2002 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test - Performance

2002 BMW M3 Long Term Road Test

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

June 25, 2009

2002 BMW M3.jpg

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.

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

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

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

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 72,880 miles.

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2002 BMW M3: Keeps On Tickin'

May 22, 2009

Deer Creek M3.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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2002 BMW M3: Gateway Drug Meets Real Deal

April 17, 2009

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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.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor @ 70,104 miles

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2002 BMW M3: The Routine

March 24, 2009


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.

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2002 BMW M3: Know Your Competition

March 05, 2009


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?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 68,524 miles

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2002 BMW M3: New Tire Review

February 23, 2009


A month ago we mounted new shoes on our German Mustang. We ordered a set of Sumitomo HTR ZIII tires from www.tirerack.com to replace our worn Yokohama Advans. Why Sumitomos? Simply, they were cheap. Then we track tested them, which proved that if ultimate dry grip is your first five priorities then you should buy the Yoks.

Well, my tire needs are a bit more complex then that. And after nearly 2,000 miles of driving, I'm sold on these Sumitomos.

First, I'm not going to track days or spending enough time carving canyons to spend twice as much on tires to eeeeeeeeek out that last big of dry grip. It's just not worth it to me. And the M3 is still way too fast for the street on the Sumitomos. Around town they provide more than enough grip. Wet or dry. Yes, I've driven this car in the rain recently, and was very impressed with the grip the new tires provided.

I also like the ride and sound of these new tires. They feel good, without proritizing stick too much over comfort. And they look good. Not only the tread pattern, but I like the simple sidewall design and the way it wraps up over the rim.

If I had a complaint it would be aimed at the tire's effect on the M3's steering. It seems to be a bit less tight on center than it felt on the Yoks. But the change is minor, and may be caused by the car's accumulation of miles more than the new rubber.

Regardless, these tires are a steal for the price. For less then half the cost of a set of the Advans or Michelin PS2, they're a great choice. Honestly, unless I had money to burn I have yet to figure out why I would spend more for the Advans or the PS2s. Not for basic performance street driving anyway.

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2002 BMW M3: Spoiled By The S54

February 10, 2009

decker canyon M3 blog.jpg

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.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 67,202 miles

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2002 BMW M3: Brakes Feel Great, Sound Awful

January 28, 2009


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.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor @ 66,963 miles

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2002 BMW M3: Track Testing the Sumitomo HTR ZIII

January 21, 2009


(Photo by Kurt Niebuhr)

2002 BMW M3 W/ Sumitomo HTR ZIII performance tires


0-30: 2.1

0-45: 3.6

0-60: 5.3

0-60 (with 1 foot of rollout like on a dragstrip): 5.1

0-75: 7.8

1/4 mile (ET / MPH): 13.6 @ 103.3


60-0: 115 feet

30-0: 29 feet

Skid Pad


Comments: Balance is still good. Edge of control might be slightly dulled relative to Advan rubber.


68.5 mph

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


0-30: 2.1

0-45: 3.7

0-60: 5.4

0-60 (with 1 foot of rollout like on a dragstrip): 5.1

0-75: 8.0

1/4 mile (ET / MPH): 13.6 @ 103.6


60-0: 109 feet

30-0: 27 feet

Skid Pad



71.02 mph

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?

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 66,381 miles

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Three Things I Love About the 2002 BMW M3

December 08, 2008


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.

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2002 BMW M3: Let's Go Autocrossing

December 01, 2008


On a whim, I signed up for an autocrossing school Saturday at California Speedway's Lot 12 in Fontana. And on a whim, I requested our 2002 BMW M3 to experience what's left of the sticky Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 tires we put on in February .

Autocross school is better than a championship for a novice like me, as I probably got 15-16 laps in for the whole day -- about 3 times as many as you'd get in official timed competition. Somewhere during my third lap, I realized I was driving one of the trickier cars out there -- perhaps topped only by a Canadian-built, not-a-kit-car Cobra.

Which is to say that driving a E46 BMW M3 around an autocross course is very, very fun. Any combination of steering and throttle input (and not anything close to full throttle) had the back end coming around. The M3 offers good feedback through the seat and the steering wheel, though, so the slides were easy to predict and catch -- well, most of the time.

I was torn: Part of me wanted to turn some cleaner runs and quicker times, but another, equally impassioned part of me wanted to get the tail out through every corner. In the end, we sort of compromised. My times came down a bit, and I created my own enormously entertaining, hands-on course in car control.

