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1991 BMW E30 M3 Sport Evolution

154,000-mile BMW M3 Sport Evo is a hero you can actually drive

1991 BMW E30 M3 Sport Evolution

A 1991 BMW M3 with 154,000 miles on the clock is the star of Silverstone Auctions’ September sale. This modern classic has mega miles, but a flawless care record to match. And its original owner is none other than current Formula One race director, Charlie Whiting.

The E30 BMW M3 is one of the bona fide poster heroes – a homologation car first, road-racer second. The Sport Evolution is the last and most extreme iteration of the first M3. Its larger, 2.5-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine puts power to the rear wheels via a five-speed Getrag transmission, complete with limited-slip diff. This example is estimated to sell for between £75,000 and £90,000.

So what’s the story of this M3? Well, Charlie Whiting was its first owner, taking delivery in April 1991. In his care, between 1991 and 1996, the car covered a healthy 78,292 miles – what a daily! Then again, what else do you expect of one of F1’s key figures of the past 40 years? In that time, the car was fastidiously looked after, with visits to BMW Heathrow twice a year.

The next owner kept up the miles and the maintenance to go with it, adding another 42,000 over the course of three years before moving it on to a specialist dealer in 1999. It was then sold for a now scarcely believable £11,495 to another owner that would put a further 32,000 miles on, while continuing to look after it.

This isn’t a delivery-miles concours car, then. Rather, it’s one of those rare ‘unicorns’ you can buy and enjoy without paying mind to the ticking odometer. In recent years, it’s been well maintained, with age-related wear and rust cared for, so this well-heeled car is ready for more.

Being number 120 out of just 600 M3 Sport Evolutions built, it’s perhaps the best-used example in existence. A testament to the mantra that preservation doesn’t mean stagnation.

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BMW M3: a history in pictures

BMW M3: a history in pictures

BMW M3: a history in picturesFrom hard-edged homologation necessity to luxurious sports saloon, three decades and five generations have seen the BMW M3 comprehensively transformed. Yet its combination of performance and everyday usability has remained constant. We take a look back through the history and highlights of the M3.

BMW E30 DTM race carBMW M3: a history in pictures

Without racing, there would be no BMW M3. FIA Group A regulations required that 5,000 road-going examples be sold to homologate a car for competition use. BMW Motorsport picked the E30 3 Series as a basis, and set to work transforming it into a world-beating touring car racer.

1986 BMW E30 M3BMW M3: a history in pictures

First shown at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, changes to the M3 over the regular 3 Series were extensive. External additions included the substantial rear spoiler, flared wheel arches and a deep front splitter. The aerodynamic add-ons were made from plastic to reduce weight, and were combined with comprehensively updated suspension and brakes to prepare the M3 for the track.

BMW even went so far as to adjust the angle of the C-pillar and rear window for the M3. This allowed better airflow towards the rear spoiler, and also resulted in a raised boot lid. All body panels on the E30 M3 except the bonnet were unique in comparison to the standard 3 Series. Alloy wheels were just 15 inches in diameter for the first M3.

The real magic took place under the bonnet, with a special four-cylinder engine. Increased in displacement to 2.3 litres and using a cylinder head design from the M1 supercar, the M3 could rev to 6,750rpm. The first European road cars left the factory with 200hp, and were capable of 0-62mph in less than 7 seconds, plus a top speed of 146mph. A manual five-speed ‘dog-leg’ gearbox was standard, as was a limited-slip differential for the rear-wheel-drive machine.

1988 BMW E30 M3 ConvertibleBMW M3: a history in pictures

With the 3 Series Convertible proving popular during the late 1980s, an open-top version of the M3 seemed a natural step for BMW. Mechanically identical to the coupe version, the main alterations were additional stiffening to compensate for the chopped top. Suspension settings were also slightly softer, allowing for the increased weight, while the convertible did without the rear spoiler and raised boot lid.

Only 786 E30 M3 Convertibles were built between 1988 and 1991 and, like the coupes, they were left-hand-drive only. Due to the lower production numbers, the convertible was built by hand at BMW M’s Garching factory, and could be fitted with bespoke options such as a removable hard top or even a built-in fax machine and telephone.

1989 BMW E30 M3 Sport EvolutionBMW M3: a history in pictures

To keep the M3 competitive, BMW took advantage of the Evolution rules in Group A. The Evolution I appeared in 1987, sporting a revised cylinder head. In 1988, the Evolution II followed with 200hp, bigger wheels and revised spoilers. But the Sport Evolution of 1990 was the most modified, with thinner glass, lighter bodywork and unique adjustable front and rear spoilers. The engine was increased to 2.5 litres, with power upped to 238hp. Recaro seats and a suede-covered steering wheel were standard.

Sport Evolution race cars featured a mind-bending 385hp – and the process of constant development worked, with success in 17 touring car championships between 1987 and 1991. This included the British Touring Car Championship, the German DTM series and the Nürburgring 24 hours. A victory in the 1990 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship proved the E30 was capable away from the race circuit, too.

