by Greg Wilson
Modified by BMW’s high-performance M division, the M3 Coupe offers a 333 horsepower 3.2 litre inline six cylinder engine, a 6 speed manual transmission, a modified aluminum suspension, wider 18 inch tires and wheels, a new limited slip differential, and a sporty M3 exclusive interior. Base price is $73,500, up from $69,800 last year.
Terrific performance for a premium price
The third-generation BMW M3, a high-performance version of BMW 3-Series coupe, was introduced last year, and it was joined by the M3 Convertible in 2001.
BMW’s M cars, the M3, M5, M roadster, and M coupe are modified by BMW’s motorsports division to provide a higher level of performance for drivers who want a more exciting, race-car like driving experience. Typically, M cars have more powerful engines, bigger brakes, tuned suspensions, better tires and wheels, unique interiors � and higher prices – the 2002 M3 Coupe, for example, is priced at $73,500, or about $20,000 more than a BMW 330Ci.
Subtle, not flashy
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In typical BMW fashion, the M3 Coupe looks like it means business without being overly flashy.. there are no giant spoilers, large hood scoops, or excessive body cladding to clutter up its clean lines – but there are a number of visually distinguishing features. M3 Coupes have a power bulge and an air vent in the hood, standard Xenon headlights, and a more aggressive front bumper with a larger centre intake and two smaller outer intakes with built-in projector beams. The front fenders have ‘gill’ vents with an M3 badge, the fender lips are wider, and there are additional side sills, a small lip spoiler on the trunk, a rear bumper covering with an air diffuser and quad tailpipe extensions. M3’s also have clear turn signal and side marker lenses.
Its special high-performance tires are Michelin Pilot 225/45ZR-18 inch in the front and even wider 255/40ZR-18 inch tires at the rear. They’re mounted on M-style alloy wheels which are 8 inches wide at the front and 9 inches wide at the rear.
The M3’s interior is similar to the standard 3-Series, but it has some unique features: a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with blue and red stitching and an M3 badge on the steering wheel spoke; grey-faced gauges with white lettering and red needles; special multi-adjustable nappa leather front sport seats with M3 logos in the head restraints, and deeply sculpted outer rear seats. There’s also some dark wood trim which wraps across the dash and into the door armrests.
333 horses from 3.2 litre engine
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What really distinguishes the M3 from other 3-Series models is its powerful, sophisticated 3.2 litre inline six cylinder engine. This aluminum alloy twin overhead cam, 24 valve straight six engine features individual throttle butterflies for each cylinder with drive-by-wire throttle control and ‘M Dynamic Driving Control’ which allows the driver to select a “sport mode” for the throttle which provides quicker response to throttle inputs. The M Dynamic Driving Control also affects the power assist of the rack and pinion steering. When “sport mode” is selected, the power assist is reduced, providing a firmer road feel.
The M3’s 3.2 litre powerplant also has M-double VANOS (continuously variable valve timing), cylinder-specific knock control, digital electronics, electronically controlled engine cooling, an 11.5:1 compression ratio, and an exhaust system with twin chambers and two dual tailpipes.
The result of all this technology is a whopping 333 horsepower at 7900 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque @ 4900 rpm. That compares to the BMW 330Ci with 225 horsepower @ 5900 rpm and 214 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm.
In addition, M3’s have a unique, close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission while the 330Ci has a standard 5 speed manual – an automatic transmission is not offered in the M3.
Other differences between the M3 and the 330Ci include a wider rear track and the use of aluminum for the front suspension control arms and the rear trailing link assembly. The suspension consists of front MacPherson struts and rear central link rear axle double wishbone suspension.
The M3’s brakes are bigger too. The standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes are 12.8-inches in front and 12.9-inches in the rear.
Just getting into the M3 Coupe is an exciting experience. You have to bend low and arch yourself over the tall side bolster on the front sport seats. Once you adjust the seat, it feels snug in all the right places, adding to the feeling of safety when cornering. The sporty, three-spoke steering wheel, and shift knob are easy to reach and the racy gauge package reminds you that this is no ordinary 3-Series.
The front sport seats can be adjusted in many ways to suit every driver’s frame. The seats feature height adjustment, 3 position memory, lumbar adjustment and a unique fore-aft adjustment for the front of the seat cushions. My seats had the optional electrically-adjustable seat back width. Each seat has a seat heater with three temperature adjustments.
The driver faces a 300 km/h speedometer and a 9000 rpm tachometer with a backlit variable rpm display with a warning function for engine speed. True to its motorsports heritage, the gauge cluster includes an oil level display.
There’s no shortage of luxury features though. The instrument panel, which is angled towards the driver, includes a 6-disc in-dash CD player, automatic climate control, and a small monitor for the navigation system which doubles as a control centre for the radio and the trip computer. The navigation system uses a CD Rom with a map of Canada and its major cities. The driver can input their destination, and the system provides directions either by on-screen instructions or audible directions, such as “Turn left in 500 metres”, “Move into the left lane”, “Turn left now”, and so on.
One complaint: I noticed that there is a lack of handy storage space within the driver’s reach. Except for the driver’s door pocket, there’s nowhere to put CD’s, notebooks, phones, cameras, or other personal items.
The rear seat (which has seatbelts for three but is better suited to two) has 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, and there’s a ski pass-through behind the centre rear armrest.
