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E46 M3 - 1300 Mile Review
Written by: Bill Livezey April 1, 2001

This is my experience with the first 1300 miles in my 2001 BMW E46 M3. I picked my car up on April 28th and as of this writing (May 24th) I have about 1300 miles logged.

Basic car info:
  • Titanium Silver Metallic Exterior
  • Black Nappa Leather Interior
  • Harmon Kardon Sound System
  • Xenon Headlamps
  • Luxury Package
  • Park Distance Control
  • Cold Weather Package
  • BMW Navigation System

On Friday, April 27th I was called by the dealership and told that the car would probably arrive early Saturday morning and I could be driving it by the afternoon (rock on, I said) - OK, I'm officially excited now folks.

April 28th - sure enough the car arrives from port and by the afternoon it is ready with the accessories I requested including the BMW Security System, M3 Floor Mats, 6-Disc CD Changer and car cover. My first impression is love at first sight - "SWEEEEEEEEEEET" was the exact word I used. What a gorgeous car and I must confess that I am happy that I stuck with the factory wheels. Initially from the pictures in magazines and brochures I was considering another wheel option. However, they are much cooler in real life than in the pictures. They are kind of a bear to clean but I'll have more on that later.

My first bummer is when the dealer tells me the "Universal Transmitter" accessory isn't available for the M3 yet. Oh well, I'll just have to put the garage remote in the nifty armrest thingy. This point is still under investigation as I have spoken with other owners who had the Universal Transmitter installed without issue. Second bummer, I asked for the front license plate bracket to not be installed but they did anyway. The salesman compensates by having one of the nice mirrored "M" logo plates installed on it. It actually looks pretty cool and if I ever get pulled over I could at least avoid a California "fix-it" ticket.

Everything is cool though, they were nice enough to keep the car behind the service gate and out of view until I got there to keep curious Saturday window shoppers away. Next I go through signing all the paperwork and giving them the rest of the money and I have to sit through the grueling "this is how your new BMW works" routine. All I'm thinking is "I just want to go!!" Later on I am reminded of the fact that I wasn't paying attention by my wife who points out things like how the "shift-into-reverse-tilt-down side mirror feature" can be deactivated by simply moving the side-mirror selector switch. I did pick up on the more significant pieces of info such as obeying the 1200 mile break-in period. For those who aren't familiar with the break-in process for this car, it consists of keeping the revs below 5500 RPM's, keeping the speedometer below 105MPH and not flooring the accelerator.

Finally, I get to drive it. "Hmmm, I wish you could default to Sport Mode every time you startup!" The clutch take up is definitely different than my 97 - my thoughts initially are that this is going to take some getting used to. Ooops, a couple of balky up shifts on the drive home. My wife is disappointed with my lack of smoothness as she is also 6 mos. with child and doesn't much care for jiggling at this point in her pregnancy. Best bet - with pregnant women on board, forego Sport Mode. I take a couple of quick corners but nothing too crazy, after all you have to break-in those tires right. Subsequent driving that day reveals to me that cutting the revs at 5500 RPM's is going to make for a long 1200 miles! But hey, at least I live in Southern California so the "don't drive at a constant speed" break-in requirement shouldn't pose much of a problem. If there is one thing we have here, it is a general lack of constant speed. The exhaust note is very cool at higher RPM's and I'm hopeful that it will mellow out in the lower RPM range. It has mellowed somewhat to date but I was hoping for a little more of a growl at low revs. I would rather hear a nice exhaust note than the somewhat tinny engine noise. My 97 has a Schnitzer exhaust, so this might be an area of investigation in a couple months. No rush.

We drive the car a few more times during the weekend, but also spend a lot of time showing it off to friends and neighbors. It is still so "new" the experience is kind of weird.

My first week commuting to work is for a new project - and a 30 mile (1.5 hour) hike to Century City. As I said - there is no problem on varying my speed during the break in period here in SoCal. At least I only have to do this drive 2-3 days a week and hopefully the project will be over soon. I startup the car and something is twanging like nobody's business. With the resonance in the garage it sounds like something is awry with the clutch. I have a service appointment in a couple days anyway for the Lo Jack installation, so I figure that I'll bring it up at that time. The time driving this morning gives me the opportunity to "play" with Sport Mode, double-clutching, heel-toe, etc. The car does everything flawlessly, although everything is still "hard" because of the newness. As I mentioned, you end up doing a lot of shifting on the wonderful 405 Freeway and I finally (for now) determine that Sport Mode is not for stop-and-go traffic. As I approach my exit, I get passed by a really sweet yellow Carrera cab with the driver hanging out the window - the M3 gets the thumbs up. You've got to love that, baby.

The next few days afford me more and more playing time with the Navigation System and all the little toys like the computer and audio controls. Everything the M3 does is with purpose and leaves the driver with the impression of "this car is more than a toy". I feel that the optional Navigation System is an absolute must. In fact, I don't know how I ever lived without it before this! When you get this option, the audio and computer functions are all routed to the graphical interface on the dashboard, as well as the GPS functions. This makes for very convenient centralization of all the electronic controls in the vehicle. My only complaint is that the climate control system is not integrated with the computer interface.

