The 15 Best BMW M Cars

BMW M, Featured Posts | July 25th, 2012 by 29
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BMW M was established in 1972 and represents BMW’s foray into the sportscars market. The first M product was the 3.0 CSL, a car built …

BMW M was established in 1972 and represents BMW’s foray into the sportscars market. The first M product was the 3.0 CSL, a car built for the racing venues, and followed by the first M-badged vehicle: the M1.

Built starting in 1978, the M1 is one of BMW’s finest vehicles to date. It was the first and only mid-engined BMW to be mass produced. It was powered by a twin-cam M88/1 3.5 liter 6-cylinder gasoline engine with Kugelfischer injection.

Another iconic M car, yet never released to the public, was the M8. The iconic M model was unveiled for the first time in 2010 at a private event for journalists around the world. The M8 was equipped with a V12 prototype engine based on the S70 engine, producing around 550 horsepower.

For the compact segment, BMW launched a series of classic M cars that have gone to the heart of BMW purists, such as the E30 M3, E28 M5 or the M Coupe.

In more recent times, models like the E46 M3, E61 M5 Touring and the first M-diesel tuned vehicle M550d, are bound to become classics in their own way. BMW M continues to evolve and adapt to modern era requirements and regulations, and over the next decade an interesting array of M-built or M-touched vehicles will come to market.

This article is inspired by a recent piece we have read on which takes on the challenging task to outline “The 15 Best BMW M Cars” of all time. Let’s take a peak at their top 15, and then we will share with us your favorite M cars ever produced.

1. E9 3.0 CSL
Years: 1971 – 1975

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2. E12 M535i
Years: 1979 – 1981

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3. E26 M1
Years: 1978 – 1981

4. E30 320is
Years: 1987 – 1990

5. E36/8 M Coupe
Years: 1998 – 2002

6. E31 850CSi (not an actual M car, but considered an M8-like model)
Years: 1993 – 1996

7. E30 M3
Years: 1986 – 1990

8. E24 M635CSi
Years: 1983 – 1989

9. E28 M5
Years: 1984 – 1988

10. E39 M5
Years: 1998 – 2003

11. E46 M3 Coupe
Years: 2000 – 2006

12. F10 M5
Years: 2012 and on

13. E61 M5 Touring
Years: 2007 – 2010

14. E36 M3 Sedan
Years: 1994 – 1998

15. M550d Xdrive
Years: 2012 and on

29 responses to “The 15 Best BMW M Cars”

  1. N8shon says:

    PLEASE fix the picture posted for the E46 M3 Coupe. You have the E39 M5 picture for both the E39 M5 AND the E46 M3 Coupe!

  2. elgee says:

    1M coupé has to be here!

  3. Mathias says:

    No E46 CSL??????

  4. tjpark01 says:

    A couple of these cars aren’t even M cars. You’re basterdizing the M brand even more than BMW already has.
    M550d Xdrive
    E31 850CSi
    2011 1M
    2006 M Coupe

  5. E30_M3_LVR says:

    There needs to be the M3 CSL and/or the 1M in there. I agree with the rest though

  6. Otto says:

    Well, well, well, that’s not a good start:
    “BMW M was established in 1972”
    It’s not BMW M but BMW Motorsport. Ok, to make it short, we call it M, but in a kind of historical article, I would expect to read the “Motorsport”, right?
    Then, the No1 is the E9 3.0 CSL produced as from …1971. Kind of “Back to the Future” isn’t
    Let’s go down a bit to the 4th : the E30 320is. Let me give you some background on this one. The 320is was sold only on very few markets, Italy and Portugal. I don’t know about Portugal but Italy was because the road tax was much higher for engine above 2 liter so BMW decided not to import the E30 M3 and offered the 320is instead which output just a couple less bhp than the M3. It was also the 1st street car to almost reach 100 bhp/liter as far as I remember.
    But basically, ranking a car sold only in those markets is a kind of a joke, isn’t?

    So now, how is the Z4 M Coupe ranked? What?! no Z4 M!
    And a Diesel is ranked 15th?!

    That’s definitively a joke…

  7. Another regular guy says:

    The sedan E36 hardly deserves an honorable mention, and the E36 coupe is left off the grid. I’m not even sure why I’m wasting the time to leave a comment on some guy’s opinion piece of ‘top 15’ M cars.

  8. Colin says:

    I’m an E30 enthusiast and if I’m not mistaken, the E30 320is was the Italian market only S14 powered car brought to market slightly detuned to meet a tax break. It was only available as a 4-door sedan to my knowledge. The picture posted is simply an E30 MTech2 coupé.

    • Colin says:

      Scratch that. Looked through realoem again and it lists it as both a sedan and coupé. My mistake, carry on.

  9. 1M owner says:

    I’d say you guys missed the mark just a bit. Several of the cars listed here aren’t M cars. I second the M Division wasn’t established until 1972, all cars prior to that were leading up to and supportive of BMW creating the M Division. Leaving out the 1M is just doesn’t make any sense since it will walk all over the e46 M3 and remains one of the lowest imported M cars to the US ever.

