Overview & Reviews
The BMW 3 Series has long been regarded as the benchmark compact sport coupe. Taking this already athletic vehicle to new heights is the M version, known as the BMW M3. In the Bimmer world, the letter M stands for the company's Motorsports performance division. These fun-loving engineers tweak a given BMW model's engine for more output, upgrade the suspension for even more agile handling and add sporty exterior and interior design elements.
Throughout its two decades on the U.S. market, the BMW M3 has been a favorite of enthusiasts looking for sports-car performance and handling from a true four-place car. Although content to smoothly burble around while doing daily driver duty, the M3 transforms into a back-road burner when conditions allow and gives its pilot the opportunity to attack corners with precision and rocket out of them with gusto.
Current BMW M3
Based on the present-generation 3 Series, the M3 is offered in only one trim level among the coupe and hardtop convertible body styles. Both are powered by a 4.0-liter V8, good for 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which revs to a thrilling 8,400-rpm redline. A six-speed manual is the standard means of sending power to the rear wheels, and a seven-speed automated-clutch manual gearbox with paddle shifters is optional. M3s also get specific hardware upgrades such as more powerful brakes, stiffer suspension tuning and a specialized limited-slip rear differential.
Like previous M3s, the current model comes well-equipped with the latest luxury amenities, which in this case includes xenon headlamps, leather upholstery, heated power sport seats and a 10-speaker audio system. The convertible features a nifty hardtop and sun-reflective leather. Features like 19-inch wheels, heated seats, satellite radio, the iDrive navigation system and M Sport personalized performance settings are optional. The Competition package available on the coupe adds a lowered suspension, a wider track and reprogrammed electronic damping and stability control systems.
While past M3s have been performance stars, the M3 coupe is quite simply one of the best cars to grace our test track. It accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a blistering 4.6 seconds and came to a stop from 60 mph in an extremely short 100 feet. The slalom and skid pad test results were also on par with vastly more expensive supercars, while on-road handling is beyond reproach. Getting the less rigid convertible degrades these capabilities a little, but regardless of which body style you choose, expect one of the best performance machines money can buy.
Used BMW M3 Models
The present-generation BMW M3 was introduced for 2008 in coupe, convertible and sedan body styles. The latter, discontinued after 2011, was perfect for those who desired M3 performance but with a greater degree of practicality. Changes have been limited to feature additions, with first-year models featuring a less user-friendly iDrive system and slightly different sedan styling. The Competition package was added for 2011 for the coupe and sedan.
The previous M3 lasted from 2001-'06 and was available in coupe and convertible body styles. There was a single trim level for both, powered by a 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine producing 333 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission was standard, while a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG) was offered as an option starting for the 2002 model year. The latter allows manual-style shifting via paddle shifters next to the steering wheel, and although it was popular, we weren't fans of its herky-jerky performance.
Changes were minor during the lifespan of this generation of M3s. A CD player became standard for 2002, while the following year saw the addition of a few extra convenience features plus an improved DVD-based navigation system. (The former one was CD-based.) The only major addition arrived for 2005 with the Competition Package (coupe only), which provided some of the performance hardware from the European-market M3 CSL, such as 19-inch forged wheels, revised suspension tuning, a quicker steering ratio, upgraded brakes and a less intrusive Track mode for the stability control system.
Every road test of this M3 sang the car's praises in terms of its incredibly balanced handling, prodigious grip and telepathic communication between car and driver. The downsides of this no-compromises performance car are few: a stiff ride, tinny exhaust note, and more wind and road noise in the convertible than one might expect. For die-hard sports car enthusiasts who need four seats, it doesn't get much better than the BMW M3. However, these cars tend to be driven hard and owners frequently modify them, so it's important to examine a used example closely before signing on the dotted line.
