2002 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test

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2002 BMW M3: I Miss It. Do You?

September 07, 2009

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Yesterday I was tooling along in and quite enjoying our long-term 2009 Audi A4 Avant. Then I stopped at this redlight behind the black E46 M3 pictured above. Look closely and you'll notice it's an M3 with the Competition Package, which means its rides on a set of supercool 19-inch BBS wheels and packs other goodness from the Europe-only CSL model. It's the one the have.

When the light went green I tried to stay with the guy, but he was on it and the A4 just didn't have enough guts. He knew I was trying, so he really pushed it, eliminating any chance I would have of getting another look at the car.

About a half-mile down the road he caught a green, but I was lagging so far behind I got stuck at the light. All I could do was sit there and watch him disappear over a rise. By the time I got moving again he was long gone.

Now all I can think about his how much I miss our beloved black E46 M3. Am I the only one? Some cars just stay with you...ya know?

Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief

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2002 BMW M3: Parting Shots

August 13, 2009

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" ^ 'nuff said" Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor.

That's right, our 2002 BMW M3 is gone (Read the Long Term Wrap up here.) As sad as it is (for some of us-- the ones who weren't responsible for keeping the cabinet full of liquid-gold M3 oil), let's pick up the pieces of our shattered lives and take a walk down memory lane with the latest installment of Parting Shots. Walton said it best above, but follow the jump for more, and don't forget to leave your own Parting Shot in the comments.

"A car for the ages. Timeless. A true modern classic. Not exactly cheap to own, but greatness rarely is. In a few years E46 M3s will be under $10,000. I think I see some late night internet shopping sessions in my future. I'll own one eventually. My wife will just have to deal with it."

-Scott Oldham, Editor-in-Chief, Inside Line

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"The lesson here is to never, ever loan your M3 to a friend. This car is a victim of serial abuse - every shift ripped at peak rpm. Is it any wonder that the engine swills oil, the second gear synchro is toast and the shift linkage is worn? This car needs on on lengthy spell in rehab and a careful elderly owner."

-Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Inside Line

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"I'd like to use my space to mention the navigation system. In short, avoid it on a used BMW. You might as well have a big hole in the dash with a nice potted bamboo growing inside. It's slow, unintuitive and somehow manages to make first-gen iDrive make sense. This certainly shows the folly of this decade's rapidly evolving in-car electronics interfaces. The latest-and-greatest in your new car quickly becomes a hapless dinosaur in somebody else's used car."

-James Riswick, Automotive Editor

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"If I remember correctly, the original idea was to see what kind of cool car we could get for about the same price as a new, nicely equipped Altima or Camry. Would I rather have this used M3 rather than a new car that's at the same price range - yes, yes, 100 times yes!!!

What a blast to drive - it still feels fast and still looks good. Price of maint. and/or repairs might ultimately keep me away however."

-Brian Moody, Road Test Editor

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Nav sucked. Stereo sucked. Shift linkage sucked. Clutch sucked. Maintenance sucked. Trim pieces sucked. Stinky crayon smell sucked. Dropping it into 3rd gear with a quick blip of the throttle as you approach a 60mph bend, feeling the front wheels grab hold of the road surface as you will the car through the corner only to have the car will you back, urging you to go faster as you crest the next rise with the engine tearing past seven thousand rpm's... I'm sorry what? I'll take it.

- Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor

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"My favorite memory of our E46 M3 is the weekend I autocrossed it. It got so loose through the cones, but its precise, communicative steering made it a friendly car to gather up. It soon became a game of how big a slide I could get it into and still bring it back. And once I figured out how the M3 wanted to be driven, it ran some pretty good times, too"

- Erin Riches, Senior Editor Inside Line

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Sadlier: "I've never gotten such satisfaction out of simply starting a car up -- there's nothing like the e46 M3's unadulterated growl at ignition. You know this car is special from the first time you turn the key."

Magrath: "Do you mean "you know it's special" because it's always asking for oil when you start it? Or because you're high from the crayon smell?"

Sadlier: "You should include your replies to the parting shots as well."

