If there is one BMW that has a huge following in the community, then it has to be the E46 M3. Yet, a common problem with being passionate about a brand like BMW is the cost. There are many people who diligently follow the brand with passion and desire but not the funds to actually buy one of its higher-end models.
The BMW M3, and now M4, is one of the most desired of all BMWs. However, with pricing that starts in the low $60,000 range and can quickly get into the $70,000’s with a couple of options, there are a great many enthusiasts who simply cannot afford a new one. That’s where the pre-owned market comes into play.
All M3s are good, and each and every one of them will provide driving pleasure for years to come. So if you can’t afford a brand new one, maybe look into getting an older model. Another good thing about used M3s is the fact that there are a lot of them. There are four different generations to choose from, and because they’ve always been so popular, second-hand M3 shoppers are almost spoiled for choice. However, this can actually become quite difficult, because with so many options, which do you choose?
The E46 BMW M3 may be the best value M3. Due to its age, 2000-2006, they aren’t very expensive and can be found with decent mileage. But they also aren’t so old that they feel baron compared to newer cars. A decent mileage E46 M3 can be had for anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on the condition and options. This makes them very affordable for the caliber of sports car that they are. So here are some reasons why the E46 M3 is the best one to buy:
The E46 M3 came with a 3.2 liter inline-six engine developing 333 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. It could hit 0-60 in 5.1 seconds and had an electronically controlled top speed of 155 mph. The I6 in the E46 M3 is one of the better one’s BMW ever made. With its Double VANOS variable valve timing and 7,900 rpm redline, the 3.2 liter screams through the rev range with smooth and linear power. It also makes a fantastic sound doing it.
The E46 M3 came with two transmission options. One being the SMG automated manual with paddle shifters, which is to be avoided like the plague. Not that it was a bad transmission, but it was clunky at around town speeds, overly complicated and not very reliable. The other is a proper 6-Speed manual, and that’s the one to get. While not as fast as the SMG, the manual provides a level of enjoyment and connection that the SMG simply can’t. Mating that glorious engine to a proper 6-Speed is one of the greater joys in life.
Despite being almost a decade old now, the E46 is still one of the better looking BMWs of all time. It has muscular wheel arches, the right stance and a great profile. It’s simple yet exciting and elegant yet aggressive. Easily the best looking car in the segment at the time. It’s also a timeless design and will look good for many, many years to come, even though it’s already quite old.
The new M3 and M4 sound very good. But they’ve got nothing on the naturally aspirated glory of the 3.2 liter in the E46 M3. It has such a classic BMW sound to it. It sounds grumbling and mean in the low revs but gets raspy and metallic and eventually wails as the revs climb. It’s intoxicating and alone worth buying the car for.
As mentioned before, the E46 is considerably cheaper than the newer car and even far less expensive than its replacement, the E92 M3. It’s also cheaper to fix, run and insure. So it makes an excellent case for a value performance car.
So many enthusiasts bemoan newer BMWs because they aren’t as pure as the older ones. While this is a bit exaggerated, as the newer cars aren’t much less pure, many older BMWs offer a purity and clarity in the driving experience that few other cars have. It’s not so much that the new M3 is vague, but that older M3s, like the E46, are so absolutely incredible to drive. There’s tons of hubbub about the E30 M3 being the most amazing driver’s car, that I think people forget just how good the E46 was. It had telepathic steering, incredible body control and could hang its tail out all day, with smooth, easy to control drifts.
All in all, the E46 is one of the best bargain performance cars money can buy. You can find one in almost any body/color/gearbox combination you can think of, they aren’t that expensive and they’re amazing to drive. Plus they look great, hold their value well, are reasonably practical and comfortable as well. So if you’re in the market for a performance car in even close to that mid-teen price range, look closely at the E46 M3.