2002 BMW M3: What's It Like to Live With?
Read the latest updates in our long-term road test of the 2002 BMW M3 as our editors live with this car for a year.
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. I don't need a car, certainly not a $30,000 one, but the thought enters my mind every time I drive it. As much as I love the Ferrari, it does not generate the same response...
Late Monday morning I got the call from Engineering Editor Jay Kavanagh:
"I need an SUV to pick up a car exhaust," he said. "Can we swap?"
I smiled. I had the 2008 Hyundai Veracruz. Jay had the 2002 BMW M3... I smiled bigger.
Thirty minutes later Jay and I were exchanging keys in my driveway, just before I needed to take my daughter's friend home to Oceanside, Calif., 70 miles south of my Long Beach residence.
I buckled both girls into the M3's bright red, bowl-ish rear seats and we took off.
Hope Jay needs to move a set of tires next weekend.
My first drive in our long-term 2002 BMW M3 came last night during a torrential downpour (not shown), and my first thought was: It sure doesn't have the rapid-fire off-the-line response of any BMW 335i I've ever driven.
This is absolutely true, of course: The M3's 3.2-liter inline six doesn't make its peak torque of 262 lb-ft until 4,900 rpm. The twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 3.0-liter in the 335i hits you with 300 lb-ft at just 1,400 rpm. (The weight difference between the cars appears to be a little over 100 pounds in favor of the M3.)
In retrospect, it's not as if I needed more torque on saturated streets... Hopefully, my number will come up again when there's an opportunity to drive the M3 in drier weather — and at higher rpm.
There was an eight-hour window of sun and mostly dry pavement on Saturday, so I took the long-term 2002 BMW M3 into the Malibu canyons. This was easily the most enlivening experience of my weekend, which I'll admit was a little quiet.
But that doesn't take away from what a special car this is. In retrospect, my mention of its somewhat soft off-the-line response seems almost foolish. The 3.2-liter six has an explosive mid-range and a free-revving character that the comparatively mild-mannered twin-turbo 3.0-liter (in the 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 probably never forget. Although the clutch pedal's long, springy travel is not my favorite in traffic, when you're shifting quickly, it feels just right.
Then, there's the chassis. The ride quality is never punishing in the M3, yet it feels noticeably more adept around corners than a regular E46 or E92 3 Series. Between the high levels of grip and feedback, I got so locked into what I was doing that I think I may have forgotten to breathe a couple times... I heard myself gasp.
I also liked how the tail gave me a little sass on damp sections of pavement — nothing scary, just a reminder that, yep, this car is rear-drive — before the stability control stepped in.
The driving rain we've experienced over the past week in Southern California ain't the best companion for the ulitmate driving machine. As such I had to behave myself in the long-term BMW M3, but I wasn't the only one. On my way up PCH I saw another M driver excercising (or not) his M5 in the rain.
Our long-term car behaved itself as long as I did... The traction control kept the back end in line even when I didn't, the wipers and heater (and seat heaters) kept the forward view clear and the cabin toasty. I wouldn't normally pick the M3 for inclement weather, but now I know it's a reasonable choice even if you can't go corner carving.
It's not for the reason you think though. I didn't get it because I was speeding down PCH or...dancing in and out of slower-moving freeway traffic. Nope, our 2002 BMW M3 got a ticket just for sitting still. That's how bad ass it is... Kidding. It got tagged for not wearing a front plate, a violation in California. Thing is, it's not going to wear one, at least while we own it, because Inside Line Editor in Chief Scott Oldham doesn't want to mar the car's beautiful front end. Understandable. It IS pretty but getting tickets can be expensive, too. Solution? Maybe we'll just throw the front plate on the dash from now on when we park. Hopefully that'll appease the parking gods.
Ok, it's pretty rare I'd get the keys to such a car. But when the opportunity arises, I grab that brass ring.
It just happened to work out in my favor yesterday in a multi car transfer/trade. I was to take our M3 back to the office after running an errand in Torrance and car swapping with another editor. I was cautioned not to hammer our M3 as it has a bad shoe. The driver's side rear tire is showing a little bit of thread, so no power slides. Dang, I like slides. Ok, so the photo above really isn't the engine in our car (it's of the V8 M3). I couldn't find the photo that was just like this of a six cylinder M3. Just practice a little suspension of disbelief for now. The tech hand out associated with the photo I was looking for talked about how the pipes were formed in such a way to help improve the growl. It made an impression on me. So much so that I couldn't help but listen as I mashed the accelerator many years later.
"GGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!" she scream as I accelerated onto the freeway.
Wow. I mean.... Wow. Forget the old dog and new tricks crap, this car can light 'em up as good as anyone. The few years it has aged are almost of no consequence. Taking a look around the car it's still in great shape. Only some minor wear in a few places but otherwise it's top shelf. I'd say it's a great buy.
I would say it's a great buy except for the fact the M3 is "I've arrived" or "I'm spending every penny I got to come close" car here in Southern California. They've everywhere! As I walked out to the car this morning I thought some dude and his kid were jacking my car, only to find it was an identical M3 parked two spots away from me. He was just dropping his kid off for school. No joke!
Ok, so it doesn't have the unique factor (especially here in LA), but there's plenty of style and "holy crap that's fast." If I were to consider purchasing one, it'd be a hard decision between a growling power slide and the fact it's a thirty something general issue vehicle.
Hmmm... Could I have the keys one more night to make up my mind?
Our M3 has been making an odd noise - a thump, thump, thump sound at very low speed. The tires also seem to be wearing unevenly - chunking on one rear tire too.
This morning we dropped it off at Long Beach BMW. About an hour later, our service advisor Anthony called us and recommended the following:
Replace front pads and rotors - $1,041
Replace rear control arm bushings - $800
Four wheel alignment - $280
4 new OE spec tires - $1,331
We believe the thumping noise is tire related and the dealership all but confirmed this. Therefore, we're going to replace the bushings, get the alignment and hold off on the brakes... Recent track testing confirmed the M3's stopping prowess so we think there's a little life left in the binders.
As for the tires, we'll get our own from Tire Rack and have a local shop install them.
Other than these minor problems, the M3 continues to run strong and provide more fun than pretty much any other car in the long term fleet.
Here's the bill for our recent M3 repairs. Look closely and you'll find a grand total of $1,173 for a four wheel alignment and replacement of rear control arm busings. Several of you have suggested that those bushings crack prematurely and our Long Beach BMW tech confirmed this adding "it's especially true on cars that are driven hard." Guilty as charged.
The good news? I'm about $1,200 closer to getting a free flight on Jet Blue thanks to the BMW's hefty bill and my American Express card...
We opted not to do the suggested brake rotor and pad replacement as even our tech said they were not down to the wear indicator yet. Now that the suspension is back to spec, we're looking for new tires to replace the current ContiSport Contacts that are on the M3. Editor in Chief Scott Oldham simply said "I want something stickier." I'm not going to get to cozy with those new tires, I don't think they'll be around long.
I've spent the better part of two days writing Edmunds.com vehicle reviews for the various iterations of Bentley Continental GT. It offers no less than 17 different leather colors, with customers able to select any two to apply to several areas throughout the interior. It makes playing around on the Bentley Configurator a great way to drop a few hours at work.
But even with 17 leather colors available, how many of you would choose colors outside the black, grey and beige spectrum?.. Of all our long-termers, the 2002 BMW M3 is the only one to feature something different with its Imola Red leather (although the Aura, Veracruz and Mini do offer interesting colors). I think it looks superb and it's a shame BMW has cut down on the number of colorful leathers it offers. The various M cars in 2000 came in 11 shades, including Kyalami Orange, Evergreen (teal), Estoril blue, Modena Natur (light orange), Magma (light brown) and Mulberry (really dark grey). The Z3 could also be had in purple and dark green at one point. Today's interesting M colors are restricted to Indianapolis Red (oxblood-ish, M5 & M6) and the same Imola Red (M coupe/roadster).
Are people just not feeling colorful interiors any more? The new Malibu and G8 would indicate GM thinks otherwise, but they seem to be a minority. I wonder if such colors hurt resale?
