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Friday 29th June 2012

PH buying guide: BMW M3 (E46)

A proper M3 for hatchback money? Now is the time to pounce



If ever a car defined all that is right about BMW's M Division, it's the M3. The E46 M3 was the third generation of this compact, high performance model and it struck M gold with its balance of power, performance and usability.

Introduced in October 2000, the E46 developed the M3 theme with an improved and uprated version of the 3.2-litre straight-six engine. It developed 343hp, giving it one of the highest specific outputs of any naturally aspirated engines in the world at its launch. North American-bound M3s were saddled with a detuned engine producing 333hp, but we'll concentrate on Euro-spec models in this guide.

Hardcore CSL is the ultimate purist's M3
Hardcore CSL is the ultimate purist's M3
A six-speed manual gearbox was the only option for the E46 M3, but BMW offered it with SMG (sequential manual gearbox) to do away with the clutch pedal, but not the clutch. BMW also introduced a Convertible version of the M3 in February 2001.

The ultimate M3 arrived in May 2003 with the CSL (Coupe Sport Leichtbau). It shed 110kg over the standard M3 Coupe by ditching luxuries such as electrically adjusted leather seats, air conditioning, satellite navigation and the stereo system. As its suggests, the CSL was a more hardcore machine with unique 19-inch Y-spoke alloy wheels fitted with near slick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres that made the car a handful in the wet. Because of this, BMW asked CSL buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they understood the nature of the tyres.

With an extra 17hp, plus a carbon fibre roof, front spoiler and rear diffuser, the CSL notched up 0-62mph in a claimed 4.5 seconds compared to the standard M3 Coupe's 5.1 seconds. The reality is the CSL managed this sprint in 4.5 seconds in contemporary magazine road tests and the standard car was good for 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds in the hands of an aggressive road tester. Both the manual and SMG transmissions delivered the same acceleration figures, while top speed was pegged to 155mph, though again reality showed 160mph was more usual.

CSL influenced CS is perhaps the best balance
CSL influenced CS is perhaps the best balance
A last hurrah M3 CS in 2005 took the wheels, brakes, steering wheel, quicker steering rack and uprated traction control of the CSL and married them to an otherwise standard M3 Coupe. The big difference with the CS was it could be bought with the standard six-speed manual gearbox rather than the SMG 'box that was the only choice in the CSL.

Production of the E46 M3 came to a halt in August 2006 when the last of the Convertibles rolled down the Regensburg line. The very last M3s now command as much as £20,000, while early cars can be had for as little as £6,000, which makes the M3 just as much of a bargain now as was when new.

Production figures
M3 Coupe 54,750
M3 Convertible 29,633
M3 CSL 1,383 (includes 29 pre-production examples)


Owner's view:
"I was specifically after a car to be used as daily transport and after looking at a multitude if 'sporting' cars I settled on the E46 M3 as that seemed to tick all the relevant boxes. The car obviously undertakes normal 3 Series duties such as four seats, decent boot, etc but has that uncanny ability to step up and reward when you want a bit of fun and something to excite."
NotNormal


Buying Guide contents
Introduction
Powertrain
Rolling Chassis
Body
Interior
Search E46 M3s in the PH classifieds now

   

 

alisdairsuttie
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Author Discussion

Dan Trent

Original Poster:

1,019 posts

55 months

PH Editor Bloke

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
And in case you need any further encouragement Mr Harris has been over to see the guys at YouTube Drive and discusses at some length why we should all go out and buy an E46 M3 in a conversation framed 'Is technology making cars worse?'

See here!

Millsy Esq

5 posts

46 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Nice article. I think these are fantastic all-rounders. I'm currently averaging 27.1mpg in mine too - mainly on a commute with some more spirited use here and there. I sometimes wonder what my next car would be and fancy a 911, but they're more money, more expensive to run and less practical. I'm not sure there's a better daily performance car out there (snowy days aside!).

leon9191

715 posts

80 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Dont the rear sub-frames crack quite abit? Didnt spot that in ur guide, also no mention of service and running costs, little service is circa £600 and a major £1000. Pretty important for a guide to mention that sort of thing surely?

aizvara

1,738 posts

54 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
I'd love one. I wish they'd made a four-door variant.

I will have to either find an Alpina B3 or get the E39 M5 instead.



Oh, and leon9191; they did mention the boot floor cracking.

9000rpm

39 posts

115 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
The boot floor is a big issue with these cars but it’s hardly mentioned or detailed.

Something this big should be identified in a buyers guide showing exactly what to look for and how much it costs to fix.

I think there are some very unlucky people out there buying M3's without any clue about the issue then finding out and the horrific cost to fix it so just selling it on....

I was interesting in an M3 till I googled the 'M3 boot floor cracking' and found pictures of buckled and cracked boots.

if you find one that has not cracked it doesn't mean it's Ok as it could start cracking at any time and then rapidly get worse.

If I was still looking I would want one that’s been fixed with a stronger rear sub frame / boot at a BMW dealership correctly.

I read there are quite a few botched repairs out there that are only temporarily fixing the issue


Edited by 9000rpm on Friday 29th June 11:41

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BBS-LM

3,842 posts

111 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
The E46, one of my all time favourite cars.

housen

658 posts

79 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
9000rpm said:
The boot floor is a big issue with these cars but it’s hardly mentioned or detailed.

Something this big should be identified in a buyers guide showing exactly what to look for and how much it costs to fix.

I think there are some very unlucky people out there buying M3's without any clue about the issue then finding out and the horrific cost to fix it so just selling it on....