  10. James Turro says:

    I’m glad to see my E36 M sedan on the list–I’ve owned for 12 years (bought as CPO) and still really enjoy the ride

  11. Law says:

    People bashing on the 850CSi need to realize that they didn’t stick the M badge on it but the whole car was developed by Motorsport Gmbh. The motor was a V12 S70 developed by M, the VIN begins with WBS, manual gearbox. If anything, it was more of an “M-car” than the 1 series M, which has a Z4 35is motor with M3 suspension, brakes, subframe. Essentially, it was the unofficial M8 after the prototype was scrapped. “An M car in all but name”

  12. Law says:

    Those hating on the 850CSi must not realized the entire car was
    developed by Motorsport GmbH. The motor was M’s very own S70 V12 &
    the VIN indicated it was produced by Motorsport (i.e. WBS prefix). It
    wasn’t a 1-series with a Z4 35is motor & M3 brakes, suspension, subframe.

  13. Em/1 says:

    Major duh factor–who wrote this!!! E46 CSL, GTS and 1M at the top please.

  14. BP says:

    Actually, I prefer the days before M cars when one could get an LSD with just about any MT car. Just like Cadillac today on the ATS with all but the base engine.

    But not on a BMW unless you get the M. So sad.

  15. geeeeeez says:

    Can anyone tell me what wheels those are on the e36 saloon/sedan??

  16. M Fan says:

    E63 M6 with that amazing v10 and the best looks of the last 10 years should have been there

  17. Tarek says:

    My favorite was forgotten; the M6, and also Z4 M.

  18. Jethro Lubas says:

    I find it laughable that the E46 M3 CSL is nowhere to be found in this list along with the Z3 M Roadster/Coupe.

  19. Surya De says:

    E92 M3? Only V8 M3? Come on that has to be in this list.

  20. Scooter Mitchell says:

    Horatiu, I appreciate you taking a swing at making this list but you missed the mark on a few key things. For example, having the BMW 320is, M Coupe, and 850CSi in front of the E30 ///M3 is wrong on a cosmic level.

    While I agree the 850CSi is properly included on this list as it was designed by BMW Motorsport, it does not deserve a spot in the top ten. With regard to the 320is, this is not an M car per se but it does come with a detuned 2.0 litre S14 engine.

    Now let’s get serious:
    Here is the well known and more or less universally agreed top 15 M car list as voted by MotorWeek readers and some of the most well versed BMW enthusiasts in the world.

    15. E31 850CSi – We could not leave this off the list despite wanting to. It weighs as much as a tank, but it is the M8 that was never made. The only BMW Motorsport car with a V12. The car looks cool depending on who you ask.

    14. E36/7 M Roadster – The car James Bond should have been driving in GoldenEye. The power of the S54 engine in a compact size. The fact that BMW also made an M Coupe version shows that they are willing to take some risks.

    13. F12/13 M6/GC – Just a beautiful car, especially the swooping M6 Gran Coupe. This M6 makes a statement: My car is worth more than your house.

    12. F82 M4 – What a terrible break from tradition by calling the new M3 an M4. But it doesn’t really matter because the car has the performance of an amphetamine addled sprinter. Pull a fuse to disable the engine soundtrack.

    11. E28 M5 – The first family car hiding a sports car inside. Honey, if we get this one we can take the kids. Not the best looking of the bunch but it grows on you. Color choices were limited to the best combination anyhow.

    10. E92 M3/E90 M3/Lime Rock etc. – The end of the regularly aspirated BMW motorsport era, and a perfect finale at that. The first and last M3 with a V8 that pulls from idle to redline. Yes it can get smoked in a straight line by a tuned 335i but for canyon carving, its a monster.

    9. E87 1 series M – Some might disagree with the ranking, but they are wrong. The 1 series M is the spiritual successor to the E30 M3. It was also the first M car that came stock with turbos. It does kind of look like a pregnant porpoise, but that body work is purposeful.

    8. E34 M5 (Euro 3.8L on down) – This was the beginning of the modern era of BMW M cars, it came stock with 300+ horses and set the bar for cars to follow. There was also a badass wagon version!

    7. E24 M6 – The original “shark,” this car was so plush and it encaspulated 1980’s excess with an interior drenched in leather (including the roof) & the engine from the M1. Great performance and a high price tag because you get what you pay for.

    6. E39 M5 – The best M5 of the group, period. Yes we love the classic E28, the incredible & sell your house expensive S38B38 engine of the E34, the V10 of the E60, and the Turbo chargers in the F10. Fact remains though, the E39 with its aspirated V8 was just better than the rest.

    5. E36 M3 Lightweight/Coupe/Sedan – Following up on the success of the E30 M3 was a tough act to follow but BMW rose to the occasion.

    4. E46 M3 CSL on down – The E46 M3 is the best looking BMW ever made with awesome performance to boot. The uber rare CSL improved on the standard M3 with 270lbs. less weight and carbon fiber in all the right places. Honorable mention goes to the GT, GTR, & competition package versions.

    3. E30 M3 – EVO II (2.5L)/EVO 1/Europa/Johnny Cecotto etc. (don’t forget there was even an E30 M3 Vert! To any BMW purist, the E30 M3 has got to be in the top 3 because its the most winning homologated car of all time. Game. Set. Match.

    2. E9 3.0 CSL – Simply put, the batmobile that started it all and led to subsequent ///M cars. They actually made a 3.5 CSL for Group 5 racing as well.

    1. E26 M1 – What other car could possibly be #1? The M1 was the first BMW car to sport the M badge and the rest is history.

    • Scooter Mitchell says:

      BMW Cars I’ve driven:
      E23 745i
      E24 635csi
      E28 M5
      E30 318i
      E30 M3
      E32 750i
      E34 M5
      E36 M3
      E36 328is
      E36/7 M roadster
      E39 540i
      E46 M3
      E90 335xi
      E92 335i
      E92 M3

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