Can it really be five years since the first F80 M3s and F82 M4s were driven? Time really does fly. But it was May 2014 when BMW unleashed its fifth generation M3 on the world, to widespread acclaim. Give journalists an M car, a sunny track and a steady supply of tyres and the verdict is probably quite easy to predict.
That said, positives did remain once the car reached the UK: its ferocious new powertrain, it front end tenacity and its retention of standard 3 Series comfort all standing out. Trouble was it sometimes felt a bit too much like any other 3 Series; combine that with a handling edge that could best be described as 'edgy' if a bump or spike of torque (or both) upset the car, and the praise was a little less unequivocal in this country.
The M3 could never be accused of being boring at least, and, as our long-term M4 test proved, there was a lot more to be learnt about it given the time. The constant and continuous improvements, through various facelifts and Competition Packages, have further ironed out the issues that were there in 2014 to create something even better. Still, if the new M3 and M4 - due at some point next year - do tame the current car's slightly wild edge, don't be surprised to see those detractors suddenly pine for the more aggressive, slightly frenzied side left behind.
Certainly this generation has made fans on PH, and it's a car that deserves to be revisited as the effects of depreciation begin to take hold. All of the series production M cars drop fairly dramatically - remember the Shed M5? Or the £6k E46 M3? So it will be interesting just where this M3 will end up. Currently its V8 predecessor seems to have bottomed out at £13k for the highest mileage cars at 10 years old, though they could go further; whether this one suffers a similar fate remains to be seen.
This M3 at £30k still has some way to fall, but it's an intriguing specimen nonetheless. As a manual, pre-facelift saloon it's one of the rarest derivatives out there (there are even fewer manual convertibles, you won't be surprised to learn), and as a result looks pleasingly old school in an increasingly tech obsessed BMW M universe. This colour spec may not be to all tastes, and its mileage is the highest of any similar M3 currently for sale, but it had to be the most affordable one somehow...
It looks rather cool from here though, the presence of a manual also making it difficult to think of suitable alternatives for everyday use. The current AMG C63 is nearly down at this money, but is automatic only, and the same goes for the Alfa Giulia Quadrifolgio. Moreover, while rumours abound of a 'Pure' manual and rear-wheel drive version of the next M3, they are unconfirmed. Given how few manuals will have been sold since 2014, and with the rivals already there, who's to bet against the M3 and M4 going automatic-only? Stranger things have happened. And imagine how much more in demand this M3 would become as the last manual.
That's only speculation, of course; even if the M3 manual does continue, this model will always be remembered (mostly fondly) as a true M car wild child. That it's rare will only add to the appeal. Just remember to keep the rear tyres fresh...
SPECIFICATION - BMW M3 (F80)
Engine: 2,979cc, straight-six twin-turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 431@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406@1,850-5,500rpm
MPG: 32.1 (NEDC combined)
Recorded mileage: 64,826
Year registered: 2015
Price new: £56,175
Price now: £30,460
See the original advert here.