M3 So Sexy : BMW M3 Cabriolet (E46) [review]
Fri, 03/01/2002 - 22:00 — admin
read the primer on M3 E46 HERE)
The main attraction of course is the M3’s engine but in this case it comes attached to BMW’s technically interesting SMG. While the SMG moniker will appear on mainstream BMW’s in future, it would stand for Sequential Manual Gearbox. The one in the M3 is the Motorsport version, beefed up and comes with six forward gears.
This latest version comes with two paddles not unlike Ferrari’s F1 transmission except unlike Ferrari’s, the SMG’s paddles are attached to the steering wheel like a proper F1 car. The only caveat is in a proper F1 car, the steering ratio is pretty much one-turn lock to lock and even with the M3's quicker ratio the steering needs to be rotated more than 360 degrees.
However the SMG gives no quarter when it comes to it ability to deliver all the goods. There is no doubt, in full unbridled Sport/Race mode both these transmissions are sensational especially during track use but the SMG is far more user friendly when used in a less aggressive mode for everyday duties.
Moreover the full-automatic mode tries to mimic a traditional torque-converter auto. This SMG has five levels of aggression, the first two levels are mild concentrating on slurring shifts and being unobtrusive.
The last two settings raise the abruptness of the change and does not try to shield you from the shift shock of transmitting all of the 343 bhp. The 3rd setting is a good compromise between the two extremes being sufficiently smooth yet offering appropriate kickdown response when it is called upon.
As with the auto mode the center position provides a good compromise between the two. It must be said, there is a last “hidden” mode that is available when one disarms the DSC. Selecting that allows you to get into the “Launch mode”.
It will do the same Ferrari party launch-trick of holding the revs up and aggressively engaging the clutch, lighting up the rear tyres on its way to a 5.5 second century sprint. It is not as spectacular as Ferrari’s flamboyant tyre smoking start but it gets the job done very efficiently with just a bit of wheelspin.
Floor the throttle and the revs rise to just over 4000 rpm. But watch your front before one releases the gearlever because the horizon will come rushing toward you in dramatic puff of expensive tyre smoke.
By holding the gearlever up, the car is braked electronically even with the throttle wide open. On its release, the brakes are released, the clutch engaged and the electronic throttle controls the openings of all six butterflies for a perfectly controlled launch.
Lest you get carried away, the manual says the clutch will only perform this twenty five times, so use sparingly. There is a memory that logs in the number of launches just in case you forget.
There is no doubt the SMG brings a whole gamut of useful functions but there isn’t one that a skillful driver cannot perform with a normal manual M3 except the auto mode. However this SMG is also a wonderful marketing tool.
The true blue enthusiast would probably choose the less complicated 6-speed manual but they are getting relatively rare nowadays and most well heeled clientele want some form of labour saving device like an automatic transmission in addition to the manual selection ability.
The only way to satisfy these buyers who insist on the best of both worlds is with the SMG. They can let their wives drive it occasionally without complaint and they can also enjoy it during track days. It might even be attractive to those who are accustomed to autos but still want a bit of manual fun.
Not only does this engine has Dual VANOS operating its 24 valves, it has six individual throttle butterflies for each of the cylinders. These butterflies are servo operated which makes it easy to have proper traction control and many other various drive stability functions built in. It also makes it easier to have even more aggression in its throttle response once Sport mode is engaged.
Compare these figures with many other normal aspirated engines and you will realize just how special this engine is, even among the ranks of just a handful of highly prized 100+ bhp per litre engines.
This is the position we selected for most of the trip despite the kidney-jarring ride for the passenger. Truth be told much as the steering has good feel, it is a trifle detached as far as the state-of-the-art goes. In sport mode, at least you recover some of that delicate sharpness.
With the guardian angel DSC in play, it is genuinely hard to get the M3 to perform any stunts. Turn it off and there is some fun to be had with the excess power the M3 has. It has enough grunt to make the M3 do doughnuts, albeit expensive tyre smoking ones.
Under or oversteer is now easily provoked revealing just how much the DSC is working behind the scenes saving one’s skin. Of course learning the envelop unfettered by electronic intervention is more of a genuine experience with the M3 and its capabilities but with such prodigious power it is just too easy to embarrass oneself.
Admittedly it seems to be the junior upstart among such luminaries but it has the capability and race pedigree to stand up to the class contenders. In relative terms it also undercuts them by quite a margin but by mere mortal standards we are still talking big bucks here.
CAPACITY : 3246cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : In-Line 6
VALVES : 24, DOHC, Dual VANOS
BORE X STROKE : 87 x 91mm
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.5:1
MAXIMUM POWER : 343 bhp at 7900 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 365 Nm at 4900 rpm
PRICE IN 2002 : $356,000 without COE