1986 BMW M3 E30 vs. 2010 BMW M3 E92

BMW M3 | August 11th, 2010 by 5
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InsideLine takes us back to the basics with an unique, unexpected, bold and daring comparison of two BMW M3s that are said to be the …

InsideLine takes us back to the basics with an unique, unexpected, bold and daring comparison of two BMW M3s that are said to be the best every produced by the Bavarian brand. The magazine goes back to the roots and places the E30 M3 against what could be the last naturally aspirated M3 to come out of the M Division.

Considered one of the best Ms of all times, the E30 M3 is one of those rare cars that excites all car enthusiasts. Based on the 1986 model year E30 3-Series, the first M3 was introduced with a 2.3 L I4 S14B23 engine. The engine design was based on various BMW genealogy; basic block layout from the M10 4 cylinder (found in the 2002 and 320 series) overbored and reinforced to similar specifications of the BMW M88 inline-6.

One of the main reasons for production of the road car was to homologate the M3 for Group A Touring Car racing. One of the reasons often cited for its creation was that it was to compete with the “2.3-16V”-model of the Mercedes-Benz W201 190E which was introduced in 1983, although this was only speculative. When the E30 M3 was in its final years of top level competition, the 2.5 liter S14 engine in full race trim was capable of over 340 hp (250 kW) naturally aspirated.

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E92 M3 needs no further introduction, the most technologically advanced M3 ever produced, has been an icon in the luxury performance automobiles market since its introduction in 2008.

Just as the previous M3 generations all introduced a completely new engine, the fourth generation M3 did the same: the BMW S65 engine was introduced. This S65B40 is a naturally aspirated, high revving 4-litre V8 (based on the S85B50 5-litre V10 that powers the E60/E61 M5 and the E63/E64 M6 to date), delivering 414 bhp (309 kW; 420 PS) at 8,300 rpm, with peak torque at 400 N·m (300 lb·ft) at 3,900 rpm, which represents a power increase of 22% over the E46 M3. The engine weighs 15 kg (33 lb) less than the outgoing six cylinder for a total weight of 202 kg (450 lb). A six-speed manual transmission is standard.

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As from April 2008, BMW offers a new Getrag double-clutch gearbox, called M-DKG (Doppel-Kupplungs-Getriebe) or M-DCT (Double Clutch Transmission) as an option.

Without any further ado, let’s have a look at an excerpt from the InsideLine comparison:

The Story From the Driver Seat
Let’s start with the old timer. Like all E30 M3s, this car is left-hand drive, which is a bit of a mental leap here in the U.K. The delightful three-spoke M-division steering wheel would make a great display on your office wall. The seats have modest, leather-upholstered bolsters, while the grippy seating surfaces are cloth with a pattern that could only have been thought attractive in the 1980s.

To modern eyes, this M3’s interior is remarkably simple. There’s neither air-conditioning nor a stereo, and certainly no cupholders. We count just 23 buttons on the dashboard fascia and 13 of them belong to the primitive, LCD-type trip computer. You could call it utilitarian chic.


Step forward 25 years into the E92 M3. Slip down into the supportive and even confining leather-upholstered driver seat and a tiny electric motor delivers the seatbelt to your outstretched paw. The rim of the steering wheel is far thicker than before and the spokes are smothered in buttons. The fascia no longer neglects the passenger and is swamped in electronic gizmos, while the center console incorporates the inevitable cupholders. Climate control, telematics, a premium-branded audio system and something called satellite navigation vie for attention on the giant color display screen. We count 70 individual buttons, not counting the iDrive controller and its army of functions.

So many of the E92’s gadgets are a prerequisite of a modern car, but after the understated style of the E30, it all feels a bit stressful. In the E30, it’s all about the drive. In the E92, it’s all about the iDrive.

The Drive
Turn an actual metal ignition key to start the E30 M3 and consider how even this feels curiously retro. First gear in the five-speed Getrag manual gearbox is down and to the left below Reverse, leaving gears 2-5 to form an H-pattern, a racing-style shift pattern that takes some readjustment. Time and again we find ourselves starting in reverse, which is not an ideal thing to do when you’re driving a rare classic that belongs to BMW’s U.K. distributor. The shift lever is trimmed with microfiber suede and the shift throws are longer than you’d expect, but the action is also lighter than you’d expect, just like the clutch.

This is a big moment. For us, the opportunity to drive this car is like meeting a hero, and that’s always fraught with danger. We remember once meeting George Lucas at a party and he was so staggeringly rude and obnoxious that we sold our box set of Star Wars figures. Since we grew up watching Fearless Frank Sytner racing the M3, we don’t want to be similarly disappointed.

The cliché “road racer” could have been coined by this car, but perhaps in its old age it has gained some civility. The ride is surprisingly supple, helped no doubt by 45-series 16-inch tires. It turns in abruptly but there’s still a beat between input and output. This is not a Porsche 911 RS in retro clothes. It feels like a well-sorted road car, not some track day special.

Nor, if we’re honest, does the E30 M3 feel very fast.”

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