By some amazing stroke of luck, I ended up with our 2002 BMW M3 last night instead of the Honda Fit that I was scheduled to drive. Wee! (OK, the above picture isn't the best picture of the BMW but I thought it was pretty cool that it had the Ferrari, our other used long-termer, in its sight.)
Anyhow, as a play on Brian Moody's analogy between a cute girl and the G35 on his G35 post yesterday, I found our luxurious and very fast M3 to be like that extremely good-looking guy who seems to have lived a charmed life and who, in turn, is wayyy out of my league. It's not that I'm down on myself, it's that it's sort of intimidating and I wouldn't be able to appreciate it the way it SHOULD be appreciated... I could jump a green light and speed up to the speed limit, maybe rocket onto the freeway via on-ramp, but I can't take this baby canyon-carving like it seems like it wants to.
All that power and I just wouldn't know how to handle it. It wouldn't be fair to the car and it wouldn't be fair to me. BUT I wouldn't mind being a passenger going along for a ride with a very experienced driver.
Poor Man's Dream
Here's something I really love about our 2002 BMW M3: I could afford it.
I've long been a fan of buying used cars. But never have I felt stronger about how it maximizes your dollar than when you buy an older performance car. We paid $30,000 for this car, roughly half of what a new one costs. While it is half the price it is almost as much fun as a brand new one. Sure it's a little loose in the transmission and suspension. And the beautiful red leather has been worn smooth. But five minutes behind the wheel and all regrets melt away.
I spent the weekend in the M3 pretending I was a different person, someone who has rarefied taste (perhaps a wine swirler) a man who knows quality when he sees it and demands the best, dammit. The M3 was the perfect costume for me. I had to go to a fancy OC raquet club (not a "racket club" mind you) and I was careful to park near the front door. As I pulled out of the parking lot I let the German engineering growl disdainfully at lesser vehicles around me.
The driving dynamics of the M3 are so superior to other cars that you aren't really driving the car until you begin to push it well beyond the normal requirements of traffic. Merging onto the 405 Freeway where it meets the 22 and the 605 there are about eight lanes of traffic, a vast expanse of asphalt. With all the mid-range and high-end acceleration I was through there like a hot knife through butter.
One thing that surprised me was how good the visibility is in this car. With all this speed on tap, and a desire to try moves you wouldn't attempt in other cars, it's a good thing you have a clear view of the landscape around you.
The only thing that scares me about this car is the potential repair bills. If I bought one I'd probably go the certified route.
Driving our Long Term BMW M3 the other night, a warning flashed across the pixelated display. It was the M3 after all, so naturally my brain assumed it was the traction control giving me a stern warning. It wasn't, low oil — not low traction — was the culprit.
M3's are known to burn a little oil, especially if you really drive 'em so it was no real surprise... I manually checked the fluid and it was low. Driveable, sure, but the full potential of our 8,000rpm inline-6 would have to be saved for another day.
The plan was to hit Kragen, buy oil, refill and then play. I'd be back on the road to funsville in no time.
Except that Kragen didn't have the Castrol TWS 10w-60 in stock. Neither did Autozone or the other Kragen. As the big-name retailers weren't going to have such a rare vintage, my only option was to go home and sleep until I could find a BMW dealership. (Truthfully, here in SoCal, I'm surprised a 24-hour BMW parts department doesn't exist.)
The next day, with time to kill, I stopped by BMW of Bakersfield to check their inventory. I bought four-liters (crazy brand, not using the traditional quart) at $10.25 per. Our M3 took 3/4 of a liter before the level was acceptable. A reserve bottle is now netted safely in the trunk to prevent future lack of fun.
Recently I found myself in Pahrump, Nevada. It's about an hour north of Vegas. I had stayed late for a photo shoot and was leaving the next morning before dawn to make it back to LA by noon.
Coming out of Pahrump, you drive through the southeastern edge of Death Valley... The desert gets cold in the winter, and especially at night. The M3's freeze warning was going off constantly as the temp dipped below 25.
Even though I was very tired from many days of hard work and the early hours without coffee, that drive through the beautiful red rock valley was probably one of the best driving experiences I've ever had. The beautiful colors in the sky, the craggy mountains shining with Alpine Glow and the purr of the engine was my moment of driver's Zen.
If you ever have the means to drive through Death Valley at dawn (even without an M3), I highly recommend it.
I don't know what I did. I must have saved an entire class of quadraplegic kids from a burning schoolhouse, because the Gods smiled, took on the benevolent form of Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Pardilla, and handed me the keys to our 2002 BMW M3 last night. Good God!
There does not exist a word or phrase of such otherworldly grandeur to describe how this car feels. I have always been a BMW guy, from my 2002 tii to my current 535i, but I always forget how incredibly good they feel, the stunning competence in which every part of the steering, shift action, clutch, brakes, and loud pedal work so seamlessly...
Multiply that by about a billion and you have the M3. I'd rather not go into detail about the speeds reached or the moves performed last night. My only regret is not being able to drive it on some deliciously curvaceous mountain road, where every nerve, every synapse, would surely be on edge, heart beating, breath shortening as you challenge yourself, ripping through every turn on the razor's edge.
When I got home last night, I felt as if I had been electrified. My body was literally buzzing as if I had taken a quintuple shot of espressso with a crack chaser. Me likee!
After replacing the worn ContisportContact rubber on our long-term M3 with four new Yokohama Advan AD07 tires (225/45R18 front and 255/40R18 rear) from the Tire Rack we headed back to the track for a retest.
Straight-line acceleration was slightly quicker.
Quarter mile: 13.9 @ 102.1*
*Note: Trap speed was incorrectly reported as 107.1 in the original post.
Quarter mile: 13.7 @ 102.4
Handling showed the expected improvements as well.
Slalom: 70.4 mph
Slalom: 71.0 mph
Oh boy, does red leather get hot. I had the M3 parked in my driveway instead of my garage yesterday. I went to hop in around 1:00 PM and when I opened the door I felt a wave of heat hit me. Heat and that lovely older car fragrance of slightly dusty leather... Usually, when it's 90 degrees in the city, it's not quite so hot at the beach. But I had to air out the car for a few minutes before I could get in.
Fortunately, the air conditioner works really well. So, I directed all vents to me. The car didn't complain at all driving with max A/C on.
After a long weekend with the 2002 BMW M3, I can join the chorus of voices praising this car for its stunning capability in any situation. So many aspects of this car are so commonplace now that we almost take them for granted, like a tire pressure monitoring system or a sport button for the throttle, or defeatable stability control, but they were still relatively new at the time, and make this car such a wildly capable machine.
And they serve so many purposes. Feel like canyon-carving?..
Sport mode, DSC off and away you go, wagging your tail around corners. Wanna ride smoothly but maybe with a little more pep? Hit the S button and feel what seems like extra strength forcing your right leg down on the loud pedal.
And it's so supremely confident. It's gorgeous. It sounds like a dream. And it's got an interior like a Bourbon Street bordello, awash in smooth red leather. And you can carry a couple passengers, play six CDs from the trunk-mounted changer, fill the large trunk with gear, and hit the road for hours of fun. And arrive looking stylish. As the song says, I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan. Won't you step into my car?
We bought our black 2002 BMW M3 exactly five months ago. We paid exactly $30,000 for it on 11/21/07. And since that day we've driven the car almost exactly 6,000 miles. The day we drove her home from the Santa Barbara, California BMW dealer the odometer read 49,042 and just the other day it crossed the 55,000 mile mark...
So are we happy with our purchase? Does Barack Obama have a funny name? Even with 55,000 miles under it, the black M3 is the best car in our fleet. It's fast, comfortable, solid and just plain cool looking. One run behind the wheel and you wonder why all cars don't feel as good.
Still, we're always looking down the road. Come November the M3 will have to go. What should we replace it with? I'm thinking a C5 Z06 Corvette.
Count me in the seeming minority of those who prefer the new M3 to the last-generation model. I'll leave direct comparisons between the generations to the forthcoming Inside Line comparo, but there is one area where my preferences are clear. I drove our '02 M3 home for the first time last night, which meant a typical slog through traffic. While the M3's stiff, relatively short travel clutch is a treat in free-flowing traffic and in aggressive driving, it feels like a rubbery SoloFlex setting in stop-and-go...