Like other BMW’s, the M3 has above-average safety equipment, including five three point seatbelts and five height-adjustable head restraints and six airbags: dual front and side airbags and dual head airbags. Even rear side airbags are optional. The trunk is a reasonable size for a coupe, and includes two plastic storage bins for loose items, and a small tool kit.
Exciting driving experience
M3 at Shannonville
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Photo: Grant Yoxon
The joy of driving is what this car is all about, and I had a chance to drive it on road and track to test its limits.
Under acceleration, the M3’s engine has a high-pitched, race-car like sound that sounds more mechanical than other BMW inline six cylinder engines. About 6000 rpm, it suddenly lets out a different exhaust note that sounds more like the engine of a Touring Car champion. It’s a raspy, high-revving ‘whoooor’ that could easily make you believe you’re driving a race-car.
The M3 is noisier than other 3-Series cars, particularly above 4000 rpm. And though I wouldn’t describe this engine as rough, it’s definitely not as smooth as other 3-Series engines. I guess you have to make some compromises for all that extra power.
Pressing the ‘Sport Mode’ button gives the M3 an instant burst of power, sort of like turning on an afterburner. I don’t know how the torque curve in ‘Sport mode’ differs from normal mode, but the M3 seems to have an extra 10 or 20% more horsepower, and is more responsive to the throttle. I suspect it also sucks up more gas too.
In independent performance tests by members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, the M3 accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds, a little slower than the 5.2 second time claimed by BMW, but almost two seconds faster than a BMW 330Ci. Passing performance was equally impressive: 80 to 120 km/h in third gear took 5.4 seconds.
At cruising speeds, the engine settles down to a sinister rumble that’s unobtrusive. At 100 km/h in sixth gear, the engine does 2400 rpm, and at 120 km/h it does 2800 rpm, comfortable engine speeds for long drives. I observed little tire and wind noise, just some mechanical noise from the engine. Despite its low profile tires and sporty suspension, the M3 has a decent highway ride that could be described as firm, well-damped, and a tad sensitive.
Fuel consumption is understandably thirsty, though not by super car standards. The M3 offers 14.5 l/100 km (19 mpg) in the city and 9.0 l/100 km (32 mpg) on the highway. It uses Premium Unleaded gas.
Braking tests conducted at the same location showed a 100 km/h to 0 distance of just 39.3 metres (129 ft.). However, an M3 Convertible tested at the same place stopped in just 38.7 metres (127 ft.).
The six speed manual transmission has a nice, easy, fluid feel that adds to the enjoyment of driving the M3. Clutch effort is not heavy, as it often is in high-performance cars.
The M3’s forte is its handling, and to test this, I drove the car at Shannonville raceway near Bellevile, Ontario during the Canadian Car of the Year contest – it was definitely the most enjoyable car I drove that week.
At high speed, the M3 offers superb grip, balance, and stability. In tight switchbacks, the standard power-assisted rack and pinion steering provides quick, where-you-point-it accuracy, and the M3’s body follows along with uncanny stability and minimal roll. The M3’s powerful brakes allow the driver to brake late and exit quicker, while the car’s balance and poise make it possible to maintain control in situations where other cars would be losing it.
Still, as a rear-wheel-drive sports coupe, the M3 has a tendency to oversteer at the limit, particularly when driving in the rain or snow. To counteract this, the M3 offers a number of sophisticated technologies. To enhance traction and stability when exiting a corner, the M3 features a new type of limited slip rear differential called Variable M Differential Lock. A new silicon-filled pump and multiple plate clutch automatically channel power to the wheel with better grip � this is particularly useful when one rear wheel is on a very slippery surface such as ice, but it also enhances dry weather stability and handling.
In addition, the M3 includes all those automatic computerized driver aids that prevent wheelspin and side-slip and generally keep you out of trouble: Automatic Stability Control + Traction Control (ASC+T), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC III).
Though it’s difficult to accurately describe what it’s like to drive the M3, it’s the kind of car that will make you go “Whoa!” when you step on the gas, “Wow” when you eat up winding roads with ease, and “Holy sh_t” when you realize how fast it stops. The M3 is an exciting experience that will leave a wide smile on your face every time you get out of the car. There are very few cars that have that kind of character. Personally, the last time I had that feeling was when I drove the Corvette Z06.
$73,500 plus options
The M3 has gone from a 2001 base price of $69,800 to a 2002 MSRP of $73,500. It’s well equipped, but there are some luxury features which can boost the price above $80,000. My test car included an optional folding rear sun blind, ski bag, adjustable seat width and lumbar adjustment, Park Distance Control, rain-sensitive wipers, and a navigation system which boosted the price to $79,510.
Competitors for the M3 include the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLK320, Audi S4, and Jaguar XKR and possible the Acura 3.2TL Type S.
Technical Data: 2002 BMW M3 Coupe
|Price as tested||$79,510|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger sport coupe|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-dri|
|Engine||3.2 litre inline 6 cylinder, DOHC, 24 valves, double VANOS|
|Horsepower||333 @ 7900 rpm|
|Torque||262 @ 4900 rpm|
|Transmission||6 speed manual|
|Tires||Front: Michelin Pilot 225/45ZR-18 inch|
|Rear: 255/40ZR-18 inch|
|Curb weight||1579 kg (3481 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2731 mm (107.5 in.)|
|Length||4492 mm (176.9 in.)|
|Width||1780 mm (70.1 in.)|
|Height||1372 mm (54.0 in.)|
|Trunk space||210 litres|
|Fuel consumption||City: 14.5 l/100 km (19 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.0 l/100 km (32 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|