The Truth About Cars » M3 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » M3 BMW M3/M4 Images Leaked Ahead Of Official Debut Wed, 11 Dec 2013 13:53:04 +0000 BMW M4

Most of the details regarding the new BMW M3 and M4 are pretty well-known already, but a new round of official images has been leaked ahead of the cars’ North American PR releases. Supposedly, this will be the lightest M3 in three generations, with an all-time high horsepower and (particularly) torque rating courtesy of twin turbos and a completely revised in-line six engine. Gallery after the jump.

2014-bmw-m4-f82-images-19 2014-bmw-m4-f82-images-26 2014-bmw-m4-f82-images-20 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 BMW M4 2014-bmw-m4-f82-images-01 BMW M4 2014-bmw-m3-f80-images-17 2014-bmw-m3-f80-images-15 2014-bmw-m3-f80-images-14 2014-bmw-m3-f80-images-13 BMW M3 BMW M3 BMW M3 BMW M3 BMW M3 BMW M3 BMW M3 2014-bmw-m3-f80-images-01 BMW M3

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Capsule Review: 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe Thu, 25 Oct 2012 10:01:07 +0000
Upon graduation from Belfast Teacher’s Training College in the late ’60s, my father found himself summoned into the headmaster’s office. A heavy oaken drawer was opened and an object placed upon the green baize of the blotting pad: “Ye’ll be needin’ this.”

“This” was the strap, thick leather symbol of martial law in the classroom. Dad left it lying where it was, left behind the tobacco-scented claustrophobia of that small office, left behind the small-minded bigotry of that blood-soaked island, and built himself a new home in the wilds of British Columbia.

From my birth, this has been my template for the masculine ideal: resolve, courage, intelligence, compassion. In the latter stages of his career, my father – long an administrator – could walk in and quell any classroom by his mere physical presence. And so, I’ve endeavoured to emulate him. To refrain from roarin’ an’ shoutin’. To be calm, yet firm of purpose. To be a man.

Of course, five minutes behind the wheel of this thing and it’s, COME AT ME BRO!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m awfully fond of the CTS-V, particularly in wagon form. It’s just not particularly subtle.

While I won’t go into an involved discussion of the design (read Sajeev Mehta’s thorough critique here instead), it’s sort of a visual caps-lock. You get the sense that they’d have built the entire thing out of grille if they’d have been able to get away with it.

When I remarked that going from a black/black FR-S to the ‘V felt like Robin-to-Batman, Jack B dubbed it the “Batbro,” and I can’t do better than that. If your utility belt is filled with hair-gel capsules and cocaine, then this is the sled for you.

Moving into the interior with some difficulty, due to the fiddly ‘Vette-style door latches, one finds a surprisingly high seating arrangement and a colour-combination clearly put together by a Boston Bruins fan. The details are fairly nice though.

Not as nice as the interior of a high-trim ATS however – the upcoming CTS update should fix things up a little, but this design has been around a while. Also, and I’m kicking myself for not snapping a quick shot of it, there’s a three-inch piece of fake carbon-fibre trim to the right of the steering wheel, and it’s stuck on at about fifteen degrees off the correct angle. Shoddy.

This centre-stack will doubtless soon be supplanted by the CUE system and all its haptic-touch trickery. I sort of prefer the buttons, myself, but the retractable navigation screen wobbles quite a bit when you go over bumps.

Two really great things to note: first, the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is excellent, and great at wicking away moisture from sweaty palms. Second, they’ve put the traction-control toggle right on the steering wheel.

Which brings us around to the question of performance.

Yes, the CTS-V is a bit of an automotive tribal tattoo – Conan the Vulgarian. On the other hand, great googly-moogly does it back up those looks with volcanic power levels.

The supercharged 6.2L LSA is nearly imbecilic in its ferocity, howling and bellowing out those twin centre-mounted exhausts. Flick off the overworked traction control so that it can go off and have a therapy session, and the blown V8 scorches the tires and rams repeatedly into the rev-limiter with a noise like a T-Rex choking on Jeff Goldblum.

I know, I know. Mr. Hyperbole’s come to tea again.

I assure you, this car both looks like Brock Lesnar and punches things in the face like Brock Lesnar. It’s not an alternative to an M3, it’s an alternative to PCP.

While a six-speed manual is also on offer, the higher take rate will surely be this, the paddle-shifted six-speed automatic. It works quite well, although there’s so much power, you could probably hook the LSA up to a two-speed Powerglide and it’d still be fine.

Cadillac/GM’s magnetic-ride suspension is here too, and the widened track and lowered height of the coupe certainly makes this ‘V much nimbler than the last one I drove (a wagon). I don’t think you’d call it a sportscar though.

Leave the traction-control sensibly on, and the CTS-V is quite a nice street car, apart from the mail-slot visibility. The Brembos scrub speed just fine for street-applications, and the zero-delay power-delivery is endlessly entertaining. And expensive.

