BMW M will officially celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022. This causes one to recall one of the most iconic BMWs ever produced by the M division – the M3. The M3 has always offered a blend of agility and straight-line performance, from a normally aspirated four-cylinder engine to a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine and beyond. The M3 has come a long way from its modest beginnings in 1986, with successive iterations proving not just to be the most successful touring vehicle in history, but also the best-selling M product of all time.
And if you’ve never driven an M3, you may be wondering whether the buzz is true. After all, the E30 M3 only has roughly 200 horsepower, which isn’t exactly intimidating in a market full of 300 horsepower hatchbacks. Even the formidable V8-powered M3 takes around four and a half seconds to accelerate from 0-60. Teslas, the drag strip superstar, aren’t exactly snoozing.
When it comes to the M3, I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to it than just the statistics. Even if you’re solely interested in bench racing, the G80 M3 – with xDrive testing 0-60 speeds under 3 seconds – will undoubtedly fulfill your hunger. To get to the point, there is an M3 for everyone, and today we’ll look at which one could be right for you.
The E30 M3, which was introduced in 1986, is today one of the poorest deals available in terms of by-the-numbers performance. In today’s horsepower battles, 0-60 takes half of the average male life expectancy, while the four-cylinder S14 engine produces 192 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. What does register is the car’s sub-3000 pound weight and redline of 7250 rpm. Special variants, which are now available in the United States, go a step further, with top-tier (and most expensive) Sport Evolution vehicles producing a whopping 235 horsepower.
Though the E30 M3 is a compelling momentum vehicle, costs have soared, making decent examples difficult to justify. Anything with less than 100,000 kilometers will cost around twice the original $34,000 MSRP. If you’re searching for something affordable, the E30 M3 isn’t it.
Repair costs may be considerable, kilometers are costly (every thousand miles driven depreciates the automobile significantly), and the car is just not quick. Its allure stems not just from its simple and now iconic appearance, but also from its self-assured dynamics, which enable it to be driven at 9/10ths all the time, no matter where you are. The E30 M3 remains the monarch of high-priced M3s, fetching up to a quarter-million dollars, and is well worth every cent if you can afford it.
The E36 M3 was introduced in North America in 1995 with a modified version of the RoW (rest-of-world, i.e. outside of North America) S50 engine. With 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, it’s a dubious bargain over the 328i, which has a comparable weight balance and just thirty horsepower fewer.
But it does provide a significantly different driving experience — with different suspension and brakes, power delivery and a differential, interior, and other minor changes, the M3 quickly distinguishes itself from its non-M counterparts. And RoW M3s add to the confusion, with niceties like separate throttle bodies and up to 321 horsepower, but real-world performance that isn’t noticeably different from North American vehicles.
On paper, the RoW E36 M3 finds the ideal blend of incredible power and weight balance, originality, overall dependability, and pricing. However, components may be prohibitively costly, real-world performance isn’t much different, and I’m never persuaded it performs anything better than its replacement, the E46 M3.
But it bears mentioning that the ZF five-speed manual shifts much better than the Getrag in the E46. The E36 also weights somewhat less. And the interior is a little more austere, and either engine – North America or RoW – is a little more dependable than the E46’s S54. Thus, the E36 M3 is the ideal M3 for someone who wants most of the drama of the E46 M3, but just half the hassle – which will enough for some.
The E46 M3 is considered a “icon” by most automobile aficionados. It’s a tired cliché, but it fits in with the rest of the chassis’s glowing reviews. The excellent S54 inline-six engine provides an auditory experience unsurpassed by any other M3 – save maybe one – and the vehicle effortlessly revs to a nearly 8000 rpm redline. It was only available as a coupe or convertible and shared relatively few components with the non-M 3 Series, making it seem much more distinctive. Add the optional “Competition Package” for features such as stronger brakes, larger wheels, extra traction control settings, and more.
But with every rose-colored race to the finish line comes a slew of thorns. When everything is working properly, the E46 M3 is an extremely delightful vehicle to drive. However, in general, it will need a significant amount of time, money, and mechanical know-how to fully appreciate. Because of the scale and variety of troubles that the vehicle might encounter, I believe that if you can’t afford a new BMW, you probably can’t afford to maintain an E46 M3.
