tight, as it should. The sill height is very comfortable to deal with allowing a 360-degree field of view. The wind noise in the cabin was more than I expected but well within the tolerable range. Besides, I’d rather hear the engine and exhaust doing their thing instead of some mindless conversation that would be better off being saved for later. The top operation is a simple push of a button, no latching required. The trunk is swallowed up by stowing the top, but this is not the worse we have seen (by a long stretch). The M3 is distinct from the garden variety 3 with various appearance pieces from the side venting to the bodywork tweaks. Overall, it still looks fairly similar to the other 3s. The front has a bit of boy racer going on but this is most likely driven by function unlike most aftermarket add ons. Open the hood and what is found could be the last bastion of hope for motor heads everywhere. The engine is accessible and not cloaked under a plastic panel molded into a facsimile of an engine. The BMW actually has parts you can see and touch. Ah, the good old days are here again. By the way, this powerplant is truly a dragon slayer.

This car isn’t comprised of just one good attribute but many. The motor holds up its end of the deal. While the convertible does weight a bit more and is a bit slower than the M3 Coupe, with the top down it feels plenty damn fast. Everything whips by as if you’re in the eye of a hurricane. It feels as this car is the epicenter from which all else revolves around it. The six-cylinder engine is to blame for the neck snapping acceleration, which will most likely lead to keeping a chiropractor on retainer. In conjunction with the motor is a well-suited suspension that grips and provides a stiff ride without an overly unforgiving ride over life’s little bumps, and potholes, and expansion strips. While the M3 has great looks and the BMW allure, I never knew just how potent a vehicle this is until I had my days in the sun with this four-seater.

I get the questions coming at me all the time, “Well, what do ya think”? The tag line “The Ultimate Driving Experience” works for me here. Moreover, the extraordinary performance of the M3 is at the very core of the legendary reputation of BMW for performance. Mortals can afford it, and they feel like a god behind the wheel. What more can anyone want?

For further information please go to www.bmwusa.com

SPECIFICATIONS Price: $66,445.00 Engine type: DOHC 24-valve inline 6-cylinder, High-Pressure Double VANOS steplessly variable intake- & exhaust-valve timing, 6 individual electronically controlled throttles with Normal & Sport settings Horsepower: 333 @ 7900 rpm Torque: 262 lb.-ft @ 4,900 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive Transmission type: Sequential Manual Gearbox Getrag Type D, 6-speed with electrohydraulic (SMG) sequential shifting, driver- controlled or automatic according to electronic programs S1–S6 or A1-A5 (DRIVELOGIC); Suspension: Front: BMW M sport suspension; thrust plate, struts, unique forged-aluminum lower arms, steel ball joints/ rubber bushings, coil springs, twin-tube gas pressure, shock absorbers, anti-roll bar Rear: BMW M sport suspension; special subframe & V-brace, multi-link system with Central Links, upper & lower lateral links (upper links of cast aluminum), steel ball joints at outer ends of lateral links, coil springs, twin-tube gas-pressure shock absorbers, anti-roll bar, reinforcing braces to strut towers Wheels and tires: Front: 18.0 x 8-in. Cast alloy, (optional) Forged alloy, 19 x 8.0 Performance radials, 225/45ZR-18 (optional) Performance radials, 225/40ZR-19 Rear: 18.0 x 9-in. Cast alloy, (optional) Forged alloy, 19 x 9.5 Performance radials, 255/40ZR-18 (optional) Performance radials, 255/35ZR-19 Brakes: Front: Disc ventilated disc brakes, assist vacuum 12.8 in (325 mm) diameter Rear: Disc ventilated disc brakes, assist vacuum 12.9 in (328 mm) diameter Stability-enhancement system Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with unique M logic, including all-speed traction control, electronic brake proportioning, antilock braking (ABS), Dynamic Brake Control & cornering/braking stability enhancement; M Variable Differential Lock Overall length: 176.9” Overall width: 70.1” Overall height: 53.9 Curb weight (lbs.): 3,781 EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 16/22 Top Speed, mph: 155 (electronically limited) 0-60 mph: 5.4

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