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant & Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor

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"I'm going to miss this M3 for many, many reasons. I have fond memories of sliding it around Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, slinging it through the local mountain roads and listening to its 8000-rpm swan song before every shift. But, the memory I'll never forget, the one that is forever etched into my cerebral cortex, is that of my wife -- in labor -- screaming at me from the passenger seat as I searched for a gas station on our 1:00 am trip to the hospital for the birth of our first child.

To say I have some memories in this car is, as they say, an understatement."

-Josh Jacquot, Senior Road Test Editor

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"It's the dream car. Can't afford an M3? Wait a few years and it's still an awesome car, now affordable. The new M3 may have a better nav system and hill-hold, but the old one has character. Just add a 99-cent air freshener and you're all set."

-Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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Remember that spare quart of oil in the trunk that sprung a leak? And we didn't realize anything was wrong until it was almost empty? Well that was me. Sorry.

Anonymous.

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"Proved beyond a doubt that the M badge is more than a fashion accessory.

Every time we beat on it, it shrugged it off and came back for more.

I'm amazed at how excellent the leather still looks.

I don't recall the Crayola-scent option from 2002, but this M3 definitely has it."

-Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor (again)

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Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant

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2002 BMW M3: Wrap-Up

July 07, 2009

Why We Bought It
Durability
Performance and Fuel Economy
Retained Value
Summing Up

We don't make a habit of purchasing used cars for the long-term fleet. But our success with a 1984 Ferrari 308 GTSi encouraged us to try again. This time it wasn't about owning an exotic. Instead it was about owning the car of our dreams, a car that we've held on our must-own list for the past seven years. A car that we consider the best M3 ever made. So we bought a 2002 BMW M3 E46.

Secret M3 love affairs quickly sprouted up within our ranks. We tried suppressing them with little success. One editor went so far as to say, "I sincerely hope that within the next 11 months, one of our M3's pistons goes rocketing through the hood. Or we receive a service bill for a mysterious $2,000 'valve adjustment.' Short of such calamities, it's likely that I'll continue to believe that I should buy this car when its year is up."

Why We Got It
As explained in the BMW's introduction, our reason for buying an E46 version of the M3 had everything to do with pure desire. We've always wanted one. Our friends have always wanted one. Editor in Chief Scott Oldham added, "It's sure to go down in history as one of the most desirable cars of all time. It was designed before iDrive, Chris Bangle and BMW's decision to make the M3 compete with a Porsche 911. It's timeless. And it's suddenly affordable to working stiffs like us."

We found a well-nurtured M3 with 49,000 ticks on the odometer for sale within 100 miles of our Santa Monica office. Maintenance records all checked out. It seemed to us like this was a sign. So we negotiated the price to $30,000 and, rather than buy a loaded Honda Accord at the dealership across the street, drove away in the E46 M3. Before the BMW even made it home, a wish list of aftermarket add-ons had passed among cubicles. We expected a fun year.

Durability
"Oh, the M3," said one editor after a night in the car. "Unlock the door, buckle up and boom: instant jackass. I can't help it." And so our M3 driving experiences began to flood the long-term blog pages.

We took our first opportunity to compare the M3 E46 to the current-generation BMW 335i and 135i coupes. Following the comparison test, Senior Editor Erin Riches commented, "The 3.2-liter six has an explosive midrange and a free-revving character that the comparatively mild-mannered twin-turbo 3.0-liter [of the 135i and 335i] could never match in stock form. The sound and feel of the engine when you drop a gear or two going into a corner is something I'll never forget. Between the high levels of power, grip and feedback, I got so locked into what I was doing that I may have forgotten to breathe a couple times...I even heard myself gasp."

Inside Line Editor in Chief Scott Oldham was equally complimentary of the E46. He wrote, "The M3's brilliance really shows when you back it down a notch. Around town at half speed and in the mire of stop-and-go traffic, it displays its impressive range of talents. Its clutch, for instance, fluffs drag strip launches like a twin-disc carbon unit but its pedal effort is light. Its seats are wide enough for the freeway and somehow bolstered perfectly for the corners. And its engine, man oh man, what an engine. The 3.2-liter inline-6 is as smooth as molasses, has the bottom-end torque of a V8, midrange of a V12 and the upper-rpm rush of a superbike."

