Caught in the classifieds: 2004 BMW M3
The BMW M3 is one of the most recognizable performance cars on the planet. It’s the car which single-handedly put BMW ‘M’ on the map and solidified its place as the most popular sports subsidiary of any car brand in existence. It all started with the legendary E30 M3 back in 1986, culminating with the current G80 M3 launched just a few weeks ago. In this week’s “Caught in the Classifieds” section, I’m highlighting the most beloved M3 of them all: the E46.
First introduced in late 2000, the E46 M3 was an overnight success with both journalists and buyers alike. It enjoyed six years of great success before eventually being succeeded by the V8-carrying E90 M3. To this day, the E46 is heavily regarded as the ‘last true M car’ by many car enthusiasts, mostly because of its compact size and its naturally-aspirated straight-six, something no subsequent M3 has gotten since. The E46 M3 is somewhat of a collector’s car in the making, with prices skyrocketing over the last few years for decent, looked-after examples.
This particular car I managed to find on our site has just 80,000 miles on the clock and it’ll set you back a hefty £17,000. Apart from offering an amazing driving experience, I highly suspect relatively low-mileage examples such as this one will fetch a nice premium in the near future.
I know looks are subjective, but I still haven’t managed to find a single soul who thinks the E46 M3 is a bad-looking car. It couldn’t be more opposite to the latest G80 M3 which seems to split opinions down the middle. The E46 gained in popularity with the younger audience thanks to the ‘Need for Speed’ franchise in the late 2000s, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
This particular example is finished in a deep shade of yellow, somewhat similar to the F80’s ‘Austin Yellow’ paint colour scheme. Sitting pretty on 19-inch CSL wheels, I don’t think I could find a more perfect example of an E46 M3 even if I tried. To this very day, I still find it easily the most handsome M3 of the lot, surpassing even the now-iconic E30 M3.
There’s something about its proportions that just seem to resonate with me. The E46 M3 is a much smaller car than both the E90 and the F80 that subsequently followed it. In that regard, it’s a lot closer to the current M2 in both size and feel, a car which many people regard as the spiritual successor to the E46.
The cabin isn’t all that different to a regular E46 Coupe, but does anyone really care? No one buys an E46 M3 for its interior features or its luxurious amenities. At the end of the day, everything that truly matters is exactly as it should be. The build quality is excellent and there are very few squeaks and rattles, despite the fact most E46 M3s are almost 20 years old now. The materials used could have been better, but it’s ultimately a BMW 3 Series, so what do you expect?
The driving position is spot on though. If you ever find yourself in an F80, you might notice that you sit just a tad too high inside the cabin. With the E46, you don’t have that issue. You’re sat smack in the middle of the car, and because you can get really low, you have an amazing ‘seat of your pants’ feel for what the car’s doing underneath you.
The steering wheel is just the right size and the gear stick has that classic ‘M’ feel. The pedals are perfectly positioned for heel-and-toe, which is great, because the E46 doesn’t have rev-matching capabilities.
Engine and Performance
Powered by a 3.2-litre straight-six S54 engine, the E46 M3 develops 343 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, sending power to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed SMG. The latter is an automated manual and is not as smooth as modern dual-clutch transmissions or even automatics, so most people prefer the manual. The sprint to 62 mph takes 5.1 seconds and the car is electronically limited to 155 mph. That’s fast by today’s standards, so you can imagine what it must have felt like in the early 2000s.
As great as the S54 inline-six is, the E46 M3’s party piece is its superb chassis. Because it has a nearly perfect 50/50 weight balance, the E46 is one of the most exciting performance cars ever made. The steering is hydraulic too, which means it’s bristling with feedback, unlike modern electronic racks.
As a result, the E46 is arguably the best car BMW’s ‘M’ division has ever made. The subsequent E90 that followed it featured a big V8 under the bonnet which made it a lot heavier and less responsive. The F80 returned to a straight-six configuration, but the addition of two turbochargers made the noise muffled and artificial, and the electronic steering only further detached from the driving experience.
Model: BMW M3 E46
The E46 is, by modern standards, a fairly average performance car. It’ll get outgunned by most modern cars and it won’t be as practical as the current crop of ‘M’ performance cars. That being said, for sheer driving experience and raw enjoyment, I would argue it’s unrivalled. I know they fetch a hefty premium at the moment, but if you have the cash and are looking to get an ‘M’ car, do yourself a favour and buy an E46 while you still can. In a decade or two they’ll be as expensive as an R34 GT-R, rendering them simply out of reach for most of us. Get your hand on one by heading to DesperateSeller.co.uk where we have a wide selection of used BMW M3 cars for sale
DesperateSeller.co.uk rating: 9.5 out of 10
View the car here: 2004 Bmw M3 - £16,950