This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the M Division. This fateful message has given us some of the best driver’s cars ever, and at the top of that list is the E92 M3, the first and only M3 with a V8 engine. This model’s swan song was the limited edition Lime Rock Park, with its eye-catching orange paint job and the factory sport Inconel exhaust.
as part of Monterey Car Week, BMW has made some of its greatest driving successes for journalists. I have already written about my experience with 1973 3.0 CSL And the 1988 E28 M5, but the E92 M3 is a model I’ve driven before, albeit years ago. Now that you’ve had the privilege of driving all kinds of sports cars, supercars, and vintage BMW Ms, how does the E92 stack up?
In short, beautiful. The E92 is better than I remember, for a number of reasons. The first, obviously, is the stunning 414-hp 4.0-liter S65 V8 with a peak power of 8300 rpm and a redline of 8400 rpm. Not only is it an incredibly free-breathing and responsive engine, it’s also potentially the last M3 without forced induction, and that alone makes it worth celebrating.
The S65’s relatively low torque output, at just 295 lb-ft, also adds to the experience. It keeps the engine running and above the peak torque of 3900 rpm. It also makes the experience more controllable, since you’re less likely to confuse the rear tires with a sudden poke of the throttle. The M3 was available with an impressive six-speed manual transmission or a surprisingly good dual-clutch transmission (DCT) (for 2013) that rivals Porsche’s PDK for speed and ease of use. The version I’m driving has a DCT.
The real thing that makes the S65 legendary is the sound. The Lime Rock Park Edition comes with an additional M Performance exhaust system, which is not only a little louder (although not too annoying), but also brings out the right frequencies, making the engine sound angrier and sweeter at high revs. As a bonus, it’s also more than 20 pounds lighter than the stock unit, which is not what you’ll notice.
The next thing – and perhaps what amazes me most, after all these years – is how good the steering feels, especially compared to any modern sports car with electric power steering. The E92’s hydraulic system, combined with the stiffer suspension and lighter wheels in the M Competition package, provide superb communicative steering. It’s perfectly weighted, it’s neither too heavy nor too light, and the accuracy is great. This is arguably the biggest thing that separates this car from the M3s and M4s that follow.
The E92 chassis is also noteworthy. The M Competition package, standard on the Lime Rock Park Edition, gets a unique electronic control damper calibration, and this system does an excellent job of differentiating between the strong M mode and the softer everyday mode. At its softest setting, it never droops or floats. In the strictest setting, you won’t want to live with it every day, but it won’t bother you or bouncing off the road on bad pavement.
The chassis works with excellent steering to make a performance car that’s incredibly manageable and fun. The E92 feels fun in a way that the current M3 and M4 don’t. The current car gets irritated all the time. It’s incredibly fast and competent, but it doesn’t feel as fun as the E92.
When it comes to the interior, the E92 is after all just a well-equipped 3 Series. The seats are supportive, but not full racing buckets like you would in the current car. (There’s a special place in hell for BMW’s optional $4,500 M Carbon buckets.) The overall feel is fairly simple, in typical BMW style, but relaxed and a nice place to spend some time. The Lime Rock Park gets an Alcantara steering wheel, which is just a recipe for fatigue after a few months of skin oil buildup. The steering wheel rim is also thick to my taste.
After all, when it comes to in-car technology, 2013 has been a long time coming, and the E92 feels arguably the oldest when it comes to the field. iDrive was popular at that point, and many of the driver assistance features we came to enjoy are nowhere to be seen. However, I don’t think anyone buying an E92 in 2022 will care. It is not just a car of this type.
BMW Museum example, Lime Rock Park M3, being low mileage and perfectly maintained, recalibrated my sense of what a sports car should be. The car doesn’t have to be super fast or extremely dangerous. It doesn’t have to be an ear-bleeding exhaust or every technological bell and whistle under the sun. Leadership should be good, friendly, engaging and rewarding. E92 does it all with self-confidence.
A few years ago, I promised myself that the next car I would buy would be a 997-generation Porsche 911, and I mean it. I love that car and consider it the platonic model of what a sports car should be. But damn, this E92 M3 Lime Rock Park made me reconsider that decision, and it’s not something I thought I’d say.
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