Yes, it looks a little like a bread box on wheels, even BMW officials admit that. But once people drive the new M Coupe, they'll conclude it contains some pretty fast-rising bread.
When BMW decided to build the M Coupe, engineers received just one directive, build a car that could beat the new Porsche 911 around the Nurburgring race course in Germany. BMW says it accomplished that with what it calls the fastest street-legal BMW ever sold in the United States, the M Coupe.
At a press presentation of the car held in Seattle, Burt Holland, a BMW product specialist, said the shape of the car evokes the styling of the E-Type Jaguar and the MGB GT, as a true "Gran Turismo" car, a closed-body version of a purebred sports car. Sharing a mechanical platform and front-end sheetmetal with BMW's popular Z Roadster, the coupe tacks on a distinctly different body style.
BMW's press materials dub the 159-inch-long M Coupe, a "little bulldog of a car," and a "purebred 2-seater with a snug, fixed-roof body (that) is bound to generate discussion. It is not some bland addition of a roof to a roadster. Instead, BMW has crated a totally new shape from the windshield back, and it,s an eye-catcher."
The coupe's rear flanks are striking, with large wheel arches, large low-profile tires and a roof that suddenly terminates at the top of the rear hatch.
During its weeklong test drive, this bold styling generated a number of reactions, both favorable and unfavorable. If the nay-sayers had been given a chance to drive the M Coupe, however, many would have sung a different tune.
The car, with its low-profile 9-inch-wide-by-17-inch wheels, grips the road like glue. Rear-wheel-drive acceleration provided by the acclaimed 3.2-liter 6-cylinder M engine provides a 0-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds. The only transmission available is a 5-speed manual. The horsepower rating is 240, with torque of 236 ft-lbs. in this 3,131-pound car.
The suspension components include the standard all-season traction control system and limited-slip differential of the M3. For the coupe, the spring rates are firmer and the stabilizer bar slightly larger than in the M Roadster. The coupe's ride, while much firmer than that of a sports sedan, is not unpleasant.
Stopping power rates among the best. With a 50-50 weight distribution and large 12.4-inch front discs and 12.3-inches in the rear, the coupe stopped in just 121 feet from 60 mph in a test by Road & Track magazine.
With all its starting, stopping and driving power, this car clearly begs to be driven hard and seems to enjoy every minute of it.
Yet the M Coupe has its shortcomings in both the literal and figurative sense. Drivers taller than about 6 feet, should probably buy something else. At 6-feet-3-inches, I slid the seat all the way back, which meant the seat-back angle had to be straight up and down and my head was still brushing the roof and my right knee kept hitting the center console. It was very uncomfortable.
Shorter drivers, however, would probably find the car quite comfortable. The heated leather sport seats feel supportive and soft. The 9-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system produces good quality audio. The hatch area can hold a weekend's luggage for two or a couple of sets of golf clubs.
The two-tone interior looks boldly colorful. In the test car it was red and black; other schemes combine black with gray, blue, green or orange, with the highlight color appearing on the center of the instrument panel, console, door inserts, portions of the seats and steering wheel spokes.
The list price of the M Coupe totals $42,370, including destination, with the only two options available, a $300 tilt-only moonroof and $200 single-disc in-dash CD player.
For those on tighter budgets, BMW also offers a Z3 Coupe 2.8, with the same body style, but with the slightly less powerful (193 hp) 6-cylinder engine from the new 3-Series sedans. It starts at $36,200 and is available with an automatic transmission and something not in the M Coupe, a spare tire.
If you have a flat while driving the M Coupe, the best advice is to find a safe place to come in for a landing and then call BMW's roadside assistance number.