Going back as far as the 1980s, the BMW M3 can turn heads and excite drivers. There’s a lot to consider if you want to pick one up for fun or collecting. We’ll review each of the six generations of M3 offerings. The years listed here refer to U.S. models.
The first-gen M3 came about as a way of complying with homologation standards for touring car competitions. The U.S. only got the car in coupe form, while a convertible was available in Germany and other markets. At the heart of the first M3 are a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine (rated initially for 192 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque) and a five-speed manual. This dual overhead cam powerplant shares architecture with the engine from the legendary M1.
The collectibility of these M3s has steadily increased over the years. As a result, so has pricing. Examples in reasonable condition go for $60,000-$80,000, with pristine models approaching six figures.
The second-generation M3 marks the debut of six-cylinder power. U.S. models initially get a detuned 3.0-liter straight-six, but most models have a 3.2-liter engine (both are factory rated at 240 horsepower). Another first is the availability of a six-speed automatic. In addition to an M3 coupe, U.S. buyers could also get a convertible or sedan.
Thanks to greater production numbers, second-gen M3s are more plentiful and less expensive than predecessor versions. You’ll find decent E36 M3s in the $15,000-$30,000 range. Double these amounts for pristine, low-mileage models. These budget-friendly cars can be a great starting point for beginning the M3 journey.
The E46 3-Series is among the most beloved Bimmers ever made. Even in standard form, the E46 gets high marks for precise handling and thrilling performance. Add in the M3 upgrades, and it’s no surprise why this generation is so coveted. Power comes from a reworked 3.2-liter inline-six that (when new) spits out 333 horsepower and redlines at 7,900 RPMs. That means a sub-five-second time for a 0-60 mph run. Impressive today, even more so 20 years ago.
Shopping for a third-gen M3 (coupe or convertible) involves shelling out $15,000-$25,000 for cars with some miles and dings. You’ll pay twice these numbers for a cleaner and less-driven E46 M3.
The fourth-generation M3 sees the return of the sedan to accompany the coupe and convertible body styles. But that’s not what gets BMW fanboys and fangirls drooling; it’s the 4.0-liter V-8 that does. This is the only eight-cylinder engine to ever grace an M3 and a naturally aspirated wonder with 414 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Older examples of the E90 M3 start at the low $20,000s, but you’ll pay $30,000-$50,000 for models from the last years of this generation. The M3 GTS with a larger, more powerful V-8 will run at or near six figures if you can find one.
The fifth-gen M3 says bye-bye to the V-8 and hello to a sophisticated twin-turbo inline-six that bests its predecessor in the performance department. The turbo engine (an M3 first) offers a 0-60 mph time below four seconds and outputs up to 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque in later models. If those numbers aren’t good enough, check out the 2018 M3 CS, which tweaks the package with higher output and reduced weight.
The starting point for a modest-mileage fifth-generation BMW M3 for sale begins around $50,000. But, if you don’t mind an odometer with six figures, then the price drops to $35,000. The CS special typically prices out in the $80,000-$100,000 range.
The newest M3 carries forward the sedan-only and twin-turbo I-6 formula. The standard model gets 473 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, while the M3 Competition benefits from the 30 horsepower bump and a 73 lb-ft increase in torque. In a break with 35 years of rear-wheel drive-only drivetrains, the 2022 M3 is available with all-wheel drive.
Because the G80 M3 is so new, there’s not a lot of availability. Expect a pre-owned sixth-generation model to cost $80,000 and higher.
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