2002 BMW 3 Series Pricing

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2002 BMW 3 Series
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

Introduction
BMW's 3 Series offers a full line of driver's cars. The 3 Series is composed of sedans, coupes, convertibles, and wagons. They vary in price, power, and packaging, but all are superb cars. Each is a great driver's car within its respective price range.

All 3 Series models are highly refined machines that corner, accelerate and stop swiftly. These cars put drivers in touch with the road instead of isolating them. Their interiors are well-equipped and comfortable.

Styling revisions freshen the sedans and sport wagons for 2002.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the BMW 3 Series continues to serve as a benchmark for other automakers. Model Lineup
The current generation of 3 Series cars debuted in 1999 and has since grown to 10 models. All 3 Series models are based on the same chassis and all ride on the same 107.3-inch wheelbase. However, the two-door coupes and convertibles share few body panels with the four-door sedans and wagons.

Two engines are available; both are inline six-cylinder engines. As the nomenclature indicates, 325 models get a 2.5-liter engine, while 330 models get a 3.0-liter engine. Wagons are only available with the 2.5-liter engine; sedan, coupe, and convertible are available with either engine.

The 184-horsepower 2.5-liter engine is used in the 325i sedan ($27,100); 325i sport wagon ($29,500); 325Ci coupe ($29,100); 325Ci convertible ($36,100).

The 225-horsepower 3.0-liter engine is used in the 330i sedan ($33,990); 330Ci coupe ($34,990); and 330Ci convertible ($42,400). In addition to the increased power, 330 models come with more standard equipment and design upgrades. One example: 17-inch wheels with V-rated tires in place of the 325's standard 16-inch wheels with H-rated tires.

All-wheel-drive 325xi ($28,850) and 330xi ($35,740) sedans and the 325xi sport wagon ($31,250) offer much better traction and control in slippery conditions. For 2002, these all-wheel-drive models, denoted by the x, get Hill Descent Control added to the upgraded Dynamic Stability Control system.

The higher price of coupes and convertibles includes a slightly higher level of luxury equipment than what comes standard on sedans and wagons.

All models come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmissions are available: A superb ZF-built five-speed Steptronic ($1275).

For 2002, BMW has added functions to the standard Dynamic Stability Control system, including a new traction-control mode. New optional run-flat tires with a monitor are available for 330 models. Also optional are new wheel designs and 18-inch wheels and tires.

Smart front and front side-impact airbags come standard. Also standard (on all but the convertibles) are head-protection airbags that deploy from the headliner along the length of both sides of the cabin. Rear side-impact airbags are optional.

Which model? The 325i sedan is a terrific car and you may never miss the power of the 330i. The sport wagons add space and versatility and the only way we could tell we weren't driving a sedan was to glance into the rear view mirror; it's taut. Coupes add sports appeal with their two-door styling, while split rear seats offer some versatility. The convertible, well, do you have to ask? The 330 models add a lot of performance to the equation. All-wheel drive offers winter capability to a car not noted for that and is equipped with a more sophisticated Dynamic Stability Control system.

Bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps offer much better visibility on stormy nights and we recommend them. BMW's Park Distance Control ($350) works great, beeping to warn the driver of objects behind the car during parking maneuvers.

Related to the 3 Series are the M3 coupe ($45,900) and M3 convertible ($53,900), which boast much higher levels of performance and handling. (Look for separate review of the BMW M3 at NewCarTestDrive.com.) Walkaround
The 3 Series cars sport BMW's classic look. They look elegant and refined, but purposeful. The roofline is long and gracefully integrated into the short rear deck. These cars are striking in appearance with their bold grilles, exotic-looking headlamps, and short front and rear overhangs. Their wheels fill the fenders and the body work seems wrapped tight, like it's stretched over muscle. The 3 Series sedans have the look of a true sports sedan. And the other models take full advantage of that.

Traditional quad headlamps are enclosed in aerodynamic covers. For 2002, BMW has upgraded the optional xenon headlights to bi-xenon lights, which include both low and high beams. The outer lamps provide high-intensity discharge illumination on low and high beams, while the inner lamps augment the high beams with halogen lighting. Auto-leveling of the bi-xenon lamps is included.

