Cold Start: We Should All Just Be Buying E93 M3s By The Dozen


Four hundred and fourteen. It was a number imprinted in every car-person’s mind in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when the 4.0-liter V8 in BMW’s very first eight cylinder M3 sent 8,400 revs though one of the greatest dual-clutch automatic transmissions ever made, decimating any car with a price tag under six figures. “The Worlds Greatest All Around Car” Motor Trend called it. “BMW M3 Borders on Perfection” wrote Car and Driver. They weren’t kidding. 

Good morning Autopians. Today The Autopian has off for the holiday, but I figure I’d say hello to you from Boston, where I’m hanging out with my mom (who flew in from Germany) and brother (who flew from Charlottesville) to watch my other brother graduate from MIT on one day and Harvard the next. “Dude, do you think I could get an MBA from HBS while simultaneously doing my Ph.D program at MIT?” I remember him asking me. “It’ll be difficult schedule-wise, but after class at Harvard I’ll hop on my bike and pedal across the Charles River to the Sloan Automotive Lab. I bet I could pull it off.”

The dude is an absolute nutbag to think that was even possible, but that’s Ian. He basically YOLOs everything; he always goes for broke.

What kind of car does a zany engineering nerd like him drive? Does he buy something fancy like lots of Harvard folks do? Does he go for something sensible like a straight-laced engineer might? No, he buys a 2011 BMW M3. In Ian’s mind, this thing is a timeless machine that represents the very pinnacle of design from the Bavarian automaker for whom he once interned in Munich. He loves this car, and the passion with which he talks about it is palpable.

Obviously, my taste differs quite a bit from Ian’s. I like janky old Jeeps with price tags ideally in the three-figure range. But Ian just gave me a ride in his 11 year-old “E93” (that’s the hardtop convertible) M3 after I got off my plane from Detroit, and I have to say: I totally get it. I cannot believe a car this old feels this new, and I don’t just mean from a styling and interior quality standpoint (it helps that BMW has remained a bit…bland interior-wise throughout the years), I mean in terms of performance. This machine rips, and the sound it makes! My god!

The E9x BMW M3 is comfortable around town but an absolute menace as soon as that tach rises to the sky. It is a special moment in time before emissions regulations killed the NA V8.

And while I know that none of this is particularly profound, as many have extolled the virtues of this vehicle through the years, I figured I’d tell you about my first experience in an E93 M3, because it really left an impression. What a machine.

*Note: Yes, a few E46 M3s came with a V8. But most were straight six cars.

[Editor’s Note: If you do want to buy an E9x M3, be sure to have around $5,000 set aside for addressing common faults. The S65 V8s in these cars have a reputation for prematurely-worn rod bearings and broken throttle actuators. If either of those scare you, it’s a lot cheaper to add the special suspension arms from an M3 onto a 328i than it is to make an M3 bulletproof. -TH]

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31 Responses

  1. So I used to rock an E46 M3 6MT and it was great. Aside from the interior that literally fell apart, and the two catalytic converters that failed (twice!), and the dead pixels, etc. Anyway the drivetrain was great, I missed it a little, so I went to look at a E92… I found it to be uncomfortable, chintzy feeling, and underwhelming to drive. To each their own I guess.

    1. It seems like the brother has….
      A: Better taste in vehicles.
      B: The willingness and prepared to spend the $ to keep a cool car running rather than the endless circle of rusty sadness that David makes his living on. (Editors note: While I appreciate that DT writes cool stuff about his janky stuff, if he and JT want to make this an ongoing concern, DT might consider spending more time at the keyboard and less time in the junkyard. P2E)

  2. The e93 is ideal: IMO the V8 e9x sounds and drives notably better than the e60 m5 / e64 m6, is generally a step up from the E46, and the convertible allows you to really immerse yourself in the sweet, sweet tune of the S65 engine. The beauty of the DCT is excellent icing on an already fantastic cake.

  3. Enjoy our fair city, as the Car Talk boys would say. Beautiful weather the past few days. We can’t count on many days like this in a season.

    I hope you’re in town long enough for your brother to talk you out of your rusty automotive masochistic death spiral.

  4. Having had a bunch of 3-series, I liked the E46 better than the E90 versions and everything after E90 is just terrible due to the switch to electric assist steering from hydraulic assist (maybe fixed by now??). Both the E46 and E90 were truly the ultimate driving machines, simply the best of the best.

    I would get the top of the line inline-6 version instead of the M3 because the inline-6 is what BMW does best and is likely to be easier to service and more reliable. My 2011 335i was super fast anyways (I think BMW reported a slower 0-60 time than the thing could actually do, that car was FAST). The 335i will get much better gas mileage also, which is better for the environment. If you do invest in an E46 you will want to replace all the suspension bushings and probably the dampers, the last one I rode in was… not as good as new.

