The performance and capability of the BMW E46 M3
When the E36 M3 generation first hit the US market in 1995, many BMW enthusiasts had mixed opinions. In the US, the M3’s S50 has 78 horsepower less than its European counterpart. Its design looked very similar to the base model E36. Compared to the special homologation that was the E30 M3, the E36 M3 doesn’t give the same feel.
BMW has undoubtedly heard the protest from its brand loyalists. Thus, they ensured that the E46 M3 would be their greatest M car to date in the new Millenium. Since the beginning of development, the E46 M3 has had a competitive target: the Porsche 911.
BMW wanted to provide the same level of performance and refinement as the 911 but at a lower price. To achieve this, they needed to make the best M3 ever. To do this, they had to correct the mistakes of the previous generation. This time all markets will receive the same engine and capacity.
The S54’s 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine fitted with the E46 M3 was exactly what the M3 needed. The S54 remains the greatest naturally aspirated six-cylinder BMW ever. Now a symbol of the brand, the 333 horsepower of the S54 at 7900 rpm was about 100 horsepower more than the E36 M3 S50.. It also generates 269 lb-ft of torque at 4,900 rpm which results in a respectable 5.1 second time from 0 to 60 mph.. The silky, linear power strip that encourages you to speed it up is the best quality in the S54.
Although far from the fastest M3, the E46 generation was the last to feature a naturally in-line vessel. The E46 M3 had BMW’s greatest iteration of the original performance engine. The next generation E90 model had a V-8 engine, which many purists disagreed with. Since then, all M3 models have featured a modern turbocharged inline six-axle.
However, none of them retained the undeniably sporty character of the S54. In stock form, the engine has a particularly coarse sound. This is a great quality for many M3 enthusiasts. Some on the right hate her tone, others love the unrefined motorsport quality. Aftermarket units can make a huge difference in the nature of an exhaust note.
However, it wasn’t just the engine that made the E46 M3 so special. It is a vehicle that is balanced in all dynamic respects. The steering feel is the best you could find in any 3rd generation model. The hydraulic rack gives you a great feel of the road.
You always know the limits of the M3, because it connects them so well. Hearing individual throttle bodies being activated with the push of the throttle button is intoxicating. This is just one of the things you can replicate in a modern sports car. Anyway, you look at it, the E46 M3 is a precision driving tool. Its feel is unlike any other M3 generation. It’s the complete package, and it’s not lacking in any aspect of performance.
|engine||S54 3.2L Inline-six|
|horse power||333 @ 7900 rpm|
|torque||262 @ 4900 rpm|
|Connecting||6-speed manual transmission|
|6-speed SMG-II semi-automatic|
|drive layout||rear wheel drive|
|0-60 mph||5.1 seconds|
The design of the E46 M3 returns to the sporty design of the E30 M3. You cannot confuse the E46 M3 with the base model 325i. The E46 M3 has 80 percent more unique body panels than the standard E46. It was only offered in coupe and convertible models. The M3’s thighs are wide and wide, jutting out from the body. This was the first M3 to feature a BMW four-exhaust design. 2003 and later models also offer upgraded LED taillights and bi-xenon headlights.
The E46 M3 features some of the best OEM wheel designs ever. The 19-inch BBS wheels available in the Competition package are iconic. This package was only available for 2005 and 2006 models and the originals are rare. Almost every BMW owner sought some variation of these wheels for their 3 Series. In the Laguna Seca Blue with Competition wheels, the E46 M3 is one of the best-looking factory sports cars ever.
Many enthusiasts find the CSL limited edition 1,383 units to be the ultimate E46 M3. This variant shaved 243 pounds off the standard M3 along with a host of other upgrades. Unfortunately, it was never introduced in the United States. Thus, the “best” M3 you can find in the US is the competition package.
|Standard colors||Alpine white|
|Optional colors||metallic silver titanium|
|silver gray metallic|
|Mystic blue metallic|
|Carbon Black Metal|
|Interlagos blue metallic|
|to rise||54.0 inches|
|track width||59.37″ (front) / 59.37″ (rear)|
|cargo space||9.5 cubic feet|
Although it’s not sophisticated by any means, the interior of the M3 is a nice place to be. It does everything you need without all the complexities of modern technology. A modern head unit may be a necessity for everyday drivers. However, if this is your weekend car, you can skip it entirely and enjoy the exhaust note.
