Extensive detail refinements for two spectacular sports cars
Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. For enthusiasts of ultimate automotive performance, it’s a magic name: BMW M3. Combining the all-around excellence of the BMW 3 Series with the spectacular performance and handling prowess of BMW M, the two M3 models are formidable BMW sports cars that have won – again and again – the accolades and comparison-test victories of the world’s motoring critics while providing their buyers with real performance and equally real practicality.
For 2003, the two M3 models continue – the M3 Coupe at $47,195 and the M3 Convertible at $55,195 (destination charge included). Both offer a variety of evolutionary refinements:
Rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic headlight control, formerly optional, are now standard.
The optional BMW Onboard Navigation System gets functional improvements and a DVD database.
The standard in-dash CD player can now be ordered in combination with the Navigation System; previously the cassette player (still available at no extra cost) was required with the Navigation System.
New aluminum interior trim is offered as an option.
Two further refinements were phased into the Series during model year 2002:
19-inch forged/polished M Double Spoke wheels with lower-profile tires were introduced as an option.
Reinforcing braces were added to the front suspension’s strut towers.
Labeling of the optional Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) was revised.
During the new-generation M3s’ second model year, 2002, accolades continued to pour in from the world’s critical media:
“If you want a car that doubles as plaything and workhorse, the M3 has got it all,” raved Automobile Magazine in its January ’02 issue, declaring the M3 one of its All-Stars.
Popular Science executive editor Bill Phillips described SMG, “In a year of new paddle-shift SMGs, BMW’s is by far the best. And it’s the most flexible we’ve ever seen…”
“The BMW M3 is about as good as it gets,” said AutoWeek in its January 14, ’02 issue.
Motor Trend, in its January ’02 Car of the Year story, stated that “In the end, however, it’s the BMW M3 that defines the notion of total performance. As we said, M defined the formula and still executes it better than just about anyone else.”
The second model year saw introduction of BMW M’s Sequential Manual Gearbox II (SMG II), and that earned its own share of critical acclaim:
“The most sophisticated transmission available in a production car,” concluded Motor Trend in its August ’02 issue.
“On the freeway, SMG provides a luxury you just can’t get with a conventional stick shift, and at the track, well, it makes you feel like a race driver,” reported Road & Track in September ’02.
A brief history of the M3
The 1st-generation M3 was essentially a racing car tamed for road use. Offered in the U.S. from 1988 through 1991, it was based on the then-3 Series generation (internal platform designation E30) and was a winged, spoilered 2-door sedan powered by a rip-snortin’ BMW M 4-cylinder engine of 2.3 liters and 192 hp. This was a full-on BMW M engine, with 4 valves per cylinder at a time when no regular-production BMW had more than 2; an individual throttle for each honed cylinder; and other racing-style engineering finery. That M3 certainly wasn’t for everyone, but it was a hearty and competent sporting machine; even today it has a devoted following.
The 2nd-generation M3 is better known. Based on the then-current E36 3 Series and making its debut for 1995, this M3 had a mission beyond BMW M’s usual dedication to great performance and handling: to bring BMW M and its great driving machines to a wider spectrum of U.S. buyers.
This was accomplished by powering the M3 not with a traditional, highly elaborate BMW M engine, but rather with a specially developed version of now-standard BMW practice: an inline 6-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts, 4 valves per cylinder and a single throttle. Taking this approach, BMW M created an engine of 3.0 liters and a solid 240 horsepower. Within the range of speeds American drivers experienced, this engine provided thrilling performance, yet cost thousands less to produce. The rest of the car was very much the same M3 that Europeans could buy.
In 1996 the engine grew to 3.2 liters and delivered more torque. In either form, it was loved by America’s enthusiasts and critics alike. “The BMW M3 has it all,” raved Car and Driver in December ’94. “Scintillating speed, brilliant handling, a utilitarian package.” This 2nd-generation M3 was offered through 1999; a Convertible and a 4-door sedan joined the original Coupe model along the way, extending M3 virtues to buyers with differing priorities.