The M3 is the brawniest-looking car you're likely to see on the road today. Take it up a mountain road loaded with sightseers who insist on doing exactly the speed limit, or slightly under. Normally, they will drive for miles before letting you by, if they ever do. But when an E46 M3 is in their mirrors, they pull over at the first opportunity. It's the only car I can remember having that effect, at any level of exoticness. Around town, people stare. In communities where expensive lifestyle accessories are meaningful, I could see people wondering how a guy my age was driving this car. Road-test editor Scott Oldham, who seems to best like cars that exist in the gray area between manly and undriveable, loved the M3. He dismissed any sacrifice in chassis stiffness with the Convertible as a small price to pay for "the wind, the moon and the sun." And he admitted to driving it like he stole it, exhibiting its speed regularly. After the first clutch let go at a hair over 6000 miles, the second showed no signs of balking under such abuse. Other testers thought the Convertible's extra weight and loss of structure ruined it. One said, "It's a nice car, but it's no M3," observing that the coupe is a leading candidate for best driver's car ever while the 3,781-lb convertible is, by many of the same criteria, disappointing. I find that when driving quickly on a bumpy road, the front and rear of the car don't always seem to be doing the same thing at the same time, very much like a Miata. Like that flyweight sports car, though, the M3 Convertible has surprising potential; Les Bidrawn allowed it to tempt him into his first California speeding ticket in many years.
Noises from the top have been a chronic problem. The window sealing gasket was replaced, but then we noticed grease lines on the window. The window gasket in the top had been lubricated and the lubricant transferred to the door seals when the windows were rolled down. They in turn left lines of lube across the windows. And the noise was not eliminated. The week before our M3 went home, a friend rode to dinner in the back seat and complained loudly about a squeak that was much closer to his ears than to the driver's.
We tried a set of HRE's 446 wheels, ordered in the stock size and offset, with stock-size, 225/45-18 front and 255/40-18 rear, Bridgestone Potenza S-03 tires. Our plan was to avoid any problems by staying with the stock fitment. The Bridgestone tires were excellent. Simply from an "accessory" standpoint, it appeared they would protect the HRE wheels from curb damage better than the stock Michelins protected the stock wheels. The S-03s' noise characteristics were entirely acceptable; in fact, we really didn't notice the tires making noise over the mechanical drivetrain sounds and the squeaks and wind noise from the convertible top. Grip was excellent, and the Potenza S-03s made minimal squealing sounds when pushed harder. Overall, they provided superb performance and no noticeable compromise in comfort.
HRE's 18x8-in. front wheel weighed 20 3/4 lb and the 18x9-in. rear wheel weighed 21 1/4 lb. Few aftermarket companies have been successful competing with BMW's own wheel offerings, but the polished rim and simple, six-spoke design of the HRE 446 matched our M3's silver color and chrome accents perfectly. We didn't have them on our M3 long enough to evaluate durability, but the appearance of the finish when new was excellent. The only criticism I could offer, and it's a minor one, was that the assembly bolts appeared longer than they needed to be. I didn't know what my reaction would be, but once the wheels were on the car, I felt it was more attractive and harmonious in its appearance with the HREs. Somehow, I was more comfortable embracing the aura of the car with the HRE wheels on it, and onlookers' observations concurred. Unfortunately, there were minor problems. We noticed some rubbing at full steering lock. We didn't find where the rubbing occurred, but it was impossible to ignore when parking. There was also a slight vibration in the steering at highway speeds. The tire problem warning light began coming on. I'd check the pressures and reset the light, and it would come on again. This problem occurred months earlier with the stock wheels and tires, then cured itself, so we're dismissing it as coincidence. After a year, everybody loved the E46 M3. Getting behind the wheel remains a special experience, every time, for all of us. I can't imagine someone who likes driving not loving it, but no opinions as to whether the coupe or convertible is better are held casually. Be sure to buy the right one for you.