A middle-aged woman drives a small high performance car through the Santa Cruz Mountains each day to her research job at the Stanford University medical school. When asked if she listens to books on tape during her 50-minute commute, she replied that no, she’d rather listen to the rich, throbbing hum of her BMW M Coupe.
Introduced last year, the M Coupe has cast an intoxicating spell on its owners and despite distinguished newcomers in its category, remains the most exciting sports car in its market niche.
Since its arrival in the U.S. in late 1998, the M Coupe has received a shelf full of awards and plaudits from the automotive press. And wisely, BMW has left everything pretty much alone for the 2000 model year. What has changed has been the competition.
Suddenly, what might be called the moderately price sports category has exploded with several exciting new models including that Audi TT, Honda S2000 and the Porsche Boxster S. And Chevy’s superstar, the Corvette, just keeps getting better and better. Although the automotive big market remains trucks and sport-utility vehicles, performance cars are definitely making their mark, if for no other reason than their high-status image with consumers.
The BMW M Coupe may well define the parameters for a contemporary sports car in terms of all-around performance at a price below what its ability would suggest.
Although the M Coupe may be bested or equaled by a few of its competitors in some categories , the Corvette may accelerate a mite faster and the Boxster S will reach a higher top speed , the M Coupe excels in what a sports car is all about.
It delivers incredible performance on twisting, challenging country and mountain roads that demand large reserves of torque and razor sharp responses from steering, suspension and brakes.
On the other hand, the M Coupe remains a design that has both advocates and detractors. One thing is certain: The car’s styling is purposeful, just like a meat cleaver. Looked at from the rear end, the viewer cannot help but notice the huge fender flares, incredibly wide tires and four large exhaust pipes like rear-aiming cannons. These features all say that the M Coupe is designed as a no-compromise go-fast machine.
The M Coupe and the closely related M Roadster remain outstanding values. For the quite reasonable sum of $42,000, a stock M Coupe delivers a whopping load of M-specific performance equipment including a 3.2-liter engine, tuned suspension, hefty four-wheel ventilated disc brakes and wide 17-inch wheels equipped with high-speed-rated tires.
An easy shifting five-speed manual transmission rounds out the picture. Also included as standard equipment is an exceptional Harmon-Kardon high-end audio system, which is specially built to take advantage of acoustics of the cabin and has few equals at any price.
Of the M Coupe’s many outstanding characteristics, there’s no doubt that handling, particularly in terms of the car’s ability to feed back vital information to the driver, is at the top of the list.
The M Coupe is unusually keen on narrow, winding mountain roads. The steering feedback is exceptional and the car is so well balanced you can actually drive it hard enough to break loose the rear wheels, yet maintain precise control.
Regardless of imperfections of the road surface, the M Coupe always goes in the direction it’s pointed.
Some of this athletic ability must be due to the fact that the car is perfectly balanced. Set the car midway on a fulcrum and you’ll find that 50 percent of the weight falls to the front and an equal amount to the rear , an accomplishment that is seldom achieved in the real world.
As with any high-performance car, excellent brakes are a necessity. I cannot remember any automobile that delivers a stronger braking response that the M Coupe. The brakes are almost overwhelming in their ability to slow down the car. During occasions when you really dive into the brakes, you could imagine getting up close and personal with the windshield were it not for your seatbelt. So buckle up.
The M Coupe’s acceleration is almost as impressive as its handling ability. BMW says that the coupe will reach 60 miles per hour from a dead stop in five seconds. It has gobs of reserve power to quickly pass slower vehicles. The M Coupe is the beneficiary of BMW’s special inline six-cylinder engine, which is one of the sweetest in existence. BMW stubbornly stands by the inline architecture despite the fact that most of the industry has moved to the V-6 design for its more compact external dimensions.
Inline six-cylinder engines are legendary for their vibration-free operation and despite its exceedingly high output, the M engine is smooth and refined. And then there’s the matter of the exhaust system sound that so beguiles many auto enthusiasts. BMW tunes the M-engine exhaust to deliver a distinctive medium baritone note that has no peer with any current production automobile.
Price as tested: $42,570
Type: Inline 6 cylinder
Horsepower: 240 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 236 ft. lbs. @ 3,800 rpm
Fuel economy, manual transmission:
City – 19 mpg
Highway – 26 mpg
Curb Weight: 3,131 lbs.