I don’t often give opinions that I can’t support with relevant data, but enthusiastic cars have never worked that way. It’s subjective stuff for people who can appreciate something beyond just forum banter, YouTube comments, or technical specs. I’ve had the pleasure of owning a 2002 BMW E46 M3 Convertible and 2008 Saturn Sky Redline for some time now, and I’ve driven both on long and short runs in succession. I have to say, driving my Saturn is a lot more fun than driving an M3, and that’s exactly what it is.
Both cars have their strengths and weaknesses of course, and I’ll explain how I came to that conclusion. And before you decide to punch a hole in your computer screen, understand this: This is my opinion, and if you’ve driven both the cars I’m about to describe, your opinion is as important as mine.
The E46 M3 has a good reputation for a reason – it’s an excellent car. I’ve covered more than 60,000 miles in my business in about four years, and seen the highs and lows. The heart of a car, the S54’s 3.2L is a great engine – one of the best engines ever in an affordable street car. You can’t beat that squeaky titanium sound as the car cruises at up to 8000 rpm. With the top down and the curb on the side of the road reflecting off all that great noise, it’s an absolutely thrilling experience to take to the red line again and again.
I also like the fact that the car is a convertible, although discussing this with your average coupe evangelist is like discussing the merits of barrel roll work with air traffic controllers. The fact of the matter is that you can enjoy the car better from top to bottom, and whatever extra weight it takes away from the car’s performance, it makes up for it with the impressive amount of noise six you get.
The E46’s chassis is very predictable and throwable. Any slice can easily be corrected or preserved as your heart desires. The M3’s is the sportiest version of this chassis, and certainly the best out there.
However, if we look beyond these things, the M3 will start to fall apart a bit. But before I say how exactly, let me introduce you to the Saturn Sky, a car that I’m sure a lot of BMW fans aren’t familiar with.
Saturn Sky, looking from the outside in, is the Miata competitor whose money General Motors lost before it went bankrupt. Wonderful. The base car, which is built on the same platform as the Pontiac Solstice, has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 177 horsepower. It could be with a five-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual, and the maximum prices were about 30 thousand dollars. It all just looks pedestrian and Miata-like, but the base car isn’t the one I own, and I don’t necessarily think it’s the one you should buy.
This will be the Red Line model, which replaces the 2.4-liter with a turbocharged 2.4-liter and produces 260 horsepower and the same amount of torque. It’s not a great engine like the S54 – it doesn’t go as fast, it doesn’t look good, it’s personally just a less poor engine. But if that was the whole story, I wouldn’t write this. Swap the two MAP sensors on the intake and install a tune, and you’ll be instantly near 280 horsepower and 340 torque on the wheels for about $320. Invest $320 in an E46 M3 engine bay and you’ll have the people on the forums throwing rocks at you.
That amount of power and torque in a car that weighs just under 3,000 pounds means it will pull the M3 out on the highway, and keep doing so for a long time. The five-speed manual transmission is the Aisin AR-5, which is very similar to the R150 series transmissions widely used on a large number of Toyota products, including the Mk. III Supra Turbo. The rear end is a Cadillac CTS’ LSD, a common component used in V8 Miata swaps. These parts, along with the forged crank and rods, mean the entire assembly is solid, and most importantly – although self-propelled – the transmission predates the part on the M3. Looking back, it’s not even close to how much better Saturn feels.
The driving position of Saturn, since it was supposed to rival the Miata, is also much lower on Earth. It feels better. Returning to the M3 after being ripped through the sky was uncertain. The M3 seat can’t get low enough. A set of racing buckets will probably fix this, but I wouldn’t put it in my daily convertible driver, who is seeing how M3 prices are trending, and I intend to sell at some point in the future.
The Sky’s steering is also more responsive and the road feel is just as good.
