Illustration for article titled An FAQ for the commonly misunderstood BMW SMG II transmission

APiDA’s excellent E46 M3 buyer’s guide this morning once again reminded me how quick some enthusiasts are to vilify any transmission that’s not a traditional three pedaler. Hell, even an excellent automated system such as the Porsche PDK gets crapped all over by some of the purist purists. Well, I’d like to take this moment to clarify a few things about BMW’s “awful” SMG II transmission featured in the E46 M3 that so many avoid like the plague.


First things first, I daily drive a three pedal BMW and I love them as much as the next row-your-own purist. That said, I think it makes no sense to mandate that a traditional manual is the only way to go for all enthusiast cars.


What exactly is the SMG II?

The SMG II Drivelogic is BMW’s second generation of their Sequential Manual Gearbox offered in the E46 M3 (and possibly some other models that don’t come to mind at the moment). It’s not a different transmission though. It’s the same manual gearbox that, instead of having the clutch foot operated, has the clutch electrohydaulically operated via a pump and wired to computers. I want to say it’s similar to Lamborghini’s original E-Gear system, but I don’t know enough about Lamborghini’s system to say for sure (please chime in if you know).


So if I dyno an SMG car, it would put down the same power?


Is it as fast?

Independent testing suggests that in the most aggressive S6 setting, it shifts faster than even the fastest manual driver. However, real world comparisons tends to have SMG and manual cars neck and neck. So pretty much.


Does an SMG car weigh more?

From what I was able to find, SMG cars weigh about 18 lbs more.

So why does everyone hate it?

Because when the system does have issues it’s headache inducing and wallet draining. However, problems are always easier to understand when investigated and broken down (as opposed to pointing in the general direction of an SMG and simply saying “all that is one big clusterfuck”). The transmission itself usually holds up fine, it’s the hydraulic pump, the solenoids, and the relays that fail (and if you really want to get technical, the pumps tend to hold up fine, it’s the motors within that fail). These items can get expensive.


And it’s not nearly as involving as a manual right?

That’s all opinion. Would you think the 458 Italia and 991 GT3 are also cars that aren’t involving? I drive both a manual car and an SMG car and I find the SMG car to be fun in very different way.


What’s your point anyway?

My point is that a manual E46 M3, assuming identical condition and option specs, is not worth many thousands over the SMG variant. However, I will attest that manuals should be valued higher. For about $2-3k more, I’d go with the manual. Any more than that seems like it would be too much of a premium.


Above all, my point is to consider these points before blindly defending the manual transmissions. I love manuals and I would drive them for the rest of my life, but they’re not the end all be all of fun driving.

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