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BMW M3 Convertible DCT

Click to view picture gallery“M is for ‘Macho. BMWS highly-
  covetable new high-performing
  M3 Convertible: 420bhp 4.0-litre
  V8; 155mph; zero to 62mph in
  5.1 seconds. Yours for in excess
  of £57,000...

THE BMW M3, in any of its three body styles, is regarded as a performance icon. They are performance masterpieces, and compete easily with most supercars for acceleration, agile handling and grip. The Convertible version of the M3 mainly competes for sales against the Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG and Audi RS4 drop-tops.

The two-door, four-seater M3 Convertible with its folding metal hard-top uses the F1-inspired 420bhp 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine, as do the M3 Coupé and Saloon variants. This high-revving unit develops maximum power at 8,300rpm and 85 per cent of its 295lb ft of torque is available from 2,000 with the full 295lb ft from 3,900rpm through to 8,400rpm. Top speed is, as usual, electronically restricted to 155mph; the 0-62mph acceleration time for the manual gearbox model is 5.3 seconds — marginally slower than the fixed-roof M3 Coupé and Saloon because of the added weight brought about by the strengthening of the convertible bodyshell. The DCT sequential automatic transmission variant is slightly quicker, taking 5.1 seconds to get from zero to 62mph.

It's best we do not dwell on fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures too long, given today's fuel prices and high road tax charges. Officially the M3 Convertible with the six-speed manual transmission will return 21.9mpg on average and its 309g/km CO2 emissions incurs a road tax bill of £400 (£440 from April 2009).

The consumption of my test car (with the 7-speed DCT double-clutch man/auto transmission) dipped as low as 15.7mpg for local journeys although this improved after some steady — legal speed — motorway travelling to 22.2mpg. CO2 emissions are marginally better (293g/km) but it's still the same £400 road tax bill. Just for the record, the official fuel consumption figures are 16.3, 23 and 30.1mpg respectively for urban, combined and extra-urban.

BMW says the new M3 Convertible is both more fuel efficient and produces less C02 than its predecessor — by around 5 per cent better, and that despite the breathtaking performance. This is mainly due to the use of BMW's highly-rated EfficientDynamics programme which features Brake Energy Regeneration, Optimum Shift Indicator and lightweight materials.

This latest BMW M3 Convertible is the first of BMW's M cars to feature a retractable hard-top as standard. The electro-hydraulic roof is fully automatic and can be lowered in 22 seconds. The M3 Convertible is also fitted with SunReflective leather, allowing owners to leave the top down for extended periods without the risk of the seat leather overheating. More appropriately this summer, the SunReflective leather is also waterproof…

Underpinning the M3 Convertible's muscular body is a chassis and suspension system tailor-made for the demanding requirements of an open-top car. Torsional rigidity has been significantly improved over the previous model, while the suspension has been fine-tuned to take into account the specific weight distribution of a convertible. With the roof down there is still the hint of bodyshell judder over rough road surfaces, albeit minimal.

The combination of a strong structure and advanced occupant restraint systems means the BMW M3 Convertible offers the highest possible standards of passive and active safety for occupants. Like the standard 3 Series Convertible, the M3 version is equipped with a rollover sensor system that constantly monitors the vertical and horizontal movement of the car. If the sensors (which are located in the centre of the car, on the B pillars and in the doors) detect that a rollover is imminent, roll bars located behind the rear headrests pop up. At the same time, the front seatbelt pre-tensioners are activated and the head/thorax airbags are deployed.

So it's fast and safe and packed full of technology, as its £54,760 base price-tag suggests. It has the usual complicated BMW iDrive information and settings system and on-board computer, which I'm told is simplified in the about-to-be launched updated 3 Series Saloon and Touring models. There is M Sports suspension, which gives a firm ride, the M Servotronic variable-rate power-steering and variable M differential lock for optimum wheel grip despite the varying loads on the rear wheels during fast cornering. The M3 Convertible is, of course, equipped with a Dynamic Stability Control programme and Corner Brake Control which balances the braking performance through fast corners when needed.

Elsewhere the M3 features rain sensor wipers, automatic headlight activation, remote control alarm, side, front and rear airbags, Xenon headlights, electrically-operated M Sport front seats, aluminium domed bonnet, M aerodynamic exterior body styling with flared wheel arches, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, M3 body logos, rear parking distance sensors, automatic air conditioning, cruise control and a navigation system. My test car came with a further £9,135 worth of fitted options, including DAB radio, electronic damper control and 19-inch wheels — giving this particular M3 Convertible an on-the-road price of £63,895.

For that money I'd want guaranteed sunshine to use this brilliant car to its wonderful best. Not that it's perfect: the boot space is limited (350 litres roof up and 210 litres roof down); the rear seat legroom is not great due to the space taken up by the retracting roof mechanism. Despite that, there's no denying that a performance icon the M3 Convertible certainly is.

Whether such high performance gas-guzzling models are acceptable in today's world is another issue. Probably a 3 Series Convertible with the 320d fuel-efficient 140g/km CO2 diesel engine — priced at £33,440 — is more appropriate, given today's slow moving traffic conditions and high taxation costs.

However, most customers able to write a cheque for in excess of £60,000 on what will probably, for them, be a second or even a third car, will not be too bothered by the M3 Convertible's very high running costs and high CO2 emissions, or by the reduced rear seat legroom and boot space compared to M3 Coupé and Saloon models. They will be too busy enjoying the awesome performance, sensational handling and the easy to use retractable roof. Besides, what good is money if you can't spend some on making life more exciting? — David Miles

BMW M3 Convertible DCT
| £57,350
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 15.7-22.2mpg | Power: 420bhp | Torque: 295lb ft
CO2 293g/km | VED Band G £400 | Insurance group 20