It’s a well-known fact that the automotive press has run out of superlatives for the BMW 3-Series lineup. In the case of the M3, the ultimate 3-series, the praise is typically amplified. Well, not so much for the convertible M3. You see, the automotive press has a penchant for very odd vehicles the general buying public simply doesn’t understand, so we tend to eschew the cars “normal” people want. As a member of the press, I’m required to beg BMW for an M3 wagon instead of this goofy M3 convertible. The truth is, neither model makes much sense.
Chopping the top off a car doesn’t do anything to increase performance, and it almost always reduces performance. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain torsional rigidity without resorting to a bunch of heavy braces. Even then, most convertibles suffer from some degree of cowl shake, and folding hardtop convertibles, like the BMW M3, are prone to squeaks and rattles when the top is in place. Granted, Michigan’s roads are particularly harsh on convertibles and most convertible buyers hail from warmer climes where the roads are in much better shape.
Ignoring my personal feelings that convertibles, like sunroofs, are a complete waste of money, the M3 convertible makes sense in a one-up-your-neighbor-at-any-expense sort of way. When driven on a public road, the M3 convertible will do anything the M3 coupe will do, plus the top can come off. There’s no real value to this trick other than doing something your neighbor’s M3 coupe can’t. To some people, that’s worth the $67,325 cost of admission. For these people, money is probably not a concern and it wouldn’t be impossible to have an M3 convertible for cruising down the coast and a serious track toy in the garage.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
The M dual-clutch automatic’s gearshift lever isn’t particularly intuitive to use; the movement between R and D is hardly natural, and the gearshifter itself looks and feels wimpy. Inserting a 414-hp V-8 M powertrain into a convertible is indeed extravagant, but when you’re looking for extravagance, you want extravagance, even if you have to pay a gas-guzzler tax for the privilege. But when you’re spending well over $75K, what’s another $1700?
When I got home in the M3 convertible and alighted from the highly bolstered driver’s seat, the top was still down. A-ha! I recalled that BMW 3-series convertibles usually let you close their tops while standing outside the car and pressing the key fob. But what button? There didn’t seem to be one devoted to this task. A-ha! I remembered: you just push and hold the little round button labeled with the BMW logo that locks the vehicle, and within seconds I heard the whirring of motors, the tonneau broke away from its moorings, the various pieces of the roof unfolded and repositioned themselves, and the M3’s top hat was in place. Why is this such a big deal? Because one of the joys of any convertible is ingress and egress when the top is down. When you leap from the driver’s seat unencumbered by a roofline, you can then lean back into the cabin, pluck out your belongings, cast an admiring glance around the handsome interior, and then close it all up with one convenient push-and-hold thumb action. It’s the little things, folks…
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Phil, Mr. Convertible-and-Sunroof Basher, do you hate the sky? I respect your opinion, but I have no problem with the M3 as a droptop–or even with a sunroof. The most hard-core M3 is the coupe, certainly, but only the M3 convertible lets the 4.0-liter V-8’s glorious motor music fully embrace the car’s occupants.
I forgot about the handy key-fob top-lowering feature that Joe described, but I was very impressed by the M3’s top-down wind management. Even at 80 mph, conversation with your passenger requires barely raised voices. With the windows up and the top down on the highway, the M3 is quieter than some sealed-up sedans. The convertible top is very well integrated, too, and I think it compromises the look and function of the car less than is the case with most premium mid-size hardtop convertibles.
I agree with Joe about the shifter, too. I really shouldn’t have to look down at the IP or the shifter itself to know what gear I’m in. Of course, BMW excels at complicating simple things … The gearbox does its job very well and is pretty entertaining, but there’s no way I’d pay an extra $2900 for it. Moreover, the (plastic?) paddles aren’t very well-wrought, unlike the glorious metallic pieces in Mercedes-Benz AMG and other vehicles.
Finally, the steering seems surprisingly light for a BMW, let alone an M car. The Bimmer still tracks, turns in, and handles incredibly well, though, especially considering its two-ton-plus weight.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
It’s hard to complain about driving top-down in a convertible on a perfect summer day, and it can’t get much more effortless than doing it in the BMW M3 convertible. The single-button top control is perfectly positioned at the back of the lower console and there are no latches or hooks; just push the lever to lower the top, pull to raise it. It’s quick and quiet, and bystanders find it mesmerizing. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reassuring electronic “ding” to signify that the top is done opening or closing, something I’ve come to rely on in convertibles with power-operated tops.
