Not much has changed for BMWs high-performance M3 coupe and convertible, except for the addition of a standard rain sensor with automatic headlight control. On sale since 2001, the M3 models are powered by a 333-horsepower inline-six-cylinder engine thats about 100 hp more than the regular BMW 3 Series engine delivers.
During 2002, a sequentially shifting manual transmission became available. Building upon Formula One racing technology, it offers hydraulic sequential shifting of the six-speed gearbox, which can be either automatically controlled or driver controlled by using shift paddles. Other M3 extras include 18-inch tires, a sport suspension and aerodynamic body trim.
Similar in dimensions and appearance to the regular BMW 330Ci coupe and convertible, the M editions have some unique differences, including a distinctive bumper and spoiler ensemble, a crosshatch center air intake and elliptical fog lights. A unique, 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 the side mirrors have a distinct aero shape.
A subtle deck-lid spoiler sits above a special M bumper and apron design. The M3 has a wider front and rear track than its less-potent BMW mates, and it also features unique suspension and underbody components. A rising belt line imparts a visually lower stance on the convertible.
Both the coupe and convertible seat four occupants on black M Cloth and Nappa leather upholstery. The convertible has power front seats. An easy-entry feature makes it simpler to gain access to the backseat. Cargo capacity is 9.5 cubic feet for the coupe and 7.7 cubic feet for the convertible.
A heated glass rear window is standard in the convertible, which has a power-operated top. One push of a button initiates the entire top-down operation. As the fabric top unlatches at the windshield header and moves upward, a rigid magnesium cover opens and then closes over the folded material. Options include a navigation system, a removable aluminum hardtop and BMWs Park Distance Control system.
Under the Hood
While the regular BMW 330Ci coupe and convertible carry a 225-hp engine, the M editions get a 333-hp, 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder with stepless variable valve timing. This engine drives a Getrag Type D six-speed-manual transmission that has available sequential shifting.
BMWs Dynamic Stability Control system combines all-speed traction control and cornering-stability enhancement. BMW claims the M3 coupe can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, while the M3 convertible can achieve that time in 5.4 seconds.
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.
Performance might be irresistible, but only serious enthusiasts are likely to appreciate the M3s sequential gearbox, which demands considerable attention to derive peak results. The sequentially shifting manual transmissions shifts can jolt occupants necks. Even in fully automatic mode, gear changes are far from gentle.