A brief history of the BMW M3
We've just driven the new BMW M3. A perfect time to look back on M Division's classic moniker...
Posted: 09 May 2014
BMW M3 Coupe: E46
Where some felt the E36 a bit lacking in the hard-edged enthusiasm of the original E30, most agreed that the E46 M3 was a screamer. It arrived in 2000, distinctive for its wider, flared arches, that lovely power dome on the bonnet, the air intakes on the wings, and of course, the four exhaust pipes jutting out of the rear. Make no mistake, this was M back to its best.
Especially with the engine. It was still a 3.2-litre six-pot, but power now sat at 343bhp at 7,900 rpm, yielding 105bhp per litre. There was double VANOS valve timing, with an ECU capable of 25 million calculations per second, vastly superior to our finger-counting Top Gear Maths. But not by much. As such, 0-62mph took just 5.2 seconds (and 5.4s from 50-75mph in fourth gear), with a limited top speed of 155mph.
A racing version of this M3 appeared across the pond, and made history as the first ever M3 to sport a V8 - the M3 GTR. Built for the 2001 American Le Mans Series, it produced 450bhp from its 4.0-litre V8, and took seven wins in 10 races (along with six pole positions). Suffice to say, BMW works driver Jörg Müller won the Drivers' Championship in the GT class.
Then of course, we get to 2003, and the car that showcased BMW M's collective nous - the M3 CSL. 110kg of Stuff was shed from the standard M3 (which meant it weighed 1385kg), using carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, thinner glass and glass-reinforced plastics taken from the aerospace industry. The engine too was more powerful, some 360bhp, meaning the 0-62mph time dropped to 4.9 seconds. You'll remember that Jeremy was rather fond of it...