Join Date: Jul 2003
In the garage:
Location: SE PA
Re: e46 M3 Press/Media/Reviews/Articles Thread
C&D Long term test
Eight years ago, in April 1995, we published a long-term test of a BMW M3 and were delighted with the results. Except for its fragile wheels, which frequently were the losers in conflicts with American potholes, the M3 charmed us with its combination of speed, driver involvement, and general usefulness.
Then came the next-generation M3 in early 2001 with its hot-blooded Euro motor. This most exotic version of BMW's in-line six displaced 3246cc and revved to 8000 rpm, developing a peak of 333 horsepower—enough to slice a second from the old M3's 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times. Would this engine, which produces 102.6 horsepower per liter, survive everyday use? Your humble servants on Hogback Road resolved to find out.
We ordered a 2001 Laguna Seca Blue M3 two-door equipped with the Cold Weather ($700) and Luxury ($3100) packages, as well as adjustable-width seats ($500), xenon headlights ($500), a CD player ($200), and a Harman/Kardon sound system ($675). The total came to $53,309, which included the now-discontinued luxury tax and was more than $14,000 above the cost of our 1994 M3, but perhaps not unreasonable for the additional 93 horsepower and eight years of inflation.
Our M3 arrived in July 2001 and quickly captivated the hotshoes in the office with its amazing acceleration and sure-footed handling. With 1940 miles on it, we took the M3 to the test track and measured a 0-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a standing quarter-mile of 13.1 seconds at 107 mph. The electric-blue M3 also showed great grip, managing 0.87 g on the skidpad and stopping from 70 mph in 161 feet. Not bad for a car that can hold four adults and a decent load of luggage.
Along with that performance, however, are a number of characteristics that do not endear the M3 to your average drive-and-forget consumer. For one thing, the M3 has the most cold-blooded engine we've encountered in quite some time. The highly tuned six sometimes stalled at the first starting attempt. And often when it managed to run on the first attempt, it spit and bucked for several seconds before settling down. This car will teach you to adopt the sensible habit of fastening your seatbelt, installing your radar detector, and tuning your radio station after starting your engine, thereby giving it time to warm up. You would also be wise to mind the M3's trick tachometer, which progressively increases the redline as the engine warms up.
The casual driver will also be shocked by the M3's appetite for motor oil. Our car consumed its first quart in less than 1900 miles, and by its first oil change at 12,500 miles—a service interval determined by the onboard maintenance system—this ultimate driving machine had used three more quarts.
Whereas we don't mind popping the hood and gazing at the lovely engine while checking the level on the dipstick, it's just as easy to wait for the low-oil light to come on when the crankcase is down a little more than a quart. Either way, however, you would be wise to keep handy a supply of the special oil BMW specifies for the M3—Castrol TWS Motorsport or Formula RS 10W-60 synthetic—because it can only be found at BMW dealers at $9 per.
We didn't have this special elixir on hand for the first few of the 14 quarts of lubricant the M3 consumed between its oil changes during our 40,000-mile test. In one case, the only oil we could find in the wilds of Indiana was Valvoline nonsynthetic 10W-40.
Our M3 suffered no obvious ill effects from this crankcase malnourishment, but we strongly recommend that owners stick to the specified Castrol oil as there have been cases reported of M3 engine failure linked to using the wrong oil.
Our blue beauty rolled up the miles rapidly, both on long trips and around Ann Arbor. Opinions about the car quickly bifurcated into two camps. The hard-core enthusiasts loved the blend of sports-car performance and responsiveness coupled with sedan practicality. The comfort-over-speed crowd never cottoned to the M3's hard ride, high-rpm gearing, and elevated powertrain and tire-noise levels.
Winter arrived with full fury in January 2002, and it quickly became clear that the OEM Michelin Pilot Sport tires, which generated terrific grip on dry and wet pavement, were no match for the fluffy white stuff. We promptly mounted a full set of Bridgestone Blizzak MZ-01s, which rendered the powerful M3 practical in the winter.
At 22,400 miles, a minivan launched a large metallic hunk of debris into the front of the M3, taking out the headlight assembly ($810) in the process, as well as damaging the bumper, grille, hood, and fender. The repairs came to $2366.
About 4000 miles later, we noticed a clunk in the rear suspension that the dealer traced to loose shock-absorber mounts. New ones were ordered and fitted under warranty. We also asked the mechanics to see if they could do anything about the car's tendency to stall on occasion after a cold start, but they could find no problem with the engine-management system.
At 28,000 miles, the climate-control system developed a mind of its own. It alternated between blowing full blast and refusing to run at all. The malfunctioning parts were replaced under warranty.
At about the same time, we removed our snow tires. Instead of refitting the M3's original Michelins, even though they were only half-worn, we opted to try a set of Bridgestone Potenza S-03s.
The only other problem we had with the M3 was a sticky driver's door, caused by the inner weatherstripping, which was dragging on the back surface of the inner door panel. The weatherstripping was replaced on both doors at our 38,000-mile service, under warranty, which solved the problem permanently.
That particular service was the third regular stop called for by the onboard maintenance system. The first two were at 12,500 and 25,300 miles, and they all consisted of an oil and filter change, a raft of general inspections, and the replacement of the activated-charcoal microfilter, which sifts dust, pollen, and pollutants from the climate-control system.
