2002 BMW M3: Twilight Zone revisited
June 05, 2008
After Herr Osterreich's instantly infamous Twilight Zone post about our long-term M3, I started to wonder about my unstinting infatuation with the car. Was I just another hoodwinked journalist who reflexively associates the blue and white propeller -- and the M badge in particular -- with automotive excellence? It was a burning question, so I grabbed the keys last night and gave our black Bimmer a good 60 miles' worth of enthusiastic exercise. Here's what I found: (1) the Austrian must not have been driving the M3 hard, and (2) my infatuation has if anything intensified, for reasons discussed below.
Let's start with Al's claim that "the engine is not as powerful as its reputation would suggest." I suspect Al wasn't really putting the M3 through its paces. First of all, the otherworldly 3.2-liter inline-6 (surely one of the best non-exotic sporting engines in recent memory) has great midrange punch. But winding it out to its 8,000-rpm-plus redline, and feeling the seemingly limitless surge of turbine-like power en route, has got to be one of the most thrilling automotive experiences you can have outside of less attainable creations from Italy or Zuffenhausen. This engine was purpose-built for people who love to drive. It's always on edge, champing at the bit, urging you to downshift and mat the gas -- and it never sounds less than fantastic (controversial OEM exhaust note notwithstanding). Moreover, there's a feeling of raw mechanical honesty about the M3's naturally aspirated mill that's missing from the 135i's twin-turbo six (not to mention an invigoratingly progressive power delivery in place of the 135i's Nebraska-like torque curve).
Anyway, in a nutshell, here's why I like the M3 a little more every time I drive it: it's one of those rare and special cars that just comes together perfectly when driven hard (a trait it shares with our soon-to-be-dearly-departed Ferrari). Take Al's negative assessment of the M3's clutch in his post, for example. If you're driving the car through traffic or on the highway, yeah, okay, the clutch isn't as light or forgiving as newer BMW units. But my response to that is, bang off a couple full-throttle upshifts at 8k, or charge toward a corner and execute a spine-tinglingly perfect heel-and-toe downshift -- and then tell me what you think. There's a remarkable mechanical harmony to this car that only fully emerges when you're really flogging it. You just can't drive the M3 all-out without feeling the love for this stupendous machine.
Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 56,827 miles