The second-generation M3 was introduced in 1995 and was a tidy package, with only its subtle rocker panel extensions, tri-color "M" badges and different wheels to separate it from the common 3 Series. Along with a buttery-smooth 240-hp inline-6, this generation of the M3 wooed enthusiasts with its ripping performance, finely balanced chassis and everyday livability. For enthusiasts on a budget, this is perhaps the best deal for a used M3, combining a wide choice of body styles (coupe, convertible and sedan), along with plenty of entertaining performance and an affordable price tag. The coupe ran throughout this generation from 1995-'99, while the sedan (1997 and '98) and convertible (1998 and '99) were only available briefly and are consequently harder to find.
The first-generation BMW M3 was the most radical. Running from 1988-'91, this M3 was essentially a hard-edged, racetrack-ready version of a 3 Series sport coupe. These M3s featured aggressively blistered fenders fore and aft, slightly thicker C-pillars that allowed a more aggressively canted rear window, and a higher trunk lid fitted with a large spoiler. Under the extroverted bodywork was not an inline-6, but a highly-tuned DOHC 16-valve inline-4 that cranked out, for its time, a very impressive 195 hp without the help of a turbocharger or supercharger. An unmolested first-generation M3 is a rare find these days and tends to require more maintenance and care than the second-generation car because of its more specialized four-cylinder engine.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 563.00
Disappointed - 2011 BMW M3
By Keith Poe - December 7 - 2:34 pm
Car build quality is extremely disappointing. I have very annoying wind noise on driver's side and significant rattling around front passenger door. Dealer response was terrible, and car was under warranty at the time!
Best value for the money - 2003 BMW M3
By Grant - November 16 - 7:33 am
This car is possibly on of the greatest M cars ever built. The car handles like a surgeons scalpel. Acceleration is good, but not great. When compared to my dads car which is an e60 M5, it lacks the "push you back in your seat" factor that you get from that nazi V10. As my daily driver, it is very comfortable to drive around town as well as on the freeway. The SMG is NOT BAD! Treat it like the transmission it is. It is not an automatic. Simply let of the gas when you are changing gear. I do sometimes wish I went for the good ol' standard box, but when driving home late at night, its nice to have an auto mode to take care of changing gear for me. The car has potential for good gas mileage, but if you drive it like its meant to be driven, it won't. We loved this car so much that we bought another one for strict track use. With a little effort and a sawzall, we got her down to about 2900 without a driver. The already insane handling was exponentially increased with some of KW coil-overs and a set of slicks. Nothing more was needed from that 8000 rpm screamer so we left it alone. When in doubt, get the M. You wont regret it.
Good car....but has it's issues - 1995 BMW M3
By bvill89 - October 15 - 4:33 pm
First off, let me say this is a great car but make sure you know who you are buying it from and that they took good care of the car and have records of repairs. Not a car to take chances on unless you really have the wallet for it. Not a straight line bruiser but still fast. Eats V-TEC Hondas all day. Handles like a dream. Especially with the manual transmission. Also note, NO traction control on this car. Not a car to be buying for you teenage child. While a great car, If you have the money, go for the E46 M3
The best M3 ever? - 2015 BMW M3
By jcmhouston - September 23 - 11:08 am
I've completed the 1200 mile service, and just completed my first BMWCCA autocross. I have the DCT gearbox, executive package, 19" wheels, full leather. The engine is sublime, eager to rev, power from the moment you step on the go pedal, and I actually like the sound. In my daily commute of 24 miles in heavy suburban traffic I am averaging 19.6 mpg. On three day trips (180-200 miles each) on country two lane roads we have averaged 26.7 mpg. The DCT gearbox is superb, it always seems to be in the right gear and shifts very smoothly. The standard suspension is the best compromise I have driven.