Introduced for model year 1999, the sedan was the first of this latest generation of 3 Series cars; it shares its styling and most of its body work with the sport wagon. Subtle changes to the design of the 3 Series sedans and sport wagons this year has freshened their appearance. Most people won't notice the differences, but park a new 3 Series sedan or sport wagon next to a 2001 model and the details are readily apparent.

For 2002, the sedan and sport wagon feature redesigned front fascias, front and rear bumpers, grilles, headlamps, tail lamps, hoods, and fenders. Similar to the theme set by the new 7 Series, the headlamps now tilt up at the trailing edges of the wraparounds rather than tilting down as they have traditionally. BMW also redesigned the shape of the cutouts below the headlamps. When equipped with the aerodynamic package, the front fascia looks like more of an air dam than before with round integrated fog lamps instead of small, thin rectangular lights. This year the lower grille is split all the way across. Bumpers, front and rear, have been given a simpler, cleaner look and the taillight units' functional segments reapportioned to give the main taillights greater illuminated area. The grilles, continuing BMW's dual-kidneys tradition, have been widened. The hood's character lines now sweep outward and rearward from the grilles' upper outer corners back to the body's A-pillars. Front fenders are also modified, with more prominent wheel-opening flares that interrupt the side character lines for an additional element of design interest.

Coupe and convertible models were introduced for 2000 with updated design cues and go into 2002 without any significant styling changes. Their headlamp cluster wraparounds taper down rather than up.

Well-designed exterior door handles are easy to grab. Interior
The 3 Series interior is designed for the serious driver. Our 330i sedan came with the handsome Natural Brown Leather ($1450) package that's new for 2002. It's a classic shade and the quality of the leather is high, making for a beautiful interior.

Bucket seats provide fine support without feeling hard, and come standard with six adjustments. Power adjustments come standard on all models except 325i sedans. The manual controls on the 325i sedan work well, though they are best used when the car is stationary. The 10-way power seats that come with the optional Sport Package are superb, adding more side bolstering for winding roads, and slide-out thigh support.

The leather-covered steering wheel tilts and telescopes for optimum adjustment. Its slim design is a benefit of the latest in compact airbag packaging. Audio and speed controls on the steering wheel work well and add convenience. Two different steering wheels are used depending on body style and model.

Dashboard and door panels are rich in appearance, and appealing to the eye. For 2002, a new titanium finish on the instrument panel, console, and doors comes standard. Genuine myrtle wood inserts are optional. The instruments themselves feature soft orange lighting, which help reduce glare at night; some people find orange instrument lighting easier on the eyes than other colors.

Most switches fall intuitively to the driver's fingertips, but the 3 Series interior is not without its faults. Window controls are located on the center console, requiring a glance down to open or close a windows. Having the controls on the doors would make them much easier to use. Auto up/auto down is available for all windows and the sunroof, which is a nice feature.

Automatic climate control and a microfilter ventilation system are standard. For 2002, automatic headlamps are available.

The in-dash single-CD player that now comes standard is easy to operate; the previous cassette deck is available as a no-cost option. The Harmon Kardon stereo with 12 upgraded speakers sounds great. Available steering wheel audio controls work well and add convenience.

I don't particularly care for the center console. The flip down armrest is a bit in the way when shifting and unattractive shallow cup holders in the center console seem like an afterthought.

The back seat is roomy enough for two adults during a night on the town, but it's not as roomy as some of the other cars in its class. If rear cabin space is a top priority, you can find more for your money elsewhere. The Acura TL, for example, offers a roomier back seat, but it's no BMW.

The 3 Series cars are not class leaders when it comes to moving cargo, either. The trunk is small, and the trunk opening is even smaller. However, the Cold Weather Package ($1000) adds split fold-down rear seats with a ski boot and armrest, plus other features.