The first two of these services were included free in the BMW's three-year/36,000-mile maintenance package, and the dealer even threw in fresh windshield-wiper blades at each visit. The third service, at 38,000 miles, was the only one we paid for, and it ran us $163.
A bit high-strung in some ways, the M3 has too much sporting flavor to suit many drivers. But if you want full-fledged high-performance sports-car capabilities in an everyday-usable package for four adults, the M3 is a terrific choice
WINTER TIRES: With no snow tires available in the M3's standard sizes of 225/45ZR-18 front and 255/40ZR-18 rear, we ordered a set of equally sized 17-inch wheels and tires from the Tire Rack (800-981-3782; www.tire rack.com). For $1288, we received four 225/50QR-17 Bridgestone Blizzak MZ-01s mounted and balanced on 7.5-by-17-inch AT Italia Type 5 alloy wheels.
These tires sacrifice some grip on dry pavement and are noisier on the highway than the standard Michelin Pilot Sports. But they're magic in the snow, rendering a car with the M3's winter disadvantages—lots of power, a 50/50 weight distribution, wide tires—eminently usable. If you plan to drive your M3 in a snowy climate, you need tires like these.
SUMMER TIRES: Although the M3's original Michelins were far from worn out when we removed our snow tires for the summer, we decided to try a set of Bridgestone Potenza S-03s to see if we could improve the car's firm ride. The general consensus was positive in this regard. Although the Bridgestones hardly transformed the M3 into a 530i, they did mitigate some of the worst bumping and thumping. The Potenza S-03s also displayed at least as much grip as the Michelins. Unfortunately, after 14,000 miles, the center part of the rear tires had worn completely bald. In contrast, over 18,000 miles the Michelins retained 47 percent of their tread life—proof positive that tire design remains a grand compromise.
REMOTE RADAR/LIDAR DETECTOR: If a bright blue M3 isn't cop bait, nothing is. So we promptly installed Escort's new Passport SRX remote radar/lidar detector. This permanent unit consists of six modules, all of which need to be fitted and wired in the car by a professional installer. Our BMW dealer did the installation and tucked the radar receiver and the two lidar detector/jammers neatly into the lower front grille. The rear lidar detector/jammer was mounted below the rear license plate, the interface module went under the dash, and the display/control unit went into an empty cubbyhole in the dash. In general, the SRX is a well-executed system that fit neatly and unobtrusively into the M3. Moreover, in addition to detecting police radar and lidar guns, the SRX is claimed to also "shift" or jam lidar signals to allow the targeted vehicle to slow down.
After 40,000 miles we went to DaimlerChrysler's Chelsea proving ground to check the SRX's performance. We brought along the winner of our last radar/lidar test (February 2002), a Valentine One, as a reference and control unit.
On the X- and K-band radar tests, the range at which the SRX detected the radar gun was roughly one-fourth of the Valentine's range. On Ka-band, the SRX detection range was about two-thirds of the Valentine's (detailed results of all tests can be found at www.CARandDRIVER.com).
This reduced performance might be partly due to the SRX radar receiver's low mounting point in the front grille—an inherent characteristic of permanently mounted detectors. The Valentine One, mounted on the windshield, had a higher perspective, which is likely advantageous.
This low mounting position didn't seem to diminish the SRX's sensitivity to lidar—it was roughly 20 percent better than the Valentine, both front and rear. To determine how well the SRX's jamming capabilities worked, we simulated a police lidar trap at 1200 feet using three different lidar guns: a Kustom Signals Pro Laser, an Applied Concepts Stalker, and a Marksman LTI 20/20. We tested the SRX with the M3 approaching and receding from the guns.
The SRX successfully jammed the Pro Laser, both coming and going, preventing it from registering a speed at any distance. It was also pretty effective against the Stalker gun, forcing error messages from 1100 feet down to 200 feet coming at the gun, and from 0 to 1000 feet going away.
The SRX had a tougher time with the newer LTI 20/20 gun. When approaching the LTI, the SRX reduced the gun's effective range from 1000 feet to 800. Going away, the LTI tracked speed out to 900 feet then flashed an error code, but reestablished tracking at 1000 feet. Against the LTI, you'd have to be very quick on the brakes to avoid a ticket.
Available only at new-car dealerships, the Passport SRX (including installation) costs $1500. A premium model with voice alert and a completely hidden display costs an extra $100. If you insist on an almost invisible detector, or live in an area thick with lidar guns, the SRX is not a bad choice. To find a dealer near you, contact Escort at 800-964-3143 or www.escortradar.com.
Finally, every boy racer's dream come true. A competition car with license plates!
Whatever compliance the base 3-series has that makes it such a delight as a daily driver has been completely dialed out of this machine.
DAVE VANDER WERP
The CD player doesn't like burned CDs. A big downside for younger people because nearly all of mine are burned.
It is a truly luxurious, all-out sports car.
Plenty of room for all the cargo on a weeklong trip to Boston.
I much prefer the other 3-series cars to the M3. It's just too "in your face" for my tastes.
Superb acceleration, world-class brakes, reflexes worthy of an Olympic fencer.