The 2000-06 BMW M3, also known as the E46 M3, is arguably BMW’s last analog “Ultimate Driving Machine,” while its clean proportions and understated styling make it one of the best-looking cars of the decade. The automotive press and enthusiasts alike gushed about it when it was new and years later it is still a highly impressive car. It’s no wonder, then, that it has become a highly sought after modern collectible, just like the E30 (1986-91) M3 that came before it.
Although BMW introduced the E46-generation 3-Series for 1998, it took another couple of years for the M3 to debut, and upon introduction in the US it carried an MSRP of $45,400 for the coupe and $53,400 for the convertible.
The M3’s S54 twin-cam straight-six features six individual throttle bodies, drive-by-wire, and BMW’s VANOS variable valve timing system. With 333hp on tap, an E46 M3 is good for 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds and a 13.1-second quarter-mile at 107 mph. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, although eliminating engine controls could put 170 mph in reach. Car & Driver reported that the M3 pulled .87g on the skidpad and took 161 feet from 70 mph to a standstill.
The M3 sits wider and lower than the normal E46 3-Series, with flared fenders and a more aggressive front bumper and air dam. Vents behind the front wheels carried M3 badges while the rear bumper had cutouts for four exhaust pipes and LED taillights were fitted from 2003. Buyers could choose from a crisp 6-speed Getrag manual gearbox, or the less-popular 6-speed clutchless SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox).
The E46 preceded iDrive and features M Sport seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with multicolored stitching. Premium Package accessories included navigation, a Harman/Kardon stereo ($675) separately, xenon headlights ($500), 19-inch alloy wheels, and heated seats. Other options included Cold Weather Package ($700), Luxury Package ($3,100), Adjustable Width Seats ($500) and CD player ($200). Base E46 330i models could also be fitted with some performance elements as part of the ZHP package. It is not an M3 designation.
The M3 Competition Package was available in 2005 even as the E90 V-8 M3 was being developed. A $4000 option, it included M Track mode for the Dynamic Stability Control, bigger brakes and quicker steering. The Sport button on the center console altered the ratio of pedal-to-throttle opening, while the bigger brakes were the first cross-drilled discs offered on a BMW production car. Sadly, the hardcore lightweight European CSL package with its carbon-fiber roof, minimal interior and wild 360 bhp engine wasn’t available here.
There were 15 M-specific colors available, in addition to some special orders, reportedly for $1500. Standard colors included Alpine White, Titan Silver, Topaz Blue, Steel Grey, Imola Red, Carbon Black, Silverstone Grey, Oxford Green, Phoenix Yellow, Laguna Seca Blue, Black Sapphire, Jet Black 2, Mystic Blue, Silver Grey, and Interlagos Blue.
A total of 85,766 E46 M3 Coupes and convertibles were sold; 56,133 Coupes and 29,633 Convertibles. Just as with Porsches, colors can have a lot to do with prices, both in terms of attractiveness and rarity. Interior combinations can also have a significant effect on desirability and value. And, in despite the old saying that “when the top goes down, the price goes up,” E46 M3 coupes are more desirable and more expensive than their drop-top siblings.