While the Z3 roadster may cause your pulse to race, the M3 is arguably the best convertible in BMW's stable.It has the moves of a thoroughbred, blue ribbon styling and an engine that charms you more with every gearshift. The 3.2-liter, in-line 6-cylinder jewel nestled under its graceful hood has 240 horses, about 50 more than the standard 328i. With the slightest prod of the throttle you can feel every one of them straining to run free, and when you give them free rein they snap your head back and put a huge grin on your face. Even though European M3s have considerably more horsepower, this car performs almost as well because its engine has been tuned for American driving conditions, where mid-range throttle response is more important than top speed. Consequently, getting it up to speed doesn't take constant flogging. Just step on the gas and it moves out as if it were levitating. Aside from its engine, the high-performance M3 differs from the standard 3-series by having a firm, sports suspension, 17-inch wheels, slightly different lower-body panels, leather upholstery and a handsome three-spoke steering wheel. The differences are subtle, and only dedicated Bimmerphiles will know you're behind the wheel of a very special model. Out in traffic, however, other drivers will figure out that you're in something special as you leap to 60 mph in about 6 seconds and leave them gasping in your wake. Acceleration is only one part of the M3 equation, however. The buttoned-down suspension keeps it so firmly in touch with the road that when you point its nose into a turn it scribes an arc as cleanly as if you used a compass. Find an open road and it gallops so effortlessly that you constantly find yourself exceeding the speed limit, even with the top down. Driving with the top down is the best way to enjoy this car, and you can go au naturel in a matter of seconds because the top is fully electric. Hold down the button on the console and it automatically unlatches, retracts and tucks itself under a hard cover. The plastic rear window seems oddly out of place in car of this price and sophistication. Many of its competitors have a glass window with built-in defogger. Of course, the top impinges on trunk space, but there is still enough room for a couple of carry-on bags. The top also makes the back seat smaller, and while there is space for two, my wife found the legroom to be pretty snug when she crawled in back while we took a friend on a demonstration drive. This is a space best left to youngsters, she decided after a few minutes of riding with her feet angled to one side. In keeping with the $45,900 base price, the M3 is lavishly equipped. Our test car's dark green metallic paint was highlighted by a muted tan leather interior that contrasted nicely with the black instrument panel. M3 badging, including a lighted M3 crest atop the gearshift lever, was subtle. Overall, the interior felt rich and sumpt uous. The sport bucket seats rank right up there with some of the best seats I know. They have excellent under-thigh support, while the sides grip you securely, yet firmly. Good lighting is critical in a fast car. Low-beam headlights were so-so, but flicking on the high beams was like turning on the landing lights of a jetliner. Brakes are another area where the M3 shines. Ventilated four-wheel disc brakes wipe off speed so efficiently I often underestimated how long it would take to stop. With the appearance of a new 3-series sedan, a new convertible is bound to be in the works at some point in the future. It will be hard to come up with one that is any more captivating than the M3, however. Price The base price is $45,900. Heated seats were the only option on our test car, and they brought the sticker price to $46,970, including destination charges. Warranty The standard warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles, and all scheduled main nance is free for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: If there's anything better than a handsome convertible, it is one with a muscular engine, excellent handling and tastefully executed luxury inside. Counterpoint: The trunk is small and the plastic back window is out of place on a car in this price range. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.2-liter, 6-cyl. TRANSMISSION: 5-speed WHEELBASE: 106.3 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,491 lbs. BASE PRICE: $45,900 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $46,970 MPG RATING: 20 city, 27 highway
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||August 14, 1998|
|Al Haas||May 24, 1998|
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