Lori Lovely

After a week of subways, street cars and good old-fashioned walking in Toronto, I was ready for some horses. Serious horses. No messing around with cutesy four-cylinder Euro-boxes, no animal attraction of luxury sedans that don"t deliver what"s seductively promised. I needed down and dirty sports car revs.

So Dreyer & Reinbold Greenwood"s Frank Kovacs put me behind the wheel of a dangerously addictive power drive. The BMW M3 convertible looks like a sleek, sporty, aggressive BMW ready to attack the road. No escaping its heritage; that front end is as distinctive as the Hapsburg honker.

Nevertheless, a convertible is always an attractive summer"s day drive, and the M3 is no slouch. Who would turn up their nose - however large and distinctive - to 333 horses, six torque-filled gears and monstrous brakes? Far from wafting upward, my own proboscis is already eagerly sniffing the air for the delicious aroma of burning clutch.

The M3"s extensive list of safety features creature comforts, and sophisticated bells and whistles start with the key. The Immobilizer - not a film by Schwarzenegger, but rather a micro-chipped key - offers theft protection and six programmable functions.

BMW oozes safety, begging the question: How can such a safe car be so damned fast? A collapsible steering wheel protects the driver in a crash, as do break-away engine mounts, which prevent it from piercing the cabin. A crash sensor automatically turns on hazard and interior lights, and unlocks doors. The sub-circuit system, with battery lodged in the trunk to avoid fire on impact and to equalize weight distribution, provides enough power in emergencies to roll down windows. An interlocking door anchoring system helps protect against door intrusion in side impacts.

The car is smart as well as safe. Everybody"s got heated side mirrors, but how about a side mirror that automatically tilts down when the car is in reverse, providing a view of the right rear tire? Or rain-sensing wipers? Did I mention the pollution sensor, which detects and filters dirty air - from a construction site, for instance, not from a skunk.

Inside, the M3 is comfortable and stylish. The front sport seats, upholstered in supple Nappa leather, offer adjustable thigh and kidney support. Somehow, the M3 manages to sacrifice very little interior luxury for its sports car performance. Unlike most sports cars, there are two real seats in the back.

Outside, subtle yet suggestively flared front and rear fenders, vent gills, 18-inch wheels, Bi-Xenon headlights and sleek mirrors quietly hint at the serious performance hidden within. Two sets of twin pipes at the rear - a BMW M trademark - announce that this tight, muscular package is also a serious sports car.

If there"s any debating whether it deserves to be classified as a sports car - not merely a sports coupe - turn the key, tickle the throttle and listen to the M3"s sexy snarl that rivals the deeper baritone of a V8 for knee-quivering excitement.

C"mon, you"re thinking, get to it. If it"s a sports car, how does it drive? The 3.2-liter inline-six delivers smooth and seemingly unending torque in any gear. Plant your left foot on the substantial dead pedal, and place your right foot firmly on the throttle, which is where it will want to stay.

The precise six-speed manual transmission helps get the M3 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds with short throws, crossing the quarter-mile marker in 13.3 seconds at 106.8 mph. Power on upshifts is instantaneous, with no pause in acceleration. But none of the gears are tall, so expect to go through the box frequently.

Equal to its forward thrust is its braking power. This little convertible maintains the M car principle of "the suspension must always be faster than the engine," making the car light on its feet. The result is an M3 that feels edgier, ready to change direction at the driver"s whim.

I prefer the more aggressive Sport mode to the Dynamic Stability Control because the throttle response is more reactive and I can slide the car through the corners. Keep in mind, the M3 rides like a sports car, not a luxury sedan. There will be engine noise. With the top down, the road noise washes out the glorious, guttural roar of that powerful six.

Responding to my touch like a sensitive lover, the M3 accepts rough treatment and pushing around. It handles quick transitions with a light, deft touch. It takes the corners with almost no body roll, but a deep yearning for more pressure on the throttle. Give it to me now; I"ve been without that feeling of acceleration far too long!

2002 BMW M3

Sticker: $54,545 and up

Fuel mileage: 16/23

18-inch cast-alloy wheels with low-aspect ratio tires

3.2-liter dual overhead cam (DOHC), 24-valve inline six-cylinder engine

Six electronically controlled individual throttles


Sequential Manual Gearbox optional

Massive four-wheel BMW M vacuum-assisted ventilated disc brakes

Harman Kardon AM/FM stereo/CD audio system with 12 upgraded speakers

Gas-pressurized front struts and rear shock absorbers

High-performance-tuned anti-lock braking system (ABS) with Dynamic Brake Control

Tire Pressure Monitor system

Heated side-view mirrors, windshield washer jets and door locks

Halogen free-form M oval design fog lights


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