Our favourite BMW M3s through the ages



With an all-new BMW M3 in Singapore, the CarBuyer team picks out its favourite cars to wear the famous badge

SINGAPORE — Believe it or not, the geezers at CarBuyer have had a go in every BMW M3 generation (although that’s different from having driven every different M3).

And with the newest G80 model now in town we thought we’d take a merry stroll down memory lane to reminisce about our very favourite iterations of the quintessential BMW M car. Caution: self-indulgence ahead!

1988 BMW M3 Evolution (E30)

This is the car that started it all, the original E30 M3. First produced in 1986, there were subsequent editions that raised power – Evo, Evo 2, Sport Evo, DTM driver’s editions – but the recipe remained the same: Take the BMW 3 Series and make it ready for racing. The E30 M3 in fact, only took its doors and roof from the regular 3 Series, with everything else optimised for going faster. The 2.3-litre inline four started with 200hp and got to 220hp in the Evo model, but more importantly it could rev to almost 7,000rpm. 

Driving the E30 M3 is underwhelming at first, since it’s totally unlike a modern M3. The steering’s slow, the engine response is sharp and revvy but with little torque, yet the faster and harder you go, the better it gets.

It’s not an oversteer monster, but beautifully balanced in its handling and responsive to inputs. With the precision of the in-line four – and no turbo torque to drive around – you see why the E30 M3 is a legend: It does what a driver wants, when he wants, nothing more and nothing less. – Derryn Wong

1996 BMW M3 Evolution (E36)

Unlike the first one, the E36 series M3 was built with public roads as the main priority. “Purists” lamented the gain in size and weight as the E36 replaced the E30, but while the new M3 offered less of a road-buttocks connection than the original, it managed to combine lovely manners and wicked performance into a graceful package. Besides, the engine was half a McLaren F1’s V12, and how is that a bad thing?

I drove the Evolution version, with 321 horsepower from a 3.2-litre version of the silky S50 six-cylinder engine, and will always remember it for its gorgeously revvy character, the power and music just intensifying as the needle climbed higher.

Avoid the hesitant, first-generation SMG single-clutch automated manual (above) if you’re shopping for a future classic. A six-speed manual meant your hands and feet had plenty to do, which only made keeping the engine on the boil that much more engaging. This M3 wasn’t for the faint-hearted, though. No traction control meant driving in the rain would make anyone instantly turn to religion. – Leow Ju-Len

2000 BMW M3 (E46)

While the previous M3 came in coupe, convertible and (rare) saloon form, its successor was a strict two-door only affair. There’s a fitting purity about that, because to me the E46 might well represent the pinnacle of the mainstream M3 breed — rev-happy, pinpoint sharp, perfectly balanced and effortlessly driftable.

The engine, an evolution of the all-singing six from E36 but now good for 343hp, is worth a few celebratory words. It took the old school, non-turbo route to perfection: six individual throttle butterflies to keep response super snappy, short inlet tracts for maximum airflow at high revs, polished intake ports to give fresh air a smooth, fast route into the combustion chambers, and a convoluted exhaust manifold that smoothed out the pulses of waste gases from each cylinder and help pull fresh air into them. Plus the pistons traveled as fast as those in a Formula One car. The result just has to be felt (and heard) to be believed – Leow Ju-Len

2010 BMW M3 GTS (E92)

The GTS was the swan song of the E92 model. With the transition to the grunty 4.0 V8 (based on the E60 M5’s V10) still with the bonus of natural-aspiration, the E92 marked a turning point in M3 history, away from the screaming in-line six era toward the modern M era of larger, more powerful cars demanding lots of respect – and skill.

Limited to just 135 units worldwide, the GTS was an instant collector’s item. With track-spec equipment, a stripped out interior and weight reduction measures, it weighed almost 140kg less than the regular car – plus the V8 was upped to 4.4-litres for a heady 450hp.

Driving one on the track is an exhilarating experience with an immediacy and plugged-in feel that few cars can manage. If the normal M3s went away from the racing-car-for-the-road approach, the GTS brought it all back to a howling high. – Derryn Wong

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