Rarely have I ever had this much time and space to play with a powerful, rear-wheel-drive car. The Stoptech brakes also felt great when I got on them hard. The only casualty of the weekend was the right foglight. It was already missing its protective casing and when it knocked against a cone, the lens cracked. The light still works, but when I noticed it was bouncing out of position on the freeway, I yanked it out.

I am now intrigued by the idea of using an E46 M3 as a hooligan autocross car, a counter to all the WRXs and Miatas out there. Video and photos shot by Loren Wong (SubyTrojan) submitted for your enjoyment.

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2002 BMW M3: Still Worth the Money

November 24, 2008


Couldn't resist taking the M3 for a nice long drive this weekend. Actually, I took the motorcycle out first, and after seeing how scenic and clear the roads were (who says there's no fall in California?), the M3 got the call the next day. Not sure I really need to go into all the reasons why this car rules, but here are a few.

It's six-years-old and has almost 65,000 miles on it, yet people still stop and stare at it.

I've driven it countless times over the past several months and I still stop and stare at it.

Its engine redlines at 8,000 rpm and it never sounds the least bit reluctant to get there.

The steering is still dead on, no free play, no looseness, nothing.

You can actually lean on the seat's side bolstering through a fast turn.

Yeah, it's not cheap to maintain, and wasn't exactly cheap to buy, but for me, this weekend, on this road, it proved why it's worth the money.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor @ 64,483 miles

Which one would you have taken first?

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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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2002 BMW M3: Welcome To The Machine

October 16, 2008


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.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 63,012 miles

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2002 BMW M3: So You're The One

September 02, 2008

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Not to be outdone by the brash little 135i, our long-term M3 also headed north for the holiday weekend. We saw it all, the M3 and I -- stop-and-go traffic from L.A. to Santa Barbara, glorious vistas and vectors along the incomparable Big Sur Coast Highway, and various attractions in San Francisco, from a fort called Battery Rathbone-McIndoe (above) to the Golden Gate Bridge (post-jump). Now, nearly 1300 miles later, I'm ready to take my well-known M3 fanboy status to a whole new level:

If I had to choose one car from our fleet to drive every day, this would be it.

No, BMW has not been sending me extra bottles of M-badged Kool-Aid. The M3 is just that good. It's the only car we've got that gives me a temporary case of Tourette's -- "I bleeping love this car!", "Holy bleep!", etc. -- every time I get behind the wheel.

The primary reason resides under the M3's hood. My fellow enthusiasts, believe you me, this engine is absolutely feral. Our M3 has the much-maligned stock exhaust, and I still nominate it for the "Best Soundtrack At WOT With The Windows Down" award. I obliterated the staff record for most gratuitous rev-matched downshifts in a single weekend (unofficially 247) because I just couldn't get enough of that primal rasp. And it revs so freely that other ostensibly sporting engines feel as dull as dump-truck diesels by comparison.

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2002 BMW M3: Testing the Big Brakes

July 28, 2008


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.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 59,202 miles

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2002 BMW M3: Breaking in the New Brakes

July 25, 2008

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:

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2002 BMW M3: Installing the Big Brakes

July 24, 2008

A more accurate title for this blog is: Having the Big Brakes Installed. We hired Lucent Motors to do this job for us. This West L.A. shop specializes in high-end German hardware. In fact, while on site, our M3 kept some excellent company:


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2002 BMW M3: Big Brakes Have Arrived

July 23, 2008

Stoptech big brakes.jpg

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.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 58,933 miles.

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2002 BMW M3: Here Come the Big Brakes

July 21, 2008


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.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

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2002 BMW M3: Shifter Feeling a Little Worn Out

July 11, 2008


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.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor @ 58,421 miles

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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

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2002 BMW M3: Welcome to the Twilight Zone

June 04, 2008

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.

Albert Austria, Senior Vehicle Evaluation Engineer @ 56,665 mi

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2002 BMW M3: I'll take a new BMW, thank you

April 22, 2008

2002 M3 Gearbox (and it glows!!!)

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.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 55,328 miles

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Spy versus Spy, or M3 vs. M3

April 10, 2008

The contrast of these two M3s in the Inside Line garage couldn't be ignored. Our long-term 2002 BMW E46 in black, and the 2008 BMW E92 M3 in white. The infamous Spy vs. Spy conflict had come to the automotive realm. Is this a great place to work, or what? M3 enthusiasts, ourselves included, have already anointed the E46 "The Best M3 Ever ." Citing its "Bulldog stance, awesome grip, racecar brakes, and an engine for the ages, " we had to have one of our very own. Those who know that a Roundel has nothing to do with calligraphy or a 100-pound cheese wheel will quickly point out that this was last M3 before iDrive,Bangle, and a V8.