Having driven a variety of new BMW manual transmissions recently, I must say that the new editions provide a better balance for aggressive and everyday driving.
Our M3's gearbox is also notchier than newer models' (especially the 550i I drove all weekend), with a fair bit of that rubbery feel BMW has extricated from its recent gearboxes. In fact, I would say the M3's transmission feels more closely related to my 1998 Z3 2.8 than the 1's, 3's, 5's and M3's of 2008. (Unlike all of them, though, our M3's shifter glows red. Nifty.)
Having said all that, the 2002 M3 is still wonderful. I just think it's showing its age more than some other folks do.
In the 5,000+ miles we’ve driven the M3 since we bought it late last year, we have yet to give you an update on the fuel economy. And while you generally don’t buy an M3 for its fuel economy, we thought somebody still might be curious about it.
Best tank: 22.4mpg
Worst tank: 13.0mpg
Lifetime average: 17.9mpg
Call me lazy or even paranoid, but I like the fact that the M3's passenger side mirror tilts down when you throw it into reverse. It takes all the fear out of curbing those beautiful deep dish wheels. And judging by the pristine condition of our 18s, the little extra help has worked.
When I opened our long-term 2002 BMW M3's trunk to fetch my
gym bag filled with chainsaws, the handy handle decided to come with. Repeated use has apparently taken its toll. Squint at the little image above and you can see the floppy result of a retaining screw which has pulled through the plastic.
Here's how that piece of plastic should fit:
Should be an easy fix, and the trunk is still accessible...We'll let you know how hard the new piece hits the wallet.
We expected a few problems when we bought our used BMW M3. Not major issues, but the kind of little things that wear out, break off or otherwise stop working from normal wear and tear. This weekend the drivers side door lock started to stick, a situation which required the indignity of having to reach in and open the door from the passenger side. I made sure to do this out of sight from any bystanders in order to maintain the M3s reputation, but by the end of the weekend I was leaving it unlocked to save the trouble... I gave the lock a shot of graphite powder to see if it would looses things up a little, but it didn't work. A trip to the dealer is in our future.
On another note, our M3 continues to consume oil at a measured pace. A quick check of the dipstick showed the level down to the first mark, so I added the better part of a quart. I never saw any warning lights, so I’ll assume it was never in any danger of running dry. We’ll keep an eye on the level in the next few weeks to see how quickly it gulps that quart.
Were well aware of the fact that dealer service isnt cheap, but getting our BMW M3 fixed was still a shocker. We took it in for a sticking door lock on the drivers side door and after a once over by the dealer we got the bad news.
The door lock actuator motor needed to be replaced. It was going to be roughly $300 for the motor and $400 for labor. Apparently BMWs technicians were going to use chopsticks to disassemble the door panel before replacing the worlds most complex door lock motors... That wasn’t the end of our problems though as the technician also noted that we also had a leaking power steering hose. A broken door lock was a nuisance, but a loss of power steering? Now that would be bothersome. Cost for the hose? A mere $310. Yes, like the lock actuator, this hose was crafted from a solid hunk of titanium and shipped from Germany via Gulfstream jet. Getting to the hose must have required pulling the engine too as the labor charge was another $400.
We picked it up yesterday and everything works great including our AmEx as the final tally was a staggering $1,532. Needless to say, the next time something goes wrong with our M3 an independent BMW specialist will get the first phone call.
Al forgot to mention in his M3 post which is
an interesting difference of opinion, that a little warning lamp appeared on the dashboard yesterday. I couldn't get a decent photo of it, but it looks something like (O) that. The owner's manual says only to have the brake pads checked out, but we've suspected the brakes have been close to the end of their useful life since we drove the tar out of it in Josh's brilliant comparison test against a current 135i and 335i.
It turns out it's the brake pad wear warning lamp that is connected at the other end to that little sensor you see pictured above...
I didn't take that photo either (I pulled it from the Interwebs), and it's apparently from an E36 M3, but they all have similar systems in place to keep you from marring otherwise smooth rotors. According to our own Maintenance Guide, "Inspection II" doesn't require a pad replacement, but only an inspection of the brake system.
We'll hope for the best but suspect this may cost a few dollars. According to several BMW enthusiast sites, there's a chance we'll need to replace the sensor(s) as well as the pads, depending on how much wear has occurred to the sensor(s).
We'll keep you informed.
Welcome to the Twilight Zone
Remember the Twilight Zone episode ("The Eye of the Beholder") where this woman is in the hospital awaiting plastic surgery to fix her heinous face? At one point in this episode the woman's mug is all bandaged up, and the surgeon is calming her, telling her he believes he has corrected her appearance to look normal — like everyone else. But when the surgeon removes the bandages, he and the nurses recoil in horror — the procedure is a total failure. She has retained her pre-operative appearance.
The camera then exposes her face — she's a gorgeous blond! The camera pans over to the surgeon and the nurses — they're hideous, porcine freaks.
To my mind, our long-term M3 is like the woman in this episode, except the other way around. When you take the bandages off, you see that it's really not all that special — yet it's somehow the darling of our long-term fleet, the vehicle over which almost all of our staffers are effusive in their praise (JRiz isn't as enthused as the others).
For me, it's a good driving experience, but nothing to get excited about. Though it spins freely, the engine is not as powerful as its reputation would suggest, and the clutch feels a bit strange compared to the impressive clutches of the new BMW models. This M3's clutch pedal has a bit of dead travel, then a heavy stroke that suddenly falls away – not progressive at all. It's similar to the trigger pull on a double action revolver.
I know this car is old, but my outlook on this M3 also wasn't helped by all the interior creaking and the fact that it stinks. I don't mean the performance stunk, I mean olfactory-stink. Like someone left a cadaver in it.
I'll let the other porcine creatures gush over the E46 M3. This Twilight Zone viewer prefers the 135.
Twilight Zone revisited
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.
Thanks in part to the fan-freaking-tastic driving experience (Al Austria's post is completely wrong) there hasn't been much mention of the bits of the car that don't have an M preceded by three stripes on 'em
This weekend, with temperatures hovering in the low-mid 90's, the only things I was happier to have in this car on my jaunt through the canyons than, of course, the screaming inline-6 and ultra-grippy Yokohama Advan Neovas were the power-operated rear vent windows.
Giving the otherwise trapped air a place to go with the windows down, utilizing these little guys instantly cools the interior and reduces that nasty wind buffeting caused by an open sunroof.
It's a handy feature that I wish was available on more cars. Things like this — and sliding doors — shouldn't be relegated to the land of the mini van...
Buying a Used Classic
As I drove our long-term M3 last week with the windows down and sunroof back, I reveled in the luscious engine sounds amidst a beautiful Southern California day. As I pulled into the Edmunds garage and briefly considered going back out just for the hell of it, it dawned on me how much of a wise buying decision this M3 was. Here is a car that with the right care will be a classic someday, a car that is more fun at six years old than most cars are at mile 1 — and we bought it for less than 30 large.
In between spouts of doing actual work (if you can really call what I do "work"), one of my favorite diversions is to trawl eBay motors for used cars that fit into the M3's bargain future classic category. I'll spend time looking at mid-80s Porsche 911s or first-gen Boxsters, or checking out BMW M Coupes or old Aston Martins (not so much bargains here). I'm not sure why I think it's fun, maybe it's my great desire to have a Leno-sized garage someday...
However, after buying what I think of as my own future classic, I've realized a good tip for buying one. Find one with an old year and low miles, one that could be described as a toy rather than day-to-day transportation. This not only increases the chances of you buying someone's well-treated baby, but the way auto pricing works, the older year ensures a lower price despite mileage. Our M3 doesn't quite match this, but I certainly hope we keep this in mind when we start to search for a pre-loved replacement for the Ferrari. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to wasting time on eBay motors.
A Tight Squeeze Made Easier
I had occasion to transport my daughter in the M3 this weekend. No surprise here: coupe-u-lar body styles make inserting and extracting a child seat and said child more difficult. At least the M3 has a couple tricks up its sleeve.
Besides showing how well the M3's oh-so-sumptuous red leather seats have (not) worn over the past 6 years, this photo illustrates how little room there is between the B-pillar and the seat back. Luckily, when you pull the all-too-obvious release handle (that also doubles as a seatbelt retainer), the seatback not only tilts forward, but the entire seat assembly also "jumps" up and forward in a sort of parallelogram-like motion. Neat.
