Contender: E46 BMW M3

The Alfa is now up for sale and (as anyone who knows me could have predicted) another car has popped up on my radar for use as our road-trip car later this year.

Current contenders are the Porsche Boxster S and the Alfa Romeo Brera. I’ve got a few more to explore, too, but while I was trawling through brands in the classifieds yesterday, I decided to have a peek at the BMW M3 – and I liked what I saw.

The model I’d be interested in is the E46 that was sold in Australia from 2001 to 2007. I didn’t think this would be in my price range and to be honest, it’ll be a bit of a stretch, but E46 M3’s are getting to the point of regular-guy affordability.

It’s fair to say that I haven’t been the roundel’s biggest fan over the years. It was pretty easy to pooh-pooh BMWs and a lot of that was because they were driven most conspicuously by absolute wankers. That’s still the case in some instances, but many of the most objectionable idiots are moving to Audi as their leases expire.

The second reason BMW were so un-likeable was because the company was touted as some sort of automotive deity. Magazines were falling over themselves to heap praise on just about anything originating from Munich. It’s not surprising then, that BMW have spent the last decade creating niches that no-one knew they needed – they believed they could do no wrong. Take one look at the X6 and you’ll agree that counseling would have been a better option.

So some of BMW’s reputation is confected and some of it is deserved. I think the M3 falls into the latter category. In fact, I think the M3 has provided so much reflected glory that it made some rather awkward and unpalatable vehicles into must-haves and the good news for me is that an M3, from everything that I read, has earned every plaudit its ever received (and then some).

The E46 has now slipped well into $30-$40K territory and whilst that’s more than I planned on spending for anything other than a 911, it might well be worth it for an M3. I don’t think there’s another car out there that can combine the M3’s power, handling, appointments and design.

Yes, I think the E46 BMW M3 is a good looking car. There. I said it.

If I can find a good one that hasn’t been modified or thrashed then I reckon the strength of the M3 badge would hold me in good stead, financially speaking. A portion of M3 owners bought the car for performance reasons. Another portion bought it for prestige. I want to find a prestige buyer – someone who bought the name because they could. If they’ve maintained the car according to schedule then I have a theory they’ll be ripe for under-selling an outstanding piece of engineering at a value price.

The E46 BMW M3 comes with BMW’s famous inline 6-cylinder producing near enough to 340hp (252kW) and a very healthy 365Nm of torque. Most of the E46 M3’s sold in Australia were equipped with the sequential manual gearbox (SMG) that’s been variously referred to as a technological marvel and/or a nightmare. That’s a point for investigation. There are also a few six-speed manuals out there to provide some peace of mind.

Those mechanicals are loaded into the M3’s pin-sharp chassis with near perfect weight distribution. There are all sorts of driving modes to choose from in order to get the best setup for the conditions and that’s one of the M3’s real party tricks: it’s equally at home whether out on the highway, in traffic or out on the track.

For us, one of the main goals is to get a modern highway cruiser that’ll do the job nicely for our planned holiday up the east coast of Australia. Given that I’ll be driving, the choice of car is almost as much a part of the holiday as the choice of beaches we’ll stop at. I’ll own the car as my daily driver for a year or two as well, so it’s got to have some major fun-factor appeal, too.

If I could find one with this color combination, manual gearbox and a price in the mid $30K region, I’d be mighty tempted. This one’s an SMG with 88,000kms on it and it’s currently for sale for just under $38K.

The M3 seems to tick all the boxes. All I’ve got to do now is get over my historical prejudices and do the sums. The house that M built looks like one that I could live in for some time.

Gosh, it’s even got me saying stupid things now.


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  1. I’ve driven one, and it is a very good car. The main issue that I have with it, other than the fact that it’s not a 12-month car in Canada, is that you need to go at least twice the speed limit to fully appreciate it. It’s so fast that you can only give it full throttle for a few seconds at a time. That could be frustrating (not for me, I only drove it for 10 minutes).

    Interestingly, I found that the 911 can be enjoyed at lower speeds. The traction out of slow corners is addictive.

    Looks like you have a few fun and educational test drives to look forward to.

    1. That all makes a lot of sense.

      Time in my mate’s 964 in Sweden gave me an addiction to that low speed fun you mention there. If I were to go for a 911, though, my budget would probably top out at an 80’s model Carrera or SC. I’d love it, but I wonder how comfortable it’ll be for Mrs Swade when it comes to the road trip.

      I’d still like to try this BMW option out, if only to cross it off the list with a (big) smile.

  2. I am a big fan of the E46, among other BMWs. I think it is far superior to both the preceding and subsequent 3 series platforms. I had one in the UK and I still miss it now. I cannot comment on the M specifically. Touching on yesterday’s post, I think BMW were always and possibly will always, be better than Audis. Their durability is better, the interiors keep better and the drive is more fun. Audi’s current success is smoke and mirrors to me and has a lot to do with keeping up with the neighbours, rather than anything particularly better about the cars. Hence the flight of the former stereotyped Beemer pilots to Audi.

    Have a look at the Petrolicious YouTube feed for their clip of the BMW collector. Another great film.

    1. Funny how reliability can work differently in different markets. Here’s an example:

      Early-mid 1990s Supra Turbos have an online reputation for being “bullet proof,” and apparently they are for some people. Here in Canada, they were one of Toyota’s worst cars. It wasn’t uncommon for cars to have multiple engine swaps under warranty, and they disappeared shortly after those warranties ran out. They re-appeared like cicadas 15 years later, this time in RHD JDM form. Next thing you know, they are gone again. The culprit was piston slap, soon followed by catastrophic bottom-end failure.
      I don’t doubt that these cars work as advertised in other locales. They apparently can be boosted to 1000HP and run for years with nothing more than an occasional oil change. There’s something about Canadian conditions that doesn’t agree with them. It could be our gasoline, or oil circulation during cold starts, or a number of other things.

      I am intrigued, but not surprised, to read that BMW have a reputation for durability in the UK. That’s not the case here (relative to other German brands). I wonder if brand reputations are different again in Tasmania.

  3. I, too, am coming around on the BMW because they are becoming more affordable and less ostentatious, and partly because I’m getting older and, frankly, I care much less about what others think.

    However, I’m holding out for a E24 coupe if I can afford one. Of course, even better would be a 3.0 CSi, but that’s way too much money.