A traditional recipe to be sure, but BMW wasn’t afraid to push the envelope, offering its Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) with the car. The SMG was an automated manual controlled via a ‘push-pull’ gear lever or steering column-mounted paddles which, as the name suggested, offered sequential-only shifts at a rapid pace. Superseded by today’s dual-clutch transmissions the SMG nevertheless showed the direction in which performance cars were headed. The M3’s looks matched its performance with a deep front apron, powerdome bonnet, widened wheel-arches covering 19-inch alloys, aerodynamic sideskirts and mirrors, quad exhaust tips and even a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the bootlid.
It was its engine, however, that led the character of the M3; a 3.2-litre version of the stout S54 straight-six that offered in excess of 100PS per litre, a headline achievement for a naturally aspirated engine 20 years ago. A double-VANOS system allowed it to rev smoothly to a hair under 8,000rpm, producing a spine-tingling mechanical howl, 343PS (252kW) and 365Nm (269lb ft) of torque. This was good for 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and a top speed limited to 155mph. The E46 also introduced a convertible variant of the M3 for the first time and what better way to enjoy that engine note than unmuffled by the interference of a roof. Becky Evans takes GRRC member Cedric Nixon’s daily driven M3 for a spin to assess its Future Classic status.