While it's still not as easy on my back as a sedan, this thoughtful feature does make life a little easier.
But here's the kicker: When you push the seat back, it falls into its original adjusted position, not some vertical-and-all-the-way-forward default position like we've witnessed on some recent coupes we've seen. Even our 2008 BMW 135i can't match the trusty ol' M3 in this regard.
As Karl discussed here, the 135i's seat back tilts forward and back manually (to its original position), but you need to motor the seats forward and back with a button.
You see? Some things don't get better when they're digitally remastered and reissued.
Here's an observation I had in our long-term 2002 BMW M3 over the weekend.
The fan delivers air to the cabin with a peculiar whooOOSH.... whooOOOSH... whooshwhooshwhoosh... . whooOOSH sound that is especially prominent in the first 5 mins after the car is started.
Anecdotally, the climate control system in my old E36 M3 did this exact same thing before it had a massive freak-out and stopped working entirely.
Sign of impending demise, or "it's normal, they all do that"? Stay tuned.
Well, I wish it had the optional 19-inch wheels— I don't think those 18s do the car justice.
And I wish it had the model year 2004-and-up tail lights — I just can't get down with the awkward-looking backup lights on our '02. It's like an early version of the X3 mismatching tail light syndrome (credit goes to Automotive Editor John DiPietro for pointing this out and thereby causing my permanent obsession with e46 M3 tail lights).
Did I mention that I lust after this car?
I'm not one to criticize our beautiful, fast, comfortable, ageless and affordable M3, but I will. It's the shifter that's bugging me. I remember driving this generation M3 when it was new and the stick felt nearly flawless. Easy to move through the gates, yet solid when notched into gear.
The stick in our long termer is still fluid form gear to gear, but the engagement feels a little too rubbery. You can find the gates, but when you're locked into gear there's too much give in the stick. It's a small price to pay for a car that's so great everywhere else, but if it were mine I might look into an aftermarket piece to stiffen things up a little.
While driving our long-term M3 in the past, I've used the tape deck to play my iPod or portable XM radio. However, the sound quality is so craptacular, I decided to take a trip down memory lane. I dug out my mammoth CD collection book, popped the M3's trunk, then pre-selected the six discs I wanted to listen to on the journey. Given the '90s nature of this exercise, I decided to sample from CDs left over from the Clinton era: Oasis, Dave Matthews, Coldplay's Parachutes, Collective Soul, Ben Folds, Eve 6.
Having had a 2000 Jetta with a similar six-CD changer, I was used to this trunk-mounted song and dance — I never thought of it as that big of a deal. In retrospect, though, it's just a massive pain in the ass. On road trips, I'd often make pit stops to change CDs even if the gas tank and my bladder were A-OK. Using the M3's changer has an added pain with a magazine that features six individual trays that must each be popped out to switch a CD. My Jetta's magazine had a little switch that would eject all the discs from the magazine at once — much quicker.
I remember being quite impressed by my buddy's 1997 Volvo 850 that had an in-dash three-CD changer. The thing would pop in and out of the radio faceplate when switching discs and made a bit of a racket, but dang it was cool. How things quickly change. Considering that the M3's trunk-mounted changer and equally ye-olde navigation interface seem oh-so-quaint now, I can only imagine what today's selection of iPod connections and iDrives is going to seem like in 10 years. I'll report back in 2018.
You might remember Chris Walton's post early last month about our M3's brake pad wear warning lamp appearing on the instrument panel. Turns out, this problem hasn't fixed itself. In fact, we knew long before the lamp came on that the M3's pads (and probably rotors) were on their last legs. The first signs of wear began to show when we compared the M3 to its newer cousins at a racetrack earlier this year. As the day progressed and the laps piled up, the M3's middle pedal became less and less confidence inspiring. But driving the car on the street doesn't seem to create any drama. Still, the light has been on for too long and we've decided to act.
We're getting nuts. Ok, maybe not nuts, but we're going to install big brakes on our M3. After visiting a local dealer for unrelated service several months ago, we know that simply replacing the M3's front pads and rotors is a $1,041 job. Stoptech's 332mm four-piston brake kit for the E46 M3 cost $2,195 and comes with bitchin' red calipers and two-piece rotors which use aluminum hats. Also included in the kit are Axxis Ultimate pads, stainless steel lines and fluid. It's an investment, but the more capable brake system should keep us from having to worry about brakes at the track (or anywhere else) again.
Look for a test of the Stoptech system in this space later this week or early next week.
Here are most of the Stoptech parts needed for the brake upgrade we've got planned. Not pictured are the stainless steel lines for all four corners. The rotors on the left are the company's patented Aerorotors(TM) which use an aluminum hat and are part of the front big brake kit. The stiff four-piston calipers and steel lines should reduce compliance and improve pedal feel. The rotors on the right are Stoptech's slotted Sportstop(TM) rotors (purchased individually with lines). Motul Racing Brake fluid will further the system's heat tolerance. Grand total: $2,640.
As I mentioned last time, we'll be using Axxis Ultimate pads which Stoptech recommends for "aggressive street" use. If we plan extensive track time for the car, we'll likely need pads designed for higher temperatures. Still, this system will substantially increase our brake system's total heat capacity over stock and should be more than capable of handling any hard street driving the car will see. In other words, this should solve our fade problem.
As several readers already mentioned, we aren't anticipating a substantial decrease in single-stop distance from 60 mph (our usual brake test). Distance reduction in single-stop tests from this speed is more likely achieved through stickier tires or weight reduction.
Look for details on installation tomorrow.
Breaking in the New Brakes
Before hammering on our new brake set up, Stoptech requires a relatively simple bed-in procedure. Pad-bedding demands a minimum of two series of ten partial braking events from 60 to 10 miles per hour. Each series is performed without letting the brakes cool between braking events. Then, after ten partial stops, the system is cooled to ambient temperature. After cooling another series is repeated. We performed two series of braking events.
This achieves two goals. First, it conditions the pad material by driving manufacturing resins out of the pads. Second, it creates material transfer to the rotor, which is essential in achieving proper friction characteristics for optimal performance.
In practice, this is a smelly, but necessary, procedure. About half-way through the first series of stops the pads begin to smoke something awful. Here's what they look like:
After ten stops we drove the car at high speed without applying the brakes until the system cooled down. Then we parked it for about 30 minutes before repeating another series of partial stops. This time there was no smoke. Pedal response and effort remained consistent throughout thanks to high-temperature fluid and stiffer-than-stock calipers. However, the heat shield on the right front began to rub when the system was hot. After removing the wheel, caliper and rotor we found this witness mark on the heat shield:
Using less-than-subtle motivation we were able to clearance the heat shield so it stopped rubbing. Really, it just took a couple thwacks from a rubber mallet to convince the shield it needed to give a few more millimeters of clearance.
Now we're ready to test. Look for that data on Monday.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the strengths of a big brake kit like this one lie not in its ability to reduce a car's single-stop distance from 60 miles per hour, but rather in its ability to endure sustained high-temperature operation by adding thermal capacity and maintaining consistent pedal feel.
Stoptech's brakes do exactly that. Even so, 60-to-0 stopping tests are a standard around here and both our previous M3 brake tests we performed from this speed. So, if for no other reason than to have an apples-to-apples comparison, we repeated this test with the new brakes.
And, what do you know, there wasn't a huge improvement. The M3 stopped from 60 mph in a previous test on these tires (Yokohama Advan Neova AD07s) in 109 ft. Last week it recorded a best stop of 107.6 feet and settled consistently at 108 feet. More importantly it could have repeated this test all day. Repeated stops from 60 mph don't approach overheating the system. In fact, it takes a few runs to get the pads up to temperature so the first few stops were longer than stock — a compromise made by high-temperature pad material.
This result does speak to the fact that Stoptech's brakes maintain the M3's stock front-to-rear brake proportioning — something which is commonly overlooked in many aftermarket kits. This balancing act is crucial to proper brake performance.
The real test will be during aggressive street driving which is what the Axxis Ultimate pads we're using were designed for. Look for further updates after we've had the M3 in the mountains.