Here’s the thing though. This car might be perfectly capable of smacking around some of the normally-aspirated German stuff, but like Mr. Lesnar, it’s gotten a bit old for the ring. It’s not in MMA competitions any more, it’s more like a member of the WWE.

Herein lieth some redemption: even with the clock-cleaning Shelby out there and ridiculous twin-turbo Teutons on the rise, the ‘V is still a character-filled car. It’s entertaining and burly and something of a self-parody.

But look out – that guy’s got a folding metal chair!

Cadillac supplied the car and insurance. I supplied the fuel, more fool me.

Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Picture Courtesy Brendan McAleer Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 59
Piston Slap: Need a “Hans and Franz” ABS Workout? Mon, 30 Jul 2012 11:25:19 +0000


Craig writes:


Some time ago I purchased a 1995 (E36) BMW M3 as a project car. Mostly I have limited myself to bringing the maintenance up to date. I have a more than averagely equipped workshop and can find my way around a car pretty well (I have even built my own Brunton SuperStalker) One problem that has eluded me from day 1 is an intermittent ABS light.

Should I just ditch the ABS forever or is there a way to trouble shoot these things without Hans and Franz at the stealership taking me for a ride?

Sajeev answers:

I tend to like ABS, especially for a car that’s so race course worthy.  The E36 M3 is just a fantastic car in so many ways.  That said, I was disappointed when I googled Brunton SuperStalker and realized it wasn’t a murdered out full-size van with a suped up turbo diesel motor, air-ride suspension and big ass wheels.

A non-van referred to as a SuperStalker?  That’s almost criminal!

Right.  So, about the diagnosis, you have two options.  The first is spending a lot of time on the BMW forums, learning how to diagnose this vintage system and possibly finding a common problem with a somewhat easy to fix solution. Not really your cup of tea?  Then find an independent mechanic that specializes in BMWs and get 1-2 hours of their diagnosis instead.  It will be worth it.

The dealership isn’t the best move here, usually. Cars that are “E36-old” need a shop that is tailor-made to their unique needs.  Many (insert make here) dealerships know a good vintage (insert the same make here) shop and will recommend them to anyone. Yes, I’ve seen it happen! Most importantly, Hans and Franz will always encourage you to work your ABS.

“Hear me now, and believe me later: WORK YOUR E36 ABS!  ARE YOU A GIRLY MAN?” 


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 2012 BMW X5M Mon, 28 Nov 2011 18:14:13 +0000

If you ask a certain segment of the automotive press, it seems that BMW is rapidly losing the plot. While I agree that BMW’s latest wares are bigger, heavier and more leather-clad than ever before, I can’t say thing is a bad thing in my mind. I upset a few people when I reviewed the then-new 335is by saying “BMW is the new Mercedes”. I’m not sure why noses were “rankled”, but there seems to be a large segment of TTAC’s readership that believe BMW has abandoned “sport” for “luxury”. Maybe they are right; the M3 and M5 have been gaining weight an alarming pace and now we have the X5M and X6M, a pair of 5,400lb SUVs wearing full-on M badges. The burning question at TTAC is: should the guy responsible for designing it be committed? Or should the vehicle be put in a straight-jacket for being a totally insane machine?

From the outside the X5M looks less “M” compared to its donor model than do the M sedans. Sure there are enlarged grilles on the front, unique bumpers, and quad exhaust tips out back, but the overall form doesn’t scream “something wicked this way comes” like an M3. Helping the X5M blend into the urban jungle is the 2” hitch receiver, a first on M vehicles as is the tow rating of a healthy 6600lbs. Closer inspection however reveals the subtle tweaks to this urban assault vehicle include some seriously wide 315-series rubber out back, ginormous brakes and a plethora of radiators visible behind the large mesh grill openings.

On the inside of the X5 it will take very observant passenger to tell the difference between the go-fast model and the plebian people movers. Of course there are bespoke X5M gauges greeting the driver and the thick rimmed M steering wheel is also along for the ride. Aside from the driver’s controls however the majority of the X5M’s interior is lifted directly from the lower models. Fit and finish was excellent in our tester (as you would expect at this price) but I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the so-called “carbon fiber” leather trim which appears to just be black leather embossed with a carbon fiber pattern. I think some dark stained wood or brushed aluminum would be been more befitting of the X5M’s target market, but what do I know? The only toll on the interior taken by the M conversion that we observed was the loss of the third-row-seat option. If you’re a family of seven with a need for speed, you might have to wait and see if Mercedes will sell you a 7-seat ML AMG.

