Whether you’re planning on buying your first BMW or your 50th, it’s always helpful to have a buying guide to help you make that decision. Right now, we’re looking at the four generations of the BMW M3 — the E30, E36, E46 and E90. Which of these M3’s is the right choice for you?
E30 — 1988-1991
If you love antique European race cars, you’ll want to add an E30 to your collection. They’re pretty easy to get ahold of in the states, even if that means you’re limited to the coupe that BMW sold on this side of the pond. It’s considered to be one of the most reliable M3s, but the 2.3L 4-cylinder engine is a little finicky and requires valve adjustments every 30,000 miles or so. For the classic BMW fan, the E30 is better than the E21 that came before it and even better than the E36 that came after. They used to be a dime a dozen, but it’s getting more expensive to get your hands on one of these classics, so if one in good shape crosses your path, snap it up!
E36 — 1995-1999
It seems like everyone wants to get their hands on an E30, which leaves the next model on our list — the E36 — in its ever-growing shadow. There’s a reason that it seems like everyone who owns an E36 in the states spends all their time and money tuning or engine swapping it. That’s because, while it has the same 3.0L engine that the Euro model had, it was tuned differently. The Euro version of the E36 could generate 286 horsepower and 336 lb-ft of torque. The U.S. version only put out 240 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque.
If you’re looking for a project car or something that you can tune without too much trouble, you can pick up an E36 without breaking the bank. Just don’t expect it to live up to the E30’s expectations.
E46 — 2001-2006
It seemed like BMW learned its lesson with the E46, making it lighter and faster than the previous M3 generations. This model was available from 2001 to 2006, and BMW engineers focused on lighter weights and higher revs than ever before. The 3.2L engine was naturally aspirated, thanks to side vents that were the first of their kind. It ended up being 110 kg lighter than previous models and managed a 7:50 lap time at Nurburgring. This is not the kind of BMW you want to invest in if you think it’s going to go up in value over time. Instead, if you want something that will be a joy to drive, look for an E46.
E90 — 2008 – Present
The E90 is easily the best of the batch, though it will cost you a pretty penny to bring one home since they’re still in production. You’ve got three body styling options — a coupe, a sedan or a hard-top convertible. It comes equipped with a 4.0L V8 and your choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed automated manual transmission. If you’re not able to pick up one of these beauties new, you might still be able to find a used option through BMW’s certified pre-owned website. Try to find one that’s still covered under a warranty — just in case.
Things to Remember
Now that you have a better idea of which M3 you’re looking for, here are a few things you’ll want to remember before picking up your new or new-to-you car:
- Avoid rust at all cost on older models. A little rust here and there is to be expected in cars that are 20-30 years old, but if the frame is more rust than steel, run away as fast as you can. It’ll end up being more trouble than it’s worth.
- Don’t forget insurance. If you luck into a rare or exclusive model, you may want to invest in high net worth insurance to protect your investment.
- If you’re opting for an E90, look for certified pre-owned BMWs. It might cost you a little more, but you’ll have more protection if something goes wrong.
Which M3 are you looking forward to adding to your collection? Let us know in the comments below!