Can the E46's silken 333-hp inline-6, tidy dimensions, and razor-sharp dynamics (made better with new tires) hold a candle to the E92's 420-hp 8,400-rpm redline V8, electronic dampers, and hard-core Michelin PS2 tires? Keep in mind the new M3 is some 230 pounds more massive but has electronic aids that could land the space shuttle safely -- in the fog. Has BMW improved the M3 or have the boffins saddled it with too many gizmos and gee-gaws to make it a less pure, less enjoyable, and ultimately less rewarding machine? So, which is it, the classic-black E46, or the appliance-white E92?

Which will prove itself more worthy of the ///M badge? Which one would you rather drive home, or at the racetrack? Which Spy is going to spit out his shattered teeth and slink away with a charred hat and trenchcoat? Any bets? You sure about that? Stay tuned.

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2002 BMW M3: Rerunning the Numbers

April 09, 2008

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.

Old tires:

0-60: 5.3
Quarter mile: 13.9 @ 102.1*

*Note: Trap speed was incorrectly reported as 107.1 in the original post.

New tires:

0-60: 5.4
Quarter mile: 13.7 @ 102.4

Handling showed the expected improvements as well.

Old tires:

Skipdpad: .87g
Slalom: 70.4 mph

New tires:

Skidpad: .89g
Slalom: 71.0 mph

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 54,981miles

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2002 BMW M3: Slice of Heaven

March 18, 2008

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.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

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2002 BMW M3: Our Sticky New Tires Are In

February 19, 2008

Last week we ordered a new set of tires for our 2002 BMW M3 on Tire Rack. The plan was to buy the stickiest set of tires we could get in the original equipment 225/45R18 front and 255/40R18 rear sizes. We thought about going with R-compound tires, but Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 "extreme performance summer" tires were the best we could do in our size. These Yokohamas sell for $263 per front tire and $321 per rear tire.

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February 01, 2008

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?

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer @ 52,012 miles

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2002 BMW M3: Between the Storms

January 28, 2008

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.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 51,832 miles

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2002 BMW M3: M Cars Unite!

January 28, 2008

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.

Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief, Edmunds.com

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2002 BMW M3: Spoiled By Twin Turbos

January 25, 2008

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.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

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2002 BMW M3: Can I Keep It?

January 15, 2008

2002 BMW M3

Please, please, can I have it as my very own?

My first taste of our M3 was as a passenger. I got to sit back, crank up the heated seats, and enjoy listening to its healthy sound.

When I switched to the driver's seat, I was stuck in traffic, so I played with the navi system... The graphics are a little on the old side but it works. It's not particularly intuitive in its operation, but I remembered how to use it from our BMW X3 that we had a while back. (I still miss the X3. Sigh.)

I like masculine-looking cars. The Mini Cooper S is fun and all, but it looks like it should be sitting on top of a wedding cake or something. The M3's black exterior and red leather interior are manly and sporty. The red is darker than it appears in pictures. And it doesn't scream "look at me I'm a performer." It just has discreet M badging here and there and blood and guts under the hood.

And it's so easy to drive. The clutch is stiff as hell, but it engages quickly. This car wants to play. And it makes you want to play. I wonder when I'll get in it again. It's always the car that gets signed out first.

Oh, and I think I'm the only person to ever use the trunk. It's pristine. Here it is full of domesticity.

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2002 BMW M3: Still Great After All These Years

January 08, 2008

2002 BMW M3 -- Photo by James Riswick

It's been a while since a 2002 BMW M3 ventured to a test track, but with 50,576 miles on the odometer, our black M3 showed definitively that it still is one heck of a machine. While the 0-to-60 and skidpad are a little off "historical" numbers for it, the braking was dead-on and the slalom was actually better. It also beat the M3 Competition Package we had back in early 2005. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton immediately knew this M3 felt better through the slalom than any previous edition of this generation he'd tested, guessing 50,000 miles had softened up the dampers making them more compliant and less likely to force a slide. As the above picture shows, though, sometimes a slide can be a good thing.

James Riswick, Associate Editor @ 50,576 miles

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Past Long-Term Road Tests