The Thrill of Owning – BMW M3 E46

As mentioned in my post from last week, some of the cars intended for this section saw a price increase so steep before the time of writing that they disqualified themselves on the premises of being both great drives and sound investments. One of these was the wonderful BMW M3 CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau, a legendary name originally featured on the 70’s 3.0 CSL), a lightweight version of the E46 M3 built in 2003-2004, with more power, lots of carbon and various other weight-saving measures compared to the original car. If a year ago you could still find a low-mileage version of the CSL for around EUR 50.000, be expected to pay around double that today.

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Interestingly however the “regular” M3 E46 has not seen the same price explosion and remains a very fine car – many would even call it one of the best M3’s ever. Built between 2000 and 2006 (the convertible from 2001) it features the legendary BMW 3.2-liter straight-six engine that here produces 343 hp (106 hp/l) with a tone that gets more Pavarotti-like the higher you rev it towards the 8000 rpm limiter. Still 80% of the max torque is available from 2000 rpm, and that’s actually quite good, since even if the tone towards rev limiter is increasingly intoxicating, just below the limiter the engine pistons travel at 20 m/s (yep, that’s meters per second). As the disclaimer on French alcohol advertising used to say, “à consommer avec modération”…

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The E46 M3 was available both as a manual and with the second generation semi-automatic SMG box. The latter cost an extra 3.000 EUR new but does not command a premium today as it has been known over the years to be slightly problematic and prone to more or less serious breakdowns. Given BMW are quite good at building manual boxes that is a good alternative. One of the most popular after-sale improvements include reducing the gearshift travel of the manual box, making it even more dynamic and reinforcing the case for a manual even further.

In terms of looks, gone was the discretion of the predecessor, the M3 E36, which was hard to distinguish from a regular 3-series. The E46 M3 looks fat, standing on its 18″ or 19″-inch wheels under the slightly (roughly 4 cm) larger body, with the lateral air intakes and the four end pipes. To round it off, this is obviously the car that featured the Powerdome, which was not an onboard computer game but rather the slight elevation of the central part of the hood. This had absolutely no practical function at all given the engine fitted under the regular bonnet without problems, but it both sounds and looks cool, and all in all the package is highly attractive!

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Both the convertible and the coupé with less than 80.000 kms can today be had for around EUR 30.000, which is nothing short of a bargain, also considering the price increase the M3 CSL has seen in the last year. As always the convertible weighs more (here around 150 kg) and is less rigid than the coupé, on the other hand it allows you to enjoy the engine tone singing out of the rear pipe better, so it’s rather the usage of the car (and the climate where you live) that should decide whether you need a roof or not. A manual will also probably be less prone to surprises than an SMG box. Ultimately however given the limited number of low-mileage, original cars available, the individual condition and service book are what really counts, as is the fact that it is an original, non-“improved” car. The powerdome is in all cases included for free!

 

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