Jalopnik Cargument: Which BMW M3 is best?

BMW M3, News | August 3rd, 2018 by 13
BMW E46 M3 phoenix yellow 12 750x500

There’s often great debate among BMW enthusiasts about which BMW M3 is best. Since its birth in the late ’80s, with the E30-generation, the five generations of M3 have all been drastically different from one another. So fans of each one have very different opinions on why their favorite car is best. In this new Cargument from Jalopnik, they argue over which M3 is best and it comes down to two.

Just a quick recap of the BMW M3, if you aren’t already aware, it all started with the E30 BMW M3 in the ’80s, which was basically a homologated Touring car for the road and it is widely considered to be one of the best BMWs of all time. That’s because it created the legend of M3 and had some of the purest dynamics of any car, both before and since. The E30 M3’s calling car is its 2.3 liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine, which was the first and last four-pot in an M3.

E30 M3 Photo gallery31 750x500

E30 BMW M3

Following the E30 was the E36 M3, which was bigger, heavier, more high-tech and more powerful. It also had a straight-six engine for the first time. Most enthusiasts shun the E36 for being too heavy and lacking the driving connection of its predecessor. Also, North America got a very watered down version of it, using a smaller engine with less power.

After the E36 came the E46 BMW M3, the car most widely considered to be the best M3 ever. While slightly bigger and heavier than the E36 M3, it was more powerful, had one of the best inline-six engines ever made and drove with a crispness and fluidity that has been almost impossible to replicate since, even by BMW.

BMW E90 M3 images 5 750x500

E90 BMW M3

The E90 BMW M3 replaced the E46 and the big news with it was its V8 engine, a first for the M3. It was a brilliant V8, though, revving past 8,500 rpm and making an astonishing noise. It was a proper screamer and one of the best V8s of its era. However, the E90’s steering lacked some engagement to its predecessor, even if it’s basically telepathic by today’s standards, and it just wasn’t as enjoyable as the E46.

Most recently, the F80 BMW M3 hit the scene with a twin-turbocharged I6 engine, marking the return of the inline-six but also the first-ever use of forced induction on an M3. The F80 has been widely criticized for being too numb, too clinical and lacking the sort of emotion all of its predecessors had. It’s by far the fastest and most dynamically competent M3 by far but many enthusiasts feel that it’s also the least exciting.


So which two do Jalopnik’s Patrick George and Raphael Orlove argue over? Watch and find out.

13 responses to “Jalopnik Cargument: Which BMW M3 is best?”

  1. Rob says:

    E90’s steering lacked some engagement to its predecessor, even if it’s basically telepathic by today’s standards! Really?B-shit..did you ever driven one?

  2. BMW JEDI says:

    E30 FTW, followed closely by the E46

  3. Marcel Lukačić-Marca says:

    E30 M3 is the most overrated BMW ever made. I understand, it has very sharp steering, it’s lightweight and it has rev-happy engine. BUT, it sounded awful, it’s slow as hell compared to E36 and not very tail happy. People exalt it so much because they think nostalgia and naturally aspirated are cool words. E36 M3 is the most underrated BMW ever made. Because it was heavier and less track focused than its predeccessor, people automaticaly trashed on it. But in reality, it was a much better package than E30 M3. It sounded much, much better thanks to the best sounding 6-cylinder engine BMW ever made(IMO), it was far more powerful, faster, more exciting, more comfortable etc.

    • I can understand the argument that the E30 M3 is a bit overrated, due to nostalgia, but the most overrated BMW ever? I don’t know about that. It’s the only one that actually used a proper motorsport engine, one that derived from motorsport before going into a road car, and it’s the only one that was actually a homologated touring car. Also, I’d disagree that its engine sounded bad. It was a rev-happy, buzzy little engine that sounded like a touring car.

      • Marcel Lukačić-Marca says:

        Modified E30 M3 sounds good, but listen to the stock one, sounds like VW Jetta. E60 M5 also had a racing engine, don’t forget.

      • disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

        M3 wouldn’t exist if not for original homologation 4 cyl. E30, only model techs. would leave shop for to check out when one would appear @ the dealer I worked @ a decade ago.

    • De says:

      M3 286 HP is slower on hockenheim track than E60 535D 286 HP. XD

      1:19.90 vs 1:19.60

      • Marcel Lukačić-Marca says:

        Nothing surprising. 535d has same power, much more torque and assistance to make it quicker. But I’d have much more fun in E36 M3… ;)

        • De says:

          Torque = Power. m3 is faster to 100 km/h than this 535D. Its 6,3/100 vs 5,6/100.

          AND 535D has ~200 km more weight. Its slower, have more weight and is faster on race track, than M3 E36 286 Hp version.

          Why you would have much more fun in M3 E36?

          • Marcel Lukačić-Marca says:

            “Why you would have much more fun in M3 E36?” This is quite literally, the stupidest sentence I’ve read all day. I’m sorry, but M3 E36 has a glorious NA inline-6 engine, great manual ‘box, and some fantastic drifting capabilities. If you really think that an M car isn’t more fun than a diesel 5 series, then go back to your Camry.

  4. pacho kardana says:

    The best is alpina e36 with V8 , superb quallity, superb engine and noise, superb fun do drive .

  5. disqus_NdrthOMZ62 says:

    Wouldn’t throw any of them out of bed for eating crackers.

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