We’ve had a very unpredictable winter this year. As of writing this, it’s -3 and we had a short snow squall earlier today. However last weekend it was 17.5 C and absolutely gorgeous. There was only one thing to do: get the M Coupe out of storage.
Last year was particularly bad for me and driving. I was busy, we bought another car and the M Coupe ended up in storage. With only brief jaunts here and there, it amounted to a sad 1000km of driving all year. Fall was nice for driving but then we were back in Kyoto, after that winter came. So the car slept. Thankfully I’d disconnected the battery, having learned my lesson last winter that if I’m not willing to go run it every few weeks in the garage it will indeed go flat. As hoped, the car started without issue, roaring to life with it’s usual furor. One of the tires was a bit low, but the rest had held their pressure perfectly. With air in the rear drivers side tire we were ready to convert some dinosaur bones into vapor.
Having not driven the car for almost 4 months it really felt very good to get back into it. Steering is communicative, being one of the last hydraulic systems BMW used, but no where near as good as the setup in the e36 M3s and Z3 M cars. 12.8 turns to lock puts it significantly faster than the roadster and even the M3 CSL. It makes it a bit twitchy at speed, but also makes things like lane changes a trivial affair. Steering is so heavy you need to have a solid grip at all times anyway.
The clutch is as heavy as always and while not as pleasant as earlier BMWs (i.e. 90s and prior) in terms of engagement feel it gets the job done. Engagement is linear and having been together all these years it feels very natural to me. Pedal travel is still too far, but a $2-20 clutch stop or bolt would fix that. The gear box I once loathed now puts a smile on my face. 2nd gear is as notchy as ever, something common to all cars that haven’t had transmission fluid and mount swaps. 1st gear is still high, meaning you never spend any time in it after taking off. Somehow it feels good though, once you know where & when to give it gas as you row your way, it’s quite smooth up and down the H. And the ratios are close, so you’re rowing quite a lot. The learning curve to avoid the distinctive 1st to 2nd bunny hop, widely reported across the car forums, was quite steep: nearly 2 years at my rather modest rate of usage. Now it’s just plain rewarding to drive.
The engine is still the primary reason to own the car. It’s 3.2L inline six debuted with 338 HP in 2000 known as the S54B32. It still managed to produce a rather respectable amount of torque (268 lb/ft) given its high rev 100+HP/L nature. That’s mostly thanks to a rather long stroke which puts its piston velocity ahead of the Lamborghini Gallardo (as I recall). Six years later when the e46 M3 retired from the market, the S54 made its final debut in the M Coupe and Roadster. Though now it was coupled to an intake further from the hot engine itself, an ECU that was an order of magnitude faster and a much better exhaust setup. (Not to mention a much smaller and lighter car to haul around!) No forced induction to dull its responsiveness, no direct injection to calm its over running fury. To put things in perspective: here in 2013 sports cars with modern direct injection engines are hitting the same power outputs are all still quite a bit bigger. Think Porsche Cayman S (3.4L, 321HP) or the Nissan NISMO 370Z (3.7L 350HP). Neither of those engines is as responsive and revvy as the S54, not even close. I can only imagine how much more interested I’d be in BMW had they done a direct injection successor to the S54 instead of going the forced induction route…
The most enjoyable thing about the car is that it never feels ‘normal’ to drive it. After the Nissan GT-R came out everyone commented that it drove like a Maxima around town. The M Coupe never feels anything but absurd at all times. Partially it’s the seating position, you have to fall in and your butt is only inches from the road. The controls help too, the twitchy steering and tricky transmission add a lot of character to the driving experience. The engine finishes it off, dogging it around town under 3000 RPM and screaming whenever you jump down a gear or two. The Hayward & Scott exhaust we installed helps. The car really grumbles around town and absolutely shouts when called upon, completely with coughing and popping overrun despite having all four of its California complaint cats. Even pulling away casually from a traffic light is an event. It’s an absurd car. Absurdly unpractical. Absurdly uncomfortable. I might be stuck in heavy traffic, but the car always manages to put a smile on my face. (As I grit my teeth and picture my left leg growing to be the size of a tree trunk…)
This coming weekend’s highs will be -1 and 0 so there is no hope for a repeat performance just yet. I don’t know what the future has in store for the car and I, but spring will be here soon and I can’t wait.
lying in wait