dates : 15th August 2004
19th August 2004
Imagine the best of both worlds
if you are a Beemer fan. Soaking up the sun in a 3-Series
convertible, and enjoying full-on M3 performance levels when
the road is clear up ahead.
The M3 convertible is the ultimate in BMW 3 Series rides, with
two hundred and fifty two kilowatts of power giving it
supercar levels of performance in an open top configuration.
High-powered convertibles were once a rarity in the car world,
simply because open-topped cars lack rigidity once the roof is
But the latest computerised design techniques have enabled
very solid cabriolets even with high power outputs.
In the case of the 3 Series convertible, chassis rigidity has
always been excellent, and the M3 convertible is solid enough
to take the extra Motorsport division horsepower.
However the current 3 Series is nearing the end of its
life-cycle. Just a year ago this convertible was the standard
by which others should be measured, in terms of body rigidity.
But it has to be said that the new Mercedes SLK has moved the
game ahead in terms of cars in this price range, and the dual
function of closed-roofed coupe solidity and open topped
appreciation of the joys of spring.
The BMW M3 Convertible provides an excellent ride, but there
is just a little vagueness detected in the location of the
steering column with the roof down.
Most enthusiasts will feel, however that this is splitting
hairs, as the M3 convertible, despite being a full four-seater,
has to be rated as an all-out sports car.
Its performance levels are just shy of the supercar league,
populated by cars like the Ferrari F360 and Porsche 911.
And yet the M3 provides full four-seater accommodation.
Like all BMWs, this is rear wheel drive, offering classic
The standard car comes with a six-speed manual gearbox. Our
test vehicle was fitted with the optional Sports Manual
Gearbox, or as it is also called by the factory, the
Sequential Manual Gearbox.
The clutch-less operation of the gearbox remains a talking
point amongst drivers of all sorts of persuasions. Some like
the paddle shift operation up and down the box. Others enjoy
the option of a fully automatic function, which the SMG also
But using the gearbox does take some getting used to.
There are six different shift programmes available, dialed in
at the touch of a button.
These range from a very gentile, rather tardy shift process to
a racy, harsh shift for a full-on sporty application.
To avoid jerkiness with the system in the sport mode, it
requires a well-timed lift-off on the throttle pedal just
before the higher gear is engaged.
The system also offers a useful gradient control function
which prevents the car rolling before you pull away on a
And there is also a launch control function for very fast
Visually the M3 Convertible is a feast for the eyes. The clean
flanks on the car seem emphasized in top down mode, and the
deep spoiler and massive air intakes seem even more aggressive
on the top-down version.
And then there are those M-wheels, 18-inches in diameter,
eight inches wide at the front and an inch wider at the rear.
The M3 convertible can also be ordered with 19-inch forged
wheels as an option.
The interior features full Nappa leather upholstery, electric
well-bolstered sports front seats and Harman Kardon sound with
a six CD changer as standard.
And of course the fabric top opens and closes with the touch
of a button – or rather two buttons – one for closing, one
for opening. The top has a glass rear window, which means no
crinkling of the rear screen after a couple of folding
There is also a full range of front and side airbags, as well
as pop up roll over bars in the headrests, should sensors on
the car indicate an impending roll-over.
Convertibles are generally heavier than their closed top
counterparts, and the M3 Convertible is no lightweight.
Even so it’ll hit one hundred just five-comma five seconds
after blast off, and lope to its electronically limited top
speed of two-fifty with contemptuous ease.
Hence our contention that this car, especially in convertible
form, has to be rated as an out and out sports car. The
generous rear passenger space is merely a bonus.
In light of its ability, the price tag of six hundred and
fourteen thousand rand is probably quite realistic. The SMG
gearbox, it should be noted, adds another thirty five thousand
rand to the price.
But with the next 3-Series ready to debut in 2005, potential
customers will have to weigh up whether the investment is
If the continuing mystique of the original M3 is anything to
go by, then the answer to this is that the M3 convertible is
still a good buy.
And this car illustrates just how good the current 3-Series
was, when it was launched in Spain at the end of 1997.
Car Torque is