Owned it for 16 years - 1998 BMW M3
By adupont - August 26 - 1:40 pm
Bought it new and haven't regretted one day of ownership. Tracked it a Buttonwillow in California and that was what made me a believer. Before that I thought I just had a nice coupe. It has unbelievable handling. As the driving instructor said, don't change anything on the car. What needs to be modified is the driver. Been very dependable overall, but there have been many owner fixable repairs, if you are handy. Door panels will need to be regaled if left in hot climate, cooling system is actually not bad IF you change the cooling fluid every three years. Warning! If you put Bilstein shocks on, yur spouse may think the ride is too harsh. Have no plans to sell.
All in one!!! Performance, Style and Reliability - 2004 BMW M3
By vision3 - April 15 - 8:45 pm
Bought this amazing car last year with 55k orig miles. I've since driven it for 12k miles and can only say great things about it. It runs, drives and handles outstanding. The solid build, craftsmanship and styling of this car is top notch. The exterior color is called Carbon Schwartz. At first glance, it looks Black but, in sunlight it seems to change to metallic dark Blue. Have to see it to believe it! Interior is Black with Black convertible top and 19" wheels. All original, non SMG, regular 6 spd. No problems at all. A practical yet powerful convertible sports car with room for 4 people and suitcases. A powerful, great handling sports car that gets 20mpg!! BMW got it right!!
Rush of Seratonin and Dopamine driving this car !!! - 2003 BMW M3
By m3matt - March 28 - 6:28 pm
This car is extremely powerful and fast for what it is. For a 3.2L 6 cylinder car this thing has more power and much faster than my 1995 Corvette with a 5.7L V8 that i used to own. Very comfortable ride that handles awesome. You can take turns and bends at very high speeds and it hugs the corners and feels very stable at high speeds. I have the 6 speed manual which I love. Fastest I took it up to was 130 mph in 6th gear and still some room on the tach. the European models can top out close to 180 mph. US models have a restrictor on the somewhere around 140 or so but can override with a chip. Does use a bit of gas depending on driving habits but who cars when your having fun.
The Ultime Driving Machine! - 2002 BMW M3
By mbatista911 - September 19 - 4:21 pm
Finally got to buy a 2002 SMG M3 Interlagos Metallic Blue Coupe, what a car! Just have it for two month now, got it with 109,500 on it, and had put it over 1,000 miles already, the only thing I did was change the throttle body sensor and change the oil, everything was about U$375.00 in an aftermarket BMW shop ( don't dare to go to the dealer, they will charge you U$160.00 just to read your car with the computer) so the EML and Engine service soon light went away! Yes it can be a litter expensive to maintenance, but the car won't be breaking every week or turning EML or engine service soon lights on, Is a daily driving car,with no problems!
Ultimate Driving Machine - 2013 BMW M3
By wvanepps - August 9 - 4:03 pm
I have owned the 2013 M3 Coupe with Competition Package and DCT for about 6 months now. The 2013 M3 Coupe is a fantastic machine. The fit and finish is fantastic and the power delivery is excellent. Keep in mind that the M3 does not have a lot of low end torque (compared to other cars) and the power is delivered around 8000 RPM. I love that you can program custom settings to the M button. You can drive the car in "normal" mode and be very comfortable and easy going and at the touch of a button you have a race car. It is instantaneous and you feel like you are suddenly driving a race car. I added laser shifters and a built in GPS enabled radar system as you can be doing 110 in no time flat.
Best sports car ever - 2004 BMW M3
By screamerdongie - December 9 - 1:47 pm
I have been driving my M3 for the last 4 years. Truly amazing car. So responsive with exceptional handling. It is turning like on a rail I am not kidding. SMG is amazing once you get used to it - takes a while but once mastered you will love it. So much fun driving in the city. I am getting around 18/25 MPG not great but worth it. Lower the gear step on the gas boom you are there. It is rock solid in terms of reliability. No issues whatsoever. Only change oil twice a year around 100 bucks. E46s are probably the most reliable BMW model ever built. I heard M39s are also pretty reliable. This is one of the best sports car ever. Definitely a head turner. I am sad because it is getting older.