2008 BMW M3 Convertible road test & review
Model tested: 2008 BMW M3 Convertible
Recommended Retail Price: $176,142
Options fitted: Seven-speed M double-clutch transmission with Drivelogic $7308
Performance, quality, folding hard-top, space, the sound, oh the sound
M-DCT confused, dull steering, heavy, needs 98RON
Review by: Karl Peskett
Photography by: www.OzCarSightings.com
Ladies and Gentlemen, this announcement is being made public. It’s over. Yes, I’m sorry, but it is. The love affair is finished, gone, done with, and buried.
It’s no secret – I love V8s. And I used to love Australian V8s – the key term here being “used to”. Ever since pressing the start button on some German equipment, that original flame slowly dwindled, until it’s now a smouldering pile of ashes – sorry Australia.
First it was Audi’s RS4. A clinical, pure sound which took the normal V8 rumble and polished off the rough edges. The 4.2-litre FSI engine was my favourite engine of all time, until now.
When heading to BMW to pick up its latest M3 Convertible, all sorts of questions flowed through my head. Will the engine be too highly strung? Will the car be rigid enough? Will the extra weight incur a performance penalty? Will my hair get messed up? What hair?
But after being presented with the stubby key fob, and led over to the black beast of beauty in the undercover car park, the question morphed. Even with the roof up, what will it be like? However, having realised that there were walls around, an acoustic challenge presented itself.
Insert the key, press the starter, the engine quickly cranks and then grumbles into life. At idle, there’s deep bassy thump, a metallic whirring, and almost a tappety sound, making it seem a little crude and unsophisticated. I couldn’t help myself, though. A quick prod of the throttle, and a sharp echoey bark filled the carpark. Ah yes, you will smile. You can’t hold it back.
As the man from BMW ran through the various controls and iDrive, my eyes glazed over, just listening to the engine rumbling away, waiting, nay, begging to be used. Then, it was time to take off the lid. Holding the centre console button down, the roof neatly unclipped, folded and packed away in a staggering 22-seconds.
Now the time itself might not seem that quick, but when you take into account the fact that this is a heavy metal roof, and that there’s virtually no noise from the springs, wires and motors, you realise why you’ll pay an additional $13,000 over its Coupe sibling. The folding hardtop is simply one of the best around.
There’s an additional benefit. It’s called “aural delight”. With the roof off and the windows down, you get pure access to that heavenly engine. And boy, is it worth it. The 4.0-litre engine’s black and white figures don’t do it justice. A spec sheet will tell you that, yes, you get 309kW of power and 400Nm of torque. But the spec sheet doesn’t tell you how incredibly versatile, and well balanced is that engine.
It will rev to 8300rpm, which is where peak power is made. In fact, we believe that it will rev higher than that. The way it delivers its power is semi-parabolic, with the redline seeming to be there only to maintain its longevity. But the engine wants to keep going. I wouldn’t be surprised if the test rigs regularly saw 10,000rpm when BMW was developing this masterpiece.
Sauntering out of the carpark and onto public road, you’ll get that lovely familiar V8 burble, and pottering around the ‘burbs, that’s no displeasure to listen to. From idle to around 4000rpm it sounds like any other eight-cylinder, but with a mild whine akin to a small supercharger.
But open the taps and from around 5000rpm onwards, there’s a gradual transition to a trumpety bellow that just gets better and better with each passing notch of the tacho. From 6500rpm it’s sounding nothing like a V8 anymore and more pure-bred race car, until finally at 8300rpm it’s shouting a cacophonic, yet symphonic, melodic, and harmonic tune that nothing comes close to. Flick the paddle on the right-hand side and the whole experience starts again.
Like I said, I’m in love with this engine.
And being a convertible, you WILL go searching for tunnels, just to fill your cochleas with that gorgeous sound. Whap it back to second, give it a bootful and just take it all in. Ah, that’s better. Plus, you’d think that the car came with a pack of Rice Bubbles as standard. On the overrun, all you hear is Snap, Crackle and Pop.