As one of the most iconic cars of the 1980s, the E30 M3 attracts plenty of attention from collectors and investors. Over 16,000 were built between 1986 and 1992, with numerous special editions and celebratory models along the way. However, the 600 Sport Evolution cars are the most desired, with prices in the UK reaching over £75,000 for the best ones.

1986 BMW E30 M3 pick-upBMW M3: a history in pictures

Built by BMW’s M division as a one-off, this special pick-up was produced using the bodyshell of a regular 3 Series convertible. First using a 2.0-litre engine with 192hp, latterly replaced with a real 2.3-litre M3 unit, the pick-up saw service transporting goods around the Garching factory for over 26 years.

1992 BMW E36 M3 CoupeBMW M3: a history in pictures

Introduced in 1990, the E36 3 Series was bigger, heavier and more luxurious than the E30 it replaced. And the M3 version, launched in 1992, faced a difficult task to replace a car that already had a cult following. More power came in the form of a six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine, producing 286hp for European customers but only 240hp for North American buyers. The 0-62mph times dropped below 6 seconds, with a top speed of 155mph.

Visually more conservative than the car it replaced, and not built purely for motorsport homologation, the E36 M3’s rear spoiler was relegated to the options list and did without flared wheelarches. There was, at least, a jutting chin spoiler and deep rear diffuser to differentiate it from the normal 3 Series. Swooping side skirts and aerodynamic wing mirrors would become M3 mainstays, and would be replicated on modified cars throughout the 1990s. For those in the UK, the biggest development came with the M3 now being available in right-hand drive.

1994 BMW E36 M3 ConvertibleBMW M3: a history in pictures

Following on two years later was a convertible version of the E36 M3, which added 100kg to the already-substantial 1,460kg kerb weight of the coupe. Pitched as more of a boulevard cruiser than a sports car, the convertible lacked the option of a rear spoiler but did gain polished versions of the 17-inch ‘M Double Spoke’ alloy wheels. Almost 6,000 E36 M3 convertibles were sold, making them far more common than the E30 version.

1994 BMW E36 M3 SaloonBMW M3: a history in pictures

In 1994, with the M5 saloon shortly to be out of production, BMW turned to the M3 to offer a four-door performance car. Intended to be slightly more refined and conservative than the coupe, the saloon variant featured softer suspension for greater comfort.

The interior of the E36 M3 Saloon also featured more luxurious features, with burr walnut wood trim covering the centre console and door handles. The leather sports seats were less shapely than those fitted to the two-door coupe version. Also unique to the four-door were ‘M Contour II’ 17-inch alloy wheels, supplied in a staggered fitment with wider rear tyres.

1995 BMW E36 M3 GTBMW M3: a history in pictures

Although the E36 M3 didn’t begin as a homologation special, this didn’t stop BMW building a special version to comply with FIA rules. All 350 limited-edition models were produced in British Racing Green, and gained bespoke adjustable front and rear spoilers. The engine was tuned to produce 295hp, while the interior featured green leather and carbon fibre trim. The UK received an allocation of 50 ‘GT Individual’ cars.

1996 BMW E36 M3 3.2-litre engineBMW M3: a history in pictures

Keen to keep the M3 competitive, and with knowledge gained from its V12 engine in the McLaren F1, BMW released an enhanced 3.2-litre six for 1996. Branded as the M3 Evolution in the UK, the extra displacement resulted in power of 321hp at 7,400rpm, along with 236lb ft of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox became standard for European cars, with the first-generation SMG (sequential manual gearbox) introduced in 1997 as an option. Performance improved, with 0-62mph taking just 5.2 seconds.

1996 BMW E36 M3 Compact conceptBMW M3: a history in pictures

Pre-empting the M135i hot hatch by some 16 years, in 1996 BMW M experimented with the M3’s 3.2-litre engine in the shortened bodyshell of the Compact hatchback. Weighing some 150kg less than the M3 coupe, but with the same 321hp, performance was said to be uncompromising and exhilarating. The cars was considered for production, with a view to targeting younger buyers, but in the end only one was built – to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the German Auto Motor und Sport magazine.

2000 BMW E46 M3 CoupeBMW M3: a history in pictures

If the E36 had struggled to live up to the E30, the E46 had the opportunity to establish itself as a truly legendary M car. BMW didn’t hold back on development, with a new S54 3.2-litre straight-six engine producing 343hp at 7,900rpm plus with 266lb ft of torque. Bodywork was again more bespoke, with widened wheelarches making a return, special side grilles, aggressive front and rear bumpers, and a bonnet with a distinctive ‘power dome’.

2000 BMW E46 M3 ConvertibleBMW M3: a history in pictures

With no saloon offered, E46 M3 buyers were limited to coupe or convertible. Both came with a six-speed manual gearbox, with the second-generation SMG auto on the options list. A special M Differential Lock helped channel power to the rear wheels, while heavily modified suspension and brakes completed the mechanical overhaul. Alloy wheels were 18-inch as standard, with polished 19-inchers a popular option.

