The BMW M3, one of the world's most desirable 4-passenger sports cars, now comes with unlimited headroom. The long-awaited convertible adds a critical piece to the M3 model lineup that began a decade ago with a two-door coupe, followed by the introduction of a four-door sedan in 1996. With a base of $47,203, the convertible tacks on an additional $6,634 to the price of a coupe.
The M3 family is a tantalizing, high-performance variant of BMW's most popular product line, the 3-Series. While each flavor of the M3 has its own personality and individual appeal, all share the same race-bred engineering developed by BMW's Motorsports Division. Powered by a responsive in-line 6-cylinder engine and riding on a sophisticated rear-drive chassis, no car in the M3's price range so inspires one's confidence behind the wheel. The understated, yet aggressive shape of the M3 coupe loses none of its appeal by going roofless. With the triple-layered top up, the convertible maintains the same amount of front seat headroom as the coupe, and gives up a mere inch of clearance for rear seat passengers.
Lowering the top couldn't be easier- a simple push of the switch launches the fully automated operation. No need to fumble with finger-pinching manual latches, as the leading edge of the roof unlocks itself from the windshield frame. About 40 seconds later, the entire top folds and conceals itself beneath a metal tonneau cover, which automatically opens and closes as part of the process. You can open or close the top from outside the car by simply inserting the key into the door handle and holding it in the locked position. The roof mechanism also raises and lowers the power windows. An optional aluminum hardtop offers built-in interior lights and a rear window defroster.
The car shows BMW's attention to passive safety via standard front and side-impact airbags and a rollover protection system. When sensors detect the possibility of a rollover, steel hoops behind the rear headrests deploy upward automatically.
BMW prides itself on designing nearly perfect handling into all its cars, but pushes the envelope with the M3. No matter if you're in the coupe, sedan or convertible, the beefy speed-rated tires stick to the road like Velcro. The 17-inch light alloy wheels are specially designed to hold the tires in place in the event of a flat.
The car's massive 12-inch, fully vented 4-wheel disc brakes bring the car from 60 mph to a halt in short order. The M3 package adds ABS, all-season traction control and a limited slip differential. The key components behind the M3's impressive road hugging ability are a lower center of gravity, large anti-roll bars, gas-pressurized shocks and specially tuned springs. A variable-rate, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system provides a slower ratio at low speeds and a much quicker ratio when the car is at full song. In slalom testing by automotive publications, the M3 proved nearly equal to exotic sports cars costing much more.
Though it weighs 316 pounds more than the coupe or sedan, the M3 convertible runs only a blink of the eye slower in acceleration, going from 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Under the hood sits a 3.2-liter, 240-horsepower, dual-overhead-cam masterpiece. Perhaps this engine's best attribute is its large amount of torque at low to mid speed, so it behaves much more like a V-8. The M3's top end is speed-governed at 137 mph.
Even in the standard manual transmission's top gear, the car pulls well under acceleration. A close-ratio 5-speed automatic is available for those who like to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.
The convertible's business-like interior doesn't hide the fact you're cruising around in a $47,000 car. Rich leather incorporating the red, white and blue signature M stripes covers the seats. The heavily bolstered front seats can be adjusted 10 ways, so even while they're designed to provide important side support during hard cornering, they won't become unbearable during long-distance trips.
Controls and instruments wrap gracefully around the driver and are placed so well that your eyes will spend most of the time where they should be Ã¢â‚¬Å¾ looking at the road ahead. The M3 package includes automatic climate control with settings for both the driver and passenger, along with a number of other audio, security and convenience touches that befit a car in this price range.
It's hard to decide whether the M3 is a race car detuned for the street, or a production car that is nearly race ready. For the driving enthusiast, it doesn't get much better than this.