2003 M3 New Car Test Drive
It's finally here: an M3 as good as the Europeans get. After years of longing (and pleading, and whining) by North Americans, and after taking model year 2000 off, BMW is now exporting an M3 with a new 3.2-liter engine, bumping the horsepower up from 240 to 333. The icing on this cake was the price, reflecting an increase whose value was greater than its numbers. Introduced late as a 2001 model, the 2002 is essentially identical.
Would you like that with or without a hard top? Your choices are an M3 Coupe ($46,545) or an M3 Convertible ($54,565). The new M3 Coupe was first available as a 2001 model in the spring of 2001; the convertible followed in the fall of 2001, also as a 2001 model. For 2002, the most significant change is that the waiting list is shorter.
You'll pay extra for the pleasure of feeling the sun and wind on your face, but you'll also get Nappa leather cradling your body in the form of seats that are standard on the Convertible (and an $1100 option on the Coupe).
Both coupe and convertible come with a six-speed manual transmission (automatics are not available), huge ventilated disc brakes with ABS, and sophisticated electronic control of traction and stability. For safety, there are two-stage front airbags, side airbags in the doors, an inflating tubular head protection system, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. For your listening enjoyment, an in-dash CD player is standard in 2002.
The options list includes side-impact airbags for the rear seats ($385), Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights ($700), and a navigation system ($1800). Additional options for the coupe include Nappa leather, power moonroof, and power front seats. A cold weather package includes heated front seats, headlight washers and a ski bag.
The most spectacular option is the new Sequential M gearbox. It's similar in operation to the one used in the Williams-BMW Formula One cars that Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher drive. The sequential gearbox is operated either by the shift lever or with butterfly paddles on the steering wheel (one to upshift, one to downshift); it can be set to shift automatically or manually. The six-speed gearbox is technically the same as that used on manually shifted models, but there is no clutch pedal (nor is there a torque converter). Advanced engine electronics interrupt the engine's power for just milliseconds, the control unit opens and closes the clutch, and changes gears electro-hydraulically. When downshifting, the system automatically double-clutches. Computer logic allows the driver to individually match the system's shift characteristic to his preferred driving habits in eleven driving programs. LED lights aid shifting performance. We have not yet sampled this gearbox, but it is designed to produce 'a realistic Formula One experience,' while reducing shift times (to 80 milliseconds) and the chance of a missed shift.