Even though BMW is well known for its automobile performance, a select group of shoppers crave something even more thrilling. For that group, BMW has offered for years the M editions of its 3 Series, 5 Series and most recently, the smaller Z Series models: the Z3 and Z8. BMWs M division has turned out about 13,000 cars in two design generations.
Last seen in 1999 and based on the prior generation of the 3 Series models, the M3 coupe and convertible sat out the 2000 season. In spring 2001, they were relinquished in a fresh form and are hotter than ever, packing 333-horsepower six-cylinder engines more than 100 hp beyond the regular 3 Series models. The new M3 convertible premiered at Detroits North American International Auto Show in January 2001, following the coupe that debuted nine months earlier at the New York Auto Show. The sticker price for the M3 coupe is $45,970. BMW claims the soft-top M3 is the only true high-performance, full four-seat convertible in its market segment.
Though they are similar in dimensions and appearance to the regular BMW 330Ci coupe and convertible, the M editions have some distinct differences, including a new bumper and spoiler ensemble, a cross-hatch center air intake and elliptical fog lights. A new aluminum hood has subtle power dome accenting and allows space for the M engine below. Wheel openings are flared outward by an extra 20 millimeters to accommodate the wide tires. Gills behind the front wheel openings display an M3 emblem, and side mirrors have a distinct aero shape.
A subtle decklid spoiler is installed at the rear, above a special M bumper/apron design. M3 models have a wider front and rear track than their less potent BMW mates, as well as unique suspension and underbody components.
Third-generation M3 coupes and convertibles are identical from the front end to the A-pillar. A rising beltline imparts a visually lower stance to the convertible. The M3 coupe measures 176.7 inches long overall and stands 54 inches tall. At 70.1 inches, its width is nearly an inch greater than that of the 330Ci coupe. As on regular BMW convertibles, the fabric top folds into a variable stowage compartment, which offers increased storage capacity when the top is raised. Both M3 models have 18-inch tires on satin chrome finished wheels. A new tire-pressure control monitor alerts the driver if serious pressure loss occurs.
Both the coupe and convertible seat four on black M cloth and Nappa leather upholstery. Three types of sport seats are available in the M3 coupe: standard 10-way manual, eight-way power in a Luxury Package or unique new M sport seats as a separate option. The M sport seats have 14-way power adjustment and adjustable backrest side bolsters. The convertible has standard power front seats. An easy-entry feature makes it simpler to gain access to the backseat.
Standard equipment includes power windows, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry and automatic climate control. A heated glass rear window is standard in the convertible, which also has a power-operated top. One push of a button initiates the entire top-down operation, from unlatching at the windshield header, to lowering the side windows slightly, to raising a rigid magnesium cover and closing it again. A wind deflector, removable aluminum hardtop and optional roof rack is available for the convertible. BMWs Park Distance Control system, a navigation system and a moonroof for the coupe also are optional.
Under the Hood
While the regular BMW 330Ci coupe and convertible carry a 225-hp engine, the M editions get a new 333-hp, 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder with stepless (or continuous) variable valve timing. That engine produces 93 hp more than its M predecessor in the prior generation. A new Getrag six-speed-manual transmission is used, and a new M Variable Differential Lock enhances handling and traction on slippery surfaces.
BMWs electronic stability system, called Dynamic Stability Control, combines traction control and cornering-stability enhancement and is installed for the first time in an M3. BMW claims a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds for the convertible. An M3 coupe should reach 60 mph in a mere 4.8 seconds. To help keep the driver from over-revving a cold engine, a warning zone on the tachometer changes as the engine warms up, until it reaches the full 8,000-rpm redline limit.
Dual front airbags, seat-integrated side-impact airbags and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. A Rollover Protection System in the convertible automatically deploys stabilizer bars behind the rear seats if it detects an impending rollover. Daytime running lights are installed, and rear-seat side-impact airbags are optional.