E46 BMW M3
The Ultimate Driving Machine. For more than three decades BMW’s mantra has signaled to potential buyers the cars they build are special, that they’re designed and manufactured for a discerning few. You can argue, as I do, they’ve lost their way over the last few years, pushing electronics, technology and crossover vehicles over driving dynamics and performance. Some of their recent efforts seem to have missed the target. The new 3 Series comes to mind.
But it wasn’t always this way. BMW used to be committed to drivers, and arguably no other vehicle in its now-vast lineup was more focused than the M3, especially in the E46 generation (model years 1999 to 2005). It was a surgical scalpel in a drawer full of hacksaw blades.
This was the last M3 with a proper naturally aspirated inline six under the hood. The next-generation car switched to a high-winding V8, which in all fairness absolutely rocked, but is a BMW truly a BMW if a straight six isn’t mounted ahead of the firewall? You tell me.
The engine only weighed in at 3.2-liters but it delivered absolutely heroic numbers. In the U.S. 333 horsepower was signed, sealed and delivered to the rear wheels. European models put out even more.
With an iron block, the S54 as it was internally known, revved to 8,000 RPM and broke through the coveted 100-horsepower-per-liter barrier, and it did so without any forced-induction bandages. It transformed the already lithe 3 Series coupe into a rip-snortin’ two-door rocket that could chew up and spit out unsuspecting performance vehicles. At the time these cars were so cool absolute zero seemed scalding by comparison. They were a driver’s delight and proof that BMW was committed to enthusiasts.