I recently had the chance to drive a BMW M3 — and not just any M3, but a really well-kept E92 M3, which was the craziest M3 that ever existed. Why am I suggesting that this is the craziest M3, and not the more powerful one that came later? Because this was the time that BMW put a naturally aspirated V8 engine into the M3 — something that’s sure to never happen again.
First, a little history lesson: The M3 came out with the E30 model back in the 1980s, and at the time it had a 4-cylinder engine. Later, BMW added a 6-cylinder to the E36 model, and the E46 that came later also had a 6-cylinder enginer. It seemed inevitable that the M3 would continue on as a 6-cylinder vehicle forever, even as its chief rival, the AMG-powered Mercedes-Benz C-Class, offered a V8. But then, in the late 2000s, they did it.
This was the one time BMW could get away with it. Before emissions and fuel economy regulations pushed everyone into turbocharging, there was this one window where automakers could just stick big, naturally aspirated engines in everything. And they did: The M5 and M6 got V10 engines, and the M3 got a V8.
The V8 was a 4.0-liter unit and it touted 414 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, the latter really only accessible at high engine revs. As a result, this era of the M3 didn’t quite have the low-end grunt that you had in the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG — but that didn’t mean it couldn’t move. You could get the M3 with a manual transmission or a dual-clutch automatic, and its 0-to-60 mph time was in the low four-second range, which was huge for a car like the M3 in its day.
I’ve always admired the E92 M3 for its crazy V8 power, and I was fortunate to spend the day with the best version of the car: the M3 Competition, which featured a lowered suspension, unique wheels and a revised stability control designed to improve handling. The M3 Competition that I drove featured a manual transmission, which was the icing on the cake, as many of these came with automatics.
So what did I think? In a word, it was wonderful. The lack of low-end torque bothered me when this car was new, but now I love the relatively bold and linear power delivery, compared to the somewhat patchy-accelerating M4. Admittedly, the M3’s power delivery isn’t as linear that of as some larger V8s — the C63 AMG among them — but it’s smoother than many modern turbos are.
I also love the size of the E92 M3 — and even though some journalists decried the M3 for being too big at the time, the subsequent M4 proved that the E92 was actually fairly reasonable, even though it seemed like a large car. Then again, maybe we’ll be saying that about the M4 someday.
Another benefit of the E92 M3 is, of course, its manual transmission, though I’ve always felt that this car — and other BMW models from this era — could’ve used a little improvement in the shift action. The clutch pedal is too tightly sprung, and the gear lever is a bit too notchy. Given that Porsche exists, BMW should’ve just copied what it did, and it’s disappointing that the E92 M3 suffers from this flaw.
Otherwise, though, I like the E92 M3 — especially compared to what came later, as I’ve never been a fan of the larger and far less precise M4. The E92 M3 marked the final evolution of the original M3 ethos — the manual-transmissioned, fun-to-drive, luxury-as-a-second-priority, sporty version of the BMW 3 Series. It’s a great car, and it’s highly exciting. Find a BMW M3 for sale