2001 BMW M3

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2001 BMW M3

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

An exotic model that is many steps beyond the regular BMW 3-Series.
Pros:
  • Extremely fast
  • Fairly roomy
  • Superb handling
  • Docile
Cons:
  • A little extreme for the street
  • Notchy shifter
  • Stiff clutch
  • Occasionally jerky ride

The two-door M3 coupe and convertible really are hot sports cars with a back seat. They shouldn't be confused with other BMW 3-Series models because they have many significant differences, including a very sophisticated 333-horsepower engine. The top horsepower for a regular 3-Series model is 225.

Although based on other 3-Series models, the rear-drive M3 compares with such really hot cars as the two-seat Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Porsche Boxster S. That's why this car from BMW's elite high-performance M division, which began in 1972 as the automaker's motorsport division, is put on covers of major auto buff magazines.

Not Cheap
But M-style high performance doesn't come cheap. The carefully built $45,400 M3 coupe and $53,400 M3 convertible cost a lot more than other 3-Series models, which are priced at less than $35,000—except for the $42,400 330Ci convertible.

However, the M3 models are among a growing number of highly modified production cars that showcase an automaker's technology, performance, luxury and comfort.

Race-Style Engine
The M3's race-style inline 6-cylinder engine allows a 9000-rpm tachometer to be put on the dashboard and offers seemingly endless power in any of its six forward gears. In fact, it is the only 3-Series model with a 6-speed manual, and no automatic transmission is offered.

The notchy transmission shifter takes getting used to, and it's fairly easy to mistakenly put the car into reverse, instead of into first gear. Also, the heavy duty long-throw clutch is stiff.

Coupe Is Bargain Model
The M3 coupe has a more purposeful looking appearance than the more carefree-looking convertible, which BMW offers to satisfy convertible-hungry Americans. Of the two, the coupe is the bargain M3 model.

However, the convertible has a fully lined power top with a heated glass rear window, and a rollover protection system that deploys bars behind the rear seats in case of an impending rollover.

Also, rearseat side-impact airbags are optional for the first time in a BMW convertible.

Other M3 Features
Besides its awesome engine, the M3 has an aluminum sport suspension, very wide high-performance tires on big 18-inch alloy wheels, and stability and brake control systems that help keep the car planted on the road during extreme driving conditions.

One nice thing about the 155-mph M3 is that you can drive it like an economy car. BMW is known for docile, high-performance inline 6-cylinder engines, and the M3's quiet, smooth six doesn't protest if in higher gears at only 35 mph. Still, the 3.2-liter engine is much smaller than, say, the Corvette Z06 V8, so it must be revved hard to get explosive acceleration.

Torrid Acceleration
The sophisticated engine allows the M3 to reach 60 mph from a standing start in only 4.7 seconds (or in 5.3 with the heavier convertible). It loafs at 3000 rpm at 80 mph in sixth gear, which is partly why it delivers a respectable, estimated 23-24 mpg on highways. But estimated city economy is poor at 16 mpg.

It takes a lot of fuel to get a heavy car moving, and the M3 is fairly heavy for a small auto with all its standard comfort and luxury equipment. The coupe weighs 3,415 pounds, and the soft-top is 3,781 pounds.

Light Steering
While quick and precise, the power steering is a little too light at high speeds. BMW said it has received complaints about that but feels most typical American buyers of the M3 wouldn't want heavier steering.

Despite the sport suspension, the ride is generally supple, partly because the M3 has a rather long 107.5-inch wheelbase. However, the ride occasionally gets jerky on freeways and highways.

The brake pedal is a little soft, but can be easily used to carefully control brake action. The M3 has exceptional stopping power.

Visual Differences
The M3 coupe and convertible have "M" badging, but mostly stand out from conventional 3-Series models because they have a specially contoured aluminum hood with a "power dome," functional side air intakes, aerodynamic outside mirrors, widened rear flanks and special bumper-spoiler ensembles at the front and rear. There also are no less than four chrome-tipped exhaust outlets.

The custom steering wheel is easily gripped and the front bucket sport seats are especially supportive.

Unique instrumentation includes a tachometer with warning lights at its upper end that tell you when the engine is warm enough to safely be revved high. However, the speedometer and tachometer need larger numbers to make them easier to read quickly.

Fairly Roomy
The quiet coupe offers decent room for four 6-footers, but rear occupants won't be able to get as comfortable in the back seat of the slightly noisier convertible. The coupe's power rear side windows don't roll down but swing out just a bit. Cupholders are nicely sized.

The coupe's trunk has a decent size and low, wide opening—and is larger than the convertible's trunk. Rear seatbacks in the coupe fold flat to enlarge the cargo area.

Here's a clever touch: The rear headrests don't fold forward with the seatbacks—thus eliminating the need to remove them to prevent them from hitting the backs of the front seats when the seatbacks are moved forward.

Those who want a superb high-performance car with the practicality of four seats should take a hard look at the M3.

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BB06 - 4/24/2014 8:29:47 AM