Anybody who knows cars knows that maintenance costs increase exponentially with age. We expected as much from our 49,000-mile M3. Take into account our affinity for open track days and this test was certain to get expensive. We ordered a new checkbook and flipped open the cover.

Certain expenses were unavoidable. M3s have a thirst for 10W-60. In addition to scheduled oil changes, we must have poured another full case of the stuff into the block during its 25,000-mile test. Just 3,000 miles into the test we felt the fiscal shock of E46 ownership beyond the warranty period. An audible thumping led us to the dealer for a wheel alignment and new bushing for the rear trailing arm. Another 4,000 miles exposed a leaking power-steering hose and faulty door lock actuator. Not quite 6,000 miles later we replaced the alternator and final stage unit. All told we spent more than $4,500 for these repairs. Then we forked over a grand for the car's 60,000-mile scheduled service.

Other expenses were voluntary in the name of performance. We upgraded to a Stoptech brake kit and went to a local shop to have it installed. We also ordered a set of Yokohama Advan Neova summer tires. They improved grip considerably and survived 13,000 miles of powerslides and autocross courses. Once we'd punished them to the cords, we opted for Sumitomo HTR ZIIIs. They were half the price of the Advans, and by prioritizing comfort over stick these Sumitomos felt really good on the streets. When it came to basic performance and street driving on a budget, these HTR ZIIIs were the way to go.

Total Body Repair Costs: $250 minor damage to rear bumper
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 20 months): $870
Additional Maintenance Costs: Castrol TWS 10W-60 by the case; two sets of tires
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace cracked rear trailing arm bushings, alternator, final stage unit, door lock actuator and leaking power-steering hose
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 3
Days Out of Service: 6 divided between body repairs and waiting for parts
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None

Performance and Fuel Economy
We spent 25,000 miles with the M3. And due largely to aftermarket enhancements, it saw more track time than any long-term car before it.

As is routine, we tested once for baseline figures. The M3 reached 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds at 102.1 mph. A stop from 60 mph required 111 feet. Around the skid pad it generated 0.87g of lateral force. We consider this to be excellent performance from an aging car with midlife Continental ContiSportContact tires. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton remarked afterwards, "Astounding steering response and feel of the road. Confident, crisp turn-in with immediate yaw response. Despite my previous experiences with an M3 of this era that always threaten to spin, this one keeps its tail planted. I love this car more this time around than when it was new."

We mounted the Yokohama Advans and retested. New skins didn't affect the 60-mph milestone but shortened the quarter-mile by 0.3 second to 13.6 seconds at 103.6 mph. Tire stick shortened stopping distance to 109 feet. Lateral grip increased to 0.91g. Our Stoptech brake upgrade didn't significantly improve the 60-0-mph stats, but the new stoppers showed zero fade over repeated runs. And admittedly, our standardized tests did not allow the track-ready brakes to heat to their optimal performance level.

We recycled the Advans for a set of Sumitomos and tested again. Acceleration times matched those posted by the Yokohamas. Deceleration from 60 mph remained impressive at 115 feet. Lateral balance was stable with 0.85g performance, but the car's subjective handling response seemed slightly dulled relative to the performance offered by the Advan rubber. These Sumitomos generally felt more sensitive to heat and marginally less responsive than their Yokohama predecessors.

Best Fuel Economy: 23.5 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 12.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 17.5 mpg

Retained Value
We paid $30,000 for a 2002 BMW M3 with 49,000 miles. As far as we are concerned, it was among the best long-term car investments we've ever made. Of course we measured the experience in fun. Our accountant saw the $17,000 sale price at under 74,000 miles and was less excited.

True Market Value at service end: $18,400
What it sold for: $17,000
Depreciation: $13,000 or 43% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 73,900

Summing Up
"When you grow old and your kids ask you about the cars you used to own, don't you want to be able to tell them about the years you owned an M3? Maybe a Corvette or a Ferrari? Your kids aren't going to want to hear, 'Well, we had to sell one of the Corollas after we had your sister, so we bought a Camry. What color was that, dear?' No. Even the most Communist of children wants to be regaled with stories of sport seats, powerslides and exhaust pulses ricocheting off the walls of tunnels." And with this, Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr echoed our collective sentiment.