The Park Distance Control system is fairly useful, especially given the larger size of this car as compared to my E36. However, because the ultrasonic sensors also pick up peripheral objects (i.e. those not directly behind the car) the system seems rather inconclusive when it comes to backing into a corner spot. For parallel parking it is great, but what would have made more sense is to collect the data from the sensors and display a virtual car on the navigation screen. Then have the system display flashing (or colored) indicator lights to show which sensor is the one currently detecting an object.

Other interior appointments are flawless in typical BMW fashion. The leather is supple yet firm; the seating support is excellent all around. The aluminum trim and "M" accents are a great touch, the guages are easy to read and computer/navigation controls are all within easy reach as well as the steering wheel mounted audio and cruise control system. Pulling the seats up and forward to make a gangway for rear-going passengers takes a strong arm, but this has only been a complaint of my 7 year old son (who ironically complains about everything). Window controls are "auto-down/auto-up" with the exception of the rear window vents which only "auto-open". I missed BMW's logic on not having these automatically close as everything else (including the sunroof) operates this way. Also, it is easy to drop your hand on the center console and accidentally open the driver-side rear vent. If you do it enough times, you will start to pick up on the fact more quickly when you hear the sudden increase in road noise. In addition to this grievance, I also would like to lodge a complaint against the standard cigarette lighter/ash tray design. I personally don't smoke nor do I know many folks that would themselves or allow others to smoke inside this car. So why not give me the factory option of a more functional (e.g. separate) DC power outlet and storage tray? The design today forces me to have the entire "smoking center" open just to plug in my cell phone. I have ordered the "non-smoker kit" parts from my dealer to replace this assembly myself, but it would be nice if you could order the car in either smoker or non-smoker configurations.

About 300 miles into the undertaking, I head to the dealership for my Lo Jack installation and noisy clutch complaint. The service department (after a full day with the car) indicated that everything was operating "to spec" and that they didn't hear anything weird with regard to the clutch. I had to admit that it didn't seem to be as bad as it was the first few days. For now, I decide not to press the issue and see how the balance of the first 1200 miles shakes out.

Through miles 500-1000 I am still getting the "A-OK" and "thumbs up" all day long. This is mostly from other "drivers" (Porsche, BMW, Acura's, street-racer type dudes in souped-up Honda's, etc). The car itself is starting to break-in very nicely. I'm really gaining an appreciation for everything this car does and how it goes about doing it. The tires are quiet, the engine is running very smoothly and the exhaust is developing a nice snarl (but low rev coolness is still virtually non-existent). I've played around a lot more in the 4500-5500 RPM range and really can't wait to unleash her into the big numbers. This may be unique to my car, but on a deceleration glide (pedal off) of about 62-57mph in 5th gear there is an incredibly low "drone" unlike anything I've ever heard. It's really not an annoyance, just an observation. Interestingly, the weird clutch noise has gone away and generally everything has quieted down that first bothered me. But with the loss of one noise comes a new and most annoying one - the Harmon Kardon rattle. As others have reported, the rear deck is rattling like the rusty fenders on a '76 Camaro. If you find a song with just the right lows, it is absolutely unbearable. I saw the fix posted by a fellow who inserted some foam to suppress the noise (with great details on the procedure as well). I was thinking about doing that, too, but then I figured since the 1200 mile service is right around the corner I'll just make the dealership deal with it.

Mile 1200 - Actually it is mile 1191 and with only 5 miles of open road left before I hit all 25 MPH zones on the drive home I decide that I've been patient enough and that 9 miles probably isn't going to cause the car to implode. Suffice it to say that this car is screaming (almost scary) fun above 5500RPM's. I have no idea where performance levels are off (if at all) and realize that without a track I can't really give due diligence to performance testing. There are more than enough magazine articles dedicated to full performance tests. From my limited perspective (e.g. I won't ever realize the full potential of this car) I can only say that this car is a demon.

If I had this car in my late teen's/early 20's I would have either a) wrecked it or b) lost my license in one day or c) been arrested. And to be honest, I doubt my wife would agree that I've matured all that much since then.

Using the Business Computer I have calculated lifetime (1300 miles now) gas mileage at 18.2 mpg. The current tank is dialing in at about 20.1 mpg. This is a drastic improvement over the (not unexpected) initial mileage of about 16-17 mpg.

Now, about my cleaning ritual... Being silver, the car always looks pretty clean (to the untrained eye), but deep down inside every freaky owner like me knows that it's only clean right after you've cleaned it and before you drive it again. I'm not doing anything too outrageous other than wetting it down and wiping it off, shooting the windows with cleaner then a final wipe on the paint with some Meguiar's Quick Detailer Mist. As far as the wheels go, they are kind of a pain if you don't keep after them (then again pretty much every wheel I've ever owned has been a pain). What I've been doing is using a little diluted Simple Green to spray them down and eat off all the brake dust and road crap. Then just towel them out and finish them off with the Quick Detail Mist. I shine the tires with Turtle Wax TireWax (it's pretty cool because it's like a thick gel and doesn't spin-off). The whole process takes me about 30 minutes (much to my wife's chagrin) so I've slowed down on it a bit and try to get to it every other night now (that she knows of).

All in all I love this car and driving it has gotten easier and easier. I now have determined that I would rather have Sport Mode turned on all the time, even in heavy traffic. The accelerator just feels slushy in a way that I don't dig when the car is out of Sport Mode. Alas, this one little button establishes undeniable evidence that "power at your fingertips" is more than just a corporate buzz-phrase.