The E46 M3 lays claim as the best M3 ever
The BMW M3 (E46), that was sold in the USA from 2001-2006 is considered by some as the best M3 ever made. While the classic and 1st generation gets the accolades as the first and one of the best handling cars ever, the E46 M3 took it to the highest level of concept.
The BMW M3 predecessor (E36) has been looked down on in some circles due to not delivering the same engine specs to the USA market as the European market. BMW did not make the same mistake with the E46 M3. The US got the same hih-revving S54 inline six engine enjoyed by all M owners worldwide. The S54 is an naturally aspirated straight six engine, but it will be the last such engine the world would ever see. The E90 M3s that followed by an V8 engine and future generations will be turbocharged engines.
The look of the E46 M3
The E46 M3 went back to the tradition of adding an different and pronounced look to the M3 over the normal 3-series model that it was based on. When the legendary E30 M3 was launched, the body kit placed on the M3 made it stand out from the standard E30 cars on the market. Unfortunately the E36 M3, except for some front dampers, and side mirror housings looked very similar to a standard E36 sold on the market.
With the E46 M3, BMW does it right. The E46 M3 comes with flared fenders that house larger and wider wheels than the standard E46. This gives the E46 M3 a great street presence. In addition, the E46 M3 comes with an aggressive front damper, and side panels and then wraps up to the back with 4 exhaust tips coming from the back bumper. A slight bulge in the hood and side scoops add more presence to the E46 M3, and gives its owner a feeling of something special in the air and not associated with your common E46.
The heart of the E46 M3 is the Engine
The S54 high-revving engine was an magical beast. With an 8,000rpm line, and 333 hp/262 lb-ft of torque, the engine would rev all the way to the redline, and with it brings its full blast of power. Being an raspy-exhaust and smooth acceleration, it was very common to hear 0-60 mph times of 4.8 seconds with these cars. Many of these cars were used for the track due to the performance and capabilities of this particular E46 M3 platform as both a road car and a track car. Curb weight of the car came in at 3,415 lbs and came with the standard features of its time including navigation, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), M Differntial Lock.
In 2005-2006 models, the introduction of the popular Competition Package (ZCP option) debuted. These cars came with a quicker steering rack, larger brakes, cross-spoke 19 inch alloys, M Track Mode and Alcantara-covered steering wheels.
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The dreaded SMG in the E46 M3
The E46 M3 came with either a Getrag 6-speed manual or the optional Sequential M Gearbox (SMG II). The SMG, which uses electronic clutch actuation like a Formula 1 car. SMG II features automatic mode as well as manual-shift mode thru paddle shifters on the steering wheel. It’s appeal was for urban or commuting drivers who can’t or wouldn’t use a conventional clutch pedal. BUt the SMG II does not shift smoothly like an automatic and has serious reliability issues. Half of all E46 M3s were sold with the SMG and should be avoided.
Buying a E46 M3 Today
The E46 M3 is seen as the next great M3 from the original E30 M3. Part of it is due to its return to the original E30 M3 model of creating a fantastic sports car from the basic 3-series platform. But BMW also upped the ante with the E46 M3 by creating, at its time, one of the greatest sports car around. And its a great all-rounder car – great for daily commuting and also for those track days. Many E46 M3s are used for Track due to the power of their build.
So the E46 M3 is going to be a future classic. The ones you need to stay away from are the models with the SMG transmission and convertible models – convertible models are never seen by enthusiasts as a true sports car.
Verdict: Get your E46 M3 today before the good ones get all bought up.