We bought a 2002 BMW M3 E46. Maintenance costs tapped into our wallet for under $0.25 per mile, an amount we chalked up to normal wear and tear. Equipment upgrades accounted for the majority of our expenses, each of which paid for itself in the form of involuntary, mischief-laden giggles.

Is the E46 the greatest M3 ever built? We still think so. Simply put, owning this 2002 BMW M3 was a blast. It was unlike any other long-term test experience before it. There was a tear in our collective eye the day we sold it. But we wiped it away, wished the buyer luck and watched him drive away.

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.


2002 BMW M3: Buyer Opens A Pandora's Box of Questions

July 20, 2009

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Last week I got a quote from a wholesaler for our 2002 BMW M3. It was a good price but I was interested to see what kind of respons it would get on the open market.

So over the weekend I decided to throw it up on Craigslist. Maybe I could improve the wholesaler's quote. The TMV for this car is $18,400 and I decided to drop the price slightly to $18,000 since time was short.

Friday night I got an email from an interested buyer. Saturday I got several more emails. Sunday morning I got a call from a young guy who wanted to see it right away. "I'll be there in 30 minutes," he said. "I promise I'll be there." Well, since he promised...

Sure enough, in 30 minutes, here comes this nice kid, only 20 years old. He wanted to take out a loan from his uncle to buy the car of his dreams. On the test drive he told me he had been following this car, this year, since he was about 13 years old.

He immediately began asking questions about what service had been done to the car in our 20K plus miles of driving. Digging through records I found that we had done the 60,000 mile inspection 11, oil changes, replaced tires, upgraded the brakes and performed several other repairs.

Then he asked if the car had been driven hard. All I could say was, "It's an M3. What do you think?" Basically, the car asks -- no, demands -- to be driven hard.

I gave him all the information we had about the car and its condition. But frankly, I hope he doesn't buy it. I hope he saves his money, buys a Honda Civic and waits until he has a little less testosterone before he gets an M3. As for our car, this is a good one for the wholesaler.

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 73,850 miles

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2002 BMW M3: Forget the Fuel Economy and Enjoy the Ride

July 06, 2009

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Looking at the mileage records for vehicles in the Edmunds.com long term fleet I usually find that I get higher fuel economy than other drivers. So I was waiting for that effect to kick in with the 2002 BMW M3.

No dice.

Lifetime average for the M3 is 17.4 mpg and I only improved the efficiency to a measly 19.6 mpg on the last tank after driving 277 freeway miles. I couldn't even crack 20 mpg!

This car is impossible to drive calmly. It was never intended to provide good fuel efficiency. It was built to deliver driving pleasure and even at its advanced age it does that quite well.

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2002 BMW M3: Three Things I Love, Three Things I Don't.

June 25, 2009

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Last night, I had a choice of either the new M3 or the old M3 to take home. I took the latter, which no doubt has some of you scratching your heads. You see, the old M3 will be going away soon and as I haven't driven it in a while, figured I better get time in it while I can. Even though it was just for my traffic-filled six mile commute, it was worth it -- this morning I let it sing on the wide-open on-ramp to the 10 trapped-way. Of course, one last dance through the canyons is on the docket too. So yeah, I like it that much. Dare I say, I'm as smitten with this car as Mr. Sadlier.

Herewith are the 3 things I love and, uhhh, don't love about the car:

Love:
1) Silken, muscular and free-revving 333-hp inline six.

2) Multi-adjustable sport seats that are comfortable on long trips and supportive on canyon runs.

3) The look and stance of the car. Seriously people, the E46 is the highwater mark of 3-series styling.

No Love:
1) No 'off' button for the climate control -- you have to repeatedly hit the fan's 'down' button to shut it off.

2) The cheap plastic trim near the parking brake and cup holders that looks like hell thanks to its easily-scratched up nature.

3) Exhaust note. Sounds tinny and wimpy compared to the hearty engine note.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 72,880 miles.

