The name of the M3 is one of the most popular in the world of performance cars, and the new M3, its most powerful and high-performance model yet to bear the name, was just unveiled by BMW.
But as the new car dominates the media, it is important for sports car fans and BMW itself to remember just how important the M3 is.
“Let’s take a look back at perhaps the most important “M” car of all time through the archives….
Original one: The E30
Since 1975, the BMW 3 Series has been around as a mid-size sedan, but buyers had to wait until 1985 to create a hot version – the M3 – for the German manufacturer. Originally planned to compete in the Touring Car Championship, it was permitted to manufacture only 5,000 examples to comply with regulations, but almost 18,000 ended up rolling out of the factory.
While the E30 M3 is very slow by today’s standards, it gets to 100 mph in 6.5 seconds with its 200-horsepower, 2.3-liter gasoline engine. In Sport Evo models, power has been increased to 238 hp over time, and examples today are easily worth £ 50,000, if not more, as they are all left-hand drive from the factory.
A boxy one: the E36
As an upmarket, luxurious but heavier version of BMW’s already well-lauded sports model, the E36 M3, the often-forgotten piece of the M3 puzzle, arrived in 1992. For the first time, alongside the coupe and convertible, a right-hand drive version and a new sedan were offered.
Thanks to a larger 3.0-liter gasoline engine, power was boosted to 282 hp, while the updated 1996 model produced 316 hp thanks to the larger 3.2-liter unit. For the first time, an automatic transmission was also introduced.
A return to form: the E46
For the E46 M3, launched in 2000, BMW went back to coupe and convertible body styles. It was another step into the luxury class, with its lush interior. From a 3.2-liter model, power increased again to 332 hp, as usual with any M3. However, the CSL (which stands for Coupe Sport Lightweight) is probably the most popular of all E46 M3s – a model that recalls the original 3.0 CSL model from the 1970s.
It’s the first time BMW has used the full name ‘CSL’ to date, and it was well worth it, as BMW was able to cut 10% of the weight thanks to a host of carbon fiber materials, a decluttered interior, and a 355 horsepower boosted engine. The only drawback was that the automatic transmission came with all CSL models. Given that today (three times the price of the regular M3) a good CSL can easily be worth £ 60,000, that certainly did not affect its success.
The V8: The E92 The E92
Previously, the M3 had always been equipped with four- or six-cylinder engines, but BMW increased the number of cylinders to eight for the E92 model, introduced in 2007, and mounted a 424bhp, 4.0-liter V8. This lowered the time to 4.6 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, making it the fastest M3 ever.
The sedan returned, continuing to be offered alongside coupe and convertible versions, although a range of special editions were available, primarily highlighting the company’s motorsport achievements. This included the DTM Champion Version and the CRT, but the GTS – a bright orange and light M3 that used a larger 4.4-liter V8 engine with 444 horsepower and was basically a road racing car – is the most memorable E93 M3.
The confounding part: The F80/F82 M3-becoming-M4.
Now, this M3 generation was quite a shape-shifter, before BMW produced the 4-Series to replace the 3-Series coupe. There is still the M3, for instance, but that nameplate is only reserved for the four-door model, while the M4 is now offered as a coupe and convertible. The uncertainty does not stop there, either, with BMW returning in these new cars to six cylinders and for the first time equipping an M3 with a turbocharger-the latter proved controversial.
For the later ‘Competition’ models, which would prove to be the most common, Power remained on par with its predecessor – at 426 hp and 444 hp. This generation of M3 and M4 also had a whole range of special versions, including the ’30th Anniversary’ models of the CS, DTM Champion Edition, which celebrated the M3’s 30th anniversary.
However, the M4 GTS – a special track model available with a roll cage and a power boost to almost 500 horsepower – was the hottest model.
What’s New: The G80 M3/G82 M44
Undoubtedly, the new BMW M3 and M4 introduced today are the boldest models yet. As a knife splits butter, the broad grille can split minds. The six-cylinder engines remain, and purists would be delighted to know that there is still no sign of electrification. There are two versions offered