    I do wonder how many rims your brother has wrecked on our Boston area potholes, I am mentally blocking all the rims I have had to replace due to the stupid low-profile tires (yes, I made a positive return on the $1,000+ BMW tire & wheel policy on my last e90 – even with the stupid requirement that the tire has to be damaged before they will replace the rim), although the last BMW I had (not a 3-series) the rims were bent not by potholes, but by the dealership when they were putting new tires on… all 4 rims. One issue with the N54 and N55 inline-6 engines, however, is the high-pressure fuel pump, which had an extraordinarily high failure rate (2 replacements in 55K miles on mine) – it looks like there are some aftermarket upgrades or maybe Bosch has finally fixed their OE version – budget accordingly. Based on feedback from a co-worker with a M3, the VANOS on the V8 is more prone to problems and a pain to repair when it does go.

    Congrats to your brother, the two degrees is super impressive – MBA school, while not intellectually challenging for an engineer, is super-time-consuming (involving lots of group work), so I am surprised he could juggle both – does he sleep?? Or does he do the academic equivalent of your marathon wrenching sessions?

  5. David, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    It is insane to me that these things have not completely skyrocketed in value by now.

    FWIW, the E9X generation is actually quite a bit less finicky than the E46 generation, in addition to being much faster and more comfortable.

    I was at the track yesterday in my E92. I’ll be dropping the kids off at school with it this week.

    No car serves double duty better and revs to over 8000 RPM. A future classic.

    1. In general I agree and I’m also surprised these things are not twice their value by now.

      But I disagree with the “less finicky than E46” statement, at least in my experience. The E65/E60/E90 generation suffer from a lot more issues than the E38/E39/E46. You do get issues here and there with both gens, but those in the older cars tend to be easier and cheaper to fix. Owning an E39 I know a lot of people with E90s and they tend to fall apart while the E46s are still chugging around.

      1. The reason I say that is with the E46 M3 you have to worry about:
        1. Rod Bearings (so problematic they actually WERE recalled by BMW)
        2. Rear subframe issues (the mounting points crack…yes really)
        3. A tremendously inferior manual alternative (DCT is light years ahead of SMG)
        4. Poorer Quality interior/exterior (tends to rust much easier)

        I understand that its technically more analogue but the E9X is analogue enough in addition to being technically superior in every possible way and more reliable.

        And no sedan?? Come on, BMW!

  6. I’m going to have to disagree with your opening paragraph. I’d argue that gearheads of a German persuasion had the number “414” associated with the Audi RS4, the first of the high-revving German V8s. Further, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the 5-figure cars that were decimating everything else were the Corvette Z06 and, especially, the Nissan GT-R. As good as the V8 M3 was, it certainly wasn’t a challenger to the price-to-performance throne.

  7. People don’t understand or appreciate that nothing has killed naturally aspirated V8’s other than incompetence, just not giving a shit, cost cutting past the bone, and a lack of willingness to stand behind the investment.

    We’re at the point in technology where you absolutely can have it all. A rip-roaring, high displacement, throaty ‘American’ V8 or a small to mid displacement, high revving ‘European’ V8 with fancy technology like cylinder deactivation that doesn’t suck, variable valve timing, direct injection, and fuel efficiency with good reliability. Without any of that auto-stop bullshit (that will never be reliable or a good idea.)
    Seriously. You absolutely 100% could have that. Period. This is a statement of fact, not opinion.

    Instead, BMW deliberately used rod bearings which weren’t sufficient, because it saved them some money. Plastic water pumps because it’s cheaper. Dumber-Chrysler dropped heads and cylinder deactivation as an option on a minor LA revision and hit cruise control. GM gave you nearly everything in the LTA (Blackwing,) and immediately cancelled it because of poor sales. (The oft-cited $20k/motor pretty obviously includes the tooling costs which would be amortized over the production run. If they hadn’t cancelled it.) So they went and did a complete clean sheet for the LT6 which will only be in a single product, and you guessed it, the LT2’s still a 1960’s era OHV pushrod. But hey, flat plane crank! Ford just gave the hell up – “the Mod motor is OHC, we made one with a flat plane crank, what more could you possibly want?!” (The ’18-’20 F-150’s Coyote has DI + MPFI because they couldn’t get DI alone to work.) Daimler-Benz really gave up; they have offered exactly zero naturally aspirated V8’s since 2015.

