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By Jim Flammang
April 7, 2004
Vehicle Overview Not much has changed for 2004 on BMW’s high-performance M3 coupe, but the convertible is available with a dark blue soft-top in a wider range of exterior and interior colors. An inline-six-cylinder engine that produces 333 horsepower — that’s 108 hp more than the BMW 330 — powers the M3 models.
During 2002, a sequentially shifting manual transmission became available. The Formula One-style transmission offers hydraulic sequential shifting of the six-speed gearbox, which can operate automatically or be driver controlled via shift paddles. Other M3 extras include 18-inch Z-rated tires on alloy wheels, a sport suspension and aerodynamic body trim.
Exterior Similar in dimensions and appearance to the regular 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. The wheel openings are flared outward by an extra 20 millimeters to accommodate the wide tires. The front-fender gills display M3 emblems, and the 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 3 Series mates and features unique suspension and underbody components. A rising belt line imparts a visually lower stance on the convertible. Options include 19-inch tires.
Interior Both the coupe and convertible seat four occupants. The convertible has power front seats. A powered 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 BMW’s Park Distance Control system.
Under the Hood While the 330Ci coupe and convertible carry a standard 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 can incorporate sequential shifting.
BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control system combines all-speed traction control and cornering-stability enhancement. The automaker claims the M3 coupe can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, while the convertible takes 5.4 seconds.
Safety Seat-integrated side-impact airbags and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. A Rollover Protection System in the convertible automatically deploys structural bars behind the rear seats if it detects an impending rollover. Daytime running lights are standard, and rear-seat side-impact airbags are optional.
Driving Impressions Only serious enthusiasts are likely to appreciate the M3’s sequential gearbox, which demands considerable attention to garner peak results. The sequentially shifting manual transmission’s operation can jolt occupants’ necks. Even in fully automatic mode, gear changes are far from gentle.