End of the road: The Motormessenger E46 M3

So much has been said about the E46 M3 that it’s hard to add anything meaningful to the conversation. Time has been very kind to the well-designed, sweetly-balanced coupe – and rightly so, as it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever see a high-revving, naturally-aspirated M Power BMW of its kind ever again.

Nevertheless, my time owning an M3 was a largely positive experience. I’ve always said a drug habit would’ve been cheaper, but owning an old German sports car has been much better for my health.

PERFORMANCE

The prospect of 344bhp filtering through a 6-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels is, for many, the main reason you’d go for the M3. In my nearly two-year ownership, I can categorically state that having that much power under your right foot never gets old. The straight-six is immediately responsive; the noise accompanying your progress is a serrated zing of pleasure. In typically Scottish weather, however, the M3 was less than planted on slippy B-roads – but if you have enough space to control the rear end, the E46 is always obligingly slidey.

Motormessenger | BMW | M3 | E46 | Review | Carbon Black | CSL | M Power | S54

My only real gripe was that the brakes, long an M3 weak point, weren’t the best under heavy use. The perfectly-spaced pedals, however, made heel-and-toeing a treat, which makes it much easier to slow down the 1,549kg mass of the coupe. The BMW has more than enough performance, and once it’s above 3500rpm the noise and shove are both intoxicating.

Verdict: 5/5

DESIGN

In a world of blinged-up diesel German cars adorned with ‘S-line’, ‘AMG line’ and ‘M Performance’ badging, the M3 is refreshingly subtle. The main visual clues as to its performance lie in the side vents, the bonnet bulge and the flared arches front and rear. It’s a design that has aged well, chiefly because it’s never been too outré. Despite my model being a pre-facelift, I couldn’t resist adding the LED rear lights in the style of the facelift, as well as the timeless 19″ CSL wheels to make my car a little louder-looking. Sure, perhaps the chrome grilles and vents may be a little much, but by and large it’s still a good looker. Shame that the deeply-dished metal front wings hoard road dirt like nothing else.

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Verdict: 4/5

INTERIOR

The M3 was designed in 1998; nearly 20 years ago. This is pretty clear when you look at the interior – while very well-put together, the dash architecture does show its age without a touchscreen. My recommendation would be to go for an M3 without the dated, aged integrated sat-nav, as the graphics look to be lifted straight from a PlayStation 2. The seats – comfy, bolstered – are very supportive, but the old plastic-leather BMW uses can make your back very uncomfortable.

Verdict: 3/5

RUNNING COSTS

Ah. Knew we’d get to this eventually. Despite being affordable to buy, the M3’s servicing and running costs still reflect those of a £50k car. Expect a major service – a Inspection II – to run you around £800, while fuel economy round town is about 19mpg. You definitely pay to play with one of these, but 340bhp from 3.2 litres is a good return with over 100bhp per litre. Best advice? Don’t think about the cost.

Verdict: 2/5

PRACTICALITY

Well, I once managed to fit a double-bed in it with the rear seats folded down, and I’ve helped move belongings between flats before. So there’s that.

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Verdict: 3/5

VALUE FOR MONEY

One look at the classifieds at the moment is all you need to know about E46 M3 values: the market has long since woken up to how good value these cars are, and prices are on the up for those that have good service history and have been well-maintained. If I was in a position to own one again, I would ensure it was a car for high days and holidays instead of a daily driver. But nevertheless, if you can track down a good one, an E46 should look after you in both a financial and entertaining sense.

BMW | E46 | M3 | Carbon Black | CSL | Coupe | S54 | Manual | S54Verdict: 4/5

OVERALL VERDICT:

It’s fast, stylish, comfortable and well-built. Just make sure you’ve got the pockets required to run one.

TOTAL: 21/30

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Taming the Beast at Driversity Aberdeen

Like most men my age, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good driver.

I’m sensitive to what the car is doing both below my seat and on the road ahead. My amateurish experiences of heel-and-toeing and rev-matching were first practised on driving simulators, and then transferred to the real road.

However, just because you can put in consistent times on the Nurburgring on Gran Turismo, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be any good at Live for Speed – the 14 year-old, ultra-realistic game which Driversity uses in its full-feedback driving simulator.

I popped along with local car forum Eastside VW to give The Beast a shot – but sadly while we were there, it broke on my friend’s first try of it! For the brief amount of time we got to see it in action, it was a fearsome thing. Mounted on an elevated rig, The Beast would buck, judder and lean with every turn of the wheel and press of the pedals. Even standing from afar, it was clear that the driver was wrestling not just with the track but the real-life forces from the rig itself.

Motormessenger | Driversity | Aberdeen | Driver City | Racing | Games | Driving | Simulator

Helmet and race suit strictly optional!

Once it was clear The Beast wasn’t going to be up and running any time soon, we were ushered into the main room, where eight identical simulators awaited us. These were more like the traditional racing seat ‘n pedals setup of your local arcade, with each displaying the Live for Speed loading screen. While the gameplay characteristics are very realistic, the game itself is a strange mishmash of fictitious race circuits and cars obviously inspired by specific counterparts, and limited real-life tracks and cars.

After trying a few combinations (from stripped-out original Minis to tech-laden DTM racers with mad aero), we as a group seemed to come back to the LX4; a lightweight, two-seater open-wheeler in the style of the Caterham 7.

As you’d expect, the first couple of races for a group completely unused to the cars or track were an utter riot. If you managed to survive the first corner (most didn’t), clutches would soon overheat and explode if you neglected to take your foot off the throttle mid-shift, while a brief foray onto the verge would be all that was needed to spin your car off-course. Try as I might, I couldn’t get used to modulating the brakes effectively enough to slow down in time. A heavy stamp would see them lock (no ABS here), or otherwise I’d go sailing past the apex with too much speed.

That said, Driversity was a great experience and is probably the closest you can get to really racing without worrying about the financial or material consequences of a trackday. I’d really recommend a visit if you wish to properly challenge your petrolhead friends.

You can find out more about Driversity, including contact details, on their website.