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