Five Generations of the BMW M3
This high-performance trend-setter was developed by BMW M GmbH, BMW’s in-house motorsports division. After 2015, BMW discontinued the coupe and convertible, and the M3 was only available as a sedan; the coupe and convertible were rebranded as part of the M4 line.
The M3 represents a comprehensively upgraded version of the BMW 3 Series, and it bases its improvements on those inspired by racing. The M3 engines are usually unique from those in the 3 Series and the handling, suspension, braking and body have been enhanced for superior aerodynamics, lighter weight and superior performance.
2015 - Present BMW M3 (F80 5th Generation)
For the first time, BMW reduced the M3’s weight by several hundred pounds, aided by the use of aluminum for various body panels and carbon fiber for the roof and the driveshaft.
The F80 generation was only offered as a sedan (coupe and convertible models were rebranded as the M4). The brakes were improved by replacing the side calipers with double-pistons with an optional 4-piston ceramic setup available.
This new generation was notable for its switch back to a six-cylinder engine -- as most of the earlier M3 models had used -- but a departure from the previous generation, which used a V8. The newest engine was a 425-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin turbo inline six-cylinder, and when equipped with a 7-speed M-DCT (dual-clutch) transmission, this car could do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. With the 6-speed manual, 0-60 happened in 4.1 seconds. Top speed remained 155 miles per hour.
For the 2016 model year, BMW gave the M3 a subtle update, updating the taillights to full LEDs and adding new exterior colors.
A second update occurred for the 2018 model year; BMW tweaked the design of the lower front bumper on the car.
An optional Competition Package was introduced in 2016; it raised the M3's power to 444 horsepower, retunes the suspension, adds unique 20-inch alloy wheels, an M exhaust system and lighter front seats.
2008-2013 BMW M3 (E90/92/93 4th Generation)
Launched in 2008, the E90 was the heaviest of the M3 line thus far, as well as the most luxurious.
This generation came in sedan, coupe or convertible with a power retractable hard-top. The added weight of the convertible's roof mechanism adversely affected this model’s performance. The convertible’s leather seats had a special surface which prevented seats from getting hot when the top was down. It was the only mass-market M3 to use a V8 engine, a new 414-horsepower 4.0-liter unit that was paired with a 6-speed manual transmission.
Shortly after its launch, BMW offered a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters as an option. Because the paddle shifters reduced shifting pauses, the car’s forward acceleration time was improved by two-tenths of a second over one with a manual transmission. Able to hit 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds, this car’s top speed was 155 miles per hour.
In 2011, BMW updated the car. Changes included LED taillights and minor updates to the interior.
Globally, BMW launched several unique, low-volume special-edition models of this generation M3. These included the more powerful M3 GTS, the Lime Rock Park edition (U.S.-only and limited to 200 units), the M3 CRT, the M3 Frozen Edition (unrelated to the animated film) and the UK-only M3 Limited Edition 500.
2000 - 2006 BMW M3 (E46 3rd Generation)
The E46 was offered only as a convertible or coupe, with expanded wheel arches and a hood bulge as well as a more upscale interior. A new 333-horsepower 3.2-liter M-tuned inline-six cylinder engine was introduced, which could do 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour.
The standard transmission was a 6-speed manual, but an SMG drivelogic transmission was available as an option. The drivelogic, aka SMG II, was a standard 6-speed automatic, but with a Formula-One-style electrohydraulically actuated clutch pedal. This configuration allowed a shifting speed of 0.08 seconds.
1992 - 1999 BMW M3 (E36 2nd Generation)
This was the first M3 model to use a six-cylinder engine. The models that came to the U.S. market initially had a 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline straight-six with a five-speed manual or automatic transmission (Euro-spec cars had considerably more horsepower).
The first E36 was imported to the United States in 1995. The rest of the generation (1996-1999) had a larger, 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine with the same 240-horsepower output.
This model had the same rear axle and clutch as the European model, but a different suspension. Despite gaining weight versus the earlier generation, the M3 could go from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour.
An M3 sedan was available in the U.S. starting in 1997 and a convertible joined the ranks in 1998.
1986 - 1991 BMW M3 (E30 1st Generation)
The first M3 was originally only offered as a coupe or convertible. Both featured BMW’s S14 2.3-liter inline 4-cylinder engine which initially delivered 192 horses with a catalytic converter and 197 without one.
In 1989, without a catalytic converter, power was improved to 212 horsepower. This car could go from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, with a top speed of 146 miles per hour.
While the M3 shared the same basic shell as the 3 Series, it had a dozen unique and different aerodynamic body panels the other model lacked. It also had flared wheel arches to make room for racing tires. The suspension and brakes also differed, and so did the drivetrain. The M3 E30 had a 5-speed clutch-type manual overdrive transmission.