By now the suspense is likely killing you, after all we haven’t even mentioned the new M engine under the hood of the X5M so here we go: Turbo lovers rejoice! Squeezed under the bulging hood of the X5M beats a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine cranking out 555HP and a mind numbing 500 lb-ft of torque. While this engine is quite similar to the X5 xDrive50i’s 4.4L twin turbo V8, there are some significant differences, most notably the broader torque curve. The “pedestrian” 4.4L engine delivers 450lb-ft from 1750-4500RPM while the X5M’s mill broadens the torque plateau to 1500-5650 and the difference is marked behind the wheel. Power is routed to all four wheels via a heavy-duty ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, BMW’s full-tine AWD system and of course, a torque vectoring rear differential. I have seen complaints by the forum fan-boys whining that BMW didn’t put their dual-clutch M transmission under the hood of the X5M, but to me at least, the softer (and more “normal” feeling) shifts of the ZF transmission are more suitable for SUV use.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Some years ago when I heard the first rumors about the X5M, I was concerned that BMW would make their first sports SUV rear wheel drive only. I’m sure a RWD SUV would have pleased the BMW purists in the crowd, however, the X5M may just be the sports car for the rest of us. How so? It’s all about applying the power for me. While Jaguar XFR and last generation M5 I tested were a blast to drive, both spent considerable amounts of time at the starting gates spinning their wheels. 0-60 testing a two-wheel drive high-output vehicle takes a certain amount of time and finesse to get the best possible numbers out of the vehicle. The X5M just requires a heavy right foot. The same can be said for the fun-factor of the X5M when on a windy mountain road: just mash the go pedal and hang on.

The X5M is not the best handling car I have ever driven, but it is quite possibly the most confidant. The torque vectoring rear differential helps the X5M feel like a much lighter vehicle on windy roads and the permanent AWD system means it’s easy to stomp on the throttle at just about any moment without everything going pear-shaped. For those of us that aren’t Jack Baruth, this much power needs four powered-wheels. Back to the handling; while the X5M is not a 911 on the track, it is (no kidding at all) at the top end of the handling scale in general. While on a twisty road I frequent, I let a brand new Porsche Cayman S pass (because I thought I’d slow the fun down), just to see how I’d do, I tried to keep up with the light-weight Porsche. To my surprise the X5M picked up its lederhosen and danced. While the Cayman was more nimble in the tight corners common to any coastal California road, the X5M’s massive thrust more than compensated in the short straightaways. With the right driver, on a closed course, I have little doubt the 5,400lb SUV would have spanked the bantam weight Porsche.

While the X5M weighs nearly 2400lbs more than a Cayman S PDK, our 0-60 tests revealed the BMW to be faster than all but the fastest of Stuttgart’s wares. BMW’s website quotes an official 4.5 seconds to 60, but our first run on a cool 50 degree morning yielded an eye-popping 4.05 second run. Amazed, disturbed, and incredulous we spent the next 30 minutes verifying and re-verifying our numbers. After a morning where we consumed about 15-gallons of premium dinosaur we arrived at two conclusions: The first is that the X5M has a “problem” with heat soak despite the mammoth intercoolers, and the second is that BMW is totally honest about the 4.5 second 0-60 time. What do I mean? Let’s talk numbers, our first run clocked at 4.05, our next was 4.1 and by the time we had done our 25th back-to-back run our times had “ballooned” to 4.51 seconds which represents a variance of about 12%. What should you get out of our experimentation? Unless you are really pounding the snot out of the twin-turbo V8, you’ll pretty much always beat that guy in the Carrera 4S next to you. Need some crazier numbers? The old M5 needed 4.4 seconds to achieve the same speed (as does the M3 in manual form), making the X5M not only the fastest car we’ve tested from BMW so far, but perhaps the fastest car TTAC has tested period.

Because the concept of “launch control” on a nearly three-ton SUV with a regular-old slush-box is about as insane as the SUV itself is, we must go over the feature as it did make a 1/10th of a second difference in the 0-60 time. Here’s how you activate it: With the vehicle stopped, you put your foot on the brake pedal, slide the shifter over to M/S mode and then use the paddle shifter to out the transmission into M1. You then need to put the stability control into MDM mode, select the sport program from for the M Engine dynamics control (these two actions can be linked to the M button on the steering wheel). You then floor the car and a little checkered flag appears in the cluster. You then let your foot off the brake pedal and the X5M takes off like a daemon possessed Chucky doll cranking out crispy shifts like a Gatling gun (as long as you don’t lift). As if common sense wasn’t enough, the manual reminds you to not use launch control while towing a trailer. We tested the X5M with a 5,000lb trailer and trust us, launch control was not required.