    And not doing it makes even less sense than what they are doing. Naturally aspirated V8’s are inherently cheaper on construction and warranty than the multi-turbo V6’s. That’s just facts. A direct injected, naturally aspirated V8 is less stressed and contains far fewer failure points than anything with a turbo.
    And everyone went all-in on trucks and SUVs, which are natural homes for V8’s of all flavors. So developing a thoroughly modern, common short-block V8 that can swing from good fuel mileage with torque bias to a screaming tire-shredder makes fiscal sense as well. The reason FCAtlantis has done so well with the Hemi is because even Dumber-Chrysler understood the point of it was “here is the V8, we are using the exact same shortblock for everything.” (It’s true – everything from a 6.1 bolts to a 5.7, and everything from a 6.4 bolts to a 5.7 Eagle. It’s nothing more than heads, pistons, rods, and ancillaries – only difference from 5.7 to 6.1/6.4 cranks is cast vs forged. Same stroke.)
    “Well GM does that.” No, they really don’t. They’re back on their ‘this is a Buick V6, it’s the same displacement as the Pontiac V6 but totally different’ shit. The LT2 has a separate casting from the L86, the LT1 isn’t the LT1 (there’s a pre-14 and post-14, both LT1,) the LT4 has a different shortblock casting based on the LS9, the L8T is cast iron, most of it doesn’t bolt up, and so on. They just throw them all under the ‘small block’ banner, point to the common ancestor, and carry on.
    The closest comparison would be Ford’s Coyote, except yeah. The F-150 version gets different heads and cast iron manifolds. Even the intake’s the same. Which is good and bad – it’s high commonality, which is good. But low adaptability, which is bad. The ‘fun’ Coyotes are completely unique castings. And in ’18, Ford went to alu for Mustang and iron for trucks, so now you can’t just bolt up a Mustang to your truck.

    And achieving a fuel efficient, high performance V8, really is not that difficult or costly a recipe. If it wasn’t, commercial trucks would all be turbodiesels and twin turbo V6’s. They aren’t – the default in a fleet is ‘naturally aspirated V8’ where the manufacturer has chosen to not bother with fuel efficiency one MPG past the point they need for CAFE because ‘lol you’re gonna work on twin turbo V6s in-house?’ (Which is part of why Ford went to the 7.3 OHV pushrod V8 default from the SOHC 6.8 Triton V10, I suspect.)
    The only reason they haven’t is because they actively chose not to. For years. Pickup and SUV sales have not been a sudden spike – it’s been hot shit for many years. It took GM a whole $16M and something like 3 years to develop the clean-sheet Blackwing. If we assume an average $4,000 margin per pickup, GM can fund 43 Blackwings per quarter in their worst year from pickups alone.

    They could give us what we want. They just choose not to.

  8. Had both E90 and E46. E90 has been far more reliable, better put together, and better daily. E46 was slightly more “pure” driver, but that didn’t help when I was spending so much time not driving it! Favorite BMW engine is the N52. Stupid reliable, enough power to break traction, very happy over 4K RPM.

    1. +1 on the N52. I’ve got one in my 6MT 128i (with 3-stage DISA upgrade) and it is an absolute joy of a motor that takes all the good bits of the various motors that preceded it (M20B27, M20B25, M52, M54) and addresses all the technical shortcomings of prior versions.

      (not that it is fault-free, mind you, but at least BMW learned from past mistakes)

  9. Since a few weeks I own an E93 as well, not an M3 but a 335i – which is plenty fast. Can confirm that with the right optics, a lot of people think this is a lot newer than it actually is (‘07). My neighbor even thought it was brand spanking new haha

    That being said, I drove this and my E36 ‘vert back to back the other day and there is something about the E36 chassis that is way more visceral and it just plain drives better, gives more feedback etc.

  10. I have many automotive theories, here is one. Buy any good condition, 10-15 year old BMW M3 as a second/fun car. Be a bit savvy with maintenance/repairs. Watch the value creep up year after year and giggle to yourself when you go for a drive.

    This theory works with other cars, but seems to have held true with every generation M3. The US Spec e36 was a bit of a late bloomer, but it’s also more of a 3er kissing cousin than other generations.

  11. I’m really not looking forward to the day when a low mileage e9x M3 sells for $200,000 on Bring a Trailer, but the way the used car market is nowadays it’s probably not that far in the future.

  12. As a former BMW owner, I sort of understand your brother’s passion. Mine was a nightmare of things breaking left, right and goddamn-the-timing-chain-guides-to-Hell. But, as a friend once said, “you can feel the depth of the engineering.” That’s why, despite all of the pain, both financial and emotional, that my 540i6 caused me, I still look at them from time to time.

    And for the longest time, a certified pre-owned BMW was one of the best deals around: crazy depreciation, but with an extended warranty on the drivetrain and low financing rates. Now, not so much.

    To counterpoint this, I have seen the Car Ninja, via Hoovie’s Garage and his own YouTube channel, berate Hoovie for buying BMWs though he stands to profit. Things like valve seals and timing chain guides, and water pipe O-rings should not fail given how much we know about making cars now. It is worse at the prices BMW charges. Their reputation for failing window regulators alone is cause for alarm when economy cars have them function well for a lifetime.

    But, darnit, I still want an E36 M3. Boston green or Estoril blue, please.

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