Also, the M3's brake pad wear warning light is still on because the installer thought the aftermarket pads wouldn't work with the stock sensor. We've since been told that it will and are planning to reinstall the sensor later this week. Check back here for updates.
No seriously, our M3 literally does not blow. As I typically do when driving the M3, I immediately shut off the A/C, put back the sunroof, rolled down the windows and popped open the rear vents — perfect nice-weather motoring. When the stereo started being drowned out by a nearby truck in traffic, I rolled everything back up and hit the "Auto" button to bring the HVAC system to life. Nothing happened. I overrode Auto by turning up the fan to max. Nothing. I turned off and on the A/C button. Nothing. I pressed the airflow direction button and felt around for air. Nothing. The BMW HVAC controls aren't the simplest in the world, but I knew I wasn't screwing it up. Also, it was working the night before.
When I drove in this morning, it still wasn't working. I think it's just the fan, however, as I could feel A/C coming out of the vents when I was driving at high enough speeds for the natural air flow to come through. I hope nobody's planning a Death Valley adventure in the M3 this weekend.
Fill 'er Up
I drove the M3 this past weekend and it wasn't until I was about the leave the office when I read Riswicks' blog about the failed A/C fan. CRAP! This thing has a dark leather interior, it gets hot quick and retains the heat. It was going to be an oven on wheels!
Not being completely aware of the afore mentioned problem I was cursing myself for picking the M3. Thankfully, as I left the garage, the fan sputtered back to life. Good thing too since it was fairly hot around town. It wasn't blowing super cold, but what I got out of it I was mighty thankful for.
But later that night the oil light came on. The tank was nearly empty anyways so I checked the the levels I filled up. The dip stick registered in the lower quarter of the normal range. I didn't add anything and the light was off as I drove away from the station.
But on Sunday it came back on. This light was getting annoying, but I'd rather resolve it than ignore it. I figured the level was getting low anyways and the sensor was probably picking up under spec levels as the oil sloshed about. A little top off wouldn't hurt, right?
A quarter quart did the trick. No light, plenty of cool air and I was a happy driver.
So, last night I had an opportunity to drive our 2002 BMW M3. Normally, The Man doesn't let me near the nicer, more performance oriented cars in our long term fleet. Something about him being worried about me cutting the exhaust off the car and running straight pipes. Just because I did that on my personal car, doesn't mean I'd do it to the M3. Even if I did, I'd totally put it back...
Anyway, how much did we pay for this thing? That's right, 30 grand.
Walking out of a local liquor store last night, brown paper bag in hand, I strolled toward our black M3. There was only one working light in the parking lot and it illuminated the ground around the BMW. Not to get sappy, but it was one of those moments. A moment that every car guy needs to have and one that you're not likely to get with a lot of other cars costing $30k. Walking over to a beige Accord? A light blue Camry? Please.
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 want to be regaled with stories of sport seats, power slides and exhaust pulses ricocheting off the walls of tunnels.
Suck it up and buy something really cool, just once. Ok, maybe twice. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to your kids. Oh, and make sure to have your picture taken next to it too.
Just about a week ago Inside line Editor-in-Chief Scott Oldham alerted you to the fact that our 2002 BMW M3 was due for an oil service. And as this blog is for you guys, he opened the door for you to determine our course of action: Do it ourselves? Take it to a BMW dealer? Or go local?
We read the responses and weighed our options carefully. We were all set, Dickies coveralls laid out nicely, to do the job ourselves when we looked into our BMW's history. Turns out the M3 is a hair more complicated than the bitchin' Camaro we learned to turn a wrench on. M3's, we found out ( SubyTrojan gets some serious credit here), require some major services to be performed during their normal life cycle (Inspections I and II in BMW-speak). The first one should happen after the 1,200 mile service, the first oil service — figure at about the 30K mile marker — and includes a myriad of checks, changes, adjustments and alignments. The first owner of the car had this service performed under warranty at the required time. Their record keeping and watchmaker precision with services is one of the highlights of this used car. The second service — one that includes new plugs, a change of transmission fluid, diff fluid, engine oil, air filter and microfilter along with a valve adjustment — had not been done. This interval happened at some point between the original owner selling the car and us buying it. What luck.
I called BMW of Beverly Hills to see what this service would run. North of 2-grand somewhere. I blacked out after I heard "two-thou...". After hearing the first portion of the price, Oldham made the executive decision "Let's go local." And so we did.
In a response to the original thread frequent rabble rouserchimed in, "
Go to Summit Automotive - they are an indie BMW/Alfa shop in Marina Del Rey. I have been happy with their service.
721 Washington Blvd
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292 "
So that's what we did. If this goes wrong, Desmo, it's on you...
Within minutes of setting foot in Summit Automotive in Marina Del Rey, two things were apparent: The first is that these guys are real mechanics. From the dot-matrix printer to the yellowing CRT computer monitor to the desk-pad, covered in scribbles that, once examined, turned out to be fairly complex diagrams of automotive components, everything in the office was functional on a fundamental level. These guys are not salesmen and they certainly aren't showman. Nobody was wearing a suit and, even at the early hour we retrieved our M3, everyone had a little grease on their hands.
The second thing we realized was that, for the past two days, our M3 was in excellent hands and we wouldn't have to ban Desmolicious for his suggestion.
Follow the jump for the full results
Without question our M3 was the newest vehicle in their shop. By a decade. But our computers and fuel injection didn't scare them one bit. Our request that the car be back same-day also didn't bother them — all of the parts and fluids were in stock and the day belonged to our M3.
If you'll remember from my previous post the list of things to be adressed in this service are are oil change, diff-fluid change, plugs, and a valve job.
The bad news came early: The shim set they thought they had for ann E46 M3 was no longer in stock. Like I said before, these guys aren't salesmen. It would take about a week to get their hands on a set and they could take care of that anytime in the future. The rest of the service would continue on as planned.
Our M3 was ready in the late afternoon that day. We opted to pick it up the following day to avoid the horrible rush hour traffic that defines Southern california.
The bill? $869.83 It's an M3 not a Camry, there has to be ONE downside to this car.
Parts came to $452.50. The highlights were $123 for spark plugs, $101 in specially formulated (83-22-2-282-583) gear oil, and $72 in engine oil. Filters and wipers made up the rest. Shop labor was a reasonable $380. The state of California made up the rest of the tab — $37.33 in taxes.
We're still waiting on the valve job and we'll let you know how that goes. For now, though, we're happy with the service we recieved from Summit and wouldn't hesitate to recommend their shop.
The best thing about our M3's stock 18-inch wheels compared to the optional 19s? Their finish. Instead of brightly polished spokes, the 18s have a slightly duller, matte gray color. I think BMW calls it ghost chrome, but I could be wrong about that. More importantly, a nice coat of brake dust barely shows up. In fact, you would have to neglect this car for weeks before you would ever notice the wheels were seriously dirty. And trust me, if you owned this car, or I owned this car, neglect would not be a problem.
The alternator warning light (shaped like a battery and illuminated in red, in case you can't tell from this phone camera capture) started coming on last night in our 2002 BMW M3. At first, it only stayed on a for a few seconds, but now it stays on for a good minute before it extinguishes.
Most likely, we will be paying another visit to our indie shop, Summit Automotive. We'll let you know what happens.
It's pretty rare to hear a bad word spoken about our long-term 2002 BMW M3. Okay, it happens — rubbery shifter, CD changer in the trunk, maintenance issues, etc. But when it comes to the way our Bimmer drives, no one not named after a European country has expressed anything but admiration for it.
Enter a college buddy of mine, code name Professor Tea Bag, who's in town to start a Ph.D program at UCLA but can't move into his place till Monday. Last night we drove the M3 over to his new neighborhood — and when I say "drove," I mean the usual drill in this car: windows down, sunroof open, zero-to-the-speed-limit acceleration runs from every stop, ferocious throttle-blips on every downshift.
The Professor was petrified.
"Is that really necessary?" he fumed as I grabbed second and floored it, throwing him back against his seat. "I mean, what's the appeal?"
I slowed down and then goosed it again. "Listen to it!" I shouted over the din. "It's the engine of the gods!"
