For anyone who loves to drive, the appeal of a 2-seat sports car is undeniable. But, sooner or later, even the most die-hard enthusiast wishes for a bit more practicality. One solution sports carmakers have tried is to adapt a hatchback bodystyle. Unfortunately, it is an approach usually marred by very compromised styling. The latest carmaker to tackle this challenge is BMW, transforming the rowdy Z3-based M roadster into this M Coupe. But can the M Coupe’s potent performance overpower its peculiar looks?
The answer to that question can be found in one word: priorities. As those who put a premium on looks may find themselves unable to get past the 1999 BMW M Coupe’s hightop-sneaker-on-wheels appearance. But to the performance purist, still clinging, in these highly stylized times, to the notion that form follows function, the M Coupe was built for you. And it takes nothing more than a turn behind the wheel to put any lingering concerns about questionable sheetmetal behind you. Literally!
Because from that vantage point, all you’ll see is the long front end, shared with the Z3 and M Roadsters, that flows back from BMW’s signature kidney-shaped grille. Once past the windshield, however, and the M Coupe breaks ranks with its Roadster compatriots, as its rear flanks quickly swell out to accommodate the huge, 9-inch wide, 245/40ZR 17-inch tires and wheels. Before ending abruptly at the Honda Civic-style rear hatch, that, regardless of appearance, does serve a practical purpose, by providing access to the very useable 9 cubic feet of cargo space.
But part of the M Coupe’s reason for being, and your reason for buying, is found under the sheetmetal of that long hood. It’s BMW’s, by-now-famous, 3.2-liter, double-overhead-cam, 24-valve, in-line 6 cylinder. That punches out 246 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. It feeds a smooth-shifting, standard, ZF 5-speed transmission, and together, they allowed us a run to 60 in a quick 5.4 seconds, on our way to a quarter mile time of 14 seconds flat, at 100 miles per hour!
Handling, the M Coupe’s other reason for living, is equally inspired. As the usual reinforcements added to the convertible Roadster to increase its strength were left in place. And when combined with the hardtop’s framework, resulted in an M Coupe chassis that is 2.6 times stiffer than the Roadster’s. It is, in fact, the most rigid body BMW has ever built.
To take advantage of all this extra torsional rigidity, the M Coupe utilizes the M Roadster’s suspension components with just a few minor refinements. The suspension geometry has been changed slightly, to increase the wheelbase by half an inch, and to improve straight-line stability. Up front, MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube gas shocks, and a slightly smaller anti-roll bar keep things on track. While at the rear, semi-trailing arms, stiffer springs, a larger anti-roll bar, and the aforementioned gas shocks, try to keep the M Coupe’s hindquarters pegged to the pavement.
When taken as a whole, the M Coupe’s suspension delivers a car that responds exactly where pointed, and recovers quickly and effortlessly when you change your mind. On the track, our drivers had a ball with its darty nature, and the rear wheel slide that positioned you quickly for sharp corners. But we found that dartiness could get downright squirrelly in real world traffic. Steering feel was also lighter than we expected.
Definitely not light were the brakes. The massive, ABS-fitted, 12.4-inch vented discs up front, 12.3 inchers at the rear, consistently snatched us from 60 to a complete stop, in a rock solid average of 110 feet. The only complaint was a slight bit of ABS modulation felt in the steering wheel.
Slide into the form-fitting seats behind the steering wheel, and you’ll find the M Coupe’s snug, our six-footer’s called it cramped, little cabin nearly identical to the M Roadster’s. The leather buckets offer excellent side-holding support and both power and manual adjustments. But seat bottoms are ultra firm and rather narrow. The small, but grippy, steering wheel offers no adjustments, as it faces an all-up gauge cluster that is split between the IP and the center stack. Side impact airbags are standard fare. So too are the heated seats, traction control, and the 9-speaker Harmon Kardon AM/FM/Cassette stereo. In fact, the only factory options are this power moonroof and a 6-disc CD changer.
As you might expect, all this high-contented, heady performance comes at a price. But, considering the competition, it’s not an unreasonable one. List price on the 1999 BMW M Coupe is $41,800. Our tester rang up at $42,816. For those who actually like the styling, and we know you’re out there, but don’t feel the need for the pumped-up performance, there’s a 1999 Z3 2.8 Coupe for you, at $36,824.
So, what are your priorities? Do you love it, or leave it? Judging from the reactions we’ve gotten so far, there’s strong, and very vocal supporters, in both camps. But regardless of which side of the coin you’re on, we offer the following advice. Just grab the wheel, and don’t worry about what’s behind you. Because in the 1999 BMW M Coupe, everything back there will just be a blur anyway.
Engine: 3.2-Liter, Dohc, 24-valve, In-line 6 Cylinder
Torque: 236 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14 Seconds @ 100 MPH
60-0 MPH: 110 Feet