BMW is a company that usually prefers evolution to revolution, but once in while it takes a step that moves things on more than some of its customers expected. So it was with the arrival of the E92 M3 Coupe in September 2007 costing £50,625.
The jungle drums had already been beating the new M3 would have a V8 in place of the straight sixes of the previous two generations. Some complained the car was straying too far from its original brief of being a driver's car first and foremost and was being sucked into a power race with Audi and Mercedes.
When the E92 M3 Coupe pitched up, which was followed in 2008 by the E90 saloon and E93 Convertible versions in March and April 2008 respectively, it became immediately apparent BMW had retained all of the core M3 values and added some new ones to boot. The 4.0-litre V8 engine produced 420hp at 8,300rpm to deliver 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, putting it on a par with many contemporary supercars. Plus, the new motor weighed less than the previous six-cylinder engine, was more economical at 22.8mpg and was soon offered with a seven-speed double clutch gearbox as an alternative to the six-speed manual. The DCT 'box also cut the 0-62mph time to 4.6 seconds, while top speed remained the same at a limited 155mph.
BMW also incorporated its EfficientDynamics into the M3 with Brake Energy Regeneration to charge the battery as the car slowed or braked. Another more obvious efficiency addition was a carbon fibre roof that saved 5kg in weight over the previous M3 and also helped to lower the car's centre of gravity for improved handling.
In mid-2009, BMW launched the M3 Coupe Edition with 10mm lowered suspension, black-painted door mirrors and the option of gloss black alloy wheels. Then in March 2010, the Competition Package arrived with revised electronic dampers with Sport setting, the 10mm lowered suspension of the Edition and Dynamic Stability Control with a slightly raised intervention threshold. BMW also fitted Auto Start-stop as standard on all M3 models at this point.
Hot on the heels of the Competition Package came the M3 GTS, which had a 450hp 4.4-litre V8 motor and standard DCT gearbox to deliver 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds and a 190mph top speed. It suspension was bolted rigidly to the M3 Coupe shell, contributing to its 16mm lower front ride height and 12mm lower at the back. There were also larger front and rear brakes, increasing by 18- and 30mm respectively. Meanwhile, the body gained a new front splitter and rear wing and all GTS M3s were painted in orange.
For March 2012, BMW introduced the Limited Edition M3 Coupe and Convertible models and only 500 in total were made. Painted in red, white or blue, the Limited Editions have dark chrome exterior trim and full Novillo leather interiors.
A last hurrah for the M3 arrived in June 2012 with the UK-only M Performance Edition. It was available in red, white or blue 'Frozen' paint with black leather interior and contrasting stitching depending on the exterior colour. The Competition Package was standard for the M Performance Edition, while an Alcantara-covered steering wheel was also added.
The last E90 generation M3 Coupes still fetch up to £50,000 at present, while the earliest can now be found for £16,000. As with all M3s, it makes them one of the great performance bargains if you buy a good one.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The 3,999cc V8 engine used in all M3 models is an all-aluminium design that produces 420hp at 8,300rpm and 295lb ft of torque at 3,900rpm. BMW was very proud the engine also delivered 85% of its peak torque between 3,900rpm and its 8,400rpm red line, though this has not stopped many owners from complaining the engine can lack low-end shove for daily driving.
The engine returns an average of 22.8mpg yet drives the M3 from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds with the six-speed manual gearbox. BMW went on to add its seven-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) soon after launch and that lowered the 0-62mph time to 4.6 seconds and has proved to be the more popular gearbox choice over the course of the E90 generation M3’s life. The Convertible deals with 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds and the saloon takes 4.9 seconds with a manual gearbox, while the DCT knocks 0.2 seconds off for each of these models.
BMW produced the M3’s all-alloy V8 at its Landshut foundry in Germany alongside the Formula One engines it was then supplying to Sauber. At 202kg in weight, the V8 was 15kg lighter than the previous E46 M3’s six-cylinder engine. Helping here was a one-piece forged crankshaft that weighed just 20kg. Induction was taken care of by BMW’s double VANOS variable valve timing, individual throttle butterflies for each cylinder and four valves per cylinder.
As part of the M3’s modern take on performance, it featured BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology. This used a smart alternator that could charge the battery as the car slowed or braked to recoup energy that would otherwise be lost.
At the rear, BMW employed an M Differential LSD that could send up to 100% of all power to a single wheel depending on available traction. There are also three engine map settings available to the M3 driver, which can be selected through the iDrive control and then the preferred one stored for immediate selection with the M Drive button on the steering wheel. This function can also be used to choose the driver’s ideal settings for the suspension and steering.
It’s worth checking these settings on any car you are viewing to buy as an indicator of what sort of driver the seller is, though many M3s simply have all settings wound up to maximum with the MDrive.
More importantly, check the car had its 1,000-mile service to remove the running-in fluids. This is vital with the M3 as missing this service can lead to permanent engine damage. Even so, the M3’s V8 motor will use around 250ml of oil every 1,000 miles, so don’t be surprised at this.
Checking the engine oil level, however, is trickier as there is no dipstick on the engine and you need to use the iDrive, which is not the most accurate at gauging oil level. Some owners report oil leaks from around the cam cover gasket, but this is rare.
There have also been some incidences of the fly by wire throttle going into limp mode, which can be solved by locking the car and leaving it for 15 mins to reset, but a permanent fix are new throttle actuators that will cost around £700 plus labour at a BMW dealer.
