New & Used BMW M3: In Depth
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The BMW M3 is one of a handful of cars considered legendary in automotive circles. It's the essence of the BMW brand--sporty, powerful, trackable, tactile--and it's been a part of the German automaker's U.S. lineup since the mid-1980s. A rear-drive sedan now, the M3 has a companion lineup of two-doors now sold as the BMW M4.
The competition? It's a heady set of rivals that includes everything from the Cadillac ATS, to the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, Audi S4, even theLexus IS F.
It all started with the E30 edition of the BMW 3-Series in 1986. That original M3 was a small, relatively light two-door coupe and convertible. Power came from a 2.3-liter four-cylinder, and though power hovered around 200 hp--with most of that delivered near peak engine speeds--the car quickly won fans and followers. The E30 M3 was only offered with a manual transmission. It saw wide use in racing, which continues to this day.
The second generation of the M3 came with the next generation of the 3-Series it's based on: the E36. Arriving in 1992, the new model upgraded the small four-cylinder to a 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder (upgraded to 3.2 liters in 1996), rated at 240 horsepower. A sedan version of the M3 was introduced for the E36 generation. Both five-speed manual and automatic transmissions were available. This model ran through 1999.
In late 2000, the E46 M3 came on the scene, with a much more potent 3.2-liter S54 in-line six-cylinder engine rated at 333 horsepower. It offered a choice of the six-speed manual transmission or a new, stiff-shifting SMG automatic transmission with an electro-hydraulic clutch pedal, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Next came the E90-series (E90, E92, and E93) M3, first sold in 2007. A new V-8 engine, displacing 4.0 liters and generating 414 horsepower, raised the M3 to new levels, but at the same time, the E90 M3 gained considerable weight, pushing it more into the realm of grand tourer than sports car. A wave of technology also brought the M3 more fully into the modern realm, with advanced traction and stability control programs to enhance performance, a new dual-clutch transmission, and other advances. A number of special editions have been offered, primarily as appearance packages. The overall level of the M3's luxury and equipment also rose with this generation, wrapping in more advanced navigation, entertainment, and creature comforts.
Now, for 2015, BMW has refocused the M3 on performance, keeping its weight in line while giving it a leaner, touring-car-champion driving feel. The key stats include a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged in-line six with 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. It revs to 7,600 rpm, and carries its peak output from 5,500 rpm to 7,300 rpm. Coupled to a new electronically controlled limited-slip differential and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the new M3 leaps to 60 mph in about 3.9 seconds, according to BMW (it's 4.1 seconds with the six-speed manual). Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.The new Active M Differential system has been developed to improve more than straight-line acceleration. Able to vary its locking percentage between the rear wheels from 0-100 within milliseconds, it is tuned to maximize grip and traction, aiding the car's ability to rotate in response to the driver's inputs.
A lighter chassis also helps the new M3's overall performance. Up to 176 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the M3 has a more extensive use of aluminum, including in the front fenders and hood, as well as carbon fiber in the trunk lid, drive shaft, and roof--a first for the M3 sedan. The suspension is also largely new, and an Adaptive M suspension system is also available, adding Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes, made possible by variable-rate dampers. The same three mode settings also control the electric power steering in all M3s, raising or lowering the steering force and feedback to suit the mission.