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A DRIVING MACHINE FOR AGES.A DRIVING MACHINE FOR AGES.

A DRIVING MACHINE FOR AGES.

6 min reading time

The BMW M3 E46.

Is the M3 from 2007 the most beautiful or most successful BMW M3 ever? We’ll sort this out once and for all.

3 September 2020

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.

E46 BMW M3 Coupé Interlagos Blue Metallic rear view.E46 BMW M3 Coupé Interlagos Blue Metallic rear view.

AN M3 FOR THE MILLENNIUM.

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.

5 POWERFUL FACTS:

  • Third generation of the BMW M3
  • Production period: 2000 to 2006
  • In-line 6-cylinder engine with high speed concept
  • Max. output: 343 - 360 hp
  • Option for automated manual transmission (SMG)

TIMELESS DESIGN, POWERFUL PROPORTIONS.

An M automobile never lacks for clear distinguishing features. As with the iconic M3 E30, the M3 E46 is immediately recognisable as the premium model in its series thanks to numerous details. In particular, aesthetic changes such as widened fenders, special side skirts and the modified front apron catch the eye of every observer. These changes also serve an important purpose, mostly in terms of aerodynamics. This also applies to the so-called Gurney flap at the rear: the small spoiler lip noticeably reduces lift and thus improves to traction – crucial in faster corners.

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.

85,00085,000

85,000

85,000 is the number of BMW M3 E46s sold during its production run from 2000 and 2006 – the most successful BMW M high-performance model to date.

FACELIFT IN 2003.

Tail lights of the E46 BMW M3 Coupé Facelift from 2003.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.

PURE EMOTION.

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

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.

NO EXCUSES. MOVE FORWARDS. ALWAYS.

FULL TRACTION WITH SENSITIVITY.

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.

RACING FEELING IN EVERY CORNER.

E46 BMW M3 Coupé Phoenix YellowE46 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.

The BMW M3 CSL.

LEGENDARY LIGHTWEIGHT SPORTS COUPÉ.

360 hp

powers the BMW M3 CSL's redesigned engine, allowing the high performance coupé to sprint to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds.

LORD OF THE RING.

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.

Interior of the BMW E 46 M3 CSL.Interior of the BMW E 46 M3 CSL.

3.85 kg/hp

The BMW M3 CSL’s outstanding power to weight ratio.
FORERUNNER.

FORERUNNER.

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.

LEADING ON ROADS AND TRACKS.

V8-POWER.

BMW M3 E46 GTR and GTR SreetBMW M3 E46 GTR and GTR Sreet

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.

BMW M3 TOURING CONCEPT.BMW M3 TOURING CONCEPT.

BMW M3 TOURING CONCEPT.

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.

TIMELESS DYNAMICS.TIMELESS DYNAMICS.
TIMELESS DYNAMICS.TIMELESS DYNAMICS.

TIMELESS DYNAMICS.

The E46 BMW M3.

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