Four exhaust tips at the rear marked the M3 out as something potent, with performance suitably improved over the E36. The 0-62mph sprint took just 5.1 seconds for the coupe, the heavier convertible needing 5.5 seconds. American buyers made do with 5hp less, a result of different catalytic converters, with a negligible effect on acceleration. Top speed was limited to 155mph.

Reflecting the march of 3 Series further upmarket, the E46 M3 gained a plusher interior. Nappa leather trim was standard, and available in a range of colours including Kiwi yellow and Cinnamon brown. Also fitted from the factory were an M-badged three-spoke steering wheel with special stitching, illuminated gear knob, and instrument dials with LED lights on the tachometer to help prevent drivers abusing the engine when cold.

2000 BMW E46 M3 Touring conceptBMW M3: a history in pictures

Faced with performance estate competitors such as the Audi RS4, BMW M commissioned a concept M3 Touring in 2000. Hidden from public knowledge until very recently, the M3 Touring proved that the special widened rear wheel arches could be combined with the estate bodyshell. Despite the engineering feasibility shown by the prototype, BMW decided against production, denying the world the chance to transport bulky things with a screaming straight-six.

2001 BMW E46 M3 GTR

BMW M3: a history in pictures

In 2001, BMW entered a rule-bending E46 M3 in the American Le Mans Series. Aware that the 3.2-litre engine lacked firepower, a bespoke racing 4.0-litre V8 engine was developed with 500hp, taking advantage of the loosely-worded ALMS regulations. After dominating the 2001 season, BMW had to offer ten road-going versions with a V8 engine. Priced at €250,000, detuned to only 380hp, and without flame-spitting side exhausts, the road car is the rarest and most expensive production M3.

2003 BMW E46 M3 CSLBMW M3: a history in pictures

Sharing a name with the 3.0 CSL homologation special from the 1970s, the M3 Coupe Sport Leichtbau (Coupe Sport Lightweight) of 2003 is regarded as the ultimate E46. Limited to less than 1,400 units, the CSL majored on saving weight. However, the enhancements went beyond shedding bulk, and created an especially focused machine, offered only with Silver Grey or Black Sapphire paintwork.

Some 10% lighter, the CSL featured a number of bespoke carbon fibre parts. The roof panel, front and rear bumpers, interior panels and centre console all featured the lightweight material. The specially reshaped boot lid was made from moulded plastic, with thinner glass for the rear window. Lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with special Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres saved more grams and were mounted over bigger brakes.

More carbon featured beneath the bonnet, with a sizeable new intake plenum forcing air into the revised engine. Producing 360hp, and fitted to an uprated SMG paddle-shift gearbox, the CSL was capable of 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds when using its ‘launch control’ feature. A steering wheel-mounted button could activate an ‘M Track Mode’ for the stability control, allowing for sideways circuit action. Top speed was limited to 155mph, but the limiter could be removed as a special option.

Inside the CSL, the removal of air conditioning and stereo system saved some 21kg. Carbon fibre was used for the backs of the Recaro bucket seats, while the rear bench could seat just two instead of three passengers. Alcantara trim was used extensively, and reduced sound deadening helped occupants hear the carbon airbox and lightened exhaust system.

2005 BMW E46 M3 CSBMW M3: a history in pictures

Following the success of the CSL, BMW offered a Competition Sport package that used bolt-on parts to enhance the regular E46 M3. Larger cross-drilled brakes, quicker steering settings, an Alcantara steering wheel with M Track Mode and distinctive 19-inch alloy wheels were all part of the deal. Interlagos Blue paint, as used on the E60 M5, was also an exclusive option.

2007 BMW E92 M3 Coupe

BMW M3: a history in pictures

Seven years after the E46 had restored the legacy of the M3, BMW launched a brand new model based on the fifth generation 3 Series. Continuing the theme of the previous E46, the M3 had a comprehensive cosmetic makeover, sharing minimal body panels with the normal 3 Series coupe. Most noticeable was a front bumper with three large openings, along with the bonnet that retained the ‘power dome’ to accommodate the new engine.

Chrome side gills featuring LED indicators were also an M3 trademark, as was the exhaust system with quad tailpipes. A carbon fibre roof panel, first seen on the E46 CSL, saved weight and lowered the car’s centre of gravity. Again, 18-inch alloy wheels came fitted from the factory, with 19-inch versions on the options list. Uprated suspension and bigger brakes completed the chassis upgrades.

The biggest change for the new M3 was the engine. Out went the six-cylinder motor, and in came a purpose-built 4.0-litre V8 that was unrelated to any existing BMW eight-cylinder engine. Capable of revving to 8,400rpm, peak power was 420hp with torque of just 295lb ft. A six-speed manual gearbox was standard, with a new seven-speed dual-clutch system also available. The latter helped the M3 hit 62mph in 4.6 seconds, with the manual car needing 0.2 seconds longer. Top speed remained a limited 155mph.

2007 BMW E90 M3 SaloonBMW M3: a history in pictures

After being dropped for the E46 M3, the four-door saloon reappeared thanks to strong demand from American and Canadian markets. That Audi produced an RS4 saloon may have also spurred BMW into creating a direct competitor. Marginally shorter, wider and taller than the coupe, the M3 saloon had subtly altered bodywork and was denied the carbon fibre roof panel.

