By on August 29, 2009

BMW enthusiasts would have you believe that there’s only one “real” M3: the original 1986 model (codenamed E30). That bad boy began life as a homologation special for Group A Touring Car racing. As BMW updated the racer, the road car received power and handling upgrades. When the six-cylinder E36 M3 appeared in 1995 (US), enthusiasts derided it as too heavy and, well, comfortable. By the time the E46 M3 appeared in 2000, the ultimate driving sports sedan was considered a bit of a pig—by True Believer standards. In fact, the third generation M3 is an animal; it wants to be driven hard and put away wet. As you would when purchasing any German hot rod, tuck away a bit of money for repairs and consult a specialist before you plunge into an E46 M3. Consumer Reports put the E46 M3 on its reliability list, but a bunch of smaller stuff can and will go wrong, and your M car will need regular infusions of pricey fluids, pads and other consumables. Autotrader lists a Your Shitty Economy Car of the Week: a “pristine” (albeit white) dealer-sourced 53k-mile 2003 E46 M3 at a shade under $25K. So, about twenty large, then. Plus the turbo?

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19 Comments on “YSE Car of the Week: 2003 BMW E46 M3...”

  • avatar

    Nice video! Both the M3 and Porsche drivers are very good. I would have prefered to have heard the car/driver sounds rather than the music. I’ve driven all M3 series and prefer the E46. All M3 make great track day cars, but are a PITA as every day drivers.

    What the hell was that bus doing on the track?!

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    It seems every month some outfit announces they’ve bested another track record at The ‘Ring. So with all these sports cars, sports sedans, CUVs, SUVs and buses lapping the ‘Ring, how can those crazy Germans paint graffiti on the track?

    Seems like a conspiracy if you ask me. ;^)

  • avatar

    E36 4 door M3 are seriously cool cars, E36 coupe M cars not so much. Was there an E46 4 door M?

  • avatar

    I have no problems admitting I’m not cool, so what’s “YSE”?
    YSE Youth Striving for Excellence
    YSE Yaw Steering Error
    YSE York Street Elite
    Youtube Special Edition?

    PS. The Laguna Seca (smurf) blue M3 is one of my realistic dream cars.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff


    “Your Shitty Economy”

    [And I edited your comment. Spelling errors get fixed eventually (when I get around to them).]

  • avatar

    By the time the E46 M3 appeared in 2000, the ultimate driving sports sedan was considered a bit of a pig—by an increasingly small [ED. or decreasingly large?] number of purists.???

    First, only coupe in the E46, only the E36 had M had a sedan, and egad, a slushbox, though smg is pretty slushhy.

    For example, they’ll know that cars built before 2003 can have serious rear subframe issues. this is internet twaddle. No recalls, no tsbs, and it affects a very small E36/E46 models. IMHO, most are caused by abuse, track, changes uin suspension gear. I have owned two M3s and an M and have had all checked and all had no issues.

    As for repairs, the E46 M is actually not too bad, just remember to chaneg oil freuqently and have the vanos looked at every 30k. Also, ignore lifetime fills, and use Royal Purple or Red Line in the diff, manual box and flush the water every two years and bingo.

  • avatar

    A 2003 riced krauted BMW M3 for $25K? I’ll take a 2003 Nissan 350Z for $11-13K.

    Even for the kind of people self-hating people that would buy a used BMW a 335i is a better car that the previous generation M3.

  • avatar

    Make no mistake, a used M3 will have plenty of little issues to keep you busy or broke or both, but it can be a great DD. Sure, some may be less adventurous than me and not want to live that way in New England, without a garage, but I’m here to tell you it can be done. (Fair disclosure, my valve cover is in my back seat right now.)

    I still prefer my E36 to the E46 for the relative lack of electronic geewizzery, but I do wish I had that sweet S54 engine.

    @ no_slushbox,

    The 335 is pretty sweet but if you’re looking for a car to bring to the track the M3 wins hands down. The more track ready suspension bits, chassis strengthening, LSD, and better known reliability of the drivetrain give it a serious edge. Also, I may be a masochist but that doesn’t mean I hate myself.

  • avatar

    Definition of a loser. Have a video of a great car on track (or ANY car, for that matter), delete the car sound, put some stupid music in there instead (a brainless move, even if there was no car sound to begin with).

  • avatar

    So I traded a somewhat wrecked 1987 944s for a 1995 M3, which was more race car than my back/knees could deal with, and I happily swapped it for a nice new 1998 CLK.