Especially when combined with the “F1-inspired” SMG automatic manual transmission. As a result, the E46 M3 is my pick for anybody who really wants to appreciate the vehicle that established the M3 as the “Ultimate Driving Machine” – and has the time, money, and/or expertise to back it up. It’s the most balanced and, perhaps, the most gratifying M3 to drive. However, it is not for the faint of heart. It’s going to shatter a lot. And you’re still being smoked by grams in her TRD Pro Camry from a stoplight. If none of it bothers you, the E46 M3 is probably for you.
The E90, E92, and E93 M3 added a powerful V8 engine to the M3 range. They’re the only ones who understand, and although the “race-inspired” provenance is sometimes exploited as marketing speak for “the racing crew glanced at it once,” the S65 really talks the walk. The 4.0-liter V8 weighs less than 500 pounds, which is around 30 pounds less than the previous S54, which had two less cylinders. And it was created at the Landshut foundry, which also produces the BMW Sauber Formula One engines.
Don’t forget that it has an operatic crescendo to 8300 rpm and a peak horsepower of 414. That’s not awful, but the E9X M3s improve on it. Consider it a look into the future. Carbon roof, current navigation systems, a decent automatic gearbox, and electronic damping all make their debut appearances on an M3.
Though not without shortcomings, the E9X M3s do an excellent job of bridging the gap between the sterile-feeling later models of the M3 and the slower-but-entertaining earlier vehicles. The E9X M3 is ideal as a “second” BMW – that is, you are experienced and prepared with maintaining a German driving machine, and are willing to get your hands filthy and your pocket empty.
It’s a fantastic vehicle to drive, although it weighs somewhat more than the E46 and drives slightly bigger. The E9X is also a good everyday driver, particularly when kept stock – just be cautious with maintenance. Furthermore, a vehicle without GPS and DCT provides one of the most exhilarating driving experiences ever given. It’s not a trade-off; it’s a Swiss army knife with a banshee-screaming V8.
M3 and M4 F80/F82/F83
The F80 M3 arrived with its twin-turbocharged S55 engine after four generations and almost three decades of naturally-aspirated M power. And it enraged a lot of people – and it still does. But it’s difficult to argue with the stats, which include 444 horsepower in Competition Package trim and a fully reckless 406 pound-feet of torque available from only 1850 rpm. The end result? The F80 M3 and F82/83 M4 Coupe and Convertible could do burnouts and cause oversteer like no other M3, to to the dismay of the 0-60 bench racing community.
The F80 and its platform companions are always evolving. There’s no hydraulic steering, no option to remove the large screen in the center console, and you can choose between driving modes on the fly, adjusting everything from throttle response to suspension firmness. Making it even more of an outcast in the M3 world is the fact that it almost never breaks; apart from different gaskets, there isn’t much that frequently fails on these vehicles, even after many years.
As a result, the Jekyll and Hyde F80 and pals are ideal for anybody looking for a high-performance vehicle. The constant presence of a screen detracts from the driving experience somewhat, but the convenience pays dividends on a daily basis. And Hyde is there around the corner, ready to explode into a burnout at any moment. It’s also an excellent choice for someone who like to drive sideways on a regular basis. It’s also a terrific one-car option, particularly in four-door M3 form, since it’s thrilling enough for aimless weekend drives yet practical enough to transport your pals to and from the bar.
M3 and M4 G80/G82/G83
The G80 M3, as well as the G82 G83 M4 coupe and convertible, have arrived. And, regrettably, I don’t have much to say about them — they provide many of the same benefits as their predecessors. With the addition of an optional xDrive AWD system, this vehicle is the quickest through town and the most stable in bends of any M3. There is no replacement for the newest in terms of performance and sheer number crunching.
And, like every other M3 and M4, an audible group is shouting at the top of their lungs to everyone who will listen that the feel is gone. The light has been out, and BMW M has lost their way for the 50th year in a row. However, the stats don’t agree — on paper, the G8X is the best performing M3 and M4 ever made. And if that’s the type of message you want to be connected with, the G8X automobiles are for you. To be fair, it’s also a safe bet that they’ll be quite dependable, given that so much of the engine is built on expertise gained throughout the S55 development cycle.
Hopefully, you’ve learnt something new about an M3 or two today. And if you’re thinking about purchasing one, perhaps this guide has given you a decent idea of what each automobile performs well and what it may signify to other fans. That being said, the best method to find out is to drive, and I recommend that you drive as many as possible before deciding on one. Best wishes!