The original E30 M3 was released way back in 1986 to much acclaim. It was the first 3 Series to wear the M badge and revolutionised what a sports car should be. Despite looking similar to the regular 3 Series at the time, the two doors, massive rear wing, and flared wheel arches were signs that it was a different type of beast entirely. Twelve of the body panels were totally unique, and so were the master cylinder, rotors, and brake calipers. It was powered by BMW’s S14 engine, a four-cylinder engine with a modified head from the M1. The naturally aspirated 2.3-litre engine was mated to a five-speed manual transmission to make 147 kW and 230 Nm , and together with the light 1 200kg body could push the M3 from 0 to 60mph in just 6.7 seconds.
The only reason the M3 was created in the first place was that motor racing rules required that at least 5000 cars needed to be made for BMW to be eligible. The M3 was a huge hit both on and off the track. It went on to win numerous touring car championships around Europe and built a reputation for being a real driver's car. At the end of its production, a total of 17,970 were sold, and the M3 name was cemented in automotive history. Unfortunately, the E30 M3 never made it to South African shores and instead we got the 325i and 333i, which still
hold their value today.
After the success of the E30, there was lots of hype around the new E36 M3 before release. Unlike the E30, which was a sports car through and through, the new E36 would mark a shift towards a more balanced car that could be used for daily driving. It had a bigger 3.0-litre straight-six engine pushing 213 kW and 320 Nm but was also longer and wider than its predecessor. At the time it was an absolutely stunning car, and despite being more of a sports saloon than a sports car, it still had enough grunt to pack a punch and impress most drivers. It was the first M3 to offer a 6-speed “ SMG ” transmission in overseas models in addition to the 5-speed manual that was eventually replaced by a 6-speed manual. The E36 M3 sold even better than the E30 M3, and while most of them were built in Germany, some were assembled locally in South Africa. It was also the first M3 to be offered with four doors.
By the time the E46 M3 came around, the weight had increased to 1,570 kg, and it was powered by the 3.2-litre straight-six S54 engine which made 252 kW and 365 Nm of torque. Like the previous model, it also featured a 6-speed SMG transmission and a 6-speed manual. From a visual standpoint, it looked even more aggressive with flared wheel arches and of course the quad-tailpipes. The interior was also more luxurious than before, but it offered an exceptional balance between sportiness and luxury. The M3 had grown up from is racing roots, but still provided a mesmerising drive.
Then the E90/E92/E93 M3 was released in 2007 and featured a V8 engine for the first time. The E90 was the sedan, the E92 was the coupe, and the E93 was the convertible. The 4.0-litre V8 S65 made a massive 309 kW and 400 Nm and was mated to either a 6-speed manual or another M3 first, the 7-speed dual-clutch. Performance figures reflected the power upgrade with the coupe managing 0 to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds with the manual transmission and 4.8 seconds with the dual-clutch. BMW had knocked it out of the park again and created a monster disguised as a sophisticated cruiser.
During the course of its lifespan, the E90 M3 had several special editions released including the GTS which was meant to be a street-legal racer. It boasted a power upgrade to 331 kW as well as upgraded brakes, weight reduction, and suspension changes. Since BMW South Africa wasn't able to get the GTS edition into the country, they developed a special edition strictly for the local market called the Frozen Edition . Only 25 were made with 19 available in grey and the remaining six coming in matte black. The Frozen Edition M3 was locally tuned with a software upgrade and an intake manifold and exhaust system from tuning company, AC Schnitzer. The new updates meant that the output was increased to 330 kW and 420 Nm, and of course, the exhaust note also got louder. For those who couldn’t afford the M3, there was a great alternative in the E90 335i, which is also a classic in its own right.
Watch our used BMW E90 335i Sedan review to see what we thought about this sporty sedan.
BMW F80 M3
Over the years the M3 grew from being a racing car making 143 kW, into one of the best all-round driving cars in the world with more than double the power at 309 kW. Despite the drastic changes, the engaging driving experience has remained a constant, and now we drive the F80 iteration to see if it lives up to its stellar reputation.
