BMW M3 Generations


A driving machine for the ages.

The BMW M3 E46.A driving machine for the ages.

Shortly after the turn of the millennium, a third generation BMW M3 entered the automotive world: the BMW M3 E46. What followed was the continuation of an unprecedented success story that started in 1986 with the purist M3 E30 and was reinforced in 1992 by the progressive M3 E36. M3 enthusiasts associate three characteristics with the E46 factory code: pure driving pleasure, beguiling sound and a legendary special model.

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  • 01 Third generation of the BMW M3
  • 02 Production period: 2000 to 2006
  • 03 In-line 6-cylinder engine with high speed concept
  • 04 Max. output: 343 - 360 hp
  • 05 Option for automated manual transmission (SMG)
E46 BMW M3 Coupé Interlagos Blue Metallic front view
E46 BMW M3 Coupé Interlagos Blue Metallic rear view


The BMW M3 E46 Coupé took the hearts of real sports car fans by storm when it launched in 2000. With a low weight construction and the high-rev concept of its inline 6-cylinder engine, for many it embodied a return to the virtues of the iconic BMW M3 E30. The following year, a convertible followed, combining a sporty experience and the luxury of open-top driving in an unprecedented way.

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E46 BMW M3 Convertible Laguna Seca Blue
E46 BMW M3 Convertible Laguna Seca Blue
E46 BMW M3 Convertible Laguna Seca Blue

From a side profile, the E46 M3‘s chrome-plated gills in the upper part of the front fender are a standout feature. These were originally designed as an air duct for cooling the engine. During testing, however, it turned out that the ducts were not necessary. Nevertheless, they remained – and became such an iconic highlight that their appeal extended beyond just fans of BMW M. Not to be missed are the special side mirrors, which are aerodynamically-shaped to cut through the air. The so-called powerdome, the clearly recognizable curvature of the bonnet, created space for the engine’s powerful intake system. The design of the hood left no doubt that there was a real powerhouse hidden under it.

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Tail lights of the E46 BMW M3 Coupé Facelift from 2003


Just like the conventional E46, the M3 also underwent a model upgrade in 2003. In view of the extraordinarily positive response to the previous model, BMW M proceeded very cautiously. Only minor changes, such as the rear lights gaving way to a more modern version with LEDs, were made.


In-line 6-cylinder Engine of the E46 BMW M3 Coupé

The BMW M3 E46 Engine.


Outstanding performance is provided by the typical BMW M Series 6-cylinder engine. The 3.2-litre S54B32 engine built on the legacy of its predecessor. Nevertheless, it was an almost entirely new development. It is regarded as the pioneer of BMW’s now well-established high-rev concept, where its only time for the next gear at just under 8,000 revolutions.

This emotional and racing-inspired combination helped the M3 to 343 hp peak power (252 kW) and 365 Nm torque – and at the same time to eight wins at the prestigious ‘Engine of the Year’ awards. A cornerstone of this successful concept: for optimum smoothness with maximum performance in various engine speed ranges, the engineers opted for a double-VANOS system.

The striking front apron ensures that water and oil always remain in the right temperature window and that full engine power is available at all times. In addition, it enables the cooling of the car’s powerful brake system. With its generous openings, the apron also gives the M3 E46 an unmistakably bold visual character.

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BMW M3 E36


Visually unobtrusive, a milestone in terms of performance: for the first time with an in-line 6-cylinder engine and 286 hp, the 1992 second-generation BMW M3 was a real statement - to motorsport and to the competition.
BMW M3 E92


E92 Coupé, E93 Convertible and E90 Sedan: the BMW M3 from 2007 not only had three variants, but for the first time also offered a V8 engine derived directly from motorsport.


A limited slip differential on the drive axle was, of course, also standard from the start. The variable lock of the transfer case provides the car with a locking effect of up to 100 percent in different conditions for outstanding traction from the corners – and not least allows for spectacular drifts.

