Shopping for a new BMW M3?
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At least it was white. Not molten magma red or sunburst metallic yellow. All beautiful colors, yes -- but when you're driving BMW's 333-hp M3 high-performance sport coupe, it's much wiser to limit the attention you call to yourself.
Because, let's face it, there's just no way you can own a hellion like this and not use it as its designers intended. How ludicrous to plod along in a minivan-led left lane conga line at a cruise-controlled 55-mph. One sharp tap on the gas pedal, and it's all behind you -- though if you're not careful, the next thing you'll find behind you is Johnny Law and his pad full of payin' paper.
That is the only negative any lover of superlative machinery can level at the 2002 M3. Other than its potential to get you into trouble with your insurance company and the law, it is arguably the perfect high-class, high-performance sport coupe. The Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG -- similar in concept and cachet -- costs far more ($54,900 vs. $45,900 for the M3 coupe), only seats two and is automatic-only. BMW not only equips the M3 with a six-speed manual gearbox, you can order an absolutely state-of-the-art "sequential manual" (SMG) version of this same tranny for $2,400 extra that shifts for itself. No other super coupe in the under six-figure class offers this technology. (Toyota's MR2 offers something similar, but much less sophisticated; only Ferrari comes close -- but the cost differential makes comparisons meaningless.)
The SMG does not eliminate the clutch but it does eliminate the third pedal. The computer handles engaging and disengaging the clutch, and does so far faster (just .08 seconds, according to BMW) and much more smoothly than most human drivers could. There's no need to declutch and move into neutral when rolling to a stop; the computer and electro-hydraulic actuators handle that for you. Punch it, and the system feathers the engagement into first, and you leave the line in a proper haze of sizzling tire smoke.