Sport wagons seem the perfect solution for enthusiast drivers who need some cargo capacity. When the car is unlocked, the rear hatch can be opened by touching the electric release above the license plate; or just the rear glass can be opened by pressing a button under the rear wiper. The rear cargo cover is nicely designed with a vinyl panel that easily slides out and hooks into place to hide valuables. Alternatively, a net slides up and hooks onto the ceiling to allow cargo to be piled to the ceiling. With the dog fence in place, the 325i sport wagon can carry 25.7 cubic feet of cargo and four passengers. That's more than twice the 10.7 cubic feet of cargo the sedan can handle. That makes the wagon a much better choice at the airport, though it doesn't have the cargo capacity of an SUV or minivan. For more cargo space, it's easy to fold the wagon's rear seats down; there's no need to remove the headrests. This reveals a nearly flat cargo area. It's plenty of room for two people involved in outdoor activities. Ski racks, bike racks and other accessories can be attached to the beefy roof rack rails. Driving Impressions
Every car manufacturer, it seems, wants to build a BMW beater, and after looking at competent sedans such as the Acura TL one might begin to think they offer better value when measured against BMW's 3 Series cars. Then you get into a 330i sedan, or any of the other 3 Series models, and you realize the gap is far wider than price differential.

If price is an issue, then don't hesitate to choose the 325i. For nearly $7,000 less, you get an outstanding sports sedan. You may never miss the extra power of the 330i, and you certainly won't miss the increase in monthly payments. The 2.5-liter engine doesn't develop the urgent thrust of the 3.0-liter. But there's plenty of power here, and it's delivered smooth and linearly with no significant dead spots or rushes. Just strong, gradual propulsion. It's so smooth, that it's easy to rev past the redline to where the rev limiter cuts back on the throttle. BMW's Double VANOS variable-valve timing helps both engines provide plenty of torque (the force that makes a car jump when you hit the gas) throughout the rev range.

The 3.0-liter engine delivers more gusto at the top of the rev range, yet is surprisingly strong at lower engine speeds, too. BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds, versus 7.1 seconds for the 325i. Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go? Both models top out at an electronically limited 128 mph.

Bucking a worldwide trend, BMW uses inline six-cylinder engines instead of V6 designs. Though it takes up more space, an inline-6 is considered to be inherently smoother by design than a V6. Indeed, BMW believes that six pistons lined up in a row run more smoothly than two banks of three pistons arranged in a V. Both 3 Series inline-6s feature fully electronic throttle control, variable valve timing, and a dual-resonance intake system. The throttle feels light and linear, perhaps because of the electronic throttle control.

Changing gears with the five-speed manual gearbox is a smooth, satisfying operation. The shifter uses longer throws than in a sports car, but it's a precise movement befitting a world-class sports sedan.

The automatic transmission works superbly, always keeping the engine in the optimal power range. All automatics are five-speed Steptronics. Pulling the lever to the left allows auto-manual downshifting and upshifting. For 2002, BMW has switched shifting directions: Now, tip the shift lever forward to downshift, pull it rearward to upshift. Steptronic can be useful and entertaining. But the real benefit of these transmissions is how well they work in the automatic mode. Shifting is smooth and precise and the driver almost always feels the transmission is working as part of the team, rather than fighting against driver and engine.

These cars are extremely stable. I found it difficult to obey the 55 mph speed limit while driving a 325i sedan around Washington's Capitol Beltway, and impossible to stay within the law on Maryland's back roads. The 330i is so smooth and stable that I needed to trail-brake the first time I came into a favorite sweeping turn, realizing that I was coming into it a little hotter than usual.

The suspension is tight, feeling like fine machinery. A 325i driven last year didn't seem as quiet, nor did it ride as smoothly as the best luxury sedans from Japan. But these cars feel much tauter. A 2002 330i sedan driven back to back with an Acura TL Type-S immediately showed how vastly more sophisticated the suspension felt. These cars put the driver in touch with the road. You hear and feel what's going on, though the outside world is muted well enough to ensure comfort. It's a balance that BMW masters. The stiff chassis structure allows the suspension to dampen irritating road vibration, reducing the chance of squeaks and rattles.

Steering response is more like that of a sports car than a luxury sedan. There's little play in the steering and the feeling is one of directness. This car goes exactly where you point it. Unlike the over-boosted power steering found on many other luxury sedans, the BMW's steering provides a real feel of the road. The steering does not feel heavy, however, it feels surprisingly light. This car handles curves with aplomb, gripping tenaciously during aggressive cornering maneuvers. When the tires finally let go, the resulting slide is still fairly easy to control; it requires a bit more skill than in a front-wheel-drive car, but at the same time allows the driver more control.

