2002 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test


2002 BMW M3 Shift Action

November 12, 2008

Jeez, if I had a dime for every wannabe car guy who told me his BMW shifted like a dream. The used-up six-speed manual transmission of this 2002 BMW M3 shows you the weaknesses of the Getrag manual transmission, especially when it's been forced to endure years of abuse like this one has.

Sure, the transmission works, but it's clearly led a hard life. Second gear is barely accessible when the car is cold, even when you double-clutch it as if you were driving some kind of weak-ass British car from the 1950s, a time when synchromesh was some exotic new technology. I'll bet that most people just grip the gear lever and rip it, muscling it into place.

Which is where the problem starts, I think. You need a pretty stout clutch to transmit as much horsepower as this, and the action of the M3's clutch pedal is predictably long and heavy as a result. The trouble is, it takes a real effort to get the pedal all the way down, and it's doubtful anyone really makes the effort. Instead they just force the shift lever into gear, and its light-effort action fools you into thinking that everything is all right. And since the Getrag has such a notchy feel as you slide the lever into the gate, you might not even realize that the actual gear engagement is getting worse over time.

This seems to be the BMW way of doing things, as even the BMW 2002 was notorious for its balky gear engagement. It just shows you that a light-effort, short-throw gear lever might feel great, but it's not a good match with a heavy, long-throw clutch and a drivetrain that winds up as much as this one does.

The transmission is the most complex, expensive component in a car, a real masterpiece of precision engineering. As a racing driver can tell you, it's the one component in a car that you should never abuse. Unfortunately, as this M3 shows, the transmission is the one component in a BMW that is most likely to be abused.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Inside Line @ 63,843 miles

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