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Modern classics: BMW E46 M3

The BMW E46 M3 was the third generation 3 series to receive the motorsport treatment, and we’re going to argue that it’s the best of the bunch. 

The original E30 may be the most collectable and is rightly a legend for changing the face of sports coupes forever, but for practicality, design and pure driving pleasure the E46 wipes the floor with it. 

What makes the E46 M3 special?

There’s so much deliciousness to enjoy about the E46 M3, but we have to start with the incredible 3.2-litre straight six engine that developed 343bhp and pushed the car to 60mph in under five seconds. Those are impressive figures for a modern coupe let alone one that was released nearly 20 years ago! 

When coupled with the six-speed manual gearbox, rather than the semi-automatic SMG version, it’s an engaging and responsive powertrain that begs you to rev it hard. Your reward for doing so is an engine note that’s deep and throaty and leaves you with a Cheshire cat’s grin. 

Fortunately, the chassis is up to the job of harnessing this power, making the BMW E36 M3 a true driver’s car… oh, and if you ever get the chance to take yours to a track, it’s a wonderful drifting machine too.

Buying an E46 M3 today

The standard coupe was around £40k when released in 2001, but the most sought after model (the competition packaged CSL) was over £20k more in the mid 2000s. These days you can expect to pay at least the list price for a decent CSL, and a low mileage example will set you back around £100k!

Thankfully, it’s possible to enter the E46 M3 world with a much smaller budget. A high mileage early example can be picked up for around £10k, but if you double that you’ll get much more car. 

Early examples (pre-2003) had issues with big end bearing failures, so be careful when you buy, but apart from that they’re pretty solid. Of course, it pays to buy a car with an excellent service history because maintenance on an M3 of any era is expensive. 

Overall, we can’t imagine anyone being unhappy about owning a car of this quality. It’s beautifully styled and feels as well put together as any German car. It’s the perfect all-rounder being perfectly happy thrashing around a track, eating up A-roads or taking your granny to the supermarket, so don’t be afraid to invest in a BMW E46 M3 – you’ll love it!