Yep, I said it. The e46 m3 you really want is the SMG. Blasphemy you say? Maybe. But all of you are missing out on fantastic vehicles because people with no experience with the system love to perpetuate the myth that the transmission murders puppies and gave your grandmother glaucoma. Ok, maybe your grandmother's glaucoma is an overblown reason for her to get legal herbs, but thats beside the point.
The biggest myths surrounding the system are that it is clunky (it isnt if you have half a brain) and that it fails if you look at it wrong (it doesnt).
SO to address #1
The system is clunky- Yes it can be, if you don't understand that it is a manual car, with approx 14 lbs of hydraulic pumps and sensors doing what your left foot would regularly do. If you conceptualize the transmission as such, it becomes very clear what you have to do to drive the vehicle smoothly, and thats simply lift your big toe off the gas between shifts, that is, unless you're moving full tilt and you want to snap your passengers necks off their shoulders. (for this I reccomend turning traction control off, SMG controller to S6, and keep your foot planted)
If you dont finesse the pedals in a manual what happens? Clunky shifts. Same thing with the SMG. just because you can't be bothered to understand something, doesn't mean its bmw's fault.
Also, automatic mode. Why you would use it is beyond me, but it isn't the shining star of the system. That said, it is perfectly acceptable, and a bandaid solution to assuage customer concerns. Truth be told, in traffic I have used automatic mode, and its still more pleasurable than pumping my left leg every 3 seconds to inch 3 feet forward, slipping clutch and such. Secondly, should I ever find my self in a predicament where I cannot drive, anyone can drive the car for me, even those who do not know how to drive stick. This means your wives, girlfriends, girly guy friends, etc can all drive your car (if you allow them to) and enjoy it almost as much as you do.
2) Its a timebomb waiting to grenade your wallet.
It isnt. Can the system fail? of course. Just like the synchros can fail or the clutch can fail, or the rod bearings can fail. Honestly Subframe issues are more prevalent than SMG failures. It is common to get the cog light when over working the car, this is actually due to a faulty sensor location, right next to the header, that is supposed to warn the driver if the SMG pumps are heating up. Sadly, they read the ambient temperature coming off of the header, and trick the system into thinking there is a cause of concern within the pump. this is easily remedied with 1 resistor from radio shack wired inline.
Secondly, it is being found more times than not, that the cause of failure isn't directly related to the SMG pumps. Sure they can fail, but most of the time there is another cause leading to their failure. The cause being failing slave cylinders leading to improper operating pressures for the SMG pumps, causing them to prematurely fail. Check your slave cylinder for leaks and replace as necessary as a preventative measure. Also take note that the SMG fluid resivoir is properly filled, if it is low for any reason, you have a leak in the system, and will need to address said leak before the system ingests air, and burns out your smg pumps.
Should you experience an SMG failure, not all is lost, and you don't necessisarilly need $3k to replace the entire transmission. Because....
it is the same Getrag transmission that is in the manual car. Nothing about this transmission is inherently different, inside the case, everything is the same. As a matter of fact, when some customers do have issues with the SMG, they will opt for a manual conversion. Everything needed for the conversion is already in place on the transmission.
SO, that still doesn't explain why its better. Well I will tell you why its better. Its better because it can do this
and you get shift lights, the benefits of left foot braking, neck snapping acceleration, all in one brutal when it wants to be, refined when you want to be F1 inspired package. it even has a specific BURNOUT MODE! Its big news that the mustang will have it, well bmw has had it for years now, it doesn't line lock like the mustang, but since your left foot is free, you can apply the brakes and murder some michelins.
Set aside your old world way of thinking, and realize that the race car drivers you idolize have been using sequential transmissions for years. Sure you don't get the fantastic straight cut gear whine, and it isn't a true sequential (you can skip gears if you click fast enough) but if you think of it as such, it becomes a hell of a lot cooler.
lastly, if you really want to swing your e dick around, its faster than the manual, every time.
SO go fourth, buy up low mile cheaper smg cars, its worth it. Europe doesn't have an issue with it, and you shouldn't either.