The differential can fail if a previous owner has abused the car, particularly on track days, so listen out for any rumbles from the rear of the car. Also at the back, many owners have opted for the OEM exhaust mode to remove some sound deadening material from the rear silencer and cover the perforated holes in the pipe. This gives the exhaust note a harder edged sound without it becoming boomy. Expect to pay around £200 for this.
There was a recall in late 2008 for the DCT gearbox as the control unit could be faulty and cause the engine to stall at low speeds. Check the service history of any car built between September and October 2008.
The E9x generation M3 in saloon (E90), Coupe (E92) and Convertible (E93) form uses MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear with longitudinal and double track control arms. Although similar in design to the standard 3 Series’, the M3’s suspension incorporated a lot more aluminium to save weight, so only the lower front control arm remained from the standard model.
Standard M3 sits 15mm lower than an equivalent non-M3 3 Series model, while the Competition Package further lowers the car by 10mm. The GTS, which is a far more specialist machine, has front suspension that sits 16mm lower than a standard M3’s and 12mm lower at the back as it does away with rubber bushes to trade refinement for handling response.
BMW offered its EDC electronic damper control as a £1,295 option from new, which allows the driver to choose from Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. This can be worked separately or as part of the MDrive button that also lets the driver tailor the engine map and traction control settings.
The M3 has 360mm front discs and 350mm rears, both ventilated and operated by a single piston floating caliper. The brakes are one area where many M3 owners choose to upgrade to better pads, while braided hoses are also a sensible choice for those using their cars on plenty of track days. Bigger brake discs with four- and six-pot calipers are available for the more serious track driver, though this is a very costly route to take.
As standard, the E90 M3 came with 18-inch alloy wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport tyres in 245/40 ZR 18 front and 265/40 ZR18 rear sizes, though many new buyers opted for the 19-inch wheels for aesthetic reasons. It’s generally accepted the car rides and handles a little better on the smaller wheels, though this M3 is also credited with having a much more planted feel than the previous E46 M3 on bumpy roads.
Any car you think about buying should handle very predictably with quick reactions from the rack and pinion steering. The suspension is quite easily knocked out of line by kerbing or sustained hard use on track, so check tyre wear is even on all four corners.
The alloy wheels are diamond cut and can only be refurbished a couple of times before replacement is the wiser option. Kerbing can let water under the lacquer and lead to corrosion. BMW didn’t use run-flat tyres on the M3, but there is only a can of tyre sealant and compressor in place of a spare tyre, so make sure this is present in case of a puncture.
The E90 saloon, E92 Coupe and E93 Convertible versions of the M3 only share their doors, boot lid, glass and front and rear lights with their standard equivalents. For the drop-top Convertible, it also shares its Retractable Hard top folding roof with the standard open-top 3 Series. This was a departure for BMW from its previous fabric roofs for open 3 Series models. The roof is operated electro-hydraulically and is reliable, but it's best to check it works quickly and smoothly.
The folding metal roof adds 230kg to the kerb weight compared to the Coupe, though this was the first open M3 not to suffer scuttle shake. While all three versions share the same 2761mm wheelbase and 1804mm width, the saloon is slightly shorter overall. It measures 4580mm from tip to tail next to the Coupe and Convertible's 4615mm, with the 35mm being lost in the saloon's shorter front overhang. The Coupe also has a fractionally narrower front track at 1538mm compared to the saloon and Convertible's 1540mm.
Even so, the M3 is a compact car and its weight is kept down thanks to an aluminium bonnet that has a powerdome bulge and twin air vents to help cool the engine bay. There are also three large air intakes in the front bumper to get cool air into the radiator. A carbon fibre roof saves 5kg over a steel equivalent for the Coupe.
Corrosion shouldn't be an issue for the M3 and if you find any, it's a clear sign of poorly repaired crash damage. It is worth inspecting the bumpers, which can suffer from paint wearing through. Otherwise, the only things to look for are car park dents and stone chips to the front bumper and bonnet.
The M3’s interior is not as flamboyant as some of its rivals, but that only serves to make the BMW easier to live with and less susceptible to fads and fashion shifts. Leather seats are standard on all models and the bespoke front seats for the M3 are comfortable and supportive for day-long journeys. The Coupe also offers decent space in the rear for two passengers where some rivals struggle to accommodate adults. However, the Convertible is a little more pinched on rear seat space, so the back seats are more suited to children.
All M3s come with BMW’s iDrive controller, which was a much more sorted and easier to use system by the time the M3 was launched. It operates many functions, including satellite navigation as standard, and also lets the driver choose preferred settings to select at one press of the MDrive button on the steering wheel.
The multi-function steering wheel sits in front of a bespoke dash for the M3, which has a speedo that reads to 200mph. It also has the staged lighting system to let the driver know when the engine is fully up to working temperature.
Twin front and side airbags are included on all M3s, with curtain airbags for the saloon and Coupe. For security, there’s a Thatcham 1-approved alarm, immobiliser and remote central locking.
On the luxury side, all M3s have leather Novillo leather upholstery that can wear quickly on the driver’s seat outer bolster, which is an indication of a careless owner. Cabin quality is generally good in the M3, but it’s not quite as robust as you might expect, so a shabby interior points to a car that has had a hard life.
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