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BMW M3 Convertible now in SA

2008-07-02 08:31
BMW, M3, convertible

Hailey Philander

BMW's M3 will, across its generations, probably always be a car revered by enthusiasts - whether this reverie is admitted or not. The M3 Convertible adds a new dimension to this dream, especially with it now being equipped with a new dual clutch transmission.

Apart from the fact that this model has a three-piece retractable hard top - and it’s the first in a long history of M cars to have this feature - the car's mechanicals are essentially the same as the M3 Coupe and Sedan models.

Most key is that the motor, a World Engine of the Year winner, is identical to the one powering the coupe and sedan variants. This means the cabriolet is shoved about by a high-revving V8 that produces 309 kW and 400 Nm and revs to an intoxicating 8 400 r/min red line.

New optional M DCT

Life is even more fun with the optional seven-speed M DCT dual clutch transmission being debuted on the 3 Convertible and immediately available to order on the sibling M3 Coupe and Sedan versions.

It is infinitely more user-friendly than the largely inept SMG II gearbox it replaces. Working on the same principle as other dual clutch gearboxes that have been readily available for a while, the system used by BMW also employs twin clutches for alternate gears that primes the next clutch as the previous is being disengaged.

This means power is delivered in an effortless stream without a loss of traction and it just so happens to make the most delightful throttle blip on downshifts.

It comes with Drivelogic that incorporates 11 driving programmes - five automatic and six manual, including launch control - to cater to just about every driving style. A major thing, for those who have experienced (and been annoyed by) SMG is what BMW calls its Low Speed Assistant, a creep function almost invaluable on increasingly traffic-logged roads.

Instead of having the car surge forward, this allows a steady crawl in either reverse or first gears with a mere tap of the accelerator- and it's great at parking speeds, too.

For those times when you're doing more than "tapping" that loud pedal, there is a shift indicator, with six orange and two red lights ostensibly to throw not-so-subtle hints about when would be a good time to change up a gear. However, positioned as it is over the rev counter, the lights are not very clear to see and sneaking a peek while gunning for the red line could be a bit distracting.

But thankfully, the M3 convertible is not all agro and can be driven as a sedate auto, or as a more engaging manual by shifting either the gearshift or steering paddles. Incidentally, this gearbox also happens to be a technological marvel in itself. It was conceived to shoulder enormous loads and can withstand up to a maximum of 700 Nm and an ear-splitting 9 000 r/min. It's also the first longitudinal application of a dual-clutch gearbox in any mass-produced car.

Quicker and more efficient

And, on average, it's quicker than the manual too; with launch control, BMW has been able to shave up to 0.2 seconds off the manual's 0 - 100 km/h time.

It's also more efficient with BMW claiming up to 1.4 l/100 km over the coupe. Any fuel saving, even with a big V8, is welcome, I suppose

Not that you'll necessarily be able to see these changes - you'll be having too much fun chucking this drop-top around the bends.

It's tight, in fact, it's up to 40% stiffer than the E46 convertible, making it the most rigid M convertible yet, and you’ll definitely feel it. It's about 200 kg heavier than the coupe though, thanks to the roof structure and the extra bolstering losing a roof and bolstering the suspension has necessitated, but even that is hard to feel, given how nimble this car is.

It also comes with a variety of other M bits, including the imposing power bulgeon the bonnet, serious airdams for cooling the brakes and engine, the gills with M3 badging and a rear diffuser housing those forbidding quad tailpipes.

But even with the top down, this car's steely resolve shines through and the bumps and dips that would typically send ripple-like shudders along the body of a convertible, barely even made it into the cabin.

Even wind swirl was hardly detectable and the cabin remained relatively quiet, with my driving partner and I able to continue chatting at perfectly illegal speeds. The sound of that engineas we hurtled across the Eastern Cape countryside, wind deflector working overtime, was priceless.

Incidentally, this convertible's seats are also treated with sun reflective technology, which means there should be less wearing of the leather after years of sun exposure and it also keeps the interior cooler.

A true M

The unit driven along the launch route was fitted with the optional EDC electronic damper control that allows the driver to set the suspension to suit his or her driving style and the road conditions. As with the rest of the M3 range, the Power button manages the throttle and steering map, via iDrive, and DSC can be completely turned off.

This car packs a serious punch with is arsenal of essential M gadgets, a high-revving V8 engine mated with a super-slick seven-speed dual clutch and a folding hard top roof. This should also make it irresistible to hard-core posers.

BMW's M3 Convertible costs R767 000 when fitted with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, although the extra R39 000 for the M DCT will be money well spent.

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