2008 BMW E93 M3 ConvertibleBMW M3: a history in pictures

The final member of the M3 family was added in 2008, with the convertible making its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Like the regular 3 Series version, the M3 convertible was fitted with an electrically-operated folding hard-top. This may have boosted security, but it also resulted in an extra 200kg of weight, reducing the 0-62mph time by 0.5 seconds.

2010 BMW E92 M3 GTS

BMW M3: a history in pictures

With the GTS, BMW M set out to create the ultimate M3. Being capable of driving to the racetrack, competing in clubsport events and then driving home meant the GTS was hardcore to the extreme. A jutting front splitter and adjustable high-level rear spoiler marked out the circuit-based intentions of the car. A 70kg weight saving helped its track ability, too.

Modifications to the GTS were so in-depth that the 138 cars were partially built on a regular 3 Series production line, before being transported to the Garching factory for completion by hand. All but two were painted in Fibre Orange with 19-inch matte-black alloy wheels and an orange-painted rollcage, along with Recaro bucket seats and six-point racing harnesses. As with the CSL, the radio and air conditioning were moved to the options list to save weight, and carbon fibre trim was used on the dashboard.

Displacement from the V8 engine was increased to 4.4-litres, while a new titanium exhaust system and other detail changes resulted in a power output of 450hp and torque of 325lb ft. The seven-speed M-DCT paddle-shift gearbox was the only transmission available, and was recalibrated for quicker shifts. The 0-62mph time dropped to 4.4 seconds, and top speed was almost 190mph. Prices in the UK started at £115,000 – a £60,000 premium over the regular M3 coupe.

2011 BMW E90 M3 CRT

BMW M3: a history in pictures

Even rarer than the GTS, the CRT was an ultra-limited-edition M3 saloon, developed to show off the progress BMW had made with carbon fibre and preview how it would be used for the forthcoming i3 and i8. Although not as track focused as the GTS, the 67 cars still required hand-finished production at the BMW M factory, and used the same 4.4-litre engine and seven-speed M-DCT gearbox.

All cars came in matte Frozen Polar Silver paint, with exterior details picked out in striking Melbourne Red. Carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) was used for the bonnet, front lip spoiler, rear boot spoiler and the front seats. Overall weight was reduced by 70kg compared to the normal four-door M3, despite the extra equipment fitted to the CRT.

Unlike the GTS, there was no rollcage or six-point harnesses in the CRT. Instead, the four seats were part covered with bright Sakhir Orange leather with matching stitching, and the steering wheel was finished in Alcantara. A high-end audio system, front and rear parking sensors, satellite navigation and climate control were all fitted from the factory. Performance remained the same as the GTS, but the CRT undercut it on price – at ‘only’ £105,000.

2011 BMW E92 M3 pick-upBMW M3: a history in pictures

Yes indeed, history really did repeat itself in 2011 when BMW decided the trusty E30 M3 pick-up should head off into retirement. A convertible M3, with the bonus of additional chassis stiffening as standard, was used for this conversion. With the same 420hp V8 as other M3 variants, it made for rapid parts transportation. BMW also teased the public with photos of the M3 pick-up testing at the Nürburgring, but the promise of a production version was merely an elaborate April Fools’ hoax. Who says the Germans have no sense of humour?

2012 BMW E92 M3 DTM Championship EditionBMW M3: a history in pictures

After nearly 20 years away from the DTM series, BMW returned with the M3 in 2012. It proved to be rather successful, taking Bruno Spengler to the drivers’ title and also collecting the team championship. To celebrate, BMW built 54 coupes, featuring the Frozen Black paintwork used on the race machine. Large ‘M’ logos on the front wings, roof stripes and a Canadian flag in honour of Spengler also made an appearance. Inside was carbon fibre trim, with each car bearing the signature of the victorious driver.

2014 BMW F80 M3 Saloon and F82 M4 CoupeBMW M3: a history in pictures

Shockwaves ran through the M community when the decision was made to rebrand the 3 Series coupe and convertible models as the 4 Series. This followed the new trend of BMW using even numbers for coupe versions, but meant the legendary two-door M3 would no longer exist. Instead, the M3 would now be a four-door saloon, while the M4 badge would cover coupe and convertible versions.

2014 BMW F80 M3 SaloonBMW M3: a history in pictures

Despite the family split, BMW made sure the M3 retained styling enhancements that marked it out from the regular 3 Series. The front bumper was aggressively shaped, and the gills behind the front wheels served a purpose in directing airflow. Quad exhaust tailpipes and a slim Gurney spoiler on the boot rounded out the exterior changes. The bonnet still featured the distinctive power dome, and even the classic aerodynamically-shaped wing mirrors were present and correct.