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E46 BMW M3 Coupé Phoenix Yellow


The striking widened fenders was initially intended to make room for the extra track width in conjunction with a larger contact area of the now wider tyres. The equally elaborate and powerful chassis further contributes to the performance of this high-performance athlete. All in all, these measures resulted in significantly higher cornering speeds than in the conventional BMW 3 Series E46.



CSL: three letters that give every M3 enthusiast goose bumps. The BMW M3 CSL is considered the icon and crowning achievement of the third M3 series. With it, in 2003, BMW M consistently achieved everything that the top echelons of the motorsport world had to offer and once again lifted the M3 to a new level. The engineers at BMW M helped do this by making the already well-honed production vehicle an impressive 110 kilos (1,385 kg) lighter.

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E46 BMW M3 CSL Silver Grey
E46 BMW M3 CSL Silver Grey
E46 BMW M3 CSL Silver Grey


With lap times of well under eight minutes on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit, the BMW M3 CSL advanced into areas that were previously dominated by much more powerful vehicles in the early 2000s.

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E46 BMW M3 CSL racing seats
E46 BMW M3 CSL SMG gear lever
E46 BMW M3 CSL in-line 6-cylinder engine


The outstanding power-to-weight ratio of the BMW M3 CSL was made possible by the consistent use of lightweight materials. Composite materials found in motorsport were used in the rear diffuser, front apron, intake and some parts of the interior. In addition, the bonnet was made of aluminum and the rear window of special thin glass. Optional semi-slick sports tyres underscored the racing appeal of the model at its market launch in 2003. However, the highlight can be found above the heads of its occupants: the M3 CSL was the first M model with a visible carbon fibre roof – a feature that has since become an integral part of the BMW M repertoire.

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E46 BMW M3 GTR on racetrack


The third generation BMW M3 achieved motorsport fame primarily through the legendary BMW M3 GTR Race. From the beginning, mighty fender extensions and a huge rear wing were the unmistakably distinguishing marks of this uncompromising vehicle. The thoroughbred racing car first caused a sensation in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) 2001, securing BMW Motorsport titles in the driver, constructor and team championships. Later, it was able to prove itself at legendary events such as the traditional 24-hour races of the Nürburgring and Spa-Francochamps – and picked up where it left off at the end of 2001. Two double victories in 2004 and 2005 at the Nürburgring Classic were proof of this.

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For the 2001 season, the regulations for the GT class of the American Le Mans Series required manufacturers to have a freely available and fully road-legal counterpart. BMW M followed suit and produced a small series of ten BMW M3 GTR Street cars. This version was almost as ferocious as its track-going sibling. The 4.0-litre V8 with a 90-degree cylinder bank angle largely matched the P60B40 engine of the racing version, which had a power output of well over 450 hp. In spite of the strict framework conditions for noise and exhaust emissions, the V8 still delivered more than 350 hp in the street-legal version. In fact, even the smallest detail showed that the extremely limited edition M3 GTR remained as close as possible to the racing car’s dynamics. That included the removal of comfort equipment, while the roof, front and rear aprons as well as the mighty rear wing were made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, just as in the circuit model. Only then was the impressive curb weight of just 1,350 kg possible.

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E46 BMW M3 GTR and GTR Street

As with the original, the additional gills in the bonnet of the BMW M3 GTR Street ensure that the high-performance engine does not get too hot.


BMW M3 E46 Touring Concept

Startling feasibility study.


Largely unnoticed by the bright headlights that the coupé and convertible bathed over the years, the engineers and designers of BMW M worked on a spacious M3 in wagon form. The BMW M3 Touring even made it onto the road – if only for testing purposes. In the end, the ambitious project never went into series production. And yet this unique model was able to show how much of a motorsport experience BMW M could inject into a supposed family car.


The sixth generation BMW M3 and the second generation BMW M4 are poised for launch. Experience exclusive content and get a first look at BMW M’s latest high-performance vehicles right now.  

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E46 BMW M3 Coupé in Interlagos Blue Metallic


The E46 BMW M3.


The E46 BMW M3.