Competition to the X5M can of course be found from all the usual suspects: the Range Rover Sport Supercharged, the ML63 AMG, and of course the Cayenne Turbo. The Range Rover retains some of its off-roading ability making it far less capable on-road than the BMW (and not quite the same creature). By all appearances, Mercedes decided not to tackle the X5M head on with the ML63 as it’s down on power, torque and needs almost a full second more to get to freeway speeds. This leaves the Cayenne Turbo the sole competition for the X5M if you care about handling and speed. Strangely enough however, even with the brief 30 minute test drive I was able to finagle in a Cayman Turbo it was obvious the Porsche is more of a luxury SUV than a sports SUV with a more supple, less connected ride,  a transmission more willing to upshift (and gear-hunt) and a considerably larger price tag. While the Porsche represents a more refined SUV without question, the BMW is by far the performance winner. It’s also the maddest in the bunch and if the X5M was a person it would be bound in a straight-jacket and locked in a padded cell.

OK, so it’s an insane vehicle that’s crazy fast and crazy fun, but who’s it for? This is twisted logic, so stay with me here: If you are the kind of middle-class guy that has a Porsche Cayman for the daily commute, a trailer for weekend camping which, because we’re Americans and we cannot possibly tow a 1,200lb “toy hauler” with our car, also meant buying a pick-up truck, you should save yourself the garage space and buy the X5M instead. It’s a far better sports car than a Cayman, and oddly enough the 555HP and 500lbft of torque make it one of the best tow vehicles this side of a diesel F-250. The price of this joy? $95,000. Still, that’s cheaper than a Cayman and an F-250. I’ll take my straight jacket in blue please.


BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Statistics as tested

0-30: 1.35 Seconds

0-60: 4.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.6 Seconds @ 111.2 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 15.2 MPG over 483 miles

2012 BMW X5M Front Right IMG_4701 IMG_4702 IMG_4703 IMG_4704 IMG_4706 IMG_4707 IMG_4710 IMG_4712 IMG_4713 IMG_4714 IMG_4715 IMG_4716 IMG_4718 X5M Twin Turbo V8 IMG_4725 IMG_4726 IMG_4728 Driver Side Interior IMG_4731 IMG_4734 IMG_4735 IMG_4737 IMG_4738 IMG_4740 IMG_4741 IMG_4746 IMG_4747 IMG_4751 IMG_4753 M Instrument Cluster IMG_4755 IMG_4757 IMG_4758 IMG_4759 IMG_4761 X5M Cargo Area IMG_4765 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 77
Next-Gen M3 Kicks Up Its Heels, Cackles Tue, 22 Nov 2011 18:50:32 +0000

With engine management technologies creating ever-more refined, well-behaved engines, the snap-crackle-pop overrun at the beginning of this video is an increasingly rare throwback to the time when men were men and engines could blow up at any second. Sure, such playfulness will probably be managed out of existence by the time the F30 M3 hits dealerships, but it seems like a good omen for the M3′s return to six-cylinder power. In fact, it might even be possible that the backfire heard here has something to do with the electric turbocharger that’s rumored to give the new M3 lag-free turbo performance… but then you’d probably be a better judge of that than I.

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New or Used: Common Sense or Uncommon Downsizing? Tue, 27 Sep 2011 16:45:50 +0000

Dave writes:

Hello Sajeev and Steve,

First time writer, long time reader; I must say, TTAC and Piston Slap rocks.

My wife and I are in a bit of a quandary. We currently own outright a 1997 Chevy Monte Carlo 3.1L LS with 197k miles and counting as well as a 2003 Chevy S-10 Blazer LS with 145k on the clock. Lately, we have been sinking money into the Blazer for everything from brakes, to shift solenoids, thermostat, intake manifold gasket and crankshaft position sensor (soon to be O2 sensor). I have been driving the Monte since senior year in high school (2004) and it has also had its share of problems, namely Dex-Cool and the ensuing broken conn-rod. The engine was replaced with a rebuilt Jasper at 117k. The dash is lit up like a Christmas tree, but I change the oil religiously and watch the other liquids and wear parts.

Our dilemma is such; the Blazer does not get good mileage but we have it for my wife. She grew up in Jersey and the 4×4 is nice for these upstate NY winters. We snowboard so we routinely travel a couple of hours round trip in bad weather; we also make an annual pilgrimage to VT for the slopes. Her family is still in NJ and mine is north of Niagara Falls NY. We travel to each frequently; the Blazer has its needs. The Monte is a great car, still strong, so comfortable, so smooth, so quiet, much better mileage; especially compared to the Blazer. It even handles the snow well; FWD with good tires is all any upstate New Yorker needs. Alas, it is tiring and it is only a matter of time before the transmission goes or some other catastrophic failure.

I live close enough to work to get there in a 25 minute walk; for the summer, I have my motorcycle. Since my wife’s current commute is longer than mine, I would love for my wife to have a good, reliable vehicle which is good on gas; she grew up driving a 1996 BMW M3 sedan around suburban NJ so she would love a manual with similar handling.

Do we drive the Monte until she goes onto greener pastures? Do I inherit the Blazer when this happens and get her something newer and better? Do we sell the Blazer now and cut our losses? Do we sell both and downsize to one vehicle?