But he just stared at me blankly. Which got me to thinking. You know what? Being an automotive enthusiast is like being an oenophile. You might be serving one of the finest red wines in the world, but it won't matter if you're serving it to someone (like me) who thinks red wine tastes like bitter grape juice. Similarly, even the all-time greatness of the M3 will, alas, be lost on a man who thinks that as long as a car will eventually reach the speed limit, it doesn't matter how long it takes to get there.
By now, you've all figured out that we kinda like the way our M3 drives. So I won't go over that...at least for today. In terms of daily-driver comfort, the M3 is likewise endearing. Light, progressive clutch, easy shifter, a sport suspension that doesn't violate my vertebrae. And these sport seats with their hefty side bolstering look like they mean business. They do, what with power adjustments for the seatback wings and 4-way lumbar support. They've also got adjustable thigh bolsters, 3-mode heaters and a driver memory. After I ran a fast 5k the other day, I appreciated these perfectly-supportive seats even more as I spent the rest of the afternoon running errands.
That's a bummer. Don't worry, like everything else on this car, it'll only cost $3,465,765 to fix. Well, that's if we use the dealer. At an independent shop it'll only be $1,987,976.
I've always thought the variable redline tachometer in the M3 was a cool feature.
When I got into the car the other morning it was light up to 6,500 rpm. Even though I've stared at this gauge many times, it was at that moment that I noticed for the first time it lights up to 4,000 rpm.
It sent a cold shiver up my spine.
I've never lived in a climate where block heaters were needed. My hat's off to you folks who weather that kind of cold, but I'd rather stay here on the southern coast.
If you've been following the progress of our long-term 2002 BMW M3 the past 10 months, you know that the sublime driving experience has been tempered with some maintenance and upgrade expenditures. Here's the fistful of dollars tally so far:
$1,173 — alignment and new rear control arm bushings. $1,273 — Yokohama tires and install. $1,532 — door lock and power steering hose repair. $3,140 for the Stoptech brakes and install. $870 — 60,000-mile service. $1,900 — Alternator and FSU repair.
Obviously, we didn't have to go with the M3's upgraded tires and brakes ("We could have gone cheaper with factory replacement brakes and rock hard Pep Boys specials, but what fun would that have been?" quipped Oldham earlier.) Or we could have tried to use independent shops or our own wrenches more often. But it is what it is. Which is, erm, a grand total of $9,888, or about $1,000 a month since we've owned it.
For reference, the now departed 1983 Ferrari 308 cost us $4,625 in total maintenance.
Based on Edmunds TMV, the optional factory navigation system on a 2002 BMW M3 commands an average of $524 for a private-party deal. Based on my time with our long-termer, I'd tell prospective buyers to make sure to find an M3 without the factory nav.
Technology has definitely advanced in the last six years. The nav's dial-based interface is clunky and the screen is low resolution. Take your $524 and buy a quality aftermarket system. Our last portable navigation system round-up review article can be found here.
There are a lot of things to love about our E46 M3. One of my favorites is how it never lets you forget that it's different than all other 3 Series. Yes, it's a BMW, and it has leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a navigation system (albeit a crappy one) and a backseat. But lurking underneath all that luxury is a real sports car.
Just sitting still, it looks agressively purposeful thanks to the widened fender flares, pumped up hood and wide rear tires. When you're piddling around parking lots in first gear and push in the stiff clutch, the transmission clunks like a muscle car's. On the freeway, the engine can still be heard above wind and road noise. And when you drop the hammer, the engine rips to a furious crescendo while the shifter satisfyingly connects from gate to gate.
There's a mechanical soul to the M3. And every time I hop in it, I know it's going to be a fun drive.
If you had $20,000 to $30,000 to drop on a performance car, would you end up with an E46 M3? And if you did, what year M3 would you chose?
Having the keys to someone else's M3 (in this case, Inside Line's 2002 M3) makes me think of stuff like this. No question in my mind — the E46 is one of the all-time greats. It's great enough that you think of liquidating what's left of your 401K to live the dream. (No, I really don't know what the "dream" is. Presumably, it involves Halle Berry somehow.)
Because I'm all for national service, I've even devoted a whole hour (!) of my work day to help you with your M3 purchase. Here's some background. The E46 M3 was produced from 2001 to 2006. Following is Edmunds True Market Value pricing, dealer retail for ZIP code 90404 as of 10/20/08. Note that these prices are comparable but don't include any variation for options, condition or mileage.
There weren't many changes to the M3 during its run. Perhaps the most significant item was the availability of the Competition Package for 2005 and 2006, which included forged 19-inch alloy wheels, upgraded brakes, quicker steering, revised suspension tuning and a less intrusive stability control.
A scary amount of stuff has broken or failed on our M3. So maybe stay away from the older cars and get a 2004 or a 2005 with the Competition Package. Then again, it seems like we've fixed just about everything on our car short of an engine rebuild. And it has those nifty tires and brakes don't ya know? So maybe think about buying ours when we sell it in a few months. It might as well be a celebrity car.
Everybody expects the 2002 BMW M3 to be fun when allowed to run free. And it is. Uncorked, unchained, visceral, throw-you-head-back-and-laugh-with-manic-glee fun.
But for me, the most remarkable thing about this car is how well-behaved it can be in more mundane situations. Its suspension is taut enough to connect you to the road, but it's not stiff to the point of banging me around on a quick trip to the grocery store. Unlike many other performance cars, it's not a one-trick pony. From its cooperative handling to its roomy trunk, it's a choice most people could easily live with.
All in all, I find the M3 very practical, especially when you consider that we got it for just 30 grand. It's a beast when it needs to be, but it knows how to be perfectly civilized as well.
I have a handful of recurring thoughts when I'm driving our long-term M3, most of them having to do with desperately wanting to own it. But last night I couldn't stop thinking about how it sounds. It's ferocious. It's a snarling tiger rapaciously pouncing on its prey. It's Riswick at a James Bond memorabilia convention. No other car sounds like this, whether you're blipping the throttle on a downshift or banging off a 2-3 upshift at 8,000 rpm. It demands to be driven with the windows down and sunroof open — even if you have to don a fleece and crank up the heat, as I did yesterday en route to the original Tommy's in downtown L.A. at 10 pm.
Which got me to thinking about Das Vaterland and its automotive soundtracks. It's easy to buy into stereotypes of German austerity and soullessness, but outside of Italy, I think the Germans have got the best-sounding sporting cars on the market. Practically any Porsche sounds sublime, of course, but what's remarkable to me is the recent rise of the bad-ass German V8. Audi's 4.2-liter V8 rumbles with an awesome combination of attitude and refinement, and AMG's 6.2-liter V8 bellows like a Detroit big-block that was sent to finishing school. In fact, the least aurally impressive high-performance German V8 might well be the 4.0-liter V8 in the current M3, and it's certainly no slouch.
In any case, you gotta give props to our M3's inline-6. Definitely one of the most distinctive-sounding engines in recent memory.
Yesterday I drove my daughter in our long-term 2002 BMW M3 to Hollywood's El Capitan Theater to see High School Musical 3.
I took the wrong way out of the Hollywood and Highland parking garage, and subsequently went north instead of south on the 101 freeway.
Trying to consult the navigation system on the freeway was a joke. Although I was only doing 60-65 mph, the nav system couldn't keep up on the scale I needed in order to read the names of the upcoming exits.
Seventy-five percent of the screen blocked out in yellow, flashing "Generating Map."
Don't think I'd have had the same issue with a current nav system.
2002 BMW M3 Shift Action
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.
The usual amount of drool was dripping onto my "I <3 M3" T-shirt when I scored the keys to our 2002 long-termer the other night. That is, until I noticed the screw embedded in the driver-side rear tire. Zoinks! A visit to our friends at Stokes Tire Pros was clearly in order.
The puncture was perilously close to the sidewall, they informed us, but a replacement tire was going to run us in the neighborhood of (gulp!) $460 installed. We told 'em to give patching it a shot. They ended up being pleased with the patch job — "Should be good for awhile," said the patch doctor — so we're rolling with it for the time being.
