BMW M Coupe (1999)

 

With a horsepower-to-weight ratio of 0.077, the BMW M coupe violently exceeds Tommy's 0.06 proposed limitation.

BMW M CoupeNew in 1999, the BMW M coupe is the coupe version of the M3 roadster; the overpowered, big-muscle brother of the Z3. The end result is a sports-car-turned-station-
wagon. In other words, the coupe has all the power of the Z3 roadster...and none of the thrill of the wind over your bald spot. It's an oddball car that gets looks everywhere it goes. It might remind some of you (those of you who, like us, are a step away from adult diapers) of a beefed-up Jensen-Healy or a Volvo P1800.

Styling

The M coupe is nothing if not unique. It turns heads. It's got a look that people either love or hate. It's very muscular looking, with huge fender flares in the back which make the car look like it has so much power that it can't be contained. Our Assistant Producer, Catherine Ray, practically screamed, "Cute car!" when she saw it. Dougie's wife, on the other hand, covered her face and turned tail and fled (of course, that may have been because she saw Dougie, not the car). Personally, we think it looks pretty cool and we like it.

Driving Experience

The M coupe has more than enough power. Step on the gas--and watch out. When it's cold, we did note that the engine tended to bog down when accelerating from a stop. (To be fair to BMW, that might have been unique to our test car. Want to give us another one to drive?) Incidentally, the version of the M coupe that's sold in Europe has a 300-horsepower engine, compared with a measly (yeah, right!) 240 horsepower for the U.S. version.

Noise level is...how do we put this? Sporty. It's what you'd expect for a car like this: not obnoxious, but anyone who buys this car will enjoy the sound, which is part of the experience of a car like the M coupe.

The M coupe has a very harsh, sports-car kind of ride--this is no bubble-butt cruiser, luxury car, and it would certainly not be our first choice for a long ride. The leather seats are firm yet comfortable, though the side bolster might impinge those of you (you know who you are, Bugsy) with a volumetrically challenged tuchus.

The M coupe stopped well--almost too well, in fact. It took us a while to get used to stepping on the brakes without simultaneously breaking the necks of our passengers. Traction control is included in the M coupe, which made it acceptable in the rain. Overall, however, we'd have to recommend that you forget about driving this car in poor weather, and we'd strongly advise you against taking this car out when its snowing. It's simply not made for it. Keep it garaged, and use your Volvo V70 XC all winter instead.

Interior

BMW claims that there's room for two passengers in the back, but in our humble opinion, the rear space is really only useful for cargo, your faithful mutt, or a tiresome, irascible in-law. You'd violate the Geneva Convention if you tried to seat someone back there for more than a short trip across town. Behind the seats is a cargo area which is fine for small items. There's even a nice cover that hides things quite well. Up front, there's a little storage compartment between the seats which can accommodate a pair of sunglasses, a few maps and last week's Big Mac. (Oh, wait. We're talking about BMW drivers. Make that two cell phones, a few prospectuses, a wad of $100 bills and directions to your mistress's Aspen condo.)

Cargo Area

This is not an easy car to enter and exit. Doug Berman managed to box his ear on the descent into the driver's seat. The high door sill, combined with the low-slung nature of the M coupe, made graceful exits and entrances nearly impossible. With a little practice, however, you'll eventually perfect the "half-dive, half-fold" maneuver that's required. (Thank you, Olga Korbut, for the lessons.)

The M coupe is not one of these sports cars that's decked out with bells and whistles--it's got a refined and clean style that we appreciated. It's supposed to say "pure sports car." That it is. It's very well instrumented, with lots of gauges, including a voltmeter, temperature gauge and oil-temperature gauge.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics are fine in this car, though a few little-used buttons (like the AC and rear defroster) are inconveniently positioned directly in front of the stick shift. Climate controls, the radio and turn signals are all easy to reach. An accouterment aside: the cup holder is parallel to the seat backrest, requiring an additional contortionist maneuver that can result in an awkward wrenching of your shoulder. Of course, if you own this car, odds are pretty good you're an orthopedic surgeon, or have one on your staff...so why worry?

Interior

BMW's Mirror Placement Team must have been passed out at Oktoberfest during the design of the M coupe, because the side-view mirrors are definitely a bit too small and the rearview mirror is both too small and poorly positioned, right in the middle of the windshield. We found it distracting and in the way of forward vision. These problems, combined with the somewhat odd shape of the car and the M coupe's huge rear fenders, all serve to increase the likelihood of a parking "incident" at your law firm's parking garage.

Overall, visibility is problematic in the M coupe. It's very low to theground, and rear vision is limited by the large "C" pillar, which wraps around and comes into the driver's line of vision to create a blind spot. For these reasons, the M coupe felt slightly unsafe to us. Imagine having an 18-wheeler bearing down on you when your tuchus is nary more than a foot off the ground and we think you'll see what we mean.

The M coupe does have one fatal flaw. One of the great joys of driving a sports car is hanging one's arm out the window. Bend that elbow, rest the inside of your bicep on that ledge...and just drive along, without a care in the world. Nothing could be better, right? Well, here's a sign that the people at BMW who appreciate these important things have either died or been fired: the consarned window doesn't go all the way down! It sticks up a full inch, digging into your arm. How unconscionable is it to make a sports car that costs more than $41,000--and the windows won't go all the waydown?! If you need another half an inch, BMW, take it from the top of the window! Do something-anything--but for heaven's sake, don't stop your M coupe drivers from being able to put their arms out the window!

Overall comments

Our guess is that BMW won't produce many M coupes because of limited demand. The coupe is being marketed as an oddball, performance vehicle, and there's not much around that's similar to the M coupe. Remember the last generation of the Mazda RX-7? The RX-7, or perhaps a Porsche or Corvette, is probably the closest vehicle you'll find to the M coupe--namely, a hard-riding pure sports car with a big engine, yet light in weight.

So...who would by an M coupe? It's for someone who wants the ultimate in sports car performance--and can afford to pay for it, because with a cars.com target price of $41,900, it's certainly not cheap. The only market we can think of is the testosterone-poisoned, in-full-blown-midlife-crisis male who's seeking the ultimate, pure sports car...is probably a BMW-phile to start out with...and has another car to drive on days when he just doesn't feel like folding into a car and getting his butt pounded all the way to work.

It's a fun car. But its lack of compromises gives it limited appeal.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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