Compared to the interiors of modern sports cars, the E46 M3 is very simple. No Bluetooth connectivity or infotainment capability. There is not a single digital screen outside of the outdated air conditioning and radio, the usual BMW orange. The gray backing with white numbering on the M3’s instrument cluster is a fan favorite. The rpm backlight for the 9000 rpm max range looks very impressive.
When starting the initial engine, the backlight starts at 4500 rpm. The engine cannot go beyond this limit until it has warmed up. As the engine warms up, the RPM selector lights adjust as well. At full operating temperature, the red line of 8000 rpm was finally opened. It is almost like a little game in the driving experience.
However, the fine-grained leather steering wheel and gearshift knob are quality units. With all of its motorsport heritage and focus on performance, we can’t forget how fit the E46 M3 is. It has practical back seats and a large trunk. Leather seats were the most popular choice, but fabric seats were available. BMW stuck to the mantra of less is more.
BMW E46 M3 Price, Availability and Ownership
|BMW E46 M3 Coupe||$46,500 (estimated)|
|BMW E46 M3 Convertible||$54,500 (estimated)|
When it was new, the 2003 BMW M3 Coupe cost $46,500. Convertible models were about $8000 on top of the coupe. At the time, the competition package was an additional $4,000. Over the course of six years, 85,766 E46 M3s have seen production. 56,133 were coupes and 29,633 convertibles.
You might say the ideal time to buy an E46 M3 was two years ago before prices exploded. Over the past five years, the average selling price for a manual coupe has been $30,232.. Rare Competition Package models tend to fetch about $10,000 more than the base M3. This got scary close to the original MSRP when it was new.
Due to the abundant production numbers, potential owners have many options to choose from. However, with some M3s now over 20 years old, there are a few details to consider before buying one.
If you’re looking for the cheapest E46 M3 you can find, it’s probably the SMG. The biggest subject of controversy in the E46 M3 circles is the semi-automatic SMG transmission because in comparison with the modern dual-clutch transmission it has many shortcomings. It is faster than the guide shown but not twice as reliable. Replacing an SMG can be a five-figure pledge.
We don’t know of a single SMG owner who wouldn’t wish to have a manual instead. So, if you’re considering an SMG M3, you’d better find one with less than 100,000 miles. These models tend to sell for about $5,000 cheaper than a 6-speed manual.
The S54 engine, due to its high-speed nature, requires a diligent owner. Incorrect ownership or questionable service records should be a red flag. Rod bearings are a notorious problem with these motors. From 2001 to 2003, model years related to engine bearings were recalled. If you are considering these model years, be sure to check the VIN to ensure a full recall. If the M3 hasn’t, that should be an immediate concern.
Interiors can have different levels of quality depending on the previous ownership. Make sure your M3 is authentic by checking it has those unique seats, instrument cluster and rearview mirror.
Another pitfall for all E46 3-series models is the rear subframe. They have a tendency to crack due to their high payload, a design BMW oversees. Diligent E46 owners install aftermarket stiffeners to ensure the frame remains solid. If the M3 you are looking for has this boost, you can assume that the owner is interested in the car.
Despite its flaws, the BMW E46 M3 is still one of the greatest driver’s cars of all time. Many consider it the greatest BMW M3 ever. It’s a powerful combination of all the things that make BMW a performance brand. The right amount of modern technology mixed with the right amount of old school feel.
Is it a better driver’s car than the 996 Porsche 911 you targeted? It’s hard to say yes. The biggest mistake is that the M3 is still based on the 3 Series. The M3 has to overcome these limitations. The 911 is a better driver in every respect because his sole design goal is to go fast around the racetrack. However, you will have to pay more for the Porsche experience.
Even at its current price point, you still can’t replicate the feeling of driving the E46 M3 with the modern M3. The E46 M3 is what a front-engine rear-wheel drive German sports car should feel.
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