Few high performance cars excite us like the BMW M3. And each time that BMW brings out a new M3, we get even more excited. So you can imagine what our office was like when BMW delivered the all-new 2001 M3. With 333 horses under the hood, and the most sophisticated chassis in 3-series history, why the mere thought of driving the new M3 makes us weak in the knees.
We first dragged our jellied legs aboard the raucous 2001 BMW M3 at the Grand Prix circuit in Jerez, Spain nearly a year ago. That too brief test impressed us so much that we named the M3 our Best Performance Car pick for 2001.
A more extensive test of this Laguna Seca Blue coupe has only served to validate that decision. And after driving this Imola Red M3 convertible, it was clear our choice was a no-brainer.
Visually, the M3 stands apart from its other, merely mortal 3-series brethren with a muscular re- shaping all around. The front air dam features extra-large intake scoops, while the kidney grille is less upright, blending well with the recontoured power dome hood.
The M3 Convertible shares the same lines from the A-pillar forward, but the fully-lined cloth top does not exactly mimic the coupe’s lines. The styling effect is of a lower, more sensuous machine.
At the touch of a button, this M3 stows its top and heated glass rear window for serious wind in the hair excitement. An aluminum hardtop is optional.
Both models carry the same widened track and wheel arches. They are needed to house the M-exclusive 18” double-spoke alloys wearing 225/45 series Michelin rubber up front and 255/40’s in the rear.
Out back, a wind spoiler is designed into the trunk lid, and the rear skirt flanks 4 chromed exhaust tips.
While a great body is nice, in our driving romances, performance is what really matters. And the M3 delivers a whopping 333 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 262 pound-feet of torque at 4,900.
BMW’s M-division has conjured up these numbers from a 3.2 liter inline six equipped with variable valve timing, 6 individual throttles and a free-flowing exhaust. For once, the U.S. gets the same potent M3 engine sold in Europe.
Driving the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual gearbox, our tester romped to 60 in 5 seconds flat. And tore through the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at a trap speed of 107 miles per hour.
Despite giving up 366 pounds to the coupe, the M3 convertible needed just a half-second more to complete both tests.
Power is delivered with a sense of dire urgency, the motor revving cleanly all the way to 8,000 rpm, with 80% of its maximum torque on tap at just 2,000 rpm. Above 5,000 the exhaust note rips like a chain saw through balsa wood.
Away from the track for awhile, we came to fully appreciate the M3’s sporting interior fitment.
The layout here is up to the standards set by the M3’s racy
looks and performance, but with less of the boy-racer attitude found in previous M-models.
The driver sits on leather M-sport seats featuring individual backrest width adjustment. This unique design gives firm all- around support while still allowing the driver freedom of movement.
The 6-speed shifter works with precision, but with a somewhat rubbery feel. A nice touch is the lighted shift pattern on top of the knob, but the most satisfying touch is the small button labeled “sport” in front of the shifter.
Switch this on, and BMW’s Driving Dynamics system delivers a shot of adrenaline to the driver in the form of noticeably quicker throttle response. So activated, the M3’s gas pedal is almost too twitchy for the street, but is perfectly tuned for serious driving.
Which we did plenty of on the tight twisties of West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway.
BMW’s philosophy is to always make the suspension faster than the engine. That may sound like marketing language, but the M3’s engineers obviously took that mantra to heart.
The suspension is an evolution of the previous M3 design, using a single-joint spring strut front axle and a multi-link setup in the rear.
Thanks to extensive use of aluminum to reduce unsprung weight, a stiff body structure, and near-perfect balance, the M3 coupe is one of the most enjoyably tossable track cars we’ve ever driven.
Initial understeer keeps things safe in normal maneuvers, but push a little harder and the M3 responds with controllable oversteer, quick side-to-side transitions, and unmatched stability right up to the limits of adhesion.
Driver confidence is ensured by Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Brake Control with ABS, and BMW M’s Variable Differential Lock. All systems work together seamlessly to keep the M3 on the right path without interfering in the driver’s fun.
To us the 2001 M3 feels a little softer than previous models…not quite so harsh over the bumps, and not quite so single-minded in purpose.
In keeping with its sport-cruiser character, we limited ourselves to less strenuous activities in the M3 convertible, but were no less impressed by its fine handling and tight body structure.
The M3 convertible gives away very little in agility, and nothing in driver satisfaction, to its coupe sibling. And you can’t discount the added value of open-air motoring.
But you can put a price on it. $53,400 to be exact. That includes more standard equipment than the coupe, and with options such as xenon lights, a cold weather package and a Harmon- Kardon sound system, our M3 convertible came in at a not- unreasonable $57,220.
The M3 coupe, with all of its rousing performance and bad-boy attitude, carries a base price of just $45,400. As-tested, ours totaled up to $48,345.
If you’re one of the lucky 3,000 to nab one of these ultimate driving machines, wobbly knees may be the least of your worries, since the performance of these latest Maulers from Munich can best be described as heart- stopping.
And whether you fancy the menacing looks of the M3 coupe, or the low- slung open-air elegance of the M3 convertible, you’ll be in for the drive of a lifetime!
Engine: 3.2 Liter Inline 6 Cylinder
Torque: 262 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 107 MPH
60-0 MPH: 112 Feet
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 24 MPG Highway