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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Behind the lens

The subterranean floor of my local multi-storey car park – still soaked from Storm Frank only weeks earlier – is a placid ooze of water, oil and dirt.

Each angle of the muscular M3 is faithfully replicated in the shallow lake it’s currently standing in, with the stubby tail’s reflection momentarily shattered by a water drop which submits to the puddle below.

A shutter clicks and an eye is pressed up to a digital viewfinder. “Right, go push it” says Vicki, to my right.

Motormessenger | BMW | E46 M3 | V-bot takes pictures | Aberdeen | Denburn Car Park | Scotland

Don’t fall off…

We’re marooned in a frigid car park under a selection of orange sodium-vapour lights that have clearly seen better days. Scattered between these are bright white beams of eco-friendliness, creating an unusually-varied lightscape for the dark BMW.

It’s time to set up the rolling shots for her, which involves an elaborate camera rig and a lot of patience.

“My interest in automotive photography just grows and grows. I used to go on a lot of road trips and I was always snapping away – I got a wee Canon Powershot that actually did as long as 15″ exposure”, Vicki says.

“I started light painting my then-boyfriend’s car and the images came out well. In 2014 I finally got myself a decent camera.”

Vicki’s camera, an Alpha-series Sony compact system, is strapped into a three-metre long carbonfibre harness, which is then suctioned onto the aluminum bonnet of the M3.

Motormessenger | BMW | E46 M3 | V-bot takes pictures | Aberdeen | Denburn Car Park | Scotland

This expensive kit is crucial to achieving the right shot and TV-esque photo composition.

“Mum and Dad were both VW enthusiasts with old-school Beetles and a camper van. Ultimately, I want to own a 560 SEC AMG some day.”

With that set up, Vicki double-checks that the light balance and exposure are correct before getting fellow car girl Lauren and myself to push the M3 forward.

The slight rushing sound of parted water comes up from the tyres as the coupe makes its way forwards, then another shutter click echoes throughout the car park.

Vicki’s interest in automotive photography comes not just from taking photos of cars, but having owned some tasty machinery herself. Her true love is her Escort XR3i – which she aims to have roadworthy in time for Classic Ford later this summer.

Motormessenger | BMW | E46 M3 | V-bot takes pictures | Aberdeen | Denburn Car Park | Scotland

Her love of tinkering and driving comes from the engineering culture so particular to this northern part of Scotland.

“I was a deckhand on a 14m North Sea prawn trawler, The Gratitude BF103, towing in 65 knot winds. The boat leaned over so much on my first trip away the propeller was out the water!

“I also used to be a vinyl tech wrapping cars for a local company. The smallest but most satisfying job I found was de-chroming as it made such a big difference to a car.

“Seeing cars that I’ve wrapped out in their ‘natural habitat’ gets me so buzzed; then the Snapchat comes out!”

We’re soon joined by a crowd of cars, given that this particular spot has become quite popular over the last few weeks for photography. A purple-wrapped Golf R and impossibly low Polo GTI are amongst the crowd of fast Fords and Vauxhalls, which includes a raucous Focus ST-3.

“Some people you can gel with straight away, [while] others come with a friend and are just so hilarious together it’s like a free comedy show.

“If some of my equipment malfunctions or breaks, which does happen, a couple of quick calls to some friends in Aberdeen means it’s not long till we have the problem solved.”

Motormessenger | BMW | E46 M3 | V-bot takes pictures | Aberdeen | Denburn Car Park | Scotland

Weaker orange lights seem to flicker in recognition as Vicki crouches round the car to set up the tripod for the static shots. Every angle is considered and reflections are prized, with Vicki even going as far as to move her daily-driver out of shot to remove all distractions.

The M3’s Carbon Black paintwork glints under the lights, where the blue tinge is drawn up to the surface of the paint while the carbonfibre rear diffuser reflects in the water below.

It may be an urban car park, barely maintained and prone to flooding, but until summer comes, it’s the perfect canvas for creating both automotive art and conversation.

Motormessenger | BMW | E46 M3 | V-bot takes pictures | Aberdeen | Denburn Car Park | Scotland

Vicki’s photography has been shared by Fast Car, Fast Ford, Mercedes AMG, Performance Ford and Banzai magazine. If you like what you see, you can drop her a line at V-Bot Takes Pictures to arrange a shoot.