M3 is an old car
Heaven, when you think about things like luggage capacity – a picture of the trunk on Google, looks laughable – seat capacity and induction noise, is not good. You can argue it’s worse the cars than the M3, but even that would be tough. I can get over 35 mpg in the sky on the highway. Getting 30 mpg north on the M3 is a pipe dream. Along the same lines, the M3, as I’m sure many BMW owners know, is expensive to repair and they suffer from a lot of small issues, which for most people aren’t a problem but certainly bother me. I’ve been replacing my gaskets since I got it, but it has never stopped burning or leaking oil for more than a few months. I also got mine with only 59,000 miles from the IT guy, so it wasn’t like it had been abused prior to my ownership.
At least the rear coil springs have broken, I am always in a mental puzzle of not wanting to break the rear subframe area but also not wanting to push to strengthen it, and my kidney grille has fallen off. The convertible top bushing is torn – something she can do herself – the hanging bushings like a clock mechanism have been replaced, the inside is full of squeaks and rattles that I can’t locate or fix – the list goes on and on. Then there’s also the fact that I woke up one day and it was a random five-cylinder, or at the time the alternator gave up and I had to roll it down hill to an auto parts store. After a while, these things get old, especially for the daily driver I have to rely on.
The sky is more noisy
To be clear, GM doesn’t make Heaven anymore, or any Saturn for that matter. The expensive parts you can find are the body panels and other related parts, but in addition to that, a lot of the car is made from parts from other vehicles, vehicles whose parts are still made. The Sky feature has been very reliable for me, easier to work with, and inexpensive to maintain. Bottom line, I’m not concerned about that.
It’s also more fun. Forget the fact that it leaves the M3 in the dust, it saves power in an even more exciting way. The boost is coming in strong and the car wants to break free, or it explodes and slides off the road in “WHOOSH!” There’s turbine noise, plenty of torque at your fingertips, and if something happens, I’m not afraid of the repair bill. I also sorted through all of its squeaks and rattles in the first week of ownership, which is something I wish I could do now with the M3. The transmission vibrates because GM used a stupid pressure method to put it in, but if you put a hair tie around its base, it stalls. The instrument cluster also has an occasional squeak, but I put a thin piece of paper between it and the dashboard (where I can’t see it) and it stopped squeaking. I’m not sure how hard it is to fix the mysterious squeak behind an M3’s dashboard or the sometimes noisy blower motor, but man, I really don’t want to know.
The sky also attracts the kind of attention I like, unlike the M3, which I don’t. The sky looks like a game. Kids love it, and random people think it’s a weird thing, but it’s not. It’s a $32,000 convertible that I bought for a fraction of that. It’s Saturn. Nobody even knows what that means anymore. On the other hand, the M3 caught the attention of people who not only thought it was a great car, but saw it as a status symbol. Or they wanted to race. Also, he is such a protected creature in the sacred halls of Internet forums that I will undoubtedly receive criticism for his suggestion Which Part of the M3 is worse compared to the sky, and that comes from people who probably wouldn’t drive or even sit in one. I do not like it.
I love Saturn because it has no shoes to fill, no past, no future, and no expectations of who the driver is. In M3, you are either rich or pretend to be rich. It’s like the Porsche Royal Diet. Even people like me who enjoy it just because of what it’s called like, it’s inevitable.
The guy next to me at the light that day, I didn’t want to race his accord, and even if I did, the worst part is that these days Not sure if I would even win in M3. In heaven, it would be funny.
Heaven’s enthusiasm is simple. It’s fast and looks great. M3 enthusiasm is very complex. Lots of people love them for what they are, but plenty of other people are paying close to six figures for them on auction sites like Bring-a-Trailer. I don’t know who these people are, I don’t want to know who they are, and I’m certainly not jealous of the journey they’re about to embark on. What I do know is that I’ll be more than happy to spend a few chips to fix mine in a few years, and make it one of those people’s problems.
In this case, I’m reflecting on the sentiments of my colleague Doug DeMorrow. I thought this car was going to be my forever mechanism, but I just got over it. I pushed it, I loved it, but I moved forward. It’s not all bad, but heaven brings me more joy.
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#tuned #Saturn #Sky #simply #fun #BMW #E46