2001 BMW M3
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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.
However, the M3 models are among a growing number of highly modified production cars that showcase an automaker's technology, performance, luxury and comfort.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.