I needed to check our long-term 2002 BMW M3's oil level and tire pressures in preparation for a weekend autocrossing school (photos of that coming tomorrow). I'd guess I've never checked the oil in our M3 before, because I was surprised when this little finger extended out after I yanked the hood release in the footwell.
What a cool idea. I don't have to look like I don't know what I'm doing at the gas station, fumbling under the hood panel for an unseen latch. Instead, I just pull this external lever and a second later the lovely north-south inline six appears before me. Every car should have this convenience.
The oil level checked out fine, but I added air to the tires.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but our 2002 BMW M3 picked up what looked like a nasal secretion while visiting California Speedway yesterday.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an ancient piece of chewing gum. Our crack forensics team says the M3's projecting and sticky front tires picked it up off the parking lot somewhere and spit it back onto the rear quarter-panel.
Chances of something like this happening were improved by the Stoptech brake upgrade we installed a while back, a move that required 10 mm worth of front wheel spacers to gain the required caliper clearance.
Perhaps it's time for a pair of Yosemite Sam "Back Off" mud flaps. The paint looks OK so far, but...
Our 2002 BMW M3 has a few minor problems (curling trunk liner, missing dome light cover, loose trunk flashing) but at 65,000 miles there's still lots to love about it. Here are three things that come to mind and a short, highly opinionated reason why this raises my pulse.
1. Changing Redline on the Tach. When you first fire it up the redline, shown in glowing red, is about 6,500 rpm. But after it's hot the redline climbs to 7,500 rpm. I can imagine some Germanic voice saying, "Yes, I know you want to wind za crap out of it immediately. But you must wait until za vital oil is warmed and fully circulated before you may do so."
2. The fat, fat steering wheel. Is it too fat? Edmunds editors could debate this along with the great questions of existence, for hours on end. But my firm conviction is that it is just right. It is a constant tactile reminder you that you are driving a car that is a cut above everything else on the road, even when it is six years old with 65,000 hard miles on it.
3. Growls and snarls. This M3 is like an athlete who's so good he doesn't have to advertise it all the time. So a threatening growl is your normal exhaust note. But step into it and you find another whole level of snarling performance awaits you.
...I had nothing to do with missing tread on rear tires.
Above, is what remains of the tread on one of the rear tires on our 2002 BMW M3. No doubt these tires fell victim to gratuitous powerslides and general hooliganism brought about by our crack staff. I'm sure Ms. Riches' excellent adventure had a little something to do with it too.
While these tires would be perfectly safe for most of the year here in Southern California, the rainy season (read month) is fast approaching. Despite the fact that all California drivers are idiots, the roads and freeways here are notoriously bad in the rain. Improper drainage, poor lane markings along with massive hidden oil deposits that seep to the surface conspire to send everyone, even cars with fully treaded tires, careening into the wall when it's raining.
As much as I hate to err on the side of safety, it might be a good idea to buy some new tires.
As you can see our beloved M3 is down with a flat Yokohama. We already pumped it up once, only to have it flatten again. Usually we would just get it patched, but all four Advans on the car are so worn (there are cords showing on one) that fixing it doesn't make much sense. And so the car sits waiting for some new shoes.
Anybody got any tires they'd like to recommend? As much as we liked the Yoks, we thought we would try something new. What tires should we get for the M3?
(Photo by Kurt Niebuhr)
2002 BMW M3 W/ Sumitomo HTR ZIII performance tires
0-60 (with 1 foot of rollout like on a dragstrip): 5.1
1/4 mile (ET / MPH): 13.6 @ 103.3
60-0: 115 feet
30-0: 29 feet
Comments: Balance is still good. Edge of control might be slightly dulled relative to Advan rubber.
Reasonably good slalom speed for inexpensive rubber. Overall limits lower. Tires seem more heat sensitive and are marginally less responsive
Tires: Sumitomo HTR ZIII. F: 225/45ZR18 95Y R: 255/40ZR18 99Y
The M3 was recently tested with the old Neovas, results are listed after the jump.
2002 BMW M3 W/ Advan Neova AD07
0-60 (with 1 foot of rollout like on a dragstrip): 5.1
1/4 mile (ET / MPH): 13.6 @ 103.6
60-0: 109 feet
30-0: 27 feet
Tires: Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 F: 225/45R18 91W, R: 255/40R1895W
If we use TireRack.com for the price comparo, the Advans are $269/ea for front and $325/ea for the rears. That's $1,118 for rubber alone. No shipping, no mounting. The Sumitomos are $132 and $153 respectively. $570 for rubber, a $548 savings over the Advans.
Are the savings worth it?
If It Was My Money
The tenure of our M3 isn't going to last much longer and there have people often remark "Well, I should buy this car when we're done."
And just to answer a question you might have right now, no we don't gets deals on them.
We bought it used to see what the ownership would be like. I've loved this car. I love the sound, the ease of blip shifting, the power, the handling and the looks. But when I get into it during the day and see how the rubberized surface has been scratched up, the missing overhead light, and dangling trim it makes me wonder if our thoroughbred is on the backside of it's spunk.
A car like this need attention, and as it gets older it needs more and more. I don't think age is a deal killer. This M3 has plenty of big time pros, but the maintenance on a maturing performance vehicle isn't something to take lightly.
Would I buy it after it's tour is done? I thought about it a lot last night as I drove home from a late night movie. I pulled up next to a gray buzzard hunched over the steering wheel of his yellow GT500 at a stop light. Game on.
Once you get that rush of acceleration and growl of it's purebred engine, it's really hard to say it isn't worth it all.
Sure, our M3 probably didn't need upgraded brakes, but then again, it didn't need 333-horsepower either. Someone at BMW thought it might be fun - and they were right. Same goes for the brakes. They feel great and you can hammer on them endlessly without guilt.
They're not perfect though. Around town they're starting to squeak. It's like having a parakeet stuck in your ear. Kind of annoying to say the least. Not sure if it's something we can address easily. You'll also notice the considerable amount of brake dust on the wheels. Good thing they're dark to begin with.
I was enjoying a carefree weekend with our long-term 2002 BMW M3 — nothing demanding, really, I was just keeping an easy pace and taking care to baby the aging six-speed Getrag gearbox . And that's about when the amber "low oil" light came on two miles from my apartment. It stayed on until I shut the car off.
There was a quart of the M3's preferred 10W60 synthetic in the backseat, but when I picked up the bottle, less than a half-pint was left. It was 6 p.m. on Sunday and I had evening plans, so I rushed to the nearest auto parts store. They didn't have 10W60, so I was forced to buy one of the two allowed alternatives per the owner's manual: 10W40.
Meanwhile, the low oil light had extinguished in the M3. I let the car sit for 40 minutes after returning home, and when I pulled the dipstick, the oil level was perfectly fine — smack in the middle. Thanks, car.
So what we did learn here? Not a lot, but if I owned an E46 BMW M3, I'd keep a case of 10W60 on hand just to avoid running around on Sunday nights.
P.S. Ignore the brake wear warning light on the right side of the cluster. The brakes work extremely well, but the stock brake pad wear sensor has never been quite pleased since the installation of our Stoptech big brake kit.
When I got into the car this morning the trapped moist air had a strong stale laundry smell to it. It reminded me of a college roommate, not in a good way. I had to blast the air at full for a long time with the windows cracked to work the moisture and the smell out of the system.
I just wish it was that simple back in my freshman year with Doug.
We've had a lot of desirable long-term cars over the years, but I think our 2002 BMW M3 has been praised more consistently than any other long-termer for the way it drives, bizarre Austrian rants notwithstanding. As the odometer approaches 70,000 and the e46 M3 generation marks the third anniversary of its demise, this is still arguably the most fun-to-drive car in our fleet, as I was reminded while caning the M3 through the canyons in Malibu on my lunch break today.
However, I do blame this car for causing one of my biggest professional headaches: the M3's 333-hp S54 inline-6 has become the standard by which I judge sporting engines, and most of them just don't measure up.
The 370Z's 3.7-liter V6? Reprehensibly truckish. The A4's new 2.0T? Sounds like a Scion. Evo X? A turbocharged blender. Hell, BMW's own twin-turbo six seems soporific compared to the M3's gloriously free-revving powerplant.
I still love me some V8 (Z06, R8, S5, current M3, any AMG product), but those extra two cylinders usually don't come cheap. Particularly in the $25-35k price range, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better motor than a used e46 M3's.