Name changes were only part of the controversy with the F80 M3. A straight-six engine returned, but it featured forced induction with M TwinPower Turbo technology. BMW claimed it could still rev like the old engines, despite the turbocharging, and 431hp and 406lb-ft of torque helped silence the critics. Performance was noticeably improved, with 0-62mph taking just 4.1 seconds if the seven-speed M-DCT gearbox option was ticked. As ever, top speed is limited to 155mph, but can be raised to 174mph if requested.

Making a debut on the M3 saloon was a carbon fibre roof panel – something previously restricted to coupe versions. BMW made sure to use large amounts of the lightweight material, including for the distinctive strut brace under the bonnet, along with the propeller shaft sending power to the rear axle. The results of the dieting were an M3 and M4 that actually tipped the scales at less than their predecessors, benefitting both performance and economy.

2016 BMW F80 M3 Competition PackageBMW M3: a history in pictures

Continuous improvement doesn’t stop at BMW M GmbH, with a Competition Package offered for both M3 and M4 models in early 2016. Power was boosted to 450hp, lowering the 0-62mph time to 4.0 seconds for cars with M-DCT. Adaptive suspension comes as standard, with uprated springs and dampers, and the wheels grow in size to 20-inch multi-spokers. A sports exhaust with black chrome tailpipes adds aural bite, whilst gloss black trim replaces the usual chrome badges and grilles.

2014 BMW F82 M4 CoupeBMW M3: a history in pictures

We couldn’t rightfully leave the M4 out of this gallery. The nomenclature might have changed, but this still an M3 at heart, being mechanically identical to the four-door car. In fact, the only major difference, number of doors aside, is that the M4 features a boot lid with an integrated spoiler – just like the M3 CSL from 2003.

2016 BMW F82 M4 GTSBMW M3: a history in pictures

It would also be remiss of us to overlook the most potent M3/M4 created to date. Taking direction from the M3 GTS of 2010, and using lessons learned over 30 years, BMW launched a track-focused M4 in 2016, limited to just 700 units. With innovative water injection for the engine, power swells to 500hp and 442lb ft of torque. Carbon fibre makes an appearance throughout, helping reduce weight, while the option of a rollcage in Acid Orange is a nod to the M3 GTS. The 0-62mph dash takes just 3.8 seconds, with a 190mph top speed.

2016 BMW F80 M3 ‘30 Years’ EditionBMW M3: a history in pictures

We’ve been on a 30-year journey covering the history of the M3, so it seems fitting to end with the car BMW picked to commemorate those three decades of development. Limited to just 500 units, and finished in Macao Blue (an option on the original E30 M3), the ‘30 Years’ edition is based upon the Competition Pack car. Special ’30 Years M3’ logos appear on the side gills, the seat headrests – and even on the dashboard, with individual numbering for each car. We wonder what BMW has in store for when the M3 hits the big four-zero…

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Driving the ultimate BMW M3 – the E46 CSL. On the road in the lightweight 2003 BMW M3 CSL – does it live up to the legend?

BMW M4 Competition Pack

BMW M4 Competition Pack: Two-Minute Road Test

BMW M4 Competition PackHarder, better, faster and, er, more expensive, the Competition Pack cranks the BMW M4 up to 11. For an extra £3,000, the M4 coupe – and its M3 saloon sibling – gain 19 hp, adaptive suspension, sports seats, stylish 20-inch alloy wheels and a fruitier exhaust. Are the upgrades worth it, or is BMW simply gilding the lily?

Prices and dealsBMW dealer

At the time of writing, the M4 Competition Pack costs £60,065, or £62,560 with the DCT semi-automatic gearbox as tested. That’s about £500 more than an equivalent M3, or £3,000 less than the M4 convertible. However, we found discounts of nearly £10,000 on M4 DCTs via ‘reverse auction’ website, AutoeBid – so expect similar savings on Competition Pack cars.

What are its rivals?Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe

Until the new Audi RS5 arrives, the M4 has one major rival: the Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe. With 476 hp from its 4.0-litre V8 (or 510 hp in full-fat ‘S’ spec), the muscle-Merc trumps the M4 for outright power – and has a better soundtrack. However, the BMW is a more satisfying steer on a twisty road. You could also consider the Lexus RC F and Porsche 911 Carrera.

What engine does it use?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The BMW can’t match the C63 for cubic inches, but its 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six develops a stonking 150 hp per litre. For those who struggle with maths, that’s a grand total of 450 hp – up 19hp on the standard M4. Maximum power arrives at a heady 7,000 rpm, meaning you need to rev this engine hard to get the best from it. Note the carbon fibre strut brace to stiffen the chassis.

How fast?BMW M4 Competition Pack

You want figures? How about 0-62 mph in 4.0 seconds for the DCT version? Choose a manual gearbox and you’ll lag 0.1 seconds behind at the lights. Which serves you right for trying to save money, frankly. Either way, the M4 Competition Pack is 0.1 seconds quicker off the line than the standard car. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

Is it comfortable?BMW M4 Competition Pack

Those 20-inch machine-polished alloy wheels look fantastic, but they don’t do ride quality any favours (the regular M4 has 19s). Even in Comfort mode, you feel every ripple in the road surface. That said, the M4 doesn’t thump and bang through potholes like some sports cars. And its race-style seats are supportive and well-padded. Full marks for the M-striped seatbelts, too.