    Returning to sanity swapped the CLK for a 2007 335, which was faster/nicer/easier to drive fast/easier to drive slow/quieter (you may not care, but I do)/more efficient thna the M3 from over 10 years earlier.

    Ergo, dudes! Save some money and buy whatever the fastest new vanilla 3-series is and avoid the previous generation’s M3.

    0-60: 1995 M3 = 5.5; 2007 335 with auto! = 4.7. You do the math.

  • avatar

    The E46 3.2L (in 333-340hp guise) is one of the finest engines ever created, and every self-respecting petrolhead should have the opportunity to drive a car fitted with it (be it M3, Z3/Z4 M-Coupe/Roadster, whatever). It has enough midrange to drive in traffic, and a sparkling top end that never seems to end. It pulls strong and smooth and makes a glorious racket at high revs. In a lightweight car like the Z3/4 it really hauls, too. Sure modern sports sedans can be more impressive in terms of power, but these engines are true classics – brilliant examples of refinement and instantaneous power delivery.

    Gaaah I never should have driven one. Even though I loath BMWs, I want something with that glorious motor up front.

  • avatar

    Nice call, Justin…though I’d be more than a little nervous about this car as a daily driver. After all, M3s aren’t the Bimmer that some trophy wife uses to get back and forth to the plastic surgeon’s office – this is a Michael-Schumacher-wannabe special, a car that many, if not most, owners, take to the track. Unless you get it checked out with a fine tooth comb, or you graduated from BMW Service U., you’re going to be paying for the last hotshoe’s abuse.

    I agree with the some of the other folks on this board – a used 335, particularly if you can get one CPO, will cost a bit more, but it might be a better deal in the long run.

    Also, if you’re looking for a used bargain Bimmer, how about an ’06 750Li with 18,000 miles for a touch over 40K?

    If you can overlook the goofy styling touches, and the IDrive, the 750 is an amazing car, and considering that the new ones are going for 90K, the lightly used, off-lease ’06s and ’07s are an epic bargain.

  • avatar

    For example, they’ll know that cars built before 2003 can have serious rear subframe issues. this is internet twaddle. No recalls, no tsbs, and it affects a very small E36/E46 models. IMHO, most are caused by abuse, track, changes uin suspension gear.…

    I think this is more widespread than you believe. A coworker has the subframe issue and his car is bone stock. BMW did pick up the tab. He has pictures, too of the rear seat removed and the trunk stripped out. The steel exhibited the classic signs of fatigue failure and the cracks were fairly widespread. The repair was beautifully done. BMW is not saying anything about this other than bring in the car and they will fix anything that is wrong. I am assuming that they are doing this to keep it as quiet as possible and to limit payout. As the years go by, the number of cars will thin out, limiting exposure.

  • avatar

    Give that vid a miss and go for the Clarkson CSL experience for some noise too.

    IMHO one of the best looking cars ever, with performance to keep you surprised, especially in the handling stakes. The S54 is pure engineering artistry.

    With regards these stupid overdubbed vids, give it the full on German treatment with some better driving music.

  • avatar

    Great engine + car package together, and one that for me defines the benchmark “Officially” fast car. 100+hp/l, ~0.1 hp/lb. ratio.

    *However, aren’t you guys always saying in here that out-of-warranty BMWs are not to be owned at any cost?

    -Unless you’re Alex Roy and have dumpsters of money to throw at it?

    I can do a little fixit here and there, but the K-bus/e-gremlins stories sound very un-fun.

  • avatar

    Ahhhh. . . All I can say is I love my ’06 M3 coupe, as well as the warranty going to 2012. The S54 won the International Design award in the 3.0-3.2 category from 2001-2006, and and it’s a marvel. I like mine so much, I skipped this generations E92. Additionally, the E46 M3 is absolutely gorgeous, making the E92 look like an ugly younger sister.

  • avatar

    To heck with the M3. The finest BMW was the 2002tii.

  • avatar

    I had the same dilemma and bought a CPO 335i coupe, w/ 6MT and no iDrive. It’s a far better choice if you have to drive it every day. Plus, the SMG truly sucks and it was almost impossible to find e46 M3’s with sticks.

    I also think that the e90 M3 looks like a kids toy with its ridiculous bulges and flares. And it’s not much faster than the 335i.

    The 335i wins, hands down.

    And yes, out-of-warranty BMW’s are not to be owned at any cost.

  • avatar

    thank you so much.

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