Brakes are even more important to going fast than horsepower, and the 3 Series provides excellent stopping power. Parking a 330i next to an Acura TL Type-S provided a striking comparison: Massive rear discs seen through the spokes of the BMW wheels dwarfed the rear discs on the Acura. On a familiar twisting, bumpy, gnarly road, I slammed on the brakes both in a straight line and while turning, the latter a real driving faux pas. Either way, the 3 Series sedan brought me to a quick, uneventful stop. The anti-lock braking system was hardly needed on the dry pavement because the tires offer good grip and the suspension does its job, keeping the car stable and minimizing nosedive, so that the rear tires can contribute to the effort. As a result, this car stops very quickly, and it's easy to control in a panic braking situation.

While front-wheel drive has its merits, pure race cars use rear-wheel drive. Enthusiasts prefer rear-wheel drive because they can actually steer the car with throttle inputs. The payback for this added element of control can be a skittish rear end, particularly on slick surfaces, a condition known as oversteer. Clearly, however, rear-wheel drive offers benefits even at a modest pace. The steering, handling and general feel is noticeably different even when driving around the block. Bottom line: the BMW feels much more sophisticated than front-drive sedans from Japan that are asking the front wheels to do two jobs at the same time.

All 3 Series models come with Dynamic Stability Control, which enhances driver control and safety in emergency maneuvers. DSC helps stabilize the vehicle in severe cornering maneuvers by judiciously applying the brakes to individual wheels. In other words, it helps the driver maintain control when the tires lose grip. This can save your life by helping you keep the car on the road; just remember to point the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. But DSC also enhances handling on winding roads, smoothing out minor errors, making adjustments when you hit a patch of sand in the middle of a tight corner. The system kicked in for me in one tight corner, while I kept the throttle to the floor. The rear tires lost grip, but DSC expertly reduced throttle and applied a little braking force to one of the front wheels; the chassis changed its set subtly and off I went again. This is extremely beneficial on a rear-drive car in slippery conditions, but it's also useful on dry pavement. A switch allows the driver to turn DSC off when it isn't wanted, in actual racing, for example.

For 2002, BMW has further refined its Dynamic Stability Control system adding speed-sensitive sophistication to its operation. By pressing the DSC button briefly, the engine intervention feature is turned off, leaving only brake intervention functional at low speeds; as speed increases, however, the engine intervention gradually comes into play. Hold the DSC button down and it shuts off everything except anti-lock braking.

The 325xi sport wagon we drove was equipped with all-wheel drive. The car felt like it was on rails on dry pavement. The all-wheel-drive system on 325xi and 330xi models uses a planetary center differential to split drive torque 38/62 percent front/rear, preserving the rear-wheel-drive feel that BMW enthusiasts demand. All-Season Traction Control (AST) and a specially calibrated version of BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC-X) enhance foul-weather safety.

For 2002, BMW has added Hill Descent Control to the all-wheel-drive models' DSC-X. Hill Descent Control helps the driver maintain speed and stability on steep downhill runs. The driver need only press a dedicated HDC button on the console to activate it; Hill Descent Control then takes over, gently applying the brakes as necessary to help keep the speed to a brisk walking pace. Just keep your feet off the pedals and let it walk you down the grade. Summary
BMW's 3 Series cars offer a truly satisfying driving experience. They offer rear-wheel drive and five-speed gearbox, and BMW's commitment to this combination speaks volumes about its priorities.

Other cars in this price range surpass the 3 Series in significant areas. The Lexus ES 300 is smoother and far quieter, and the Acura TL provides roomier rear seating accommodations and more features for less cash. But those are near-luxury cars, while the BMW is a true sports sedan. If driving satisfaction is top priority, one of the 3 Series models should top your shopping list.

These BMWs are superb cars and that's why the 3 Series continues to be the benchmark for sports sedans. It's been that way since the late 1970s, and we don't see it changing.

The purchase price of all 3 Series models includes scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles.