Will I enjoy driving it?BMW M4 Competition Pack

Oh yes. The M4 has faced criticism for being too soft, but the Competition Pack sharpens up its edges. It’s ferociously fast, and the chassis is a textbook example of rear-wheel-drive adjustability. Well-weighted steering and a flawless semi-automatic gearbox complete the package. Compared to the C63 AMG, you work a bit harder to experience the BMW’s ample rewards. But that’s hardly a chore, right?

Fuel economy and running costsBMW M4 Competition Pack

The most efficient non-hybrid BMW 3 Series – the 320d EfficientDynamics auto – returns fuel economy of 74.3mpg. The M4 manages less than half that, with official figures of 32.1mpg for the manual and 34.0mpg for the DCT. CO2 emissions of 194g/km mean you’ll pay £500 car tax in the first year and £270 per year thereafter.

What’s the interior like?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The interior of the 4 Series dates back to 2012. Compared with the latest Audi A4/A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the plastics seem a little cheap and the design a little dated. We can’t fault the ergonomics, though. Traditional BMW white-on-black dials and a centre console angled towards the driver were supplemented by an £825 head-up display in our test car. There’s also the excellent iDrive media system, which we’ll come to in a minute…

Is it practical?BMW M4 Competition Pack

For anyone who’s ever squeezed into the back of a Porsche 911, the M4’s two proper, adult-sized rear seats will be a revelation. It’s a little dark back there, and access is awkward behind the bulky sports seats. But if you regularly carry passengers, you could always buy the M3 saloon instead. The M4 also has a decent 445-litre boot – about the same as a Nissan Qashqai.

Tell me about the techBMW M4 Competition Pack

We rate BMW’s iDrive media system as the joint-best available, along with Audi’s MMI. Its widescreen display is mounted high on the dashboard, and the ‘clickwheel’ controller is easy to operate without taking your eyes off the road. It’s far superior to Mercedes’ Comand, and we prefer it to the various touchscreen systems available, too. Standard kit includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, DAB radio and in-car wi-fi. We’d also be tempted to splash out £675 on the premium Harmon Kardon hi-fi.

What about safety?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The closely-related BMW 3 Series scored a full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, and there’s no reason to think the M4 would be any different. All cars come with side and curtain airbags and advanced stability/traction control. Even so, with 450 horses on tap, the biggest threat to your safety (and driving licence) will be your right foot…

Which version should I go for?BMW M4 Competition Pack

The obvious question here is: should you go for the Competition Pack? We certainly would, and BMW expects 70% of buyers to follow suit. With improvements to performance, handling, noise and appearance, the Competition Pack simply makes for a better M4. And its £3,000 additional cost looks modest in the context of a £60,000 car. The only downside is the firmer ride, but we think that’s a fair trade-off for improved agility.

What’s the used alternative?BMW M3

If you don’t have £60,000 to spend on a new M4, the E46 M3 offers just as much fun – perhaps more – for a fraction of the cost. Built from 2000-2006, it’s powered by a 343 hp naturally-aspirated six redlined at 8,000 rpm. Responsive and rear-wheel drive, the E46 remains one of our favourite BMW M cars. Prices start at just £7,000, although we’d budget at least five figures for a good one.

Should I buy one?BMW M4 Competition Pack

Cards on the table, we prefer the titanic torque and aural drama of the Mercedes-AMG C63 to the subtler charms of the M4 Competition Pack. The BMW would best for a track day, but the more exciting Mercedes has the edge on the road. There’s also a BMW M2-shaped elephant in the room. Smaller, cheaper and more fun, the new M2 is our current favourite M car.

Pub factBMW M4 GTS

Even the Competition Pack enhancements don’t make this the hottest M4. That honour goes to the M4 GTS: a lightweight, 500 hp rival for the Porsche 911 GT3. With two seats, a front splitter that doesn’t do speed humps and a price tag of, ahem, £122,000, the GTS gives two fingers to everyday usability in favour of track-focused performance. One for the lottery-win garage, perhaps?

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto TraderBMW M GmbH takes credit for some of the greatest driver’s cars ever made. And while the ‘M’ stands for ‘motorsport’, these are road cars first and foremost, with a focus on accessible, affordable performance. How affordable? Surprisingly so, if you’re willing to buy second-hand. We searched the Auto Trader classifieds for our M cars of choice.

BMW M2

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

If the sight of Chris Harris hurling an M2 sideways on Top Gear has whetted your appetite, you’re not alone. BMW’s back-to-basics junior M car has earned a slew of five-star ratings from journalists – including Motoring Research.

This particular M2 has a manual gearbox (the driver’s choice, obvs) and is virtually new, having covered just 175 miles. It’s not cheap, at £52,950, but you can skip the lengthy waiting list.

BMW M3 (E30)

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Here’s the car the M2 has been compared to: the iconic E30 M3. There were no E30 M3 coupes for sale on Auto Trader at the time of writing, so we’ve picked the convertible version. Blistered wheelarches and a dog-leg gearbox mark it out as a bona fide homologation special.

