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BMW M3 Convertible

Broadcast 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 lopped off.

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 performance handling.

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 offers.

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 slope.

And there is also a launch control function for very fast starts.

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 operations.

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 justified.

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.

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