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BMW M - used performance bargains

High performance BMW M-cars can be bought for hatchback money. We list four of the market's most enticing buys

BMW's M division was born from motorsport. Founded in 1972, it was responsible for creating some of the German marque's most exotic and successful racers. Gradually, the motorsport division began to involve itself with BMW's road cars, creating cars like the M1 - a homologation special - and the M535i.

BMW M's defining moment came with the launch of the E30 BMW M3. Not only did the car sell in more than 16,000 units, but it also became a defining car for the super-saloon. The value of BMW's M-division grew substantially in Munich.

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While cars like the M1 and E30 M3 are now valued significantly higher than their original list prices, there are thankfully many more affordable used M-cars on the market. Mixing performance with luxury, class and quite often, segment defining engineering, M cars both new and old hold a certain aura many other performance cars still struggle to attain.

We've dived into the classifieds to find four of our favourite affordable M cars on the UK market. We list them below.

E60 BMW M5 

The E60 M5 has long been a favorite of evo - a four-door with a 500bhp V10 that revs to the skies is hard to forget - and now, thanks to depreciation, it’s quickly becoming a bargain buy. Prices have fallen to VW Passat money, making this super-saloon a very tempting offering indeed.

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That many still regard the E60 as the greatest super-saloon ever produced speaks dividends for its astonishing breadth of ability. Absurdly quick in a straight-line, the M5 is equally as accomplished when the road gets twisty. Always finely poised and beautifully balanced, it can absorb B-road bumps with a pliant ride distinctly lacking in the run-flat shod standard car.

Buyers should be wary of cars priced in the low-teens, especially those with high-mileage. The money saved on purchase price can quickly be surpassed with maintenance costs. But if you’re willing to spend upwards of £20k, there are plenty of well looked after examples on the UK market.

>Buy - E60 BMW M5

E90/2 BMW M3

The previous generation of M3 remains one of the greatest M cars, especially in the wake of its tricky, turbocharged successor. Scintillating performance is delivered by its 4-litre naturally aspirated V8, which produces a still considerable 414bhp and 295lb ft of torque, and is linked up to either a six-speed manual or optional DCT auto. 

Performance was fast: 0-62mph takes just 4.8sec (4.6 in the DCT) and top speed is a limited 155mph. Add to this its handsome, subtly menacing exterior and solid German build quality, the E90 is an enticing proposition. 

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It’s not all perfect however, as the E90 was the last car to suffer the M divisions' underpowered brakes. It is often recommended that owners fit uprated pads or, alternatively, swap standard calipers for six-piston items.

Good condition early cars (2007-09) with between 30,000-50,000 miles are dipping below £25,000. Given that this is the last full-blooded naturally aspirated M3, it’s unlikely prices will fall much further anytime soon.

>Buy - E90 BMW M3

E46 BMW M3 

The E46 was the best of the breed when it was launched in 2000, packing a gem of a 338bhp 3.2-litre six cylinder under its timeless, unassuming bodywork. 

In fact, it was such a hit that then evo motoring editor John Barker described the engine as ‘wonderful, with an effortless reach, ever-ready vigour and a tight-lipped howl spangled with a zing, metallic edge. It’s unquestionably the M3’s best feature, punching it forward with deceptive ease and loading the rear so you can trim the car’s attitude through the length of a sweeping corner.’

Low-milers command around £15,000, however good examples with a few more miles on the clock are nearer £13,000, making the E46 quite a steal. 

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>Buy - E46 BMW M3 

BMW Z4M

Successor to the famous Z3M ‘Breadvan’, the Z4M offers a chance to own a rare and distinctive slice of Bavarian muscle for Ford Focus money.

Boasting a 3.2-litre straight-six - made of iron for extra rigidity at high rpm - producing a considerable 338bhp at 7900rpm (100rpm from the limiter) and 269lb ft of torque, the Z4M could sprint from 0-60 in 5sec and on to a limited 155mph top speed.

The gearbox of choice is a Getrag six-speed manual (something of a novelty these days), while steering is refreshingly communicative.

Prices float in the mid-teens, with lower mileage examples hovering around £20k. Thanks to the Z4M’s rarity, values aren’t expected to fall from this. Right hand drive cars are even rarer, so if you find one, you’re onto a winner.

>Buy - BMW Z4M

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