The E30 is one of of the fastest-appreciating classics of recent years, which explains how this 136,000-mile convertible can be advertised for a whopping £69,925. We love the period Hartge alloy wheels, but suspect an M3 coupe would be a better investment.

BMW M3 (E46)

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

If the E30 is out of reach, consider what is now the cheapest M3: the 2000-2006 E46. Powered by a 3.2-litre straight-six that revs to 8,000rpm, it offers savage performance and superb handling. Of all the cars here, it’s the biggest bargain.

We deliberately picked an E46 in our favourite Phoenix Yellow colour. However, for the sake of comfort, we’d prefer 17-inch alloy wheels, rather than the optional 18-inchers seen here. With 110,000 miles on the clock and full service history, this car is advertised for £8,989.

BMW M3 CSL

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

How about the ultimate E46 M3? Step forward the limited-edition CSL. With 17hp more power, 110kg less weight, a stiffer chassis and retuned suspension, the CSL delivered on BMW’s promise of ‘the ultimate driving machine’.

Today, prices of CSLs far outstrip those of the regular E46 M3. The car seen here, for example, is advertised for £69,990. That said, it’s clearly lived a pampered life, with just 15,355 miles from new. Another fantastic investment – but would you dare drive it?

BMW M5 (E39)

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

From perhaps the greatest M3 to what many consider the finest M5. The E39 M5 was sold from 1998-2003 and packed a 400hp V8 inside a subtle saloon body. Despite a limited-slip differential, it isn’t averse to going sideways…

This M5 has covered 131,500 miles, but don’t let that worry you. E39s are generally reliable cars, and this one – advertised at £9,500 – comes with full service history. That’s awful lot of metal, not to mention performance, for your money.

BMW M5 (E60)

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Got a bit more cash to spend? Good, then you’ll want an E60 M5. The successor to the E39 was on sale from 2005-2010 and is a car utterly dominated by its howling 507hp V10 engine. However, maintenance costs are high and many dislike the SMG semi-automatic gearbox.

If you’re going to take the plunge with an E60, you’ll want a reliable one. That means buying one of the best available – like this 36,500-mile car advertised for a not-inconsiderable £23,995. Then again, that’s still less than a new Golf GTI…

BMW M5 Touring

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

No, your eyes do not deceive you – this really is an M estate car. The E60 Touring is much rarer than the saloon, with just 1,025 built – versus 19,564 for the four-door. A feral V10 AND the ability to carry an Ikea Billy bookcase? Talk about having your cake…

The Touring’s relative rarity means prices are higher than the equivalent saloon. This 2007 example has covered 67,500 miles and is advertised for £23,995. It’s fully loaded and comes with comprehensive service history, but we’d still recommend a professional inspection before you buy.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

The M6 Gran Coupe is another rare-groove M car that offers plenty of pace and space, particularly for passengers. Its beautiful design makes BMW’s flagship 7 series look dull and frumpy, but it’s certainly not cheap – at around £95,000 if you buy new.

Indeed, the ad states this sleek black Gran Coupe cost ‘over £100,000 new’. Which makes its £49,995 asking price, with a modest 22,500 miles on the clock, look rather good value. An equipment list longer than your arm includes carbon fibre interior trim, soft-close doors and a surround-view parking camera.

BMW Z3 M Coupe

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto TraderThe Z3 M Coupe is the black sheep of the M family, with controversial styling and hooligan handling. It packs a 244hp straight six into a three-door ‘shooting brake’ estate body. Later, post-2001 cars had 325hp. A slow-seller when new, the M Coupe is now a sought-after classic.

This imported, left-hand-drive M Coupe has just over 50,000 miles on the clock and is advertised for £22,990. The Darka Yellow paint won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we think it suits the extrovert character of the hot Z3. Another M car that is appreciating fast.

BMW Z4 M Coupe

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

The Z3 M Coupe was followed by this – a car with less divisive looks, but equally punchy performance. A 343hp in-line six gives 0-62mph in 5.0sec and a top speed limited to 155mph. Interestingly, BMW has never made an M version of its successor, the current (E89) Z4.

Rarity and a reputation for being fun to drive mean Z4 M values have stayed strong. This 2006 car has covered 54,000 miles and is advertised on Auto Trader for £17,489. A red leather interior is a nod to German sports cars of old. Or maybe a tribute to TOWIE, depending on your point of view.

BMW Z4 M Roadster

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

We haven’t forgotten the open-top version of the Z4 M either. In fact, we think the once-controversial, Chris-Bangle-penned lines of this roadster look better with every passing year. A range of petrol engines was available, from a 150hp 2.0 upwards. But the brawny Z4 M is the one we really want.

This 2006 Z4 looks fantastic on 19-inch alloy wheels, and the vendor promises it ‘sounds superb’, too. It’s offered at £12,495 with 85,000 miles on the clock. This, or a Lotus Elise with less than half the power?

