It is becoming customary for people to write extremely long SMG impressions on the M3 boards. I am posting my impressions in the hope that it helps you with your selection if youíre considering an M3 but canít decide which version to get.
My interest in the M3 with SMG II has reached a sufficient level in September to make me knock on the BMWís door for a test drive. I later found out that this was as difficult to arrange as a test drive of the Space Shuttle.
To begin with, there is only one dealer network-owned M3 with SMG in the whole of Netherlands (at least there are two Space Shuttles) forcing all dealers to compete for the same test-drive car. To make things worse, some guy had wrecked it during a test drive (or so Iím told) and it took a long time to replace it. Last but not least (as dictated by the Murphyís law), twice I had to go abroad on a business trip when the car could be allocated to my dealer. Despite my sales personís efforts (and Iím grateful to him), I was only able to test drive the standard manual version in December (as a result of which I have already ordered an M3
) and the SMG version last week in March. The waiting took an incredible five months in the end. When I look back, this wasnít so bad because, it gave me the opportunity to compare the two cars based on hands-on experience.
Before I go any further, let me say that I own an Alpina B10 BiTurbo and Iíve driven the E39 M5 as well which gives me an idea on how the high performance BMWs perform. Iíve also read anything written (in English) on the M3 and the SMG that I could get my hands on.
I will not go into the merits of the M3. If youíre in this forum chances are, you know them already. Instead, I will limit my impressions to the differences of the SMG from the standard manual car. I also assume here that youíre familiar with the basic features of the SMG.
Of course, these are my ďsubjectiveĒ views and you donít have to agree with them. All I can say is donít critisize what you donít know (was it Bob Dylan?). Drive one yourself before forming your own opinion.
Oh, I forgot to say that the car was Phoenix yellow. I think I can get used to this color. Itís much classier than what the pictures tell and (unlike most other colors) there is nothing else on the road like it. Anyway, thatís another topic. Letís get back to driving.
Hmm, let me try to remember the drill; fasten seatbelt, switch sport mode on, turn DSC off, switch to S6 and hold tightly on the steering wheel, shovel the right foot firmly on the gas pedal and go!
I was nervous that it would take a long time (at least longer than the couple of hours of test driving) to get familiar with the paddle shifting which wasnít the case at all. Despite the fact that the closest thing I had to SMG before was the steering wheel controls of my car stereo, I had no initial problems and was quite comfortable after about 30 mins. If I made any errors, they were limited to occasional forgetting to downshift (I think downshifting with SMG mentally more difficult than the upshifting) but this was no more often than gears I miss with the stick shift after 25 years of experience. That said, true mastering of the SMG definitely requires time beyond whatís available for test driving. And thatís one of the things that would make the SMG less boring since there is something new to learn for a long time.
Again, unlike what Iíve read before, I didnít find the upshifting particularly violent when the gas pedal is fully depressed (even in S6). Yes, there is a forward jig but I kind of like it for the sportive mood. And when you donít want that, a small lift of the right foot is sufficient for a silky smooth upshift.
I found the auto downshifting feature under braking really neat. Saves a lot of driver effort. Also, the downshifts to increase the engine speed (with your right foot firmly on the gas pedal), say to take over another car is so good. It rev-matches automatically for you and feels like youíve whipped a thoroughbread race horse.
I canít imagine what other road going car would have a feature more fun than the LC. First, the back of the car goes slightly sideways as the rear wheels start spinning but it almost immediately takes back the control and catapults forward. All you have to remember is to upshipt when you hit the red line (which isnít that easy since youíre still thinking how amazing the start was). Unbelievable! I donít understand why the LC should put more wear on the car compared to doing a hard launch yourself. If anything, it should be less stressfull since the wheelspin, clutch slippage, etc. are optimized. Yes, BMW would like you to do it not so often, but that probably goes true for manual hard launches as well.
Hill Climb Assistant:
Well, youíd be challenged hard to find a slope to test this feature in the completely flat Netherlands (or flat lands). Therefore, I had no opportunity to do so. However, I would expect M3 drivers be skilled enough not to slip their cars on a hill and call on for this feature in extreme conditions.