Is there anything you, Steve and the B&B would recommend for our situation? I appreciate the help…

Steve answers:

I would not downsize only because you don’t know what the future holds.

What I would do is cut down on your insurance so that your rates are more affordable. A lot of insurance companies provide discounts for limited driving. Some offer it at less than 5,000 miles a year. Others offer it for less than 2,500 miles a year.

I would drive both vehicles until they croak. The key to making GM vehicles last is taking care of their fluids and making sure you keep up with replacing the Dex-cool in particular. Some would say that I may be excessive recommending annual changes for the Dex-cool. But my experience has been that by doing so, your vehicle will last much longer.

Buy a Mityvac. Suck out the old stuff. Put in the new stuff… and repeat once a year. That may seem extreme to a lot of folks here. But its cheap insurance and that should help you guys lower your operating costs to the bare minimum.

Sajeev answers:

Even though my man Lang is, like, 100 billion percent right, agreeing with him is like shooting fish in a barrel. And I can hear TTAC’s own Zackman saying, “W bodies are perfect for your needs, keep on driving the Monte Carlo and get another one…don’t listen to Sajeev because he’ll ruin your life with Panther Love!” And they both give valid points, even if I completely made up that last part. But they are both wrong.

Sell both hoopties and get something smaller. Maybe that E36 M3 you spoke of. Sure, the fuel economy is pretty bad and the maintenance to keep it running will crush your manhood, but I will not agree with Steve Lang this time. No sir, not at all! You could embrace Panther Love and go from downsizing to “awesome sizing” your next ride, but then again, there’s no stick shift option. And that powertrain conversion isn’t for everyone. So what’s a reliable car that’s affordable and comes with a stick?

BAM SON: a Toyota Corolla in XRS trim level. Sure it’s ugly and/or boring with a lousy interior, but the XRS has a meaty engine, real brakes and a stick! Plus, it’s probably just as reliable as any other Corolla, with resale value that makes selling it a breeze.

Who could ask for anything more?

Not me and certainly not you.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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New or Used: The Short and Pokey Commute Mon, 06 Jun 2011 09:03:23 +0000 Brady Writes:

Dear Steve/Sajeev,

I’m a 35 year old physician with wife and 2 kids, who has happily made do with a succession of automatic VW Passat wagons, first a chipped 2000 and now a 2010 I use to reverse commute out of my large metro region. We’ll be moving to the oceanfront suburb of a small New England city this summer and I’ve got to select car #2. My commute will by short and pokey–7 miles each way, some of it along beautiful marshland and ocean, some of it not. Long haul family trips can be done in the Passat, but the second car should safely carry the kids in a pinch. Budget is 30-35k max. I’ve been thinking new v6 mustang convertible, but then again, is it time to invest in the future and, say, lease a volt? Or practical, comfortable fun in a new GTI/Golf TDI? Revisit a heavily depreciated bug convertible we used to love despite it’s crude underpinnings and tight back seat? Or take advantage of some older interesting vehicles–S4 cabriolet, 3 series convertible, or something I’m too boring to have considered?

Steve Answers:

What will make you happy?


That’s what you will have to figure out. The answer is almost limitless and you should take plenty of time to test drive whatever strikes your fancy. Since you already like Passats, I would start off with a 2008-2009 Audi A4 Cabriolet with low miles. Maintenance is absolute critical on these machines due to the overall fragility of VW products (don’t get me started).


But like a lot of ‘second car’ models, you can find a fair share of them with low miles in today’s market. Many of which will have CPO warranties and the all too essential books and records. Both the A4 and the more powerful S4 cabriolets can seat four people in the real world. The 08′-09′ time period I mentioned is also right about the time when Audi started making strides in their overall quality.

As for top of the line convertibles and hardtops, I have a very soft spot for the M3 convertibles. However so does every yuppie between Boston and San Francisco. The Audis will cost less money and will tend to not be nearly as abused as the M’s. Given your short commutes and beautiful scenery, I would play the field but start here first.

Sajeev Answers:

Brady, you need to see what you really want in a second car. Reading between the lines it needs to be topless, not insanely powerful with VW-sized proportions (Corvette LS3-FTL) and of premium intentions. That said, always buy a German ride with a factory warranty covering your entire ownership period.  The Mustang is a good long term value, but I don’t see you liking it over the long haul. Then again, prove me wrong.  Or really blow our minds and buy an LS-1 powered Miata, as that’s what you really need.  I’m serious!

My even more serious choice?  A MINI droptop, preferably a Cooper S.  And most definitely in Hot Chocolate paint, as the autobloggers-turned-Facebook-Admins at the Brown Car Appreciation Society demand it. The MINI is small, upscale, eco-friendly in appearance (though not really in practice) and drives like a firecracker.  You can fit kids in the back seat, especially if they must be punished for misbehavior.  And when the inevitable “repairs trump resale value” argument happens, the MINI has a strong following and hold their value quite well.  Especially compared to any and all Audis.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.