By now, y'all know the M3's performance can be more thrilling than a ride at Six Flags. And that the sweet noises the engine makes when it's on the boil are enough to cause unmitigated lust (see Sadlier's last post). Yeah, you can count me among the M3 fanboys. But one part of the M3 that strikes me as another thing they got spot on is, to paraphrase the words of the Rolling Stones, under my thumb(s).
I've already waxed poetic about the great seats. Now, I'm talking about the steering wheel. A just-right diameter, a thick rim (but not ridiculously so, such as on the newer M coupe), perfectly-placed "9 and 3" spokes with thumb reliefs and even the M-specific red and blue stitching add to the sporty tactile experience that reminds you that you're piloting something special.
As they say in the auto trade, the feel of the wheel will seal the deal.
I was driving our 2002 BMW M3 around last night when I noticed that that red clown nose dimmer switch was missing from the rearview mirror. So, yeah, couldn't dim the headlights of all those motorists I left behind in the dust. Heh.
The mirror looks so sad without that red button that I did a quick search online just to see how much it would be to replace an E46 rearview mirror with dimmer. There seemed to be a wide range of choices with a wide range of prices, from the 99-cent one (opening bid) I found on eBay to the $50 defective leaky one (also on eBay) to a $300 oval mirror found on an M3 forum.
Haven't brought this up with the key keepers yet but in all honesty none of the other editors even noticed the dimmer was missing.
I know other editors have hated on the archaic navigation system of our 2002 BMW M3 in past blog posts. Sure, it's best if you have lots of time to scroll through the alphabet to spell out your destination on the nav before you have to get where you're going. (Never navigate while you're driving, at least in this car!) And the map of your route is so tiny that it's useless. And when you don't want to use the nav, the default screen is the menu screen, not the audio screen or even just the map. All annoying issues, especially when you've already had exposure to more modern navigation systems, both portable and in-car.
But what I did appreciate about navigating toward a destination in unfamiliar territory with our M3 is that the guide gives you ample time to make the required maneuvers. When I was stuck in the dreaded traffic hell that is 110 North near downtown L.A. on my way toward Eagle Rock, the guide gave me an ample heads-up to get many lanes over to my exit onto the 5 North. I also like how she always says things like, "Prepare to turn right" or "Take the second exit." She doesn't talk all the time like other nav systems I've tried but she does give you the required info when you need it. In other navs I've used, I'd miss a turn since I'd be stuck in the right lane at the time they instructed me to turn left. *facepalm*
Yes, living with this 2002 nav system is like living with a cassette tape deck but it's better than nothing at all and still functional. So the next owner of this 2002 M3 may have to deal with this old-fashioned nav but at least the M3's fun driving ability is still timeless.
Every time I drive our 2002 BMW M3 I can't help but feel like it's driving with a chip on its shoulder or something because it seems like either drivers of other similar sporty cars are trying to get me to race or cops regard it suspiciously. To both groups I just shrug and go on my way trying to be as nonthreatening as possible: hanging two car lengths back and going with the speed of traffic. Sure, the temptation is always there but I've been able to push it to the back of my mind.
But this morning....
I had just exited Culver Boulevard off the 90 highway and was sitting at the front of a queue of cars. I usually hate that position because 9 times out of 10 there is always some schmo who skips over the lane of waiting cars to get in the next lane over so that they can drag race to get to the next light and turn right in front of all the other cars.
Well today, it was a light blue 1960-something Mustang. I knew he was trouble the second I saw him exit the freeway behind me. At first it looked like he was going to fall in behind the line of cars but then he spotted the free lane next to me and drove up beside me. Except he hung back a little so that I couldn't see him in my peripheral. Tricky!
I was familiar with the timing of the light since this is my commute to work so I knew when to get the car ready. And sure enough as soon as the light turned green, the Mustang floored it, squealing his tires, and moving over into my lane with me still in it! But half a second later I was able to oh-so easily scoot past him. Ha!
Honestly though, what was he thinking? I'm in an M3. Hello?
What the paint on our 2002 BMW M3 looks like with the odometer close to 70K miles, said without judgment. This is a picture of the passenger side front end, missing fog light courtesy of an errant cone during an autocross. I noticed the faux dirtiness when I had just gotten the keys back from the car washer. "Did they not clean the car?" I wondered looking at what appeared to be dried mud spatters on the front end. But when I touched it it was just worn. I wonder how much a paint job would cost?
I've driven our M3 enough now to have established a routine every time I get behind the wheel. Right after clicking my seatbelt, I reach down and enable the "Sport" throttle calibration and disable the stability control.
And with those settings configured, I know the fun won't be delayed or interrupted.
This may be a silly thing to blog about but I like this feature on our 2002 BMW M3: the illuminated gearshifter. Now, I'm just speaking from the perspective of someone who jumps in a different car every night. I hate how when I'm driving a long-termer on the freeway and I can't tell if it has one more gear above 5th. I'm always afraid that I'll inadvertently shift it into Reverse.
Anyway, the M3's gearshifter actually has its own lights inside. I think it's the first time I've noticed that in any car. Are there other cars that have that?
I checked to make sure it wasn't the orange lights overhead that were illuminating the shifter by blocking it out with my hand. And sure enough, it glows on its own. Nifty!
As I mentioned recently in a previous post, we bought our E46 M3 15 months ago with a tick less than 50,000 miles on its odometer. Well, last night I jumped in the black coupe to drive home and noticed its odometer read 70,000 miles exactly.
To commemorate the milestone I drove it home like I stole it. Great car.
When I scored the keys to the M3 last night, I couldn't resist going on an impromptu comparison drive. 2002 M3 with 70k miles vs. my recently acquired 2001 Prelude with 68k miles — fair fight, right? Right, except for, um, the M3's rear-wheel drive and additional 133 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque. In other words, the M3 is infinitely awesomer than the 'Lude. But the experience did remind me that Honda's classic VTEC fours are total gateway drugs for M power.
That's why I've had a thing for our M3 ever since I ran it through the gears for the first time. Like the Prelude, or my old Integra GS-R, or an S2000, the M3 has a motor that practically begs you to drive the whee out of it — but unlike those torqueless wonders, the M3's inline-6 has good pull from as low as 3,000 rpm, and it just keeps building in a seamless surge until the rev limiter intervenes. It's basically VTEC version 2.0: same thrilling high-rpm thrust and soundtrack, with the added bonus of usable midrange torque. Ditto the M5's V10 and the new M3's V8. I suspect I speak for VTEC owners everywhere when I say that these Hondas are what you drive until you can afford an M.
I do wish the M3 had the Prelude's shifter though. The Honda takes that category hands down.
In a previous post about the seats, some of you had asked how the red leather in our 2002 BMW M3 was holding up. I'd say that after seven years and over 70,000 miles, they look pretty good broken in. (However, the weather stripping coming apart is another matter. Yikes.)
Anyway, the below shot of the side bolster seems to be the only place where there's some wear on the seat. Compare that to our 2008 R8's seats after just three months in service.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I don't know about you, but I can't afford a new BMW M3. But now, I might be able to afford a used one.
Our 2002 BMW M3 Coupe is going to be leaving home soon, and it will be my job to push it out the door. So this morning I took a look at what we paid for it and what we hope to sell it for.
About 18 months ago we paid $30,000 for our menacing, black, freeway rocket. It had 50,000 miles on it, definitely not a spring chicken. Still, the needle on the fun factor registered a high reading.
Now, our True Market Value price is $18,508 at 72,951 miles. That means the car has depreciated $11,492. If you were leasing the car, that would be the equivalent of $638 a month (before taxes and DMV fees). That's still a pretty steep monthly payment for me.
But on the other hand, that's a lot of car.
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.
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.
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.
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?
We had to put a lot of money into our 2002 BMW M3, but its addictive and irrepressible spirit allowed it to crack the top five. Even better, it never actually broke, despite 25,000 miles of our own plus fanboy editor Sadlier treating the redline hash mark of its straight-6 as a "shift here" indicator. Rumor has it he got an "E46 Forever!" tatoo on his shoulder...
Editors' Favorite Number Four posts tomorrow at 9 a.m.