BMW Facts

M3 Through the Ages: An Overview of the BMW M3 by Generation

There’s a reason the name BMW is synonymous with luxury. Every series of BMW sports car has been designed for eye-catching appeal, great drive, and performance. They are tried and proven high-quality vehicles. If you are talking about BMW in terms of iconic sports cars, though, chances are what you’re really talking about is an M3 series.

Back in the mid-80’s, the release of the BMW E30 M3 changed the game of the automotive industry. It was designed for power, grace and high-performance, shattering old perceptions of what a 3-Series engine was capable of. Since then, the M3 has been through five generational evolutions; each bigger, faster and stronger than the last. A quick look through all five generations shows us why the M3 is still the last word in iconic, performance-driven sports cars.

Curious to see how the M3 generations stack up against each other? Check out this list of BMW M3 0 – 60 times to see get an idea of each car’s performance.

E30 M3

This little sports car was the one that changed it all. With a 192 horsepower engine, a light body and a classic look, the E30 M3 is a race car in a sports car’s façade. This first generation of M3 is still rated one of the top performance vehicles on the road. If you are in the market for a vintage racer, nothing can quite top an E30; they’re worth a pretty penny these days, but you pay for what you get. While its power and acceleration might be matched by a more standard 3-series today, it drives like nothing else out there. Powerful, agile, iconic; the E30 is a true classic.

E36 M3

Produced from ’92 – ’99, the E36 was a whole new generation of car. It has almost nothing in common with the E30, aside from the M3 title. It is heavier, with a bigger, 3-liter engine and 240 horsepower. Despite the extra pounds, it still gets 0 – 60 almost a second faster than the E30. This is a luxury sports car, for high performance and easy driving; it’s even possible to get it in an automatic. As for its looks – it may not have the spunky charm of the E30, but the E36 is still a classic BM3

E46 M3

The next generation took the M3 into the new millennium. The early 2000’s saw an M3 that was bigger, gentler and far more comfortable. Not that the E46 is lacking in power – 333 horsepower kicked out of a 3.2-liter inline engine, to be exact. The interior of the car was refined for luxury, the size of the body brought up a notch. Today, the E46 is a little higher-maintenance than other M3 models, but it looks and drives great, and – let’s face it – is still going to out perform anything of its same year and price range.

E90 – 93 M3

2007 through 2013 churned out the heaviest, boldest and fastest M3 model yet. The E90, E92 and E93 are top-notch, luxury sports cars. 414 horsepower, a 6-speed manual transmission and lightening-fast acceleration, this generation of M3 is all power and flash. This model was a far stretch from the little E30. Though still iconic and an undeniably great car, some people say the E90 falls short on some points compared to older generations of M3. What it gained in bulk and power, it lost in precision and agility.

F80 M3

That brings us up to speed with the BMW F80 M3. This generation took a step back toward the old days. Though still ridiculously high-performance (425 horsepower), the F80 is a little lighter, and more like the older generations with its 6-cylindar inline engine. It looks great, it runs great, it feels great – it has all the appeal of a luxury sports car, and on the lower end of luxury sports car price range, compared to competitive models.

It would be impossible to pit all generations of M3 against each other. Of course, within generations there are certain models that top others in certain areas, but when you get right down to it, any M3 is a top of the line sports car for its time period. And, like a fine wine, they are all only getting better with time – the vintage models have a quality all their own.

That said, if you are interested in seeing the generations of M3 series pitted against one another, have a look at few YouTube videos between many different generations of M3. It is pretty fun to watch if you have a lot of time to burn. It’s a good display of how well the vintage E30 still performs, not to mention the sheer power of the modern F80.

All-in-all, there isn’t a series of sports car out there that stands up to the M3 series in terms of quality through the generations.