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BMW M3 E90/E92 buying guide

Lightly used examples of the current M3 can now be picked up for £20,000 less than a new one. We tell you what to look for.

The famous BMW tagline ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ has had a few dubious applications over the years, but when it comes to the M3, it’s bang on – if you want one of the biggest adrenalin rushes you can get while still on terra firma, then the M3 is for you.

Back in the 1980s, the original M3, the E30, set the standard for high-performance road-going four-seaters, and every subsequent iteration built on the original’s premise. However, for the current, fourth-generation version, BMW’s M Division took the M3 rulebook, shredded it and chucked it in the compost bin.

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Launched in coupe (E92) form at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show, the new M3 got the aggressive front end, revised bodywork and badging that always sets the M apart from the rest of the 3-series range. However, it also departed from previous M3 thinking in one very significant way: it was fitted with a V8 engine.

Initially, this caused no little disquiet among the purists, who said that the M3 should have a classic BMW in-line six-cylinder, just like the E36 and E46 versions that had preceded it. The V8, though, is an absolute cracker, with the red line set at 8300rpm and a massive 414bhp output – plenty to quell the dissent. The all-alloy unit is also lighter than the preceding straight-six, and, despite being 76bhp more powerful, it is also more economical.

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The V8 M3 debuted with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a seven-speed double-clutch transmission (DCT) was soon added as an option, giving the car even quicker acceleration – 0-62mph in 4.6sec rather than 4.8 – and a much smoother shift than the single-clutch SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) system offered on the E46.

To help both car and driver manage the available performance, the current M3 features no shortage of driver aids, including variable Dynamic Stability Control, a Variable M-differential lock, optional electronically adjustable damping (EDC) and, of course, the addition of the ‘M’ button. Positioned on the steering wheel so it’s only a thumb stretch away, this enables the car’s driver to instantly switch between ‘normal’ mode and their pre-determined settings for the dampers, DSC, throttle response and DCT, giving the potential for instant Jekyll and Hyde changes in the car’s character.

In 2008 the coupe M3 was joined by a saloon (the E90) and a folding hard-top convertible (E93). The saloon is a slightly more understated car than the coupe, foregoing the carbonfibre roof, for example, while the drop-top has something of a weight problem, tipping the scales at 1885kg  – 230kg more than the coupe. Its performance is slightly blunted as a result.

In coupe and saloon forms in particular, though, the car is M3 through and through. It’s docile and discreet enough as a daily driver or long-range cruiser, but press on – and perhaps press that ‘M’ button – and it transforms into one of the most sharply honed performance cars around. Four seats, a proper-sized boot, BMW’s legendary build quality and near supercar levels of performance. Sounds like the ultimate driving machine to us.

'I bought one'

Samir Sawalhi

‘It was the fastest car I could buy for the money I paid for it. It’s as quick as a Porsche 911 and, when I got it, was still in warranty. The V8 engine is just sensational – it’s so much fun. The M button is also excellent.

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