Ask Jack: To M3 Or Not To M3?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

My friend “Edward” is a conservative fellow. He’s smart, and he’s successful, but he’s also not going to be the first person in a group to, say, jump into a lake of unknown temperature. He’d rather let some other idiot take the risk.

In at least two cases, I’ve been that idiot.

When he met my voluptuous Italian housekeeper at my 40th birthday party, he thought she was pretty neat — but he waited to ask her out until I’d confirmed that said housekeeper was both fantastic in bed and unlikely to send him a boiled rabbit in the mail. And once he saw that owning an Audi S5 didn’t mean that I’d be spending every weekend drinking coffee at the service department, he picked up an Audi S4 for a daily driver. In contrast to my lime green six-speed V8 coupe, however, his Audi was a dual-clutch, supercharged-V6, metallic black four-door. Conservative. Just like him.

Edward would like to replace his S4 before winter comes. My advice to him was to take a safer version of my current path: get himself an Accord V6 sedan for the commuting grind and a brand-new Z51 Corvette for the weekends. He can certainly afford to do it, but instead, he’s thinking about upping the ante to a loaded-up M3 with a dual-clutch transmission. However, I had a slightly different idea, as you will see.

I think we can sell Edward’s 85,000-mile S4 pretty easily for seventeen or eighteen grand. Although he crunched the hood and fenders in a low-speed hit a few year ago, the car was fixed correctly and he’s always paid close attention to maintenance and repair, paying the local Audi dealer whatever they wanted for whatever was needed. And the S4 is an easy sale in the late fall; it has all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission.

Two weeks ago, Edward swung by our local BMW dealer to check out their M3 inventory. They have three in stock, two with the DCT. He’d settled on the loaded-up white one. With a couple grand out of pocket, he’d have been looking at just under $1,100 a month for a three-year lease. And he would have left with it, except for the interaction he had with the “numbers guy” at the dealership. Assuming that the sale on the M3 was already closed, the numbers guy started hard-closing him on a $3,000 winter tire package, telling him that the M3 would be dangerous without it in the snow.

I agree with the numbers guy. The M3 is absurdly torquey, often at inopportune moments, and it sits on steamroller summer tires as delivered. Only a fool would drive it on the street once the temperature dips below about forty degrees Fahrenheit. But Edward was put off by the dude’s manner and the way he seemed more interested in selling winter tires than selling the car. In the space of a few minutes, Edward was converted from a sure thing to what car salesmen call a “be-back”: Uh, thanks for your time, I’ll be back.

And back he was this past Saturday, this time with me in tow. But I wasn’t so sure that the M3 was the right car for Edward. It’s not really equivalent to the S4 he’s driving now. Hell, it’s not really equivalent to the RS5 coupe. The current M3 is wicked fast, an eleven-second quarter-mile monster that can reel in a Corvette in a straight line and trouble it around a fast sweeper. And although there was a time in my life where I was making five thousand dollars’ a month worth of car payments, I’m always troubled by the sight of a fourth figure on a lease statement.

So, I suggested that Edward try a 340 xDrive. It’s about as fast as his current S4, and it has all-wheel drive. Best of all, it’s currently offered with the usual BMW subsidized lease at something like $459/month. We went for a test drive. Edward dug the proverbial shit out of it. It was fast enough, handled well enough. But it was a little light on equipment, and he didn’t think it looked aggressive enough.

Luckily for us, the dealership had something slightly different in stock: a 440xi Gran Coupe in white with white leather. BMW’s lineup has proliferated to the point where even I can’t quite keep track of it, but this is a rough guide: A 4-Series is a two-door 3-Series. Except when it’s a 4-Series “Gran Coupe”, which is a four-door 3-Series with a lower roofline — a massive power-operated hatchback! Edward’s big on doing home improvement projects. The minute he saw the hatch open, I figured he was sold. And the lease price was right: $509/month for a 440i AWD with M Sport package.

There was just one little problem: Edward wanted the car fully loaded. His perfect 440i Gran Coupe would be the Buddhist model: one with everything, as they say. So he and the salesman sat down to mock up one to his specs. And when that was done, they ran some approximate numbers. The final lease tab: $820 a month, on the same terms they used for the $1,100-a-month M3.

My response to this: Get the $509/month model… and a Corvette. But Edward is thinking that life is too short to drive a stripped-out car. And if he’s going to spend $820 for a 440i, he might as well spend $1,100 for an M3. I can’t really disagree with this. He should get what he wants. But I don’t see how it’s not better to have a new Corvette and a pretty decent turbocharged hatchback. So, we’re gonna sell the S4, at which point he’ll drive one of my cars until he can make a decision. But what would you say, dear reader? It is better to serve in GranCoupeLand, or reign in an M3?

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.