The E46 (penultimate) BMW M3 just might be the perfect car for you, too.
I have always loved driving fast cars. I drove a blue '71 Mustang Mach 1 through most of college and a pretty red '93 Ford Escort wagon got me to and from teaching gigs and concerts. I have motor oil in my blood. I needed two cars to satisfy the "carry my stuff around without breaking the bank... or the car" and the "get me someplace fast and in style" requirements.
Fast forward (ahem... cough... already?) years and I've lately had the pleasure of driving a Silver 2003 BMW M3. This is a machine that laps the Nüburgring in 8:22, gets from "naught to sixty" in 4.6 seconds. You wouldn't expect it, but the back seat is actually usable for two non-American-sized people and they both fold down to reveal almost station-wagon-like cargo space, passing through to the trunk. No kidding. I brought a 6' wire shelf home the other night. In real - world driving, it gets just barely less than 30 miles / gallon on the highway, which is waaay better than the latest M3, which, while it has 414 HP and obviously flies, gets about 20 MPG on the highway. That's worse than my E46 city numbers of 23 MPG or so, even though I drive with occasional (ahem) spirit. The engine redlines at 8000 RPM and the peak horsepower and torque both live very near that (around 7000), which means you have to grow accustomed to keeping the car above about 3000 RPM if you want any kind of torque. Oddly, that's a good thing. When you want to drive conservatively, it's easy to do so as the car has relatively little low-end power. If you want to throw it around a bit, keep the revs up. Simple. Very girlfriend friendly driving down low, grins up high.
(Over the break for pics and more)
I've been lucky enough to drive both the SMG and manual transmission cars quite a lot. The SMG, which stands for Sequential Manual Gearbox is really quite fun to drive, even for a purist. Under the covers, it's the exact same Getrag manual transmission as the manual car, complete with flywheel and hydraulic clutch; even all 6 gear ratios are exactly the same. You don't get to play with that third pedal. A computer takes over for your left foot, controlling the clutch; it will even shift for you, if you desire, though I prefer to use the steering wheel paddles and the hand shifter. This transmission has bells and whistles coming out of its bells and whistles. There are 6 distinct programs in manual shifting mode and 5 programs for automatic mode that go from super-fast, HARD shifts at high RPM to mushy, way-too-soft shifts at low RPM. The most mild automatic mode even keeps the car out of first gear, which is itself very steep, causing one to shift halfway through an intersection to keep from climbing above the somewhat noisy 4000 RPM threshold. Whether or not you are manually shifting it, the transmission will downshift on its own during deceleration. If you're approaching a stoplight, just let it do its thing. Speaking of downshifts, the computer always double-clutches when downshifting and will also "blip" the throttle for you to help match engine RPM to the new gear. It's way, way too much fun to double-tap the left paddle in 6th gear at 75 or 80 on the highway and listen to the engine spin (way) up to pass in 4th gear.
Even though it's a very configurable transmission, it has some habits that none of the multitude of settings seem to mitigate. 1st gear is so steep that I often prefer to start the car moving in 2nd on level ground, which I mentioned the most mild automatic mode will do by default. There is no preference to keep the automated downshifting out of 1st gear in manual mode. Even in the most demure setting, you have to give the right paddle a tap while waiting for the light to change to ensure that you're in 2nd gear. I don't like how long the computer keeps the clutch engaged during city driving. I would sometimes prefer the computer to favor letting the car coast when I let off the gas. Instead, it sometimes does that fun amateurish jerky "shoulda put the clutch in" thing in second gear at low RPM while decelerating. I have to mention that it takes 10 minutes of explaining to the occasional parking attendant how to keep from destroying the car as it will roll backward, unlike a normal automatic with a torque converter. So, I find myself wishing for that far left pedal. I really am a control freak.
After driving the SMG car for a while, my "new" car is a black 2002 manual transmission E46 M3 with just 20000 miles. It is, for me, the perfect car. I've always loved the look of a black car. Oh! did I mention that it's about half the price of a new BMW 335i! Hard to beat (both ways).