But unlike other V8s which make a nice noise but don’t go anywhere, this car is actually quick, with 0-100km/h taking just 5.1 seconds. When you consider the convertible is around 250kgs heavier than its Coupe counterpart, that’s some serious grunt. Not only that, but the final drive ratio is 3.15:1, so it’s got some legs too.
Okay, so the motor is nothing short of brilliant, but that in itself does not a good car make. It’s the package that makes it truly special. So how does this package compare?
Well, as a convertible, to be sure, there are going to be compromises. Things like the boot space. It’s tiny with the roof down. That’s to be expected, but what is unexpected is the amount of rear legroom you’ll find. Adults can, and will, fit. It’s still best for short stints, however a quick trip into the hills, or along your local cafe strip, will still leave passengers refreshed.
Despite the weight penalty too, there’s still some chassis flex. Certainly, it’s much better than other chop-tops, but still not perfect. And another thing which isn’t perfect is the dual-clutch gearbox (M-DCT).
It is good, yes. On setting number 2, it’s as smooth as a regular automatic but it can still be caught out. A few times, while in automatic mode, the cog-changer just did nothing after a prod of the throttle. Of most concern was an instance after rolling through a give-way sign slowly.
Once onto the main road, I depressed the pedal expecting to pull away at a reasonable speed. Nothing, it just idled along at around 5km/h, then after a few seconds of nervousness, it finally realised what it had been asked to do, and tried to compensate by roaring off.
Now I don’t mind the sound when it does that, but I do mind if traffic is catching up with me. It’s much better then, to leave it in manual mode, and use the paddle shift. Press the M-button on the steering wheel, and the settings you choose will lock in. In this case, it was the full manual mode (which allows limiter hitting), and the most aggressive gear-change. And boy what a change.
The shove in the back you feel is the gearbox whacking the next ratio in, quicker than you’d ever get it done in a conventional manual. Little wonder why the M-DCT is 0.2 seconds quicker to 100km/h than its manual sibling. It’s a brilliant change that although quite sudden, never feels agricultural. But under very hard braking, the ‘box sometimes doesn’t downshift when you want it to, even if the revs would allow.
If it was me, I’d be sticking with the manual, even with the acceleration deficit. Would that suit the lifestyle of people who would buy this car? More on that later.
What will impress is the interior quality. The leather is soft, pliable and extremely comfortable. Not to mention the fact that the seat-heaters work virtually instantly – perfect for those bitingly cold winter mornings. The woodgrain is authentic, the plastics are well chosen, and even with the three-piece folding roof up, there’s nary a squeak or rattle in earshot. Truly a well built car.
Plus the handling and balance of the chassis is impressive, too. On turn in there’s virtually no understeer, even at lower speeds. Thank the well judged suspension and Michelin Pilot Sport tyres for that. Want to be a hero and get the back end out? Yes, you can do that too, but it is a little twitchy with that weight hanging around the back end like a huge pendulum. Best to leave the traction control on M-Dynamic mode and just enjoy the drive.
Even the ride is firm but comfortable, with little crash, and excellent damping on both compression and rebound. The steering could be a bit more lively even though it responds well, although at speed the weight and resistance is perfect. So as an overall drive experience it’s quite engaging and a whole lot of fun.
The crux of the matter is this: If you want the lifestyle of a droptop, then the regular 3-series will do just that. Take the 335i convertible for example. It has an award winning motor, it’s very fast, it’s as smooth as King Island double-cream, and is just as well built as the M3. Yet it’s a whopping $50,000 cheaper.
If you want a performance BMW, then the M3 Coupe will offer better thrills, a more precise and involving drive experience, and again, you’ll have $13,000 in your back pocket.
The M3 Convertible will never be a track car, due to the extra weight, which, when really pushing it, causes the normally excellent brakes to fade a little. So it’s confined to the touring/cruising role, which it does very, very well. Even on crisp, dry, winter nights, sink the roof, crank the heaters, whack on the seat warmers and you’ve got an experience like no other.
It’s the sound, though, that really tugs on your heartstrings. Tunnel love has never been better.
Thanks to Jan at OzCarSightings.com for the photo shoot!
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