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Ask the Best And Brightest: Should Evolution be Fat or Skinny? Fri, 10 Sep 2010 15:03:47 +0000

While reading the responses to a recent BMWBLOG posting by Josh Lewis, I noted that one of the posters had put together a very interesting comparison of the BMW M3 and the Porsche 911. To put it mildly, somebody’s gone Kirstie Alley while somebody else has stayed Goldie Hawn:

Here’s the comparison, with the data being attributed to Wikipedia, Porsche, and BMW media resources. I’ve removed the GT3 and added the Carrera 3.2 to keep things historically similar:

E30: 2,740 pounds, 192 HP, 17/29 mpg, L=171″,W=66.1″
E36: 3,219 pounds, 240 HP, 19/26 mpg, L=174.5″, W=67.3″
E46: 3,415 pounds, 333 HP, 16/24 mpg, L=176.8″, W=70.1″
E92: 3,704 pounds, 414 HP, 14/20 mpg, L=180.3″, W=70.2″

Porsche 911 (base):
911: 2,700 pounds, 207 HP, 15/22 mpg, L=169″, W=65″
964: 3,031 pounds, 247 HP, 17/25 mpg, L=168″, W=65″
993: 3,064 pounds, 282 HP, 17/25 mpg, L=167.1″, W=68.3″
996: 2,910 pounds, 296 HP, 19/28 mpg, L=174.4″, W=69.5″
997: 3,075 pounds, 325 HP, 18/26 mpg, L=175.6″, W=72.9″

*1984 Carrera 3.2 US spec

Based on what I’ve seen over a few years instructing at open trackdays, I would suggest that the average novice driver will be somewhat faster around a track in the M3, but that the difference decreases dramatically as the skill level of the drivers increases.

Who’s got it right: Porsche, which has kept weight and power close to the Nineties levels, or BMW, which keeps turning up the volume?

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Review: 2011 BMW 335is Mon, 30 Aug 2010 18:47:53 +0000

BMW loves America, and to prove it, BMW is sending us a North American exclusive sports coupé and convertible. No, it is not some fabulous concept car turned production, its last year’s 335i cranked up a notch with some M3 parts and an exhaust system that’s too loud to be sold in the EU tossed in for good measure. Does that make the 335is the perfect 3 series? BMW tossed us the keys to one for a week to find out.

Before we talk about the 335is, we need to talk about the refreshed 2011 3 series first. Since the 3 series has remained largely unchanged since 2007, BMW decided a mid-cycle refresh was in order. For 2011, all 3 series coupés and convertibles get a new nose, new headlamps with new LED “angel eyes,” some new tail lamps, rear bumper tweaks and some rocker panels. As a result of the rhinoplasty, the 2011 model gains an inch and a half over the previous model making it the longest 3 series ever (3.5” longer than the sedan). Inside the changes are essentially limited to the instruction of the latest generation of iDrive and some new paddle shifters on models with that option.

The biggest change BMW has made for 2011 is under the hood, and here is where 335is owners will have some explaining to do on autocross days: The 2011 335i has traded in its twin-turbo setup for a new twin-scroll single turbo setup ala Volvo’s T6 engine. The twin-scroll design uses two exhaust gas inlets on the turbine side of the turbocharger, one each for of three cylinders. BMW says that this increases turbo response and improves efficiency. The new “N55” engine in the 335i delivers the same power output as the former “N54”engine in 2007-2010 335i models, but does so with greater efficiency and a slightly better torque curve. The N55 also brings BMW’s Valvetronic system to the party offering not just variable valve timing, but variable valve lift.

Now here’s where things get a bit complicated: the 335i uses the new N55 engine, the 335is uses a lightly reworked version of the N54 (twin-turbo) engine producing 320HP and 332lb-ft (with an overboost function boosting the torque to 370ft-lbs for 7 seconds) vs the 335i’s 300HP/300lb-ft. Big deal you say? Two words: aftermarket tuning. I am told by an aftermarket chip company that the N54 has a far greater mod potential than the new N55 engine. There are a number of companies out there than will take an N54 engine up to 400+ HP and 400+ lb-ft of torque. For those wanting M3 performance on a “budget” the 335is is now the new foundation.

Compared to the plebeian 335, the “s” gets you a more sculpted front and rear bumper with large cooling vents placed where foglights reside in the regular 335, and a blacked out front grille. Out back there is a sports exhaust system which BMW claims to be unique to the 335is, but forum fans indicate it is available as an aftermarket accessory from BMW. Under the hood the cooling system has gone supersized with a high output fan, upgraded oil cooler, an auxiliary radiator and widened openings in the front bumper.