The interior layout and material quality is typical BMW, minus the slightly downmarket plastic that surrounds the shifter. My only complaint is the absence of traditional cupholders. In two-seaters, where space is limited, it’s completely acceptable to resort to dash-mounted cupholders. It’s far less so in a vehicle the size of the M3 convertible. No, I’m not perpetually thirsty, I just need a holder for my cell phone and in most vehicles, the cupholders fulfull that function perfectly. With no cupholders and no other centrally located cubby, my phone rode home on my lap.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
You know you’ve been sniffing the performance-car glue a bit heavily when any variant of the 414-hp BMW M3 feels soft. Indeed, it’s worth noting that our fleet has been spectacularly stacked as of late with the likes of a Porsche 911 S, a Honda S2000 CR, and a Ford Shelby Mustang GT500. Even with that qualifier, it’s hard to appreciate this heavy, two-pedal M3 as anything more than a fast warm-weather cruiser.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Fact is, most drivers will be able to appreciate the wind-in-your-hair, 8000-rpm-roar-in-your-ears thrills of an open-top M3 much more often than they would the slightly higher limits of the coupe. I also thought the steering was curiously light for an automaker that tunes even its big SUVs for high-effort, but as Rusty notes, it’s hard to complain about its accuracy and quickness.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I’m with Phil on this one. An M3 convertible doesn’t make much sense, especially in the form that BMW has produced here. I understand there’s a market for this car – the boulevard cruisers in Southern California, Vegas, and Florida will love the hardtop, performance Bimmer. But it shouldn’t be wearing the M badge.
Its capabilities may be very close to that of a fixed-roof M3, but the convertible still feels softer and less of a purpose-driven performance machine. It seems like a bit of a compromise, offering a luxury feature at the expense of sport. Then again, if you can justify the X6 M and X5 M, this thing is as natural as a tree in the forest.
The M button on the steering wheel does make noticeable changes to the character, largely through the steering effort. The engine’s smooth high-pitched crescendo to redline is a sweet song, and the dual-clutch transmission is impressively smooth. Unlike many other dual-clutch units, this one is even great at downshifting into the bottom gears at very low speeds. That smoothness does seem to come with a tradeoff. It takes a while for first gear to fully engage from a stop.
I also have to echo the complaints about the shifter. I can imagine that BMW will soon have as many shift patterns as it has cars, as this new design doesn’t even mimic the shifters in the automatic cars. Even more annoying is the shocking absence of a way to put the car in park. The shifter can only be moved between reverse, neutral, and drive (plus the ability to tap up and down for gear shifts). But unlike the BMW automatics, there is no button for park. Instead, you have to shift to neutral, push the engine off button, and then remove the key fob from its slot. That means you can’t idle in park with the air conditioning or heat on unless you first turn off the car, remove the key, and restart it. I suppose you could argue that it should be treated like a manual transmission car, but I’ve never seen a dual-clutch or automated manual without a park “feature.” I’m shocked that BMW was able to get this through U.S. safety regulations.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I discovered two cars in one here but was unable to find the version I expected. Top down, this is the ultimate hair fluffer: smooth, swift, and efficient. BMW builds the best dampers money can buy which provide a poised ride, gentle engagement of bumps and tar strips, and excellent body control when cornering speeds enter the entertainment zone. The M3 flip-top is even better with its cap on. Now the mission intensifies and the mood is more seriously in pursuit of speed. Regrettably, there is excessive poise and polish. When I see the M – for magic – badge, I expect a clenched fist ready to hammer the road into submission. I want a ripped engine note, racy suspension tension, and a blood-thirsty bearing. None of that is present in this car, which reinforces my worst fear – that BMW is softening its most enjoyable products. The move to M-tuned SUVs, automatic transmissions, and boosted engines is not where I want the sacred roundel to go. One last gripe: after years of delivering idrive to its customers, BMW persists in petty annoyances such as abbreviating MILES as MLS. Note to idrive programmers: The common abbreviation for MILES in both America and England is MI, not MLS.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
2009 BMW M3 Convertible
Base price (with destination) : $67,325
Price as tested: $79,170
Melbourne Red metallic $550
Cold weather package $750
Premium package $1350
Technology package $3250
M DCT transmission $2900
Park distance control $350
iPod USB adapter $400
Satellite radio $595
Gas-guzzler tax $1700
14 / 20 / 16 mpg
Size: 4.0L V-8
Horsepower: 414 hp @ 8300 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm
M Dual-clutch automatic
Weight: 4145 lb
18 x 8.5-in front; 18 x 8.5-in rear wheels
245/40ZR18 front; 265/40ZR18 rear Michelin Pilot Sport tires