The M3 hit the US market in the mid-1980s, turning the E30 into the mighty mouse E30, a boxy little car with a seriously crazy inline 4-cylinder engine tuned to destroy pretty much anything it came in contact with. While it wasn’t an outright torque monster, it was in the combination of handling and power that the M3 shined and made it a complete legend. It had more than enough torque to pull it out of curves and corners with ease, it was a lightweight car, and the chassis was tuned to the nth degree, where road car meets racecar. All of this created an absolute legend. With this amazing springboard to build from, BMW had its work cut out for it. Afterall, how do you improve that which has been perceived as very close to perfection? Aim to get closer still.
The E36 of the mid ’90s sought to fill those shoes and did so very well. Reintroduced in 1992 and equipped with a very powerful inline 6-cylinder engine, critics complained that it was heavier than the original M3 and that it suffered some handling deficits. Well, yes – it was heavier, but everyone who drove it agreed, it was a total spiritual successor to the E30 icebox M3. It was agile, poised, and balanced, and now it provided a better ride characteristic plus a lot more torque. To boot, it was quieter, and handled noise, vibration, and harshness much more adequately.
The subsequent E46 took it to yet another performance plane, where again it was criticized as having lost its M’ness to even more heft, self-appointed authorities again claiming much of its sporty feel was lost to the civility of a road car, its rebellious spirit drowned in sound deadening and thicker bolstering. Yet, once again, most anyone who experienced the new M3 was absolutely blown away, proclaiming at length at how much better the car had become. Heavier, the ride quality again improved, and to another degree, the quashing of noise, vibration, and harshness progressed – they were nearly nonexistent with the new E46. It was a civil rebel. On top of that, the 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder engine belted out a solid 333 HP married to a stout 262 lb-ft of torque. The new mill propelled the new M3 from 0-60 in under 5-seconds and clipped the ¼-mile in just a gnat’s hair over 13-seconds. Aside from straight line performance, the new M3 sliced and diced corners and curves as if they weren’t even there. Yes, it was heavier, but it was engineered well enough to know how to use every pound.