Model as tested
330i sedan ($33,990)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Munich, Germany
Destination charge
645
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
27100
Price as tested
40510
Options as tested
Natural Brown Leather ($1450); Cold Weather Package ($1000) includes heated front seats, split fold-down rear seats, ski bag, rear armrest, headlamp cleaning system; power glass moonroof ($1050); bi-xenon headlamps ($700); Oxford Green metallic paint ($475); Sport Package ($1200) includes M double-spoke alloy wheels, performance tires, adjustable front sport seats, aerodynamic package, leather sport steering wheel

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
325i sedan ($27,100); 330i sedan ($33,990); 325Ci coupe ($29,100); 330Ci coupe ($34,990); 325i sport wagon ($29,500); 325Ci convertible ($36,100); 330Ci convertible ($42,400); 325xi sedan ($28,850); 330xi sedan ($35,740); 325xi sport wagon ($31,250)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual airbags with two-stage deployment, front side-impact airbags, head protection airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve inline-6
Transmissions
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
ABS, Dynamic Stability Control, All Season Traction control, power windows, remote keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt/telescoping steering column; Harmon-Kardon 12-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, 6-way power adjustable seats with 2-way manual headrests; 3-memory control for driver's seat, mirrors, and radio station pre-sets; electronic throttle control, automatic climate control with micro filter

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve inline-6
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
225 @ 5900
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
21/30
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P225/45ZR front / P245/40ZR17 rear
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
37.0/54.4/41.4
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.4/54.2/34.4

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
10.7
Wheelbase
107.3
Length/width/height
176.3/68.5/56.3
Turning circle
34.4
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
57.9/58.4
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3285

2002 BMW 3 Series
Sam Moses

Introduction
It's finally here: an M3 as good as the Europeans get. After years of longing (and pleading, and whining) by North Americans, and after taking model year 2000 off, BMW is now exporting an M3 with a new 3.2-liter engine, bumping the horsepower up from 240 to 333. The icing on this cake was the price, reflecting an increase whose value was greater than its numbers. Introduced late as a 2001 model, the 2002 is essentially identical.
Model Lineup
Would you like that with or without a hard top? Your choices are an M3 Coupe ($46,545) or an M3 Convertible ($54,565). The new M3 Coupe was first available as a 2001 model in the spring of 2001; the convertible followed in the fall of 2001, also as a 2001 model. For 2002, the most significant change is that the waiting list is shorter.

You'll pay extra for the pleasure of feeling the sun and wind on your face, but you'll also get Nappa leather cradling your body in the form of seats that are standard on the Convertible (and an $1100 option on the Coupe).

Both coupe and convertible come with a six-speed manual transmission (automatics are not available), huge ventilated disc brakes with ABS, and sophisticated electronic control of traction and stability. For safety, there are two-stage front airbags, side airbags in the doors, an inflating tubular head protection system, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. For your listening enjoyment, an in-dash CD player is standard in 2002.

The options list includes side-impact airbags for the rear seats ($385), Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights ($700), and a navigation system ($1800). Additional options for the coupe include Nappa leather, power moonroof, and power front seats. A cold weather package includes heated front seats, headlight washers and a ski bag.

The most spectacular option is the new Sequential M gearbox. It's similar in operation to the one used in the Williams-BMW Formula One cars that Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher drive. The sequential gearbox is operated either by the shift lever or with butterfly paddles on the steering wheel (one to upshift, one to downshift); it can be set to shift automatically or manually. The six-speed gearbox is technically the same as that used on manually shifted models, but there is no clutch pedal (nor is there a torque converter). Advanced engine electronics interrupt the engine's power for just milliseconds, the control unit opens and closes the clutch, and changes gears electro-hydraulically. When downshifting, the system automatically double-clutches. Computer logic allows the driver to individually match the system's shift characteristic to his preferred driving habits in eleven driving programs. LED lights aid shifting performance. We have not yet sampled this gearbox, but it is designed to produce "a realistic Formula One experience," while reducing shift times (to 80 milliseconds) and the chance of a missed shift. Walkaround
Car gazers who know a little bit about BMWs will recognize what this is: M3 means Magic. Even bystanders who don't know the difference between an M3 and a garden variety 3 Series Coupe might recognize that this car is hot. What gives it away: the deep front airdam with its vast opening, aggressive fender flares, the hunkered stance, massive low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the bulging hood (necessary to accommodate the engine), dual twin exhaust tips, even the horizontal air gills just below the windshield pillar. Still, these things actually look subtler than they sound on paper. But your speed as you blast by these bystanders and the sound of the engine might also be tip-offs. Maybe more like a telegraph.

