To many BMW enthusiasts the words “convertible M3″ are a dichotomy. The popular belief among most enthusiasts is that a car like an M3 should be a focused device meant for precision on and off the track. It’s a tool that shouldn’t be inherently compromised by, say, cutting off a huge structural component like the roof. All this has made the convertible M3 traditionally a little bit of a poseur car in the minds of some automotive enthusiasts. And it doesn’t help that you’re more likely to see one parked out in front of a Starbucks rather than a track.
The problem with convertibles is really quite straightforward and it has less to do with perception and more to do with physics. While the normal M3 coupe is the last word in structural rigidity, the convertible version has a few major issues to overcome in that area. For starters the roof (typically a major structural component) has been eliminated. Never mind that BMW has fitted a smart (and relatively attractive) retractible aluminum hardtop to the new M3, the structural rigidity that was once there has been almost literally cut in half.
But this is still the new M3. And that means power, precision and the best sound you’ll hear outside of something from Maranello. As a sporty four seat convertible, the M3 has no equal. Like it’s fixed roof siblings it has most of the expected M car abilities along with all the benefits of having the sun over your head whenever it’s available or you find yourself in the mood.
Our M3 convertible test car came very well equipped with almost every option conceivable. In fact this was the most expensive 3 series derivative I’ve ever seen first hand, just a hair under $75,000. In fact the only glaring omission on the car was the lack of an iPod/iPhone adapter. Having gotten use to almost every BMW product being equipped with one, it was a shock to the system to lift the center console and only see the AUX port. I can’t imagine a more dangerous task then trying to change to the next song on an iPhone (and not being able to use the stereo controls) while driving in traffic. It’s something I did once before talking some sense into myself and realizing that getting to the next song isn’t worth ending up in Lake Michigan. It may sound a bit like nit-picking but the factory iPod/iPhone adapter is an essential option on any BMW or MINI in my opinion. Even if you don’t own either Apple product, I can’t imagine resale gets better without the adapter.
The day after the car was dropped off, we figured a little road-trip was in order. And there was no better place than Gingerman racetrack (located 2.5hrs away in western Michigan) and a BMWCCA performance driving school event. So myself and MotoringFile/BimmerFile longtime correspondent Matt Adams packed lightly and headed east through Chicago to Michigan via I94 and I196. However we immediately noticed an issue; no interior power outlet worked. This meant no iPhone charging and (much worse) no Valentine One radar detector. Now I’m not an advocate of excessive speed but if you drive an M3 (let alone a convertible) you should expect to get your fair share of attention from the (insert preferred slang-term for police here).
Using what was left of an iPhone’s battery we quickly Googled potential solutions. It became clear rather quickly that the fuse controlling the interior outlets had somehow blown due to some less than stellar electronic device being plugged recently (my money is on some intern at Motor Trend). Regardless we quickly decided that headlight washers weren’t needed on such a bright and sunny day so we did a quick fuse swap and our power was flowing once again.
The drive to Gingerman from Chicago is spent mostly on I94 and I196 – two roads that thankfully have gotten much smoother thanks to some recent construction. In fact the M3 felt completely at home cruising at highway speeds on the glass surface with the top down. At 75 mph and above we were easily able to have conversations without raising our voices. BMW has done an excellent job in the wind-tunnel with this latest 3er convertible as the buffeting felt in many convertibles simply wasn’t evident.
While we didn’t take the M3 out on the track (convertibles aren’t allowed at Windy City chapter BMW CCA events) we turned quite a few heads with what was still a relatively rare car. We had teenagers run up to us and ask for pictures and adults do double takes. Even the most old-school and most hardcore enthusiasts seem to love the look and sound of the new M3.
But it was interesting to see reactions and hear opinions from the most hardcore of BMW enthusists. The prevailing attitude was that, while the car looked great, the M3 convertible simply wasn’t the kind of car most of them would ever consider. The weight, the reduced structural rigidity and of course the inability to take it to the track at many events make it much less interesting than the coupe.
Rightly or wrongly driving an M3 puts you in a certain perceived category. Driving a convertible M3 takes it up at least a notch. I noticed lots of looks and double takes but I also noticed some sneers and some lack of cooperation when it came to easing in and out of traffic. It may be jealousy or simply a clash of ideology, but the bottom-line is that M3 convertible owners shouldn’t expect the world to share the same enthusiasm they do for their new car.
There is one area that this V8 powered convertible M3 simply trounces the coupe and sedan versions – sound. At full -bore under in the cave-like Lower Wacker Drive under the streets of Chicago (and where parts of the latest Batman was filmed) the engine never ceased to give me goose-bumps. I’ve never driven a car that has made me risk jail time to just hear it’s engine as much as this drop-top M3. If the previous E46 M3 with it’s inline 6 was good, this is a step beyond great. I found myself putting the roof down as much to see the sun as to simply hear the engine and exhaust better.
With this new convertible M3, BMW has tried to address this perception while giving convertible fans all they could ever ask for in the way of comfort and connivence. But here’s the problem; with compromise you get something that isn’t ideal. Especially with an M car. The M3 convertible is an incredible car and a great convertible that is both sporty and comfortable. But for M enthusiasts it doesn’t quite tick all the boxes that the coupe or even the M3 sedan manage to. It’s not that this new convertible isn’t the best M3 convertible ever. And it’s not that it won’t sell better than any before it while getting all the normal acclaim from the automotive press. It’s just not the ultimate driving machine. That honor will have to be saved for its fixed roof counterparts.
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