- Price: Approximately R590 000 to R680 000 (2014/2015)
- Engines: Twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six
- Gearbox: 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch
- Fuel economy: 8.3 L /100 km
- Power/Torque: 317kW/ 550 Nm
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Loading Space: 480 L
The dashboard and surrounding areas are covered with premium quality materials which uphold BMW's reputation for luxury. All the buttons and dials are all intuitively placed and almost perfect for the driver to reach. The clean lines give the M3 a business-like feel with just the right amount of aluminium to accent the black. As with most BMW's, there's a choice of multiple leather upholstery and wood veneer options, with our test car having the sporty carbon fibre trim. One of the best things about the M3 is despite its performance-orientated appeal, it is still practical, and both front and rear passengers can sit in comfort, even on a long trip. Although the M3's competitors have more modern interiors, the BMW still has a robust build quality that's hard to match and has aged well.
There’s no mistaking the M3 for being a standard 3 Series thanks to the impressive styling. It has aggressive, sculpted air intakes with a black honeycomb pattern sitting below the upswept LED headlights. The chrome-lined kidney grille sits below the trademark bubble bonnet and carbon fibre roof. From the side, it looks equally menacing with sporty side sills and 20-inch rims, not to mention the M3 logo behind the front wheel arch and shark fin antenna on the roof. From the rear, the M3's wide stance is easily noticeable, and the sporty theme continues with the chunky bumper, and quad tailpipes sitting below the wraparound LED taillights.
Watch our BMW M135i review here.
The M3 comes standard with an eight-inch screen linked to BMW’s iDrive interface. Some might moan about the lack of a touchscreen, but iDrive is one of the most user-friendly systems around and a pleasure to use. Additionally, sound-lovers will also be impressed by the 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system’s sound clarity and deep bass. Despite having no Android Auto there is Apple Carplay available. There’s also a number of great features like a rearview camera, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless charging, and USB input.
While the infotainment system in the M3 isn't the most up to date, it still functions reasonably well, and most people will be more entertained by the thrilling drive anyway.
BMW has a terrific safety record, and the M3 has all the usual features expected on a car of this class, such as six airbags including dual front, front-side, and side curtain airbags. It also has traction control, emergency braking assist, and four-wheel ABS brakes. It also has some modern driver aids available such as a surround-view camera, head-up display, onboard navigation, and lane departure warning.
Obviously, the main reason to get an M3 is because of its legendary reputation as a lean, mean driving machine. In standard configuration, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo in the M3 makes 317 kW and 550 Nm, a jump of 150 Nm over the old M3. The difference is undoubtedly felt, with the F80 having more than enough torque throughout the rev range up to 7500 rpm. The S55 engine used in the F80 is highly regarded and is also used in the M4 and M2 Competition. As expected, BMW has done a phenomenal job with the suspension, making lighter and more rigid than the previous model, while retaining the well-balanced handling. No matter how much the M3 was pushed, it remained as focused as ever with the stock brakes amazingly responsive and firm.
If the standard configuration isn't enough, all it takes is a simple software upgrade to give the M3 more grunt. Some of the special edition models manage to put out much more power like the 331 kW Competition Model, and the 339kW CS model.
It's incredible that BMW has made a car that can be extremely track-focused with specific settings, then transformed into a daily driver at the touch of a button. Even when driven hard, the M3 is an easy car to drive, and its forgiving nature makes it ideal for novices looking for an entry point into high-performance vehicles. It's this versatility that makes the M3 a very practical choice over many other cars out there.
The F80 M3 is a future classic that manages to balance jaw-dropping performance with comfort in a fantastic all-round package. It has many options for upgrades and can easily be used as a daily driver or a track car. The interior might be a bit dated, but the M3 is all about driving thrill, and in that department it certainly delivers. If the new 3 Series is anything to go by, the forthcoming M3 will be even better.
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