Friday, September 18, 2009

2001 M3 (E46) Convertible -- thoughts and review

If the M Roadster was my gateway drug, the M3 was definitely my heroin.

With my limited attention span on cars, I was always on the lookout for something new.  Having actually learned more about BMWs after my M Roadster purchase, I know the "it" car to have was the then "all new" M3.  This is before the time of "cheap" but fast cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the Subaru WRX Sti, and the Nissan 350Z (plus the G35 coupe counterpart).

The 2001 M3 (E46 body style) was a completely new design.  Riding on the new 3-series platform, this was a whole new era of thinking vs. the last M3.  Horsepower jumped up significantly from 240hp to 333hp -- all from basically the same inline flat 6 engine design. 

My 2001 M3 purchase came very randomly.  I was actually going around dealer-to-dealer to both figure out how much my M Roadster was worth (not sure why) as well as look for a better BMW dealer to service and maintain my car.  One of my friend (he still today takes credit for me buying the M3) recommended East Bay BMW.  I drove over there to check out the dealership -- returned the end of the evening with a brand new 2001 M3 convertible.  In my defense, at the time, dealers were marking up these new M3s $5,000 to $10,000 over MSRP.  I bought my car at $1,000 under MSRP. 

The reason I got such a great deal was because the car was actually ordered by another client, who last minute backed out on purchasing the vehicle (but forfeited his deposit).  The shiny new Alpine White M3 sat in the showroom when I visited the dealership.  The service manager who I was "interviewing" was smart enough to notice my interest and introduced me to their sales manager, who quickly offered to let me test drive the vehicle.  After a 15 minute test drive, I was sold, and I spent the rest of that afternoon negotiating and closing the purchase of the car.

As expected, I only had buyers remorse AFTER I drove the car off the dealership lot and got onto the freeway.  What was going on in my mind: what the hell am I going to do with 2 sports cars, and no garage to park it in?  Eventually I did sell my M Roadster.

Positives.  This car was less of an autocross track car and more in line of a GT.  The vehicle was heavy but extremely powerful and with the longer wheelbase very stable.  Gone was also the low grumble from the exhaust, replaced by a metallic rattle on the higher RPMs.  The convertible black top was fully automatic and hides under a plastic cover when opened.  All these mechanical complication comes at the price of time (took 25 seconds to open or close) as well as convenience (the passengers in the back gets their head smacked by the cover when it opens or closes). Did I mention this car also handles great at high speeds?  The car is very confidence inspiring and stable, all the way up to 155mph (with a speeding ticket to prove). 

Negatives. Uhm, the engine exploded.  To continue the long established relationship I have with my BMW service adviser from the M Roadster era, there were constant minor issues here and there with the vehicle that required me to constantly return to the dealership.  Of course, I didn't care since one of the benefits of owning a BMW is all maintenance/service and repairs are paid for under warranty.

Unfortunately, all of these minor problems let up to the big problem of one of the cylinders detonating in the engine.  Now the detonation happened suddenly, as I was driving on the freeway around 75 mph.  I heard the explosion then the car started sounding like a tank, "ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta."  I immediately took a detour and drove the car to the dealership.  Upon getting there, my service adviser asked me to turn off the engine, gave me a loaner, a box to collect my things, and told me I probably won't see this car for the next 3 months.  The cause of the problem was isolated to a crankshaft bearing issue that was the result of a manufacturer defect.  Mind you I find out later this was a "common" problem among all the first generation of the new M3s.

Price paid.  $58,000 USD + license and taxes.
Price sold. $45,000 USD

Tenure. 9 months.

Eventually the car was repaired and replaced under warranty, and I immediately sold the car, having now lost all confidence of the reliability of BMWs.

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