All this is included because BMW assumes 335is buyers will track their car on weekends, so they need the extra grunt and the stay-cool-bits. Lest we forget the important part, the 335is carries a $7,000 larger price tag. (When adjusted for standard equipment, the premium is around $4,000) Anyone notice something missing? That’s right: no brake upgrades. This is the chink in the 335is’ armour. Basically BMW has created a car that goes faster and handles slightly better with the capacity to drive the car harder, but did nothing to improve the stoppers. Given the extra shove the 335is provides, this is a problem on windy mountain roads where I managed to get the brakes overheated without actually trying. I’m not sure I’d want to track this puppy without addressing the brakes in some manner.

Inside the 335is there are fewer differences from the 335i. The “s” brings the 7 speed DCT transmission from the M3 (with fewer modes however) vs the 6 speed slushbox, an M steering wheel and short shift 6 speed transmission with an M shift lever and some faux-snake skin aluminium dash trim. Other than that the interior is stock 3 series, which is not a bad place to be. The Dakota leather seats are very comfortable, the up-level Harmon Kardon sound system hits all the right notes, and although our tester was a pre-production model without cruise control of any sort, BMW’s web site claims all 335is models will have radar adaptive cruise control standard. Also standard on the 335is, like all 3 series models are just about the worst cup holders available on this continent. I seriously want to know who thought the flimsy pop-out cup holders that are both miles away from the driver, and cause ingress/egress problems for front passengers were a good idea? Gadget hounds will love the new 4th generation iDrive with the high resolution screen and 3D effect navigation maps, and they will probably rave over the automated seat-belt-hander-thing that pops out of the rear. Personally, a car that hands me my seatbelt kind of creeps me out.

On the road, the 335is behaves basically the same as the 335i with the M sport suspension, which makes sense since that’s what it is. Power delivery is effortless, grip is substantial and damping is firm. The 335is equipped with the BMW DCT truly shines; the shifts are not only crisp and practically perfect, but 0-60 times are greatly improved. BMW quotes the standard 335i as 0-60 in 5.3 (manual) and 5.5 (automatic) while the 335is clocks in at 5.1 (manual) which is only a slight improvement, but 5 seconds flat when equipped with the 7-speed dual clutch transmission. What makes this stat impressive is when you consider that this is 5 seconds flat repeatable every time, with perfect launches. After some practice runs I was able to eek a hair under 5.4 seconds (no rollout) to 60 with the 6-speed manual transmission. Apparently I should not quit my day job and race for a living. In my defence however, at these power levels the road surface is your greatest enemy, had the road surface been perfect I’m sure I would have hit 5.2.

On large oval tracks, owners will notice the “s” model gets you a top speed limited to 150 vs the standard 130 (335i models with the M sport package also have a 150MPH limiter), but it’s not the top speed that makes the 335is a great car at the end of the day: It’s the fact that BMW has made an able highway cruiser that handles and accelerates well enough for an occasional weekend at a BMW owners club event. Purists will deride the lack of upgraded brakes, which did bother me, until I came to the realisation that BMW is truly the new Mercedes. Chock full of electronic gizmos, widgets and nannies, well executed designs and high-quality interior parts; this is exactly what I would want Mercedes to make. Except Mercedes would have probably given me decent cup holders.

Readers who are following TTAC on Facebook were given the opportunity to ask reader questions of the 335is. If you would like to ask questions of car reviews in progress, or just follow TTAC, checkout our facebook page. FB fans, here are your answers. Tony J: With our G-Tech accelerometer based performance meter, I recorded a skidpad of .88-.89Gs on an approximately 300ft skidpad (open parking lot). I have seen reviews as high as .93, so road surface of course plays a huge role here. Patrick C: Yes, it actually will do a burnout, fairly easily I might add. Richard M: I drove the 335i to the community pool, but was denied entry.

BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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Review: 2010 Mercedes C63 AMG Wed, 21 Jul 2010 17:41:11 +0000
From the surface, the C63 looks like it has the goods to compete with the big boys in the Euro performance club. Boy racer styling? Check. Monstrous V8? Check. Ginormous tyres? Check. Manual transmission? Not so much. Also not along for the party is a coupe or convertible version of the C63. Mercedes’ decision to make the C63 auto-only is perplexing enough, but the fact that they also decided to ignore the rest of the M3 portfolio is truly baffling. Consider the competition: the M3 coupe and convertible [combined] outsell the M3 sedan almost five to one. This halfhearted approach to a hotly contested and prestige-generating segment truly defines the experience with the C63: you constantly feel like this could have been a great car.

When reviewing a car I often find it useful to read other reviews on the same car, usually to see what likes and dislikes other reviewers had, and then see if those same issues bother me at all. When the C63 AMG was dropped off on my doorstep, I have to admit I was giddy, not just because it looks like a mini-me version of the E63 that I routinely park next to, but because every review I have read waxes poetic about it being the answer to the M3.