One thing that came on early M3s is missing: a rear wing. There's just a teensy little spoiler on the rear deck. That tells us something, either about the aerodynamics of the M3 or the necessity of rear wings on road cars altogether. Because M3s are regularly driven at speeds well over 100 mph on the Autobahn, where they are perfectly stable, it can be safely assumed that with wings, teensy (okay, let's say subtle) is perfectly effective. For sure, the M3's understated rear spoiler sure looks better than some silly showy thing.

As for the Convertible, you lose the rear center seat to provide room for the top when it's dropped, but it's not much of a loss because that center seat is of little use anyhow. If you're willing to pay eight grand for sun in your face and wind in your hair ($6900 if you don't count the leather that comes with it), you'll be very happy with the top. It goes up and down with one button, no latches. It's concealed under a hard boot that looks like a soft tonneau cover. It has a thick lining for winter comfort. The glass rear window contains a defroster. Rollover protection bars behind the rear seats are automatically deployed if the car starts to tip. Can't ask for more than all that.

The wheels are distinctive, although this particular style-call it ten-spoke, call it twin-spoke, call it twenty-spoke-sure looks dark in satin chrome, as well as busy.

We're not sure if the wheels look confused or just strong, but we are sure the engine looks like it means business. Under the lightweight aluminum hood, the new S54 3.2-liter, double-overhead cam, inline-6 M powerplant is canted a few degrees toward the passenger side in order to fit under the hood. There's a big intake plenum, riding over six aluminum fuel injector butterfly bodies that look like sidedraft carburetors on an old racing engine. The big matt black valve cover bears its M Power badge on top, and the muscular radiator fan squeezed behind the twin-kidney grille adds to the look of racecar plumbing.

After we were done admiring the engine, we were very impressed (though not really surprised) by the feel of the fingertip slamming of the aluminum hood. How can something that light make such a solid sound when it thunks down? How? BMW quality fit. Interior
The M3 Coupe is considered a five-seater, but don't count on it. There's a reasonable amount of room in the rear, but the middle guy needs to be a midget to have any chance at comfort, as the transmission tunnel rises nearly to the height of the seat. The rear windows in the Coupe, our test car, are power operated, but it's almost an affectation, because they only open by flaring out a few inches at the back, as if to let stale air out, not fresh air in. Practically speaking, passenger-wise, the M3 Coupe fits between a two-plus-two sports car and a sports sedan. Of course, because it performs like a Porsche or Corvette, its seating might fairly be compared to either, in which case it offers much more. (Pressing a switch in the Convertible lowers or raises all four windows at the same time, handy on hot days or when raising or lowering the top.)

The coupe also offers a nice trunk, which is pre-wired for a garage door opener, CD player, security system and cell phone, all of which are BMW features installed by your dealer. What's more, one-third of the rear seat folds forward to gain trunk access, enabling the carrying of long things such as skis or, in our case, a two-piece windsurfing mast. (The convertible offers little in the way of trunk space.)

Rearward visibility is not very good, thanks to the sloping roofline (which may be worth it because the aerodynamics are so good), and the small, oval-shaped, rearview mirror that appears to be taken from a '40 Ford. Given the fact that M3 drivers will be checking their mirrors a lot, this is a curious place to add a touch of retro style, if that's the intent.

There's a terrific dead pedal, which will be used a whole lot because of the car's cornering capability. And the lateral support in the seats is ample, although our torso still shifted during hard cornering because the back of the seat was so wide-odd, since we found the BMW Z3's seats too narrow at the back. Makes us wonder if seat width is a direct function of car width; or maybe BMW has information indicating that M3 buyers are fatter than Z3 buyers.

Speaking of fat, the three-spoke steering wheel contains buttons for cruise control, the audio system and factory-installed phone, which makes it bulkier and less racy than the Audi TT steering wheel, for sure. The instrument panel is clean, with the interior trim in 2002 being changed for the better from Black High Gloss to Titanium Shadow. Also in 2002, there are new headrests to improve safety, and a new automatic climate control system.