I must admit the shift lights (coming up in the reverse direction) make one feel like a racing driver each time. Call this a gimmick, but it feels good. It probably is more impressive in the darkness of the night. Too bad for the car that you have to hit the red-line to see them all (they back lit from 8,000 to 4000 rpm) because this what you want to do all the time. On the serious side, it helps to see when your approaching the limit without closely paying attention to the rev-counter. This is particulary important on the M3 since it revs all the way up to the 8,000 rpm so easily. I consider this a useful safety feature for intensive driving.
This is where you go ďWoowĒ. I mainly tried the S5 and the S6 programs. I would expect to use the automated mode instead of the S1-S3 when Iím too lazy for manual shifting. I did not find the S6 too aggressive for road driving but S5 is good enough (I mean itís really good) and you canít feel much difference from S6 unless youíre really pushing. Also, you have to switch the DSC off for the S6, which may not be a good idea in normal driving or in the wet. In both programs, the shift is so instantaneous that it is surely much better than what I can achieve with the stick. And more importantly, it is consistent.
I did not notice anything wrong with this mode. You canít tell any difference from a normal automatic. It is definitely what you would use in rush hour traffic or when concentrated on something else than driving (be it discussion with a passenger or thinking about work etc.). Also, in extremely odd cases (e.g. emergency) where you would have to have someone else to drive your M3 (while youíre in the car or not) you can set it to the Auto mode and anybody can drive it. What is neat is you can switch between the S and A modes on the fly at any speed.
I donít know how you can stall this car to be honest. This is as important for an enthusiast driver as a novice driver (not that the latter would by an M3). If you spin on a track, you have to remember to press the clutch (as well as brake) not to stall the car in the middle of the excitement. You see on TV that even the race drivers forget that sometimes. With SMG, you only need to brake. This is an undersold feature in my opinion.
Left Foot Braking:
Left foot braking is now possible for enthusiast drivers as it is much more easier to perform without having to work with the clutch pedal using the same foot. I personally am used to left foot braking on my automatic car but donít do it on the manual one. I see why I shouldnít be doing it easily with the SMG. I would expect this to reduce the lap times on track-days for most people.
Iím convinced that the overall safety is significantly increased. Firstly by keeping both hands on the steering wheel all the time and secondly by thinking less of the mechanics of shifting (foot and hand coordination), thus being able to focus better on the road (or on the racing line if youíre on the track).
What the Passengers think?:
My wife (who is a good driver herself) had sat in for ten minutes after which she begged to be dropped off despite liking it a lot. Canít understand women? She claims it was a roller coster ride and could not walk straight afterwards. Lesson learned; be gentle with passengers!
What would I still like to have?:
Not much really! I would have liked to have a larger SMG display with a more distinct mode indicator. I would have like to have the indicator and washer levers be more away from the paddles. They seem to get in the way every now and then. I also would have liked to have titanium paddles with illuminated ď+Ē and ď-ď indicators. Although not functional, that would look cool at night. I donít see the point for eleven programs (IMO you can manage just as well with half as many) but it doesnít hurt I guess.
Needless to say, under the skin it is the same M3 with or without the SMG. It is the User Interface that is different. The SMG enables you to drive the M3 much harder constantly and consistently, thus, is a better interface. I would guess that you get a 20% improvement easily. That would make quite a difference in intensive driving. It allows you to get the most out of the car by using the high rev band (6,000-8,000 rpms) more efficiently. Although the straight line accelaration of the SMG seem to be equal or slightly worse compared to the standard manual, I would expect the SMG to be much quicker around a track (especially a demanding one like the Nordschleife). Also, letís face it, most of us would like think that we are as good as professional drivers, but the fact is we arenít. Our concentration span is much shorter and thatís where the SMG helps. In fact, most of the racing formulaís switch to the steering wheel operated sequential gearboxes should say it all. Whatís amazing is that, BMW brings this to the reach of mere mortals with a very reasonable price tag and no apparent drawback (yeah, I know itís 8 kg heavier. Time to visit the gym to compansate).
I see the SMG over the standard manual like the Windows OS over the DOS. There will be initial problems (clunk, etc.) and resistance of customers to change (remember how much we liked our good old DOS prompt C:\>?), but the benefits are so significant that in the end everyone will do the move. In fact, I predict that, future M cars will only be sold with the SMG (like we can only buy Windows now). If you are skeptical, look at the 175,000 GBP Aston Martin Vanquish which is only sold in a sequential configuration that is inferior to the SMG. If the M3 CSL is ever produced, it will probably only come with the SMG.
Phew. That was long.