Starting off inside, for a $66,500 (as equipped) car, the cheap plastics and lack of features are startling. The same options – or lack thereof – that greet you in a base C300 rear their heads in the C63. If you don’t opt for the $3,300 multimedia package, then you are stuck with a pointless microscopic screen tucked under a manually opening storage cubby. The screen shows a digital tuning dial for the radio and provides a display for the built-in Bluetooth, but it’s so small that you might as well dial on your phone. When you opt for the $375 iPod integration kit, the screen becomes an oddly placed paperweight since the iPod can only be controlled via the steering wheel.

This is good if you don’t like your passenger’s to decide what tunes to listen to, but bad if you would like to use the screen in the center of the speedo for something else like the AMG mode where you see oil and coolant temps and an alternate gear indicator. This feature is so counterintuitive that when reading reviews like Autoblog’s review of the C63, they never even worked out how to use the iPod interface and instead disconnected the iPod and manually changed songs and playlists! Our press car didn’t come with the uplevel sound system or keyless drive, a feature found on Kias these days. Electronic shocks aren’t even an option.

I drove the C63 for two days, then re-read a number of reviews on the car. I figured there must be something wrong: they must have been driving a different car. The front seats in the C63 are epically uncomfortable yet no other review mentions this; they were apparently designed for someone less than 5’10” tall and less than 8” from shoulder to shoulder. I had no less than 15 random people try the seats, nobody found them pleasant to sit in. Six feet tall and with an average build, I was incapable of finding a comfortable seating position because the upper portion of the seat is so severely bolstered that the only way my upper back could touch the seat is if I hunched forward and curled my shoulders. Otherwise it felt like I was being groped by the side bolsters, and not in a good way. Sadly Mercedes offers no alternative seats. The front seats alone are reason to avoid the C63. Don’t get me wrong, I love side bolsters, but they need to be adjustable or sized for 85% of the populace.

The C63 is a deeply conflicted car; it has the engine of a world-class sports car and an exhaust note that makes teenagers cream their shorts, yet it possesses the most dimwitted automatic I have ever experienced in a sports sedan. The C63 doesn’t get the E63’s new automatic-with-a-clutch. Instead it gets Mercedes’ “Speedshift Plus” 7-speed automatic. The name suggests that this transmission shifts quickly. It doesn’t.

The C63 may very well be faster than the M3 in a straight line at a drag strip from a stop, but in reality when you are on the freeway next to one and compete for a freeway exit, the M3 is off the freeway and on the ramp before the C63 has even shifted. Speaking of those shifts, cars like the M3 or even the portly (in comparison) XFR will queue shifts: i.e. if you are in 6th and want 2nd hear, just flip the paddle four times and most performance cars will shift directly from 6th to 2nd blipping the throttle only once in the process. The AMG will not. You have to flip the paddle once, it blips, the transmission engages 5th, once in 5th you flip the paddle again, it blips again and engages 4th rinse and repeat for gears 3 and 2.

By the time you get to 2nd gear, you have run over the bicyclist in front of you, careened over the cliff or forgotten why you wanted 2nd gear in the first place. When I asked about this annoyance, I was told that all you have to do is hold down the down paddle and “the transmission will shift to the lowest gear available.” Sounds good, right? Wrong. The transmission still blips and shifts sequentially all the way down from 7th to 2nd (that’s five blips, five gear changes) making you sound like some knob that can’t drive a stick, plus you can never summon 1st gear in that fashion, that is always one more paddle pull away.

What makes the transmission all the more infuriating is how the car handles. There is zero drama at speed. The electronic nanny reels in the fun at all the right moments and, should you tell the nanny to pack it in for the day, you can burn out and do doughnuts to your heart’s content. This car is fast, seriously fast. The forums are alight with complaints that Merc didn’t keep the 518HP tune from the E63 in the C63, but it doesn’t really matter because there isn’t enough grip to use all that power from a stop anyway. My best accelerometer tested 0-60 time was 4.8 seconds, and that was (by necessity) easing up on the throttle around 3500-4500RPM to keep from burning out in first gear.

At the end of the day, the M3 remains the better car. The BMW’s ride is more compliant, thanks to electronic shocks. Its dual clutch transmission is neck-breakingly fast. And, perhaps most significantly, its interior parts quality is light-years ahead.Every person who got into the C63 was surprised that they were not surrounded by luxury. If Mercedes ditched the M3 wannabe seats, spent some cash making the interior a better place, and softened the suspension a hair, it might just be the perfect compact Euro sports sedan. Until then it’s playing third fiddle to the RS4 [a car that is no longer even sold new] and M3.

Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Ultimate Dying Machine Edition Thu, 06 May 2010 20:47:12 +0000

An M3 Convertible headstone, shipped from China? Sounds like it’s about time for the Top Gear boys to rethink their “cocks only drive Audis now” trope. [The Daily Mail via Autospies]

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