PH Fleet: BMW M3 (E90)

I've never been very good at maths. I can get by with the odd sum here and there, and I'm actually not too shabby when it comes to the numbers game on Countdown, but I'm in no way a mathematician. However, I have always considered myself to be well above average when it comes to that most special form of arithmetic; the long-celebrated PH pastime of "Man-Maths". As defined by those witty cads in the PH merchandise team, Man-Maths is "the process of making the hopelessly unaffordable seem unequivocally finically logical. See also; self-denial, head in sand, massive balloon."

However, I'd like to challenge this with my own personal definition: "the process of replacing a practical and reliable Skoda Yeti family car with a 10-year-old V8-powered super saloon. See also; fuel prices, throttle actuators, massive bills."

To summarise I was left in charge of replacing our Skoda Yeti family car and we now have an E90 M3 sitting in pride of place on our driveway. In my defense, I genuinely believe that the additional running costs associated with an E90 M3 will be nullified by the (hopefully) strong residual value. If you take a look at the values of E46, E36 and obviously E30 M3s, they're all on the up - especially where low mileage and desirable specifications are involved. Let's not forget, either, that the E90 represents what will surely be the last ever naturally aspirated M3, let alone that it features such a special motor in the form of the high revving "S65" 4.0-litre V8.

I'm no prospector, the car is no garage queen and I know we'll never get rich from an E90, but it is nice to know it shouldn't shed too much value either (if any). In terms of the car playing the practical family wagon, it does have a surprisingly large boot and so far there are no apparent compromises in using it for everyday life. I'm also at the sweet spot of parenting where my kids are old enough to not need an insane amount of paraphernalia every time we leave the house, yet also small enough to not need much leg room either. And yes, for a fleeting moment I did wonder if 911 may be possible, but not even a PhD level Man-Mathematician could have made that calculation work.

If all of this reasoning sounds well practiced, it is. Very. Anyway, I've always wanted one, I managed to convince my wife it was a good idea and I've bought it now anyway so there is no going back. Enough of this silly "justifying the purchase of a performance car" anyway; let's get into the nitty gritty of what I've actually bought.

I'd been keeping my eye on E90 values for some time, patiently waiting for the "right time" to buy the "right car". Of course, while researching them I used the excellent PH buying guide for E9* M3s, as well as the combined knowledge of PH's M Power forum. I'd concluded that I didn't really mind what colour the car was, and I wasn't precious if it was an earlier car or a facelift model, introduced in 2011 (an "LCI" in BMW fanboy parlance). I also decided that must-have options were limited to a four-door E90 (both on grounds of practicality and taste) and a manual gearbox. Nice-to-have options included a DAB radio, Harmon Kardon sound system, split folding rear seats and heated front seats, although finding a car in great condition with low mileage and comprehensive history was more important to me.

And so it was that the car we see here popped up on a saved search, and as I read more about it, chatted to the owner and took it for a test drive it became clear that it was the one. By that I mean that aside from it being a manual E90 it had more or less none of the options I had been hoping for, although it does have a DAB radio. Crucially, though, it did have the necessary service history and just 35k on the clock. It was also just on the cusp of needing an oil change, and had a few other bits and bobs that needed addressing which I factored in when negotiating. In the end a deal was done and I drove home a very happy man.

Aside from the usual rituals of new car ownership like setting radio presets, adjusting the seats and - crucially in this car, setting up my preferences on the "M" button - the first order of business was to get the car booked in for the work it needed. I was considering using a main dealer for this, but the existing service history of the car is already a mixture of main dealer and specialists, so in the end I went with Auto-Technik in Lutterworth. Not only are they a well-regarded BMW and MINI specialist, but they knew the E90 M3 and its foibles inside out. Furthermore the owner of the business, Wez, has a lifelong history with the brand and is himself a former E92 M3 owner. The fact that they are literally walking distance from my house made it an easy decision, too.

The main things that the car needed were an oil and filter change, some fresh brake fluid and a minor adjustment to the handbrake to stop it from nearly hitting the roof every time I parked the car. I also asked them to run a diagnostic check and to give the car a very thorough warts-and-all once over.

