The History of the BMW M3. Read on to find out. {{favouriteCount}} Quantity of Likes

31 Dec 2015

Since the very first model came out in the 1980’s, the BMW M3 has been the iconic small coupe for those who want exceptional handling, driving dynamics and subtle looks. The M3 has always been the best in the class and while many others have tried to take the crown it still remains the most popular performance coupe. So what makes it so popular? Tim Oldland takes a look through the M3’s history to find out…


1986 – BMW e30 M3

This is where it all started. Taking the compact e30 2dr 3-Series body, they changed every panel bar the bonnet, roof and doors, giving wider box wheelarches, a deeper front valance, rear wing and side skirts to create the M3. It was more aggressive and sporting, yet was still relatively subtle to non-car-people. Under the bonnet sat at 2.3 litre i-4 which produced 195hp at the start, going up to 235hp for the final 2.5 litre Evo version. This was one of the highlights of the M3 for enthusiasts – the high revving naturally aspirated engine, and would dominate the M3 for many years. The e30 M3 is still regarded as the best M3 by purists, but this is probably down to the light weight and small body, and relative simplicity of the package compared to more complex later versions.

1992 – BMW e36 M3

When BWM released the e36 3-Series it marked the start of what was to become a trend of weight gain for the M3 – as each model grew and grew. But here the e36 wasn’t too much bigger and heralded the more subtle visual cues that have continued to this day. The box arches had gone, replaced by subtly flared arches, still wider to accommodate the bigger and wider wheels, but much less obvious. The front and rear bumpers were also much less obvious, looking a lot like the normal Sport model. This added to the appeal of the M3 to a lot of people as it meant that most wouldn’t notice that your 3-Series coupe happened to have a 3.0 litre i-6 with 282hp. Later models had a 3.2 litre engine with 295hp.

2000 – BMW e46 M3

As e36 became e46, so the M3 grew in size again, but then so did the performance. The 3.2 litre engine remained, but this time with 338hp giving a welcome boost to performance. The e46 M3 got a similarly subtle makeover as the e36, with flared wheelarches and a look not unlike that of a normal M-Sport 3-Series Coupe. But the e46 had some real magic under the skin, recapturing some of the delicate handling balance and ride and handling of the e30 and winning awards and group tests all over. The e46 M3 was good though as they were able to keep it to being a road car without having to worry about it being used on track, as for that they had something else planned…

2004 – BMW e46 M3 CSL

In the early part of the new century the e46 BMW M3 was riding high on massive sales – not surprising given the looks, performance and price. But enthusiasts wanted more, so BMW set about creating the M3 CSL (Coupe Sport Lightweight), a lighter, faster, more focused M3. The CSL was 110kg lighter than the standard car thanks to the removal of sound insulation, electric seats, navigation and air con (though these could be fitted back in at no extra cost). The ducktail spoiler at the rear and the unique front bumper with asymmetric single air intake were made from carbon fibre, as was the roof panel. The 3.2 litre straight-six engine had 355hp and great performance, but it’s the way it did it that gained it so many fans. The precision of the handling was unrivalled while the noise the engine breathing through a custom carbon airbox makes when the revs hit 5000rpm has to be heard to be believed.

2007 – BMW e92 M3

For the e92 M3 there was of course another weight and size gain, with similarly subtle looks (in fact, many said the look of the e92 was too bland), but the biggest change was that the straight-6 engine that has become so iconic in the e36 and e46 models had been replaced. Luckily for M3 fans it was replaced by a bespoke 4.0 litre V8 – and what an engine it was. Smaller and lighter than the engine it replaced, it produced 414hp and gave the M3 a new, exotic edge that only a V8 can bring. It also happened to have one of the best exhaust sounds on sale at the time as well, irrespective of price. There was also a saloon version available for this generation, which was absent from the e46 line-up. As with the e46 though, there was demand for a hardcore version, which resulted in…

2009 – BMW e92 M3 GTS

…the very orange M3 GTS. The changes from the standard M3 were much more than when they created the CSL, which resulted in a much more expensive car – almost twice the price of the standard M3. But for that you got another bespoke engine – this time a 4.4 litre version of the V8, producing 444hp. There were weight saving measures all over the car – Perspex side and rear glass, no rear seats, lightweight door cards and a minimalist centre console save 75kg over the standard car which meant performance was incredible – 0-62mph in 4.4sec and 190mph top speed.

2014 – BMW f80 M3

Now this is where this really changed – for the first time the BMW M3 was a saloon only model, thanks to BMW’s new naming policy where the coupes have even numbers and saloons odd numbers (well sort of, it’s more complicated than that, but you get the message). But that’s not the biggest change that M3 fans had to deal with, it was the loss of their precious naturally aspirated engine. The n/a engine was always the heart of the M3, giving it a free-revving nature be it i-4, i-6 or V8 and was, most thought, the core of the M3’s appeal. But stringent emissions regulations mean changes had to happen across the industry and so the new M3 has a 3.0 litre twin turbo i-6, though don’t think downsizing has in any way decreased performance as it now has 425hp and weighs in at 100kg less than the old model thanks to more weight saving measures. It may have changed a lot, but the character of the M3 remains the same though, with sure footed handling, light steering, well controlled damping and instant response from the engine. But can the m3 really be a saloon? Well no, not really, which is why the new M3 is actually an M4 (yellow car below). Many think that the M4 is too big and too soft to be a ‘true M3’ though, so what do we choose?

How about the blue car to the right of the M4 above – the new M2. Sharing a similar 3.0 litre turbo i-6 but with 365hp, it’s smaller, lighter and given how well the M235i handles it could be the best M-car currently available. We can’t wait to see how it drives, but for now we’ll take the saloon M3, which happens to be half price in this week’s promotion…