The gauges are simple white-on-black; there's a 180-mph speedometer and 9000-rpm tachometer with a glowing red zone that lowers when the engine is cold. There are water temperature and fuel gauges, of course, but surprisingly no oil pressure gauge. The flat switchgear buttons are nice, including for the radio, which is nonetheless complicated enough to require its own manual (taking up much of the small glovebox).

The slim console doesn't hold much, but there are pockets in the doors, and two cupholders between the front seats, although the console compartment has to be raised to use the rear cupholder. We might comment more on such things, which might be considered shortcomings in a five-seat passenger car; except we'll assume that with M3 buyers, console space is not a priority. What matters is performance.

But before we get to driving impressions, we have two observations in that area where ergonomics meet performance. The gas pedal is so close to the gearbox tunnel that our right ankle rubbed on the tunnel when we blipped the throttle during downshifts. And the gearshift knob had an impractical shape, sort of like the head of a golfer's wood, which precluded a good solid grip. These two things flawed the ergonomics of downshifting. Driving Impressions
The soundbite: It doesn't get any better than this. The catch: But you gotta be going 90 miles an hour. The post script: In a curve.

But before you get there, you'll go from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, and after you get around that curve, if there's a real long straightaway, you might reach 155 mph. You and the engine might want to do more, but the engine management software won't let you go beyond that.

The most legal fun might be in accelerating to 70 mph on freeway onramps. The M3 loves to go through the gears, and you can actually hit redline at 8000 rpm in second gear before you have to back off to stay within the law. Second gear. So maybe you can't actually "go through" the gears. You can always short shift, of course. But jeez it's hard, when the car is accelerating so sweetly, and it sounds so wonderful, and it really really really wants you to stretch its legs all the way up to eight grand. It shouts, sings to you, "Please! Use me! That's what I'm here for! Don't let me down!" You're gonna deny it?

The exhaust note is what you might expect from a 3.2-liter, 333-hp inline-6. Inline-6s are known for their sweet sound. On a racing car, sometimes the sound can be spine-tingling (Jaguar), and sometimes it can be ear-blasting (Chevy TrailBlazer Baja truck). Inline-6s are not throaty nor beefy like a V8 (BMW M5). The M3 has a muted exhaust note, almost raspy. Like the rest of the car, it doesn't attract attention (not even your own) unless you're accelerating to 8000 rpm.

Seventy miles per hour in sixth gear is a mere 2650 rpm, but there's enough torque that if you floor it without downshifting (not that you would, this is just a test), you'll take off. If you're on a two-lane in a series of third-gear turns, with no gear changing, the engine responds like the world's most exotic and satisfying rheostat.

And then there's the Sport mode. Not to be confused with a transmission sport mode, it's described as Engine Dynamics Control by the manual, which adds that Sport mode will cause the engine to "respond more spontaneously to the motion of accelerator pedal." Oh really? We think maybe "spontaneous" is not the word BMW was searching for, here.

Sport mode does indeed gas the car on its own, however. Not a lot, but if you're driving along at a steady speed and click the button on the instrument panel, the car will shoot ahead a bit as if a tiny afterburner had been lit. After that, the throttle response will be more aggressive. We like it. It's very practical, very functional. Simply, there are times when you don't want aggressive throttle response, times when you do.

The shifting linkage doesn't offer as short a throw as it might, but shifting is quite positive; the clutch action is especially and admirably smooth. It's easy to accidentally slip the gearbox into reverse if you're going from third gear to first, like when you come up to a red light that changes to green just after you stop.

If you want racier shifting, go for the optional sequential manual gearbox. It's the future.

Like the M5, the ride is amazing. No other carmaker that we can think of can design suspensions that corner like a racecar yet ride so comfortably, and the M sport suspension is specific to the M3. Definitely, it's firm; but we suspect it's a lot firmer than your butt thinks it is. If you know why you bought an M3, that firmness will be well worth the price of an occasional jab to the butt. Considering the handling you get for it, it's a steal.

At higher speeds you can feel the jabs, but not much, and they never move the car off its track. The M3 erases the bigger bumps at higher speeds better than it does the sharp ones at low speeds, however. There's one particular manhole cover near our house that we learned to brace ourselves for, when that left front wheel hit it at 25 mph. If ride quality is important to you, then you may find plenty of performance from the BMW 330i models (see separate NewCarTestDrive.com review of the BMW 3 Series).

