History – I’ve just sold my M3 after around 40 months of ownership and I thought I’d write review of the car with my honest findings (good and bad). For the longest time I’ve always loved M3s, from the E30 to the E36, the E46 I’ve owned and now I’m dribbling at the sight of the E90s. Unfortunately my champagne tastes have never quite been matched by my budget over the years so I’ve previously driven a variety of metal including an E30 318is and an E36 320i SE. Then I bought a Subaru Impreza in the early naughties. The Classic shape, just before every Burberry cap wearing lad started to pimp their scoob. It was a wonderful car and after a few years I “upgraded” to a 2003 STi. However that’s was where the love affair with Subaru ended. I’ll not go into detail here but suffice to say it was truly awful. And so in early 2006 I was finally in a position to buy my dream car, a 2002 M3 manual coupe in titanium silver.
Driving – Cars like the M3 should feel special, and they do. Even after more than three years of getting in and turning the key it still felt like an event setting out in the morning. Watching the orange lights on the rev counter drop out one by one, taking pride in looking after the engine and waiting for the fun to begin.
The M3 can sound a tad tinny when cold, until things warm up the baffles sound like they are about to depart the vehicle via the rear. You can also lurch around a bit if you try to keep the revs too low on a cold morning. However, once things are toasty and you are on your way the high pitched rasp of the engine is more akin to a Ferrari than anything else I’ve ever heard.
The Sport button always seemed to do more than just sharpen the throttle response. Without it engaged the more docile standard throttle map means the fly-by-wire switch at your right foot requires full travel to open the throttle completely. This coupled to the relative lack of low-down torque (most of the fun is north of 5,000rpm) can make the M3 feel heavy. Mind you it is heavy at around 1.5 tons. With the Sport switch on the car takes on an entirely different persona. It leaps forward at the slightest tickle of the loud pedal. However the throttle then effectively becomes an on/off switch and that’s not always conducive with subtle car control and balance. I found myself driving with it off 99% of the time and only using if I was wanting a real blast on a dry day with clear roads.
Traction Control – The DSC / Traction Control was probably the thing I liked least about the M3. It does some really silly things. Pulling out of a junction near my house that always had gravel, the TC would kick in at around 5mph. The car throttles back instantly, not at all subtle and unlike any other TC I’ve experienced. This results in your head lurching forward. The car then suddenly is ready to try again and re-applies the power, and your head snaps back. But as we’re still on the gravel the wheels begin to slip a little again and so power is taken away instantly again and your head is on the way forward. All this happens in a second or two but the result is you looks like a complete numpty doing the “Kangaroo Petrol” thing away from the junction. I ended up having to turn off the TC coming up to this junction in the end. I had similar issue overtaking a van once where the whole power on-off-on thing happened about 4 or 5 cycles, awful. The TC is way too aggressive and shouldn’t even be getting involved at such low speeds. Then I had an incident a few years back in the rain where the car over steered badly accelerating out of a wet corner at around 80mph. From what I read the CSL has a much improved TC system with an intermediate setting between full on and full off. This is a good thing.
For the most though the TC means you don’t spin off into the scenery when you run out of road or talent. Even on a slightly greasy surface the M3 would spend a lot of time sideways if it weren’t for the electronics. Over-steer is nice and controllable though. The car is poised and balanced and you can drift like Tiff Needel if you like that sort of thing.
Gear Shift – On my manual car the gear shift got progressively more notchy the longer I owned the car. This seems to be a case of “they all do that sir” and it was improved a little by lubricating the linkage occasionally. The pedals were perfectly positioned for rolling my foot over while braking to blip the throttle on the down change. The six ratios are well spaced and provide stunning acceleration, albeit without the brutal sensation of a turbo rally replica. The SMG seems to be a Marmite-esque love it or hate it thing with passionate opinions for and against on the forums. I’ve never driven one so can’t comment.
Handling & Ride – Eventually the memories of the Subarus faded and the M3 too started to become just a little too hard for my ageing bones. This wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t live in the countryside and have to suffer some pretty awful roads. As well as feeling too jarring on these surfaces the M3 also can feel quite “fidgety” on uneven surfaces too. Unsurprisingly the car feels most at home on smooth roads. Show it anything from a motorway to a fast sweeping A road and progress can be immensely fast and satisfying. Even more so when you consider you can have a family of 4 and all their luggage with you as I did shortly after I got the M3 when we travelled to Scotland for the weekend.
The Toys – Coming from a Subaru the bee em felt like a Rolls Royce in terms of comfort and equipment. My car had pretty much every option fitted and now I’m ruined. Driving a car without automatic Xenons, Heated seats or TV will be hard work from now on. Little touches like the ability to hold down the lock button on the keyfob to close the windows and sun roof are excellent. The key itself charges while in the ignition and so its battery is always fine too.
Dealers & Running Costs – Running any BMW, let alone an M-car can be costly. However I only drive around 7,000 miles a year and so fuel and servicing bills (I found a local independent BMW specialist) were very reasonable. It seems some M3s use oil and some don’t. Mine did and I put in around 1.5 litres a year I’d guess. Tyres seemed to be a yearly expense despite the low mileage and at £800 for a set of 4 a major expense, but not something to scrimp on.
I bought the car four years old and sold it at seven. It depreciated at £300 per month over this time. I mostly seemed to averaged 24mpg with low 30’s achievable on a long run. All in all this is pretty good considering the Subaru did around 18-20mpg. It’s insurance group 20.
The Verdict – While the M3 is not perfect, for me there are very few if any other cars that have its pace, handling, equipment, reliability, 4 proper seats / boot and all within a package that looks so stunning. Even Clarkson (not exactly a BMW fan) compliments the M3 on its styling. On the CS model he commented – “Ooh, it’s a handsome thing. The body seems to have been stretched over the wheels, in the same way that bodybuilders’ skin appears to have been stretched over their muscles.” I can’t do any better than that! It’s a beautifully proportioned car that just looks great from any angle.
The fact you can pick up decent ones from around £10K these days is incredible. Its an awesome point to point GT car that I hope to return to again in the future. Highly recommended!