BMW M4 Convertible

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Staying with drop-top M cars, here’s the latest M4 convertible. With 425hp coursing through its rear tyres, it’ll hit 62mph in 4.3sec (4.6sec with a manual ’box) and blow-dry your hair faster than, well, a hairdryer. The M4 isn’t the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to handling, so the convertible version makes sense. It’s a cruiser AND a bruiser…

The M4 was only launched in 2014, so it’s still a relatively pricey used buy. This 2015 car has covered 4,000 miles and is offered for £54,994 – a useful saving after all the extra-cost options, such as memory seats, a reversing camera and BMW Professional navigation, are taken into account. What do you mean you don’t like white with red leather?

BMW M3 Convertible (E36)

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

The E36 M3 Convertible is a more affordable way into an open-top M car, particularly as most enthusiasts prefer the coupe or saloon. Like the latest M4, it’s a slightly softer take on the M formula, with a muscular six-cylinder engine and plenty of standard kit.

Many E36 cabrios fell into the wrong hands and the car developed a bit of an image problem. Fortunately, it’s now being recognised as a credible classic. This later Evo model has covered 68,042 miles and is advertised for £12,925 – about a quarter of what you’d pay for a new M4.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Oooof – now we’re talking. The 1 Series M Coupe is another car frequently mentioned in the same breath as the new M2. Launched in 2011, only 6,309 examples of this 340hp turbocharged terror were built. Savage performance and balletic handling meant it immediately took its place among the M car greats.

The 1 Series M Coupe (often referred to simply as the ‘1M’) is famous for being completely depreciation-proof. It cost £40,000 when new and here, five years later and with 18,750 miles on the clock, is a Valencia Orange example for £47,950. Five years of fun and a tidy profit? Sounds like win-win.

BMW M135i

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Officially, the M135i isn’t a ‘proper’ M car. Still, who can argue with the idea of a six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive hot hatch? Especially when said hatch packs 326hp and hits 62mph in 5.1sec. The latest Ford Focus RS may have stolen its crown, but the BMW still offers plenty of driver appeal.

The M135i is also looking conspicuously good value – as a brief browse of Auto Trader reveals. This 2013 car costs less than half the £32,000 BMW asks for a new M140i – the upgraded, 2016 version of the M135i. It also has a manual gearbox, although we’d be equally happy with the excellent – and more common – paddle-shift automatic.

BMW X5M

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto TraderBMW purists, look away now: this is about to get controversial. In 2009, M division turned its attention to an SUV for the first time. And while car journalists wrung their hands in distress, many buyers loved the idea of a hot X5 to take on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. The original X5M seen here had 555hp. The latest version has 575hp.

Described in the ad as a ‘sports activity vehicle’, this X5M certainly looks the part, with bright Monte Carlo Blue paint and 20-inch alloy wheels. Not sure how family-friendly a white leather interior is, though. A 2010 car with 45,440 miles on the clock, it’s listed on Auto Trader at £27,850.

BMW X6M

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

If you thought THAT was controversial, prepare to spit out your tea. The X6M is a coupe, SUV and M car rolled into one. Some will question the point of shoehorning a 555hp V8 into something that weighs 2.3 tonnes, but others rate the X6’s high driving position and in-yer-face styling. You pays your money…

How much money are we talking? Well, unlike some M cars, the X6 certainly isn’t depreciation-proof. This car would have cost nearly £90,000 when new in 2011, but is now advertised for a third of that price. The Melbourne Red paint suits it, we think.

Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

BMW has never built a diesel M car, so the D3 Bi-Turbo fills that void. It hits 60mph in a brisk 6.9sec, yet returns official fuel economy of 50.4mpg. No petrol-engined M gets close to that. If you cover a lot of motorway miles, the rare and subtly cool Alpina makes a lot of sense.

This D3 looks fab on trad-Alpina multi-spoke alloys, and also features a rare, suede-wrapped Alpina steering wheel. The odometer reads 79,304 miles, but its condition is described as ‘excellent’. If we found £11,950 down the back of the sofa, we’d be tempted.

BMW Z8

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Most famous for its role in James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, the Z8 isn’t an M car either. However, it is one of the fastest and most desirable BMWs ever made, which qualifies it for a place here. It borrows its 400hp V8 from the E39 M5 and cost £80,000 when new.

You’ll struggle to find a Z8 for £80,000 now, though. This lovely 2002 example has covered just 7,200 miles and is priced at £199,995. Welcome to the world of investment-grade classic cars. We love the Z8’s styling, which is heavily influenced by the classic 507 roadster, but its chintzy retro interior is perhaps a step too far.

BMW i8

20 awesome BMW M cars to buy on Auto Trader

Bang-up-to-date with the BMW i8, another car that would almost certainly wear an M badge if it wasn’t the flag-bearer for BMW’s new electric ‘i’ sub-brand. The Z8 sprints to 62mph in 4.4sec and returns an official 134.5mpg. Oh, and it looks like the Batmobile. What’s not to like?

There’s no such thing as a cheap i8 – the cheapest example on Auto Trader at the time of writing was £75,000. That’s still a useful saving over the car’s £105,000 new price, though. And just think how much money you’ll save on fuel…

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