The huge ventilated disc brakes are killer, no surprise there. As we recall, only the M5 has brakes like this. On wet surfaces, the ABS is fantastic. Braking ability is generally measured from 70 mph to stop, but with a car like this, a more significant measure might be 100 mph to 30, an area where the M3 inspires total confidence.

Notice: "The laws of physics can not be repealed even with DSC. We therefore urge you to avoid using the additional safety margin of the system as an excuse for taking risks." So says the M3 manual.

DSC stands for Dynamic Stability Control. Such systems, which control the car by varying the throttle, spark or brakes, or all three, when wheel slip occurs, are common on sophisticated cars now. But they're all different. Like ABS, some systems work better than others. And the M3's is specific to the car. A system's invisibility, whether it intrudes on the driving experience in undesirable ways, is one measure for determining what's better.

The unfortunate, if understandable, thing is that they're so complicated that even the manufacturers' public relations people don't know the details of how they work, and even the engineers (who didn't design the system) are sometimes stumped.

Wheel speed, steering angle, lateral acceleration, brake pressure and vehicle movement around the car's vertical axis are evaluated by the sensors, and intervention comes in milliseconds. What type of intervention, when, and why is the complicated part. Automotive journalists are left with explaining how the car feels, not what it's doing, let alone why. Which is probably enough.

So we can tell you this: On our favorite secret backwoods road, where we defied the manual by attempting to defy the laws of physics, the DSC put us in our place every time, and with relatively little intrusion. Those last three words are the key. Meaning, not merely that we were unable to spin the car out at the rear end or slide it off the road at the front end, but that when we abused the throttle, even on a wet surface, we got traction without the throttle being totally shut down on us. It's one of the most advanced electronic stability programs out there, if not the most advanced system.

For example, we think the brakes were applied to gain traction, without the throttle being cut. Racing drivers do this all the time, dab the brakes with the left foot while the throttle is floored with the right. On our wet backwoods road, we saw the DSC light flash on the dash a lot, without the throttle or spark being cut, at least not that we could feel. The DSC works with the M Variable Differential Lock traction control, and the answer to this invisibility lies in the teamwork.

By the way, you can turn the DSC off. We did that too, though only for one drag-race launch on dry pavement. The M3 will burn rubber just like the old days, spinning the tires all the way up to redline in first gear. Cool. A German magazine turned the DSC off too, for skidpad testing, and the M3 achieved a higher level of grip than the Porsche 911.

In summary, it's hard not to be smooth with the M3, given its high-speed stability, its throttle response, its clutch and shifting action, its brakes, and its precise but not too quick turn-in. The problem may be that it's too good. You have to drive it very fast to fully appreciate it, and that mostly leaves a large longing in your heart, a longing for a closed-off road or a racetrack. Summary
Own an M3, and you can claim to own the best high-performance car on the market that isn't a total exotic. It's faster and grippier than a Porsche 911. But the best part may be that you won't have to make any significant compromises in civility.

Model as tested
M3 Coupe ($46,545)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Dingolfing, Germany
Destination charge
645
Gas guzzler tax
1000
Base Price
46545
Price as tested
49290
Options as tested
full Nappa leather seats ($1100)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Coupe ($45,400); Convertible ($53,400)
Safety equipment (standard)
standard: two-stage front airbags, door-mounted side airbags, head protection system, tire-pressure monitoring system, traction control, stability control, dynamics control and differential lock
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.2-liter double overhead cam 24v inline-6 with variable valve timing
Transmissions
6-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, halogen fog lights

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.2-liter double overhead cam 24v inline-6 with variable valve timing
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
333 @ 7900
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
16/24
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
12.8-in. ventilated disc/12.9-in ventilated disc with ABS
Suspension, front
MacPherson struts, control arms, coil springs, tube shocks, anti-roll bar
Tires
P225/45ZR18 - P255/40ZR18
Suspension, rear
multi-link, coil springs, tube shocks, anti-roll bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
37.5/54.5/41.7
Head/hip/leg room, rear
36.5/52.7/33.2

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
9.5
Wheelbase
107.5
Length/width/height
176.8/70.1/54.0
Turning circle
36.1
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
57.4/60.0
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3415


Vehicle History Report


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