BMW and straight-six engines are a decades-long association and one that arguably reached its high water mark with the E46 M3. This third generation M3 launched in 2000 to immediate acclaim thanks to a focus on lightweight construction, high revving straight-six and rear wheel drive with limited slip differential as standard.
Video: BMW E46 M3 | Future Classics
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 Superseded by today’s dual-clutch transmissions the SMG nevertheless showed the direction in which performance cars were headed.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.
Most popular from News
Join our motorsport community
Get closer to motorsport at Goodwood! Join the GRRC Fellowship to be first in the queue for event tickets, to attend the GRRC-only Members' Meeting and to enjoy year-round, exclusive benefits.