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Q Cars: 2004 BMW M3 Test Drive
by Andrey Rudnitsky
March 5, 2007

Everyone knows BMW for its luxury. We also know that BMWs are prestigious symbols of success. Therefore, when you sit in a BMW you should feel well…comfortable and confident. And you do. You feel comfortable because you are wrapped in leather seats sitting amongst some of the best automotive technology on the planet. You are confident because one, you know everyone knows that you paid a lot of United States Dollar (USD) for your BMW and two, you are not expecting it to break down in the middle of the road anytime soon.

One aspect of BMW the general public does not know about is performance. Despite the fact that BMW had a marketing campaign which communicated how well their automobiles perform on the road and had the underlying motto “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” people generally did not absorb their message. The general public sees BMW as just a luxury car manufacturer.

I did not catch the message at first either. I slowly began realizing the performance potential of BMWs when I began noticing these “special” models on the road.


I am sure just about every one of you reading this article has occasionally seen a BMW 3-Series that looked somewhat odd. I am talking about the two-door 3-Series coupe that has a quad exhaust, oversized wheels, wider tires and engine vents on the front fenders. You would expect to see quad exhaust on a Corvette, but not a Bimmer. So out of your own confusion seeking to find an answer, you begin scanning the car for anything else you might find out of the ordinary. Then you see the most notable feature of them all. This feature is the “M” badge that precedes the number of the model and is located on the upper right-hand side at the rear of the automobile. This M-Badge is also littered all over the interior, from the steering wheel to the gauge cluster, the door sills, the specially designed seats, and to the six-speed gear shifter.

The M-Badge stands for BMW Motorsports, which is a subsidiary of BMW AG (referred to as BMW in article). BMW Motorsports takes a standard vehicle such as a 330i coupe and transforms it into a sports car such as the M3. BMW M modifies the engine, suspension, interior and exterior styling and aerodynamics in such a way as to increase performance.

Let’s start with some basic comparisons. BMW’s top of the line 3-Series two-door coupe is the 330i. The 2004 model has a 3.0L engine that produces 225hp. The BMW M3 has an entirely different engine. It is one of which is based on the previous generation M3. Unlike the aluminum engine block of the 330i, the M3 requires a block made out of cast iron. This cast iron block is required due to the compression ratio and the high RPMs. The power output from this beast is rated at 333 hp; that is a 108hp difference from the 330i engine or a 148% increase, which is fairly substantial.

BMW M also beefs up the suspension and brakes for increased handling around corners and more stopping power. Then, to top things off, BMW M gives the modified 3-Series a “slexy” facelift. That’s my new word for slick and sexy. I wouldn’t really call it a facelift though. It really is more like a face and body restructuring. Sort of like in that TV show The Swan. The end result is a slim bold new body with all the right curves.

Despite all of the extensive exterior modifications that make the M3 look and feel more aggressive its true purpose is performance driven. The modifications increase the down-force and aerodynamics of the automobile at higher speeds. The vents allow air to flow through the engine compartment at a higher rate, giving it more cooling capability. The wider wheel arches accommodate the wider axle and the subtle rear spoiler increases the down-force on the rear tires.

One of the very first things that I noticed about the M3 was the way it made me feel when I stepped in it. When I opened the door, the light did not just flash on, instead the light slowly illuminated the interior. Then, once the doors were shut the lights slowly dimmed. I was surprised how a small feature such as the lights slowly illuminating and dimming gave me a good first impression about the car. It reminds me of a Rolex watch were the seconds hand has a constant smooth movement opposed to a normal watch where the seconds hand clicks.

When I started the M3 I noticed that the redline limiter was around 5,500 rpm. I thought to myself, “that’s odd, surely this car can rev higher than 5,500 rpm.” After five minutes I noticed that the rev limiter was up to somewhere around 7,900 rpm. It turns out that the engine computer noted the engine was cold when I started the M3 and reduced the rev limiter to 5,500. Once the engine started warming up, the rev limiter kept increasing. I started wondering what other surprises this car was holding back.

Sadly there were no more technological surprises. There was, however, more than enough horsepower to keep me very happy. The M3’s 0-60 time of 4.7 is made possible by the 3.2L inline-6 that produces 333hp when working at full-capacity. What I mean by full-capacity is that the car is in sports-mode. In sports-mode the suspension stiffens up, minimizing body roll. The throttle reaction is sharper and the steering sensitivity increases to more quickly control the direction of the automobile.

The M3 is not only quick in the 0-to-60 range. A quarter-mile time of 13.4s at 105mph and a top speed of 163mph can be achieved. What’s odd about this car is that, even at high speeds, there is no shaking or any sign of poor engineering. Going 120mph feels the same as going 60mph, the only difference is that the trees just happen to move a little faster.

Not all of us have a little bit of Jeff Gordon in our veins. When you do not want to have the car in sports-mode, all you have to do is simply depress the button that says “Sports Mode” and you are back to normal. In standard-mode the M3 feels more like a two-door luxury coupe. The throttle is smooth, the suspension becomes soft again, and the steering relaxed. Sometimes you may even forget that you are driving in a sports car until you get out and glance at its exterior.

The bottom line is that the M3 is slexy, it is fast, it is well-built and it is sophisticated. Most importantly, it is a sports-car that can be driven everyday without becoming a nuisance. The only two things keeping sports-car enthusiasts from purchasing the M3 happens to be the purchase price and the car insurance rates associated with it.

How much is someone willing to pay for all of this? At the time we drove it BMW said a new model has an MSRP of $56,600. Add luxury and sales tax and you are flirting with $60,000+ give or take depending on your state. Prices change constantly, so do not take our word for it. You will have to research this on your own.

Did someone say car insurance? Yes I did. Since this is a two-door coupe and has a substantial amount of horsepower, insurance companies like to raise their insurance rates for it. They raise the insurance rate because it is one, a luxury car and two, a sports-car; a very bad combination for an insurance company. Keep in mind that we don’t know exact rates, so do not ask us. This is something that you would also have to research on your own.

If you have any comments or suggestions regarding the review or if you would like us to review a certain car you can email us at auto@theqshow.com

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