I was interesting in an M3 till I googled the 'M3 boot floor cracking' and found pictures of buckled and cracked boots.

if you find one that has not cracked it doesn't mean it's Ok as it could start cracking at any time and then rapidly get worse.

If I was still looking I would want one that’s been fixed with a stronger rear sub frame / boot at a BMW dealership correctly.

I read there are quite a few botched repairs out there that are only temporarily fixing the issue


Edited by 9000rpm on Friday 29th June 11:41
how do i check sub frame

darnt look at mine after this scarey story

its like checking your bks haha

adybird

7 posts

36 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
I have been looking at these for a while now I am still un sure though (running costs and horror stories ) are putting me off but as they say you only live once . Either gonna be an m3 or S4

E30M3SE

7,757 posts

83 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
housen said:
how do i check sub frame

darnt look at mine after this scarey story

its like checking your bks haha
Checking it properly requires a ramp and a knowledgeable person that know where to look and what to look for. If there are any cracks and the car is under 10 years old, standard, ie no slammed on coilovers wearing 22" rims, has no evidence of rear end crash damage them BMW will repair it under 'goodwill' although some dealers will deny this point blank.


If you car 'creaks' under load, accelerating/hard cornering from the rear passenger side then you may have an issue in this area.... although hairline crack will not necessarily 'creak'.

Current maindealer service prices, indies should be cheaper.

Cheib

9,217 posts

62 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Great cars...drove "my" dealers demonstrator the day it hit the road in 2001....placed the order the second I pulled up from the test drive...had to wait a year to actually get mine. Brilliant car and will buy one again one day.

Anyone know where LL02 FBN is ?!?!


SpunkyM

193 posts

131 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Here's something for all you E46 M3 drivers that will put a new lease of life into your car....

Drive it with the rear seats down. Oh, the noise.. I mean it's like 300000% better!!!! Trust me, try it!

bruciebonuz

196 posts

102 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
I bought a low mileage 2002 M3 for £9k about a year ago. Vanos went quickly after buying it (s@ds law) - £800. Aside from that, its been ok....until the diff recently started making a "wup wup wup" noise when turning right at low speeds - so that needs looking into but doesnt sound like its uncommon and may be down to the diff oil. Had the subframe checked at BMW Bodyshop in Hitchin, Herts - very helpful and all was ok (for now...) Did I know about all these potential problems when I bought it....er no (blissful ignorance). Am I glad I bought it...er yes. Even if it kangaroos alarmingly sometimes when cold it still goes like a train, fits 3 kids in and has a big boot. Did I mention the clutch has started to judder.....

At the end of the day its a high performance car and that means ££££. But also big smiles (130mph down the straight at Bedford Autodrome with an instructor shouting "dont brake, dont brake, right BRAKE HARD NOW!").

loomx

324 posts

112 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
SpunkyM said:
Here's something for all you E46 M3 drivers that will put a new lease of life into your car....

Drive it with the rear seats down. Oh, the noise.. I mean it's like 300000% better!!!! Trust me, try it!
Haha, I used to do exactly this in my B5 S4, sounds nuts with the rear seats down.

9000rpm

39 posts

115 months

[news] 
Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
housen said:
how do i check sub frame

darnt look at mine after this scarey story

its like checking your bks haha
http://forums.m3cutters.co.uk/showthread.php?s=0b9fe60da3b042ecd2fd092068eefac3&t=11011&page=2

this shows some photos of what to look for in the boot area.

9000rpm

39 posts

115 months

[news] 
Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
loomx said:
Haha, I used to do exactly this in my B5 S4, sounds nuts with the rear seats down.
I've also heard that putting your rear seats down saves weight and makes your car faster :-) but lets not go there!

fastgerman

924 posts

82 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Millsy Esq said:
Nice article. I think these are fantastic all-rounders. I'm currently averaging 27.1mpg in mine too - mainly on a commute with some more spirited use here and there. I sometimes wonder what my next car would be and fancy a 911, but they're more money, more expensive to run and less practical. I'm not sure there's a better daily performance car out there (snowy days aside!).
I've had 2 x E46 M3's - a coupe on Schnitzer suspension and a standard convertible, both manuals. I now have a 997 C2S.
Insurance, tax, mot and fuel have been very similar but the M3 had something expensive every 6 months for 3-4 years. Brakes all round were £1k at an indie, rear springs snapped twice, clutch, wishbones etc. I was averaging £2.5k per year on service and maintenance. Purchased 911 in Sept, only needs servicing every two years and no costs yet. Both were/are 7 years old in my ownership.

911 cost double though.

arkenphel

284 posts

92 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
E30M3SE said:
housen said:
how do i check sub frame

darnt look at mine after this scarey story

its like checking your bks haha
Checking it properly requires a ramp and a knowledgeable person that know where to look and what to look for. If there are any cracks...
My first though on reading this was...JESUS, HOW BIG ARE HIS bkS? laugh

VinceFox

19,236 posts

59 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
uch a shame about the cracking problem on these. it's pretty much scared me off them in favour of keeping my e36 instead. i know they can fail too, but it seems far less common.

Iain351w

6 posts

29 months

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Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Agree with some on here - as 'guides' go its pretty thin on useful insights and tips for buying used - especially at the lower end of the scale where they are at their most appealing!
How about SMG nightmares, and low speed shunting when cold?
Could try harder on this one PH...
Iain

SpunkyM

193 posts

131 months

[news] 
Friday 29th June 2012 quote quote all
Rear springs breaking are also VERY common but they are easy to change as DIY and cost about £90 from BMW with 2 yr part warranty so nothing to really be too concerned about.
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