Introduction - 2002 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test
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2002 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test

2002 BMW M3: Introduction

July 07, 2009

After six months and more than $4,000 in repairs and maintenance, we're still not ready to give up our 1984 Ferrari 308. It's simply too much fun. But we are almost ready to admit that it isn't the best daily driver.

This is irrefutable proof that we're pig-headed, but we're not stupid.

Further proof: We've purchased ourselves another not-so-new car for our long-term test fleet. It's a 2002 BMW M3, and it just might be the absolute best way to spend $30,000 since the Gentleman's Club.

What We Bought
Our 2002 model is a highly optioned black M3 coupe with a six-speed manual transmission and the standard 18-inch wheels and tires. It's exactly the car we set out to find; no SMG transmission, no convertible.

Aside from those restrictions and a budget of around $30,000, we were up for almost anything, including the hideous yellow worn by the M3 in this promotional video we found on YouTube.

After a week or so, our search expanded as far from our Santa Monica office as Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota. But that quickly proved to be a dumb move. Sure, rear-wheel-drive high-performance cars are cheaper in the Snowbelt during the dead of winter, but Southern California had a few gazillion M3s to choose from, and none of them has ever been struck by a snowplow, completely glazed in road salt or driven to a Whitesnake concert. Also, the cost of getting the car home would pretty much soak up any money saved by buying out of state.

After a few weeks on the trail and a few close deals, this black coupe appeared on AutoTrader.com. It was a recent trade-in by its original owner for a new 335i at the Santa Barbara Auto Group, a dealership about 100 miles north of our office. A friend of ours lives in the coastal paradise that is Santa Barbara, and agreed to check it out for us the following morning.

Like every other M3 of similar vintage, the car had just turned 49,000 miles. It was sold originally by this same dealer and serviced there as well. Everything works and its red leather seats and door panels are like new. Tires are good: In fact, during prep the dealer replaced two. The salesman, who could not have been more pleasant to deal with, also told us they repainted the front bumper and changed all the car's fluids. A quick test-drive to feel the clutch, brakes and the pull of the 333-horsepower, 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder and we were at the negotiating table. Asking price was $33,900.

Wondering what we should pay, we consulted Edmunds' True Market Value® Pricing. The car is in outstanding condition after the dealer's improvements, and is equipped with every option in the book besides the unlikable SMG transmission. The list includes heated front seats, power moonroof, rear side airbags, navigation system, power front passenger seat, AM/FM cassette Harman/Kardon audio system, rear parking sensors and a power driver seat with memory. Heck, the thing's even got a rear ski bag and rain-sensing windshield wipers. TMV pricing report: $28,889.

We talked the dealer down to $30,000 and drove the car home.

Why We Bought It
The Roundelisti will tell you the first M3 (E30) is the best. We disagree. This M3, the E46 M3, sold between 2002 and about five minutes ago, is the absolute best BMW M3 ever made.

But that's not why we bought it. We bought it because everyone we know wants one. It's the dream ride for every young gearhead. If you were born during the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan or Clinton administrations, chances are an E46 M3 is on your wish list. Plus, it'll look fantastic parked next to our Ferrari.

Named for its internal chassis code, the E46 generation of M3 came after the E36 and is about to be replaced by the E92. 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 desire to make the M3 compete with a Porsche 911. It's timeless. And it's suddenly affordable for working stiffs like us.

There isn't really much more to it than that. Pure desire.

Although we don't plan on drifting the car like these maniacs in the above video, we do plan on modifying it slightly during its year with us. There are wheels and tires in its future (which is why we didn't want the optional 19-inch wheels), a short-throw shifter maybe, and anything else we can think of that will improve the car without negatively affecting its reliability.

And so we just bought an M3 for less money than the sticker price of our long-term Honda Accord V6. Like we said, we're not stupid. Check our long-term blog pages for regular updates from the M3's driver seat. Hopefully it'll prove more economical to own than its Italian garage mate.

Current Odometer: 50,236
Best Fuel Economy: 20.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 17.4 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 18.9 mpg

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.


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