The BMW M3 has always been the benchmark for the small performance sedan segment. You can argue all you want that the modern F80/F82 M3/M4 has diluted the model’s heritage and that the [insert any modern competitor here] is better. However, it’s the M3 that started it all and which every other modern competitor owes its existence to. The original E30 M3, in many ways, is still the benchmark for small, lightweight performance sedans that emphasize fun and handling over power and performance.

With the recent introduction of the BMW M4 CS, the latest in a long line of special edition M3s, it’s good to take a look back at all of its predecessors. Because the idea of an upgraded M3 is not a new thing, as BMW has been doing it since the very first M3. Every time BMW makes one, it decides that it can make it better. So it lightens it, strips it out a bit, adds some more power and ultimately makes it sharper, crisper, better. Top Gear recently took a look back at all eighteen special edition M3 models over the years, which is quite a lot and shows just how much BMW loves doing it.

E30 BMW M3 Sport Evolution 1 750x499

We won’t spoil all of them for you, you should go to TG’s page to check it out, but we will give you some of the great ones.

Obviously, the original E30 M3 Sport EVO is there, as it’s considered to be the best BMW of all time by many enthusiasts. It was essentially a stripped out, lightened version of the standard E30 M3 and it also go a power bump, thanks to boring its engine out from 2.3 liter to 2.5 and some other trickery. So it made 238 hp from its 2.5 liter I4 engine, which was quite a bit in such a small, lightweight car.

BMW E46 M3 CSL 12 750x500

Of course, the E46 M3 CSL made the list, as it, too, is considered to be one of the greatest Bavarian cars of all time. Based on the standard E46 M3, which was already almost perfection, the CSL had extreme weight-saving measures taken. The inside was stripped out, it was the first M3 to have a carbon fiber roof and BMW even ditched the standard trunk mat for one seemingly made from cardboard. It was light. It also got a power bump to 360 hp and the brand’s, admittedly maligned, SMG gearbox. Despite its clunky transmission, the E46 M3 CSL was driving nirvana and is still worth enormous amounts of money.

The newest of the bunch, the brand-spanking new BMW M4 CS, rounds out the list. It almost feels as if BMW may be getting back on track with this M4 CS. It seems like to could have all the right ingredients to be a special car. It has some of the interesting tech from the M4 GTS, but without any of the crazy flamboyance or overly harsh ride. It’s also the best looking M4 to come out and it has a special feeling cabin. BMW also did the right thing with its power, by bumping it up to 460 hp. That’s just the right amount horsepower and only a modest bump. However, the Bavarians gave it more torque, 442 lb-ft to be exact, which is considerably more than the standard car’s 406 lb-ft. So the M4 CS is a little bit lighter than the standard car but not by much, has more power, better suspension and much better looks. We might have a future classic on our hands.

[Source: Top Gear]