While researching E90 M3s I'd read at length about the known faults of the car which are mercifully few and far between. The most common fault is the throttle actuators, which are such a common issue that it is a case of when, not if. Fortunately, my car had them both replaced just last year, and thanks to upgraded parts they now have a lifetime warranty.

The second scarier but thankfully less common fault is a rod bearing failure. This is caused by revving the car too hard from cold; the tolerances on that special engine are so tight that the 10w-60 oil specified to cope with the engine's other characteristics can't penetrate as deeply into the rod bearings as it needs to when the engine is cold. This means anyone too keen to rev the car hard before it is up to temperature is likely to be causing serious long-term damage which will ultimately lead to a bearing failure, followed quickly by a trip to the scrap yard to try and find a new engine. The problem with this is that the rod bearings work right up until the point that they really don't work at all, and there is no easy way to check their condition with any accuracy.

However, there are a few things to do: a) ask the previous owner how carefully they warmed the car up, b) wait for the engine to catastrophically fail in spectacular fashion, c) preemptively replaced the rod bearings at a cost of around Β£1,400 or d) send off an oil sample for analysis and see if it shows an unusual amount of metal particles that indicate that the bearings are worn. In the end I went with options a) and d), although in hindsight I guess that also means I've gone with option b) too, albeit only temporarily.

Anyway, Wes and his team went over the car and, aside from a couple of minor niggles and highlighting some servicing requirements that are on the horizon (brake discs and pads for one), the car was declared a "good one" with nothing obvious being in need of any attention for now - clearly that low mileage is paying dividends.

Hopefully I'll have the results of the oil analysis back next month, but until then I must confess that as much as I'm loving driving the car, I do keep having pangs of fear that the engine might lunch itself, especially when making use of the 8,400rpm rev limit. I guess that is par for the course when you own a car like this, and I keep reassuring myself that failures are rare.

Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot the M3 at some upcoming Sunday Services. If I get my way you may well hear it coming too. More on that next time. Until then, if you're impressed by my Man-Maths and want to join me on a voyage of M3 ownership, you know where to go...

Car: 2008 BMW M3 (E90)
Bought: February 2019
Run by: James Drake
Mileage at purchase: 35,555
Mileage now: 36,237
Last month at a glance: Bought the car, drove the car, serviced the car!
Costs: Β£315 (Oil and filter service, brake fluid change, vehicle check and diagnostic test)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (69) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Esceptico 08 Mar 2019

    He missed an important point in the article - how much did he pay!

    I had a E90 M3 for just over half a year. It was okay but never didn’t like it half as much as an E46 M3 I had had a few years before. However it wasn’t really a like for like comparison as the E46 was a manual coupe and the E90 an auto convertible. I only really bought it because it was blinding value proved by selling it to a dealer for the same amount I had paid from a dealer.

  • helix402 08 Mar 2019

    Good choice. I think it looks better with the standard chrome grilles. I think the article may have been written with an American spell check. Defence not defense.

    Edited by helix402 on Friday 8th March 07:31

  • lord trumpton 08 Mar 2019

    Awesome timing- Ive just bought a low mile e92 M3 myself.

    Like you I HAD to have a manual 'box and also I wanted EDC and the later CIC I drive.

  • Nicholasavis1 08 Mar 2019

    Will be watching with interest as I've been considering one of these myself. I just need to answer the practicality question as to how much rear leg room there is... Can I get a isofix base and child seat in whilst leaving sensible space for the front passenger.

  • Shnozz 08 Mar 2019

    Esceptico said:
    He missed an important point in the article - how much did he pay!

    I had a E90 M3 for just over half a year. It was okay but never didn’t like it half as much as an E46 M3 I had had a few years before. However it wasn’t really a like for like comparison as the E46 was a manual coupe and the E90 an auto convertible. I only really bought it because it was blinding value proved by selling it to a dealer for the same amount I had paid from a dealer.
    I entirely agree with you there. Adored the E46 M3. Hugely underwhelmed by the E92 M3.

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