The original M3 is undeniably a legend, but is it really the best of its kind?
Oh… er… hi there… I see you’ve got your BMW M-Sport hoodie on there. Nice.
So um… BEHOLD the iconic original BMW M3 based on the classic hewn-from-Vibranium E30 3 Series, that vanquished fields of touring car competitors, slew its Mercedes 190E arch nemesis, and has ever since sat on the thrown of most-wanted modern classic BMW.
Four years ago I was finally fortunate enough to photograph and drive one and you can watch the video of that encounter below.
Yes indeed it’s in a class of its own, there is little to touch it and nothing more to say.
I said there’s nothing more to say… why are you still here?
Go on E30 M3 fans, take your delusions… I mean justified adulations, and move onto the next gushing article on the M3 Internet Tour of Honour.
Psst… Have they gone? All the E30 M3 lovers? Are we alone? Phew.
Then maybe it can finally be written out loud – the fabled BMW E30 M3 is really… not all that.
Especially compared to the supposedly lesser sister car that I used to own in the mid-1990s: a manual 1988 BMW 325i SE Coupe, standard but for an upgraded stereo!
Okay so the M3 had around 200bhp and was capable of nearly 150mph and 0-60mph in just under 7.0 seconds. It had that smart squared-off rear spoiler, beautifully judged bulging fenders and of course a motorsports pedigree. Meanwhile the 325i had about 170bhp, arrived at 60mph in over 7.5 seconds and was short on top speed by 15mph or so.
However, the 325i was a straight six compared to the four-cylinder M3. It delivered peak power at 5800rpm and top torque at just 4000rpm. In comparison the M3 needed to get