The E36 M3 – An Understated Sports Car

BMW M3 | August 3rd, 2015 by 9
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When it comes to owning a BMW M3, the newest one is always the best and safest option, but on the other hand, there’s always a group of enthusiasts that cherish the appeal of old school BMWs and want to have something with a bit more history behind it.

The E30 M3 and E46 M3 sit at the top of the car collectors’ list, but there is one M3 that is often overlooked: E36 M3. The neglected child of the M3 family is likely of the most understated sports car BMW has ever built.

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The E36 comes from a time when BMWs were known for incredibly precise and communicative steering and purity of driving. With a free revving inline-six engine, 5-Speed manual, a limited-slip diff and rear-wheel drive, the E36 M3 was the car to drive.

But weighing more than the BMW E30 M3 and being less powerful than the E46 M3, the E36 M3 was not as highly praised as the other M3s and therefore it never really developed a cult among the enthusiasts. On the other hand, the E36 has that rebel mentality built into it and many people tend to ignore the E36 before coming back to own one.

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So today, we’re asking you whether the BMW E36 M3 is to be considered a classic and a true enthusiasts’ car.

9 responses to “The E36 M3 – An Understated Sports Car”

  1. Chi says:

    I owned one and it has never let me down; in terms of looks, performance, and reliability… Great car! And I had it in Daytona Violet!

  2. Kaisuke971 says:

    Funny how the 321hp and 350nm M3 E36 3.2 might be the most competitive of them all for its time but is often looked as the M3 no ones really want… This is the consequence of US regulation and their weak 240hp car…

  3. jason bourne says:

    The E36 M3 was probably the last M-car that was really affordable at $35K MSRP.

  4. Carbons54 says:

    I’m the original owner of both an E36 and E46 M3. I believe the E36 deserves more praise than it usually gets from the enthusiast community. The US spec engine only reveals its shortcomings in the uppermost of the RPM range and into triple digit speeds. It may be down nearly 100hp from its euro counterpart but it doesn’t feel 100hp slower. It’s also lighter and more responsive than my E46 and the styling, while easily replicated on non-m E36s due to the lack of wider fenders, is still iconic – just think of all the civics and S10s sporting M3 mirrors and side skirts way back when! I love both cars and I would probably enjoy an E9X too, though it is a bit heavy. Grab an NA M3 of any prior generation while you still can is what I would advise.

  5. Jax says:

    I was just talking about this very topic with a friend today. E30 M3 is a straight up classic with handling that is connected to your brain and feet. E46 M3 gives you the most efficient amount of power that you could squeeze out of a NA straight six. E36 M3 has a perfect balance of the two and is placed naturally and correctly between the icons. You couldn’t have took the evolutionary step to the E46 without having the E36 first. It is the proverbial middle child – great in its own merits but often overlooked standing beside its two wunderkind siblings.

    I’ll always favor the E36 M3 though bc the E36 325i was my first car. That generation will always be more special than the others for me.

  6. Daily Octane says:

    “But weighing more than the BMW E30 M3 and being less powerful than the E46 M3, the E36 M3 was not as highly praised as the other M3s and therefore it never really developed a cult among the enthusiasts.”

    I’m not sure where Vanja lives, but BMWBlog should ask their writers to occasionally go to track days or amateur race weekends. I haven’t made a scientific study of it, but if you were to judge solely from the cars on track at your local HPDE you’d believe that the E36 has the strongest cult following among BMW enthusiasts, and possibly among all weekend racers.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      I guess it depends where you live. In North America, I would agree with your statement. Not sure about Europe. I equally see those two cars at the track, I personally favor the E46 M3.

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