- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

There’s no way to get around this automotive truism: When you pay $77,000, you’d better get a lot of car.

BMW’s explosive 2009 M3 convertible definitely is a lot of car — with a high-test answer for whatever four-wheeled desire you need fulfilled.

Since it’s the convertible version of BMW’s rip-snorting M3 coupe and sedan, it’s natural to assume the ability to lose the roof is high on the list of those desires, and the M3 convertible makes it happen in the fashion expected in today’s luxury-performance market: The 3-piece folding hardtop does its thing in 22 seconds.

Folding hardtops are famous for making a joke out of luggage space because all that folded metal basically stows in the trunk. But we were satisfied by the stowage available with the M3 convertible’s roof retracted: We managed to fit three peoples’ worth of weekend duffel-bag luggage and a hefty number of plastic grocery bags under the divider that assures the folded top doesn’t mash the rest of the trunk’s contents.

And brother, the M3 convertible’s interior sure lives up to the luxury side of this car’s personality. The standard “Fox Red Novilo” leather was spectacular to look at and luscious to feel, the special instrument cluster that comes with all BMWs, tuned by the company’s Motorsports division (that’s where the “M” comes from), is a functional benchmark, and all the interior surfaces have a deep and lustrous quality and a palpable precision fit. But if you’re shopping an “M” vehicle, then luxury probably isn’t the top priority; BMW’s M models are about a higher level of high performance. That story is covered in full by the 4.0-liter V-8, surely one of the most magnificent engines any amount of money can buy.

The M3 V-8, breathed on in all manner of ways by BMW’s racing-trained engineers, takes just a second, thanks, to gather itself — it’s only a 4.0-liter, after all — but after that, the V-8 hurtles the 2-plus tons of M3 convertible to 60 mph in about 5.0 seconds.

This engine’s not just about thrust: It also generates a literal symphony of bassy V-8 talk in all sorts of speed ranges. Formula One wail to the redline or Lou Rawls mellow burble are available on demand, decided entirely by your choice of gears from the delicious (and just appropriately resistant) 6-speed gearbox and the pressure of your right foot. The aural emanations from this engine - all the more accessible thanks to the M3 convertible’s convertibleness - might top all of the numerous delights delivered by this formidable car.

The M3 convertible’s engine might be the car’s showpiece, but the chassis is no slouch, either. M3s are renowned for the nailed-down nature of their handling, and although the convertible has softer tuning, it still has shocking cornering abilities.

Part of the M3 convertible’s dearly priced ($3,200) technology package is the clever M Drive system that allows the driver to tailor the adjustable shocks, power steering and even throttle response and fix the favorite parameter for each into one customized setting. So if you prefer the firmest steering, the sharpest throttle reaction and mid-level shock control, such is yours when depressing the M Drive button.

And, of course, the big money at the bottom of the M3 convertible’s sticker brings all the fat-tired, fender-flared, hood-bulging styling that makes all M3s the stylistic pick of BMW’s 3 Series lineup.

Is this a lot of money for a car? You know it. Is the M3 convertible a lot of car? Totally. It’s the ultimate expression of what a luxury-performance car is supposed to do: vastly exceed expectations at every level.

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