Imagine all of us living in a perfect world, where schools would teach the alphabet using cars. And the M3 E46 could be found at the letter B as BMW, at the M for M3 just like P as Performance car. If you think I’m exaggerating stop to think about that stupid gizmo to add to the configuration of your new diesel hatchback and ram yourself in search for an E46 in mint condition, with a decent mileage and a great desire to get away from the cold floor of a showroom.
You’d only need a few minutes for falling in love with it, just the time that the lights on the tachometer turn off completely, ensuring that the temperatures of the liquid have reached the right point to unleash one of the most exciting six-cylinder in the world.
Those days – just a couple – in which I have had the good fortune to live with that brick of history for every self-respecting sports driving manual, I think I have squandered the savings of a couple of months in petrol. I even had lunch at fast foods not to miss a single minute of that its roar, whenever the tachometer needle was competing with that of the speedometer. I was grabbing the steering wheel, with my eyes running from the instruments and the center of the road, that moment by moment was getting smaller, blurry and was leaving behind everything quickly, as if you were driving a supercar and not a simple 2-door BMW. Yes, because with the exception of the tailpipes – two at both ends of the back – wider wheel arches and a more muscular bonnet, the M3 E46 could easily be confused with a 330.
But a careful eye would never commit this error, especially if the creature in question has the engine running and is ready to unleash its anger on the poor rear tires, sacrificial victims of a tool that creates an uncontrollable addiction.
Once behind the wheel, the dashboard is familiar to each model of the brand ranging the early 2000, but it is the 343hp 3.2 that makes the difference. In fact, being combined with a 6-speed manual gearbox (an automatic with paddles behind the steering wheel was provided too), is capable of making you drive this M3 in diametrically opposite manners. Be gentle with the throttle and it will be a perfect traveling carriage, able to grind kilometers without the slightest effort. Be abrupt and a long struggle for supremacy begins, where the pleasure of widen the tail will be satisfied by a nearly perfect chassis, characteristic that has sanctified it as the “ultimate performance car”. Tell me about performance and I still feel go- osebumps thinking back at that few hundred meters tunnel, where I threw up a gear after the other and the rock walls seemed to crash on us.
A terrible noise, a sound somewhere between a metal scream and the searing wail of a mythological creature, even more diabolical thanks to the sports exhaust fitted on the model I drove those fantastic days.
It’s the perfect recipe of how a car should be. Seemingly simple, with aluminum panels to contain the overall weight at 1470kg, traction at the rear, a precise manual gearbox and the rev limiter at about 8,000 rpm (yes, point the eye on the red line – it is worth a thousand words) and then you will shoot fireworks as if it were the last day of the year. No other M3 is so phenomenal, so pure and voluptuous in knowing how to offer everything you’re looking for in a performance car.
The 343hp are among the best episodes and the point that left me amazed the most is the constant progression with which that naturally aspirated 6-cylinder gives life to a dance that once taken the right intimacy becomes a real drug you cant escape from until ending up to the very end of the tires.
You’ll have to make a pact with your bank manager for being able to afford a supply of tires and petrol, enough for living with the E46 M3 more than a couple of months and driving it as God commands. Even taking it out for a cruise, on an afternoon like any other, with no intention to bring down the foundations of planet Earth, you will keep that evil confidence of needing a single moment to mix the cards on the table and find yourself in the midst of a cloud of smoke that smells of Michelin Pilot Super Sport. Both me and you know how it should turn out, especially since you sadly know that this baby has to come back to the dealer a few days later. Secure re-evaluation!
1986 – 2016: 30 years have passed since the first M3 in history was born when BMW decided to break the rules of a flat and grey market. BMW Motorsport GmbH invented the M3 badge, as simple as sharp, preceded by three colored stripes in light blue/blue/red as if to indicate the non-membership of the aforementioned grey market. No other manufacturer had ever ventured so far turning a family sedan as the 3 Series in a car of such high performance. It was a success that continues today and I was lucky enough to ride the wave of that success too.
My success has the appearance of an M3 in contrasting colors. It’s a bit as if the color contrast between the classical silver exterior and bright coral red of the interior was the symbol of the two souls of the M3. Bluntly that’s what struck me most while driving/ piloting the M3: a supercar so cutting edge in performance, as at ease in city traffic.
All my city. Driving the M3 on city streets is special: it is as if I had a “city car” of 420 hp with which going to the supermarket, to the tennis court for a game, make a trip to the theater or just make the classic home-office commute. They are tasks that for the M3 are no exception at all, but it develops them with a certain nonchalance showing all of its versatility. Try to do the same things with other supercars with the same performance: how many of them would succeed in this?
Then I leave behind the city in a snap. By selecting the multiple steering parameters, EDC suspension and DSC moving the bar of performance a bit ‘higher and making controls less strict. There is no traffic on the road now awaken by the pungent and sportier mood of the M3: from a “comfort zone” I step to an area that is starting to give me some thrills.
The engine sound becomes more scratchy and seeing the needle of the rev counter go up faster makes me realize that something has changed. For the better. In a moment I do not regret the glorious 343hp 6-cylinder of the previous generation: this revolutionary V8, the first on an M3, is so full of itself that the city also makes me forget the gear I am using, while just outside the city streets it begins to paw the ground like a maniac. I wonder once again how it is possible to combine two so deeply different souls in one engine and … in one machine!
Addressing a hilly road with an M3 is like having a blank sheet to be drawn with a black marker: the edges are there but the lines to be traced within the white field are something I’m gonna decide by myself.
The smooth steering I used in town gives way to a harder, more direct one, the full-bodied and smooth power delivery gives way to a fuller and angry one and the dark and full of mutterings sound vanishes in favor of real explosions that follow spewing from the classic four tailpipes. Result: tires are screeching and clinging at every square centimeter of the asphalt asking for mercy while the angry soul that comes out above 4,000 rpm seems not caring about it. And I really do not mind at all, me too.
The racing track is its kingdom. There is no other place where you can let out the most violent soul of the M3.
The recipe is too simple: just press the little M button on the steering wheel to remove any inhibition (in you) or control (of the M3) as if you will. Until now it was me testing the M3 in the most varied conditions, now she is testing me. And “she” is not accidental. The 4 and a half seconds for the 0-100 kph and the 10 seconds circa to catapult it up to 200 kph are standard business when I realize I still have a shopping bag in the trunk and the tennis racquet on the rear seat. Its the same car as the day before, but yesterday was an angel, and today is a devil.
Each corner is a test: the back is not ashamed to go very easily towards the outside and forces in unison fast movements of arms and right foot. Its like a bull that does not want to be tamed by its bullfighter and starts going mad. It lets me play with the steering wheel, precise and communicative, it almost gives security and pushes me to look more and more for the limit. Lap after lap it seems that I am getting used to the nastiness of the M3 and its way of dealing with thrilling speed. Its unthinkably fast. And the amazing part is that this is the same four doors that I used the day before going to the grocery store.
Its amazing that it is so similar to the 3 Series Coupe from which it takes origin, but with which only shares 20% of common parts. Its a car with two very different souls that live together until one outweighs the other depending on the result that the driver wants to get.
The M3 rests in the box. I look at it and think back to the past two days. In my thoughts I am interrupted by one of the sports driving instructors: “You were right to choose the 18” wheels. They help you feel better the car. Leave bigger wheels to those who want to park the M3 out of a bar only to show off!” Wise advice, but after being on track I can safely go back to town and have an aperitif at the bar: after all, the M3 is so enjoyable and fits well everywhere.