BMW M3 gets dose of steroids Assertive looks, angry engine, lots of power all in one package

It's not like the BMW 3 Series needed a heart transplant, but it got one.

Three years from the introduction of the original new-generation 3, this M3 packs a 3.2-litre, 333-horsepower punch, spinning the rear tires through a fortified, and M3-unique, six-speed manual transmission.

The 3 Series model lineup still remains a comparative spring chicken, with timeless good looks, unwavering build quality, and rock-solid residual values. This new engine has the expected effect on performance. It's as if an 80-years-young oldster has been infused with a shot of 20-year-old life. The M3 — I tested a cabriolet, which wasn't of much use during an unusually rainy week — just plain rocketed away from stoplights and around corners, plus had sufficient stamina and stability to keep accelerating past every conceivable legal limit, on any road, without even breaking a sweat.

All the while making raucous, angry noises you'd more likely associate with grunge rockers than the cultured-voice vocalists this car's likely older-and-wealthier clientele are normally used to.

At idle, the M Power inline-six had a richly metallic, tappety hum; it built through a cacophonic midrange before finally, between 6,000 and 8,000 rpm, and peaking in a hard-edged snarl that was so loud, so obviously aggressive, that, in town, in first gear, it frightened other motorists out of my way.

The new visual muscles (suspension has, needless to say, been lowered and stiffened, and brakes are massive discs front and rear) that accompanied this car's juiced-up heart probably had something to do with it.

The M3 had obviously been to the gym, and to a cosmetic surgeon. Gigantic 45-cm (18-inch) alloys bulged out of suitably widened wheel arches.

The hood's big power dome sprouted a second tumour-like abcess, along with an extra air intake.

The front spoiler had a gaping maw framed by fiery round foglights. And at the rear, four stainless-steel exhaust pipes jutted out from a thickened rear bumper.

Like former nice guys that've bulked up and gone in for some plastic, the M3 did exhibit some new anti-social personality traits. The ride was harsh, for instance, exacerbated by cowl shake on the convertible — the structure was commendably stiff through rough stuff but the windshield shimmied by itself to the beat of its own drummer. A heavy clutch and a notchy shifter made smooth in-town driving (typically a BMW strength) difficult, especially with the caffeinated throttle response of the sport mode.

Although cornering grip was amazing, the M3's steering feel was numbed a bit by the massive Michelin Pilots; some communicative ability had been traded for pure muscle. Though the M3's $70,000 pricetag ($80,000 for the convertible) may seem steep, it only seems so because there's such a thing as a "regular" 3 Series BMW.

The performance is certainly there; the M3 is fast and loud enough to run with Porsche 911s all day, and likely easier to control due to standard stability control and a more forgiving front-engine, rear-drive layout.

The quality of the BMW's interior fitments, the precision of the whole car's assembly, and the meticulous attention paid to every exterior detail (chrome air slats shaped like airfoils; smoked chrome alloy wheels that hide brake dust), are simply in another league to any competing sports car — Chevy's Corvette Z06 is similarly priced, for instance, but still has seats that flop forward under hard braking. My M3 convertible, on the other hand, was upholstered in thick blood-red buffalo leather with beautiful polished black trim, and was as solidly made as cars come.

With the M3 you're not buying a BMW in the conventional sense.

This is a delinquent car, one that will have more mature BMW intenders running for cover from its aggressive looks and angry engine note.

It's something Acura/Honda Type R owners will easily recognize: a mutant performance mongrel playing the role of anti-BMW within the company's model lineup.

Harsh, challenging, and sometimes antagonistic, the steroidal M3 is a show-off piece; an engineering and styling showcase to demonstrate just what the company is capable of when it cuts loose.

Just don't get in its way. It's had a heart transplant, remember? HIGHS Amazing performance Thrilling engine note Excellent value LOWS Rough ride Convertible cowl shake Flimsy shifter

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