There have been many weekends in my life I've anticipated with great excitement. It had been a long time, however, since I'd looked forward to a weekend like I did last September.
There was plenty to be very excited about: I was spending a fun weekend with my girlfriend Rhonda; we were going to the American Le Mans Series race at Laguna Seca; and we were getting there in ec's long-term silver 2002 BMW M3 convertible!
Before I get into the details of my weekend, let me give you a piece of advice: If you own an older M3, don't test drive this new one unless you're ready to sell the one you've got. BMW has done wonders with this new car, making it the best M3 ever.
When I was given the keys, I walked...no, actually, I ran to the car, started the motor and dropped the top. It pulled back from the windshield header and neatly packed itself away with the touch of a button. No release levers, no getting outside the car to lock anything--just sit there, hold the button and give it about 15 seconds.
Needless to say, we opted to take the more scenic coastal highways on the way up to Monterey. The top stayed down for most of the drive, of course. Clear weather kept temps in the mid 60s to low 70s, and it was absolutely beautiful. At times the cold wind caused Rhonda to curl up into a tight ball, shivering with goose bumps, her hands stretched out to the heater vents, her head crouched down to avoid the oncoming wind. I thought to myself, "Poor girl, what can I do?"
I tossed her a jacket and kept going.
California's Highway 1 is a road full of twists and turns. Even though I feel the M3 could use wider rear tires for added low-speed control, the rear grip going through these (mostly) third-gear turns was more than sufficient--trail-braking did not provoke any scary moments. Along with slight understeer, the steering response (what a fat steering wheel!) and brake feel kept me absolutely comfortable at all times. Since the M3 packs no spare wheel, I programmed the very user-friendly tire-pressure warning system. Knowing my tire pressures were being monitored, I didn't once think about them.
The engine? Well, it's hard to put into words. With more than 333 extremely responsive horses from 3.2 liters, you're going to have a hard time finding a better powerplant. The rush from an 8200-rpm third-to-fourth gearshift is one I've never experienced from anything else this side of a Ferrari. With only 3.2 liters and such high-rpm capabilities, I wasn't expecting much in the bottom end. But my expectations proved wrong--BMW's masterful Double VANOS system gave me the best of both worlds: low-end torque (more than an E36 M3's) and a lot of high-end twist and horsepower. My favorite was rolling off the line in second gear--when the tach hit exactly 2000 rpm, it was as if a small turbo instantly kicked in. And then, uncharacteristic of a small turbo, the engine continued to pull strongly to its 8200-rpm redline, without any signs of letting up.
I also expected this ultra-high-performance engine to use a lot of fuel, but the M3 convertible kept the gas consumption well within reason. Our near 1,000-mile weekend included lots of fun, gas-consuming mountain roads, city streets and even race traffic. In the end the M3 convertible still averaged 21.0 mpg and 54.4 mph and only used up 1/2 quart of oil. Oil and water temperatures never exceeded allowable limits, and the car came back in one piece. I would like to give thanks to BMW for contributing to one of my most enjoyable weekends ever.