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2002 BMW M3: Hot or Cold?

June 01, 2009

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See this little knob between the M3's center dashboard vents? It controls the air temperature coming out of those vents and the two outer vents by the doors. And it does so with authority over the enitre automatic climate control system. Why this is silly after the jump...

Dialing this little knob to full hot or full cold will give you exactly that regardless of what the rest of the system is trying do. This is a great thing if, say, you like your feet to be 90 degress and your hands to be 60 degrees. But, overall, it's cumbersome, unnecessary and, oftentimes, confusing.

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2002 BMW M3: Keeps On Tickin'

May 22, 2009

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The thing about the new cars in our long-term fleet is, they really shouldn't be having serious problems. We get 'em fresh off the lot and ditch 'em after 20,000 miles. Any modern car should be able to handle that.

When you're talking about a used performance car, though, that's a different story.

We added our long-term 2002 BMW M3 to the fleet in January of 2008 with 50,000 miles on the clock. People don't buy stickshift M3s to putter around at 3,000 rpm, so it's safe to assume that our example had already led a pretty hard life. And over the past 17 months, we've added almost 22,000 ...erm... "enthusiastic" miles to the tally, including drifting, autocrossing, repeated performance testing, and generally treating the red hash mark north of 8,000 rpm as the "shift here" light.

Yet despite having weathered the full Edmunds treatment for an unusually long period, this thing absolutely refuses to break. You can almost hear it scoffing at us: "Is that all you got?" The M3 pulls just as hard and clean today as it did when we bought it, and it still feels tight. Color me impressed.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 71,826 miles

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2002 BMW M3: I Heart the M3. Again.

May 20, 2009

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Having driven the 2002 BMW M3 for the weekend, I should've written this blog post on Monday, but I was dragging my feet, fearful of the Bavarian Backlash after I admitted I was so totally over the coupe.

But this morning a great thing happened. I took the M3 out to run a quick errand and turns out, I do like the car. It was my crappy weekend full of mindless errands that was annoying, not the M3 coupe's lack of rear doors or updated nav system. In fact, it wasn't the M3's fault at all that my kid was invited to two birthday parties in the same afternoon (one pool, one beach) that had her climbing in and out of the back seat, trailing wet towels and sand over my seat back as I ferried her from one group of shrieking girls to the next.

Once back in the M3 this morning BY MYSELF, the BMW and I had a perfectly lovely drive together.

Although it did make me promise to take home an SUV or a minivan this weekend instead.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 71,820 miles

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2002 BMW M3: How old is that in dog years?

May 11, 2009

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Personally, I have never kept a car more than five years. I let go of cars for a variety of reasons -- got bored of them, blew up an engine (or two), I wanted to go faster or my tastes have changed. Buzzing around town this weekend in our "old" M3 got me thinking -- is there and automotive equivalent to dog years?

As it is, I get the feeling that our E46 would be in its early-40's in human years. It's got plenty of athleticism and enthusiasm left in it, but those crow's feet are starting to show. As noted in earlier posts, it's got some wear here and there, but it's holding up fairly well. As hard as I suspect this black beauty's been flogged, I think it's actually surviving exceptionally well.

Scratches and wear from daily use are showing on the ashtray lid (even though we don't smoke in our cars), as DiPietro posted, the weatherstripping is losing is adhesion, there are a couple of nicks in the upholstery and there's a wear spot where our thumbs rub against the handbrake well. Most obvious for me though, was the steering wheel -- it's now smooth and shiny from years of shuffling by sweaty-palmed pilots.

Unlike some cars though, the M3's buttons are still in excellent shape. I once had a Ford Mustang Cobra that had several black buttons that had worn to white plastic. Those worn bits were completely illegible after only two years on the most frequently used buttons (volume and track skip). I can't see even a hint of this type of wear on the Bimmer.

Given my judgment of its equivalent human age, the automotive aging comes in just under six years per human year. Of course, this equation relies heavily on what kind of car it is, how hard it was driven and where it was driven. In the case of our '02 M3, I could easily see it as the Keith Richards of the car world -- still rockin' hard well past its "sell by" date. What say you?

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