BMW, as you might have heard, has produced its last ever fourth-gen M3 coupe, which brings a close to the M3 coupe line. From here on out, all BMWs wearing the M3 badge will be sedans. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
How does one memorialize the M3 coupe? Well, I could tell you all about the 4.0-liter V8 with 90-degree cylinder banks that powered the fourth-gen M3. Or I could regale you with technical details of the specially designed 4.4-liter version of the M3 engine that made a whopping 450 horsepower for the special edition clubsport M3. Perhaps we could instead even delve into the BMW M3 CRT (Carbon Racing Technology), which featured carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) bits with an aramid honeycomb structure for lightness and strength.
That, I feel, wouldn’t be totally fitting. It would be extremely German of me, digging through the tech bits that made the M3 a majestic road car, to ignore the intangible essence of the car. To so many, however, the M3 was the pinnacle of German sports coupes; it was a living, breathing thing full of emotion and German magic. And to encapsulate the essence of the M3 coupe, I need to divulge one of its deepest, darkest secrets: the BMW M3 was a sports car built for adulterers.
I don’t mean that flippantly, either. As my ex-girlfriend once insightfully pointed out that family men purchase M5s while self-absorbed two-timers buy M3s.
The theory holds up under scrutiny, too. The M3 Coupe was small, light, fast, good looking and – presumably just like an affair – it had the power to reignite the spark inside the driver and remind you what it felt like to be alive.
So why has the M3 coupe been sent out to pasture?
Because BMW has reshuffled its lineup. the 1 Series becomes the 2. The 3 Series will be sedan-only and the former 3 coupe becomes the 4 Series. Above that, the lineup remains the same with notable addition of a reincarnated 8 Series down the line at some time.
Say what you will of the BMW shakeup but the thought of the last-ever M3 coupe rolling off the assembly line has made me strangely wistful. Despite what it might say about my romantic reliability, I have had a long-term love affair with the M3 coupe.
The Bavarian breed began back in 1986 with the E30 M3. Unlike other M3s that followed, the E30 M3 was designed with racing in mind. Differing from the standard 3 Series, the first M3 had special body panels for aerodynamics, an upgraded suspension, a distinct manual transmission, bigger brakes, and – of course – the 192 horsepower 2.3-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder. It would be the first and – so far – only M3 to feature a four-cylinder engine.
Following the E30 was the E36, which made huge departures from the precedent set by the E30. The E36, which went on sale as a 1993 model year, featured a normally aspirated inline six-cylinder engine, which produced 240 horsepower. From there, BMW got a bit wacky with the E36 M3. While the E30 was all racing business, the E36 was more of a playboy. In spite of its dressed-up demeanor, the E36 could still make a 0-60 run in 5.4 seconds. With the E36, BMW offered – for the first time – both sedan and convertible variants of the M3 alongside the coupe and also the first with an automatic transmission. The E36, to me, indicated that BMW realized most M3 buyers didn’t want a racecar but instead simply wanted a luxury car that could act like a racecar.
Next we have the E46, which was the first M3 I ever drove and will always remain as perhaps ‘the’ M3 in my mind. The E46 M3 was a bit of a return to normality for the M3. While it did offer a convertible alongside the coupe, the sedan was axed. The automatic transmission of the E36 was replaced with a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (SMG) along side the six-speed manual. The 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder now pumped out 333 horsepower, which would propel the E46 to 60 from a dead standstill in 4.8 seconds. The E46 M3 looked the most grownup of the M3s to date. It had an air of modesty and I’ve always respected it for that.
Finally, we come to the E92, which now stands as the fourth and final version of the M3 coupe. This was the car I was fortunate enough to drive on the Laguna Seca racetrack last summer alongside the F10 M5. Astonishingly, while the E92 M3 was the eldest of the group, it was absolutely the best. The M3 coupe was raw, twitchy, and had a sort of unbridled passion for being a car that few other vehicles I’ve ever driven have embodied. It made you scared for your life but also very happy to be living it at the same exact moment.
This brings me back to my theory about the M3 being a car for philanderers, for two-timers, for cheats. Surely, some of you will agree while others will balk or take offense to the notion. I want to assure you, though, I mean it in the best possible way.
Cars are what we make them to be. The M3, for example, was fanciful and distinguished. It was also, however, dangerous and potentially damaging. It is this sort of dangerous flamboyance that I believe attracts adulterers.
The M5 will do you just fine for years and years to come, giving you as many thrills as it will opportunities to take your children to the dentist. Is it as exciting as sexy as the M3? Not by a long shot. Ultimately, though, no one needs an affair just like no one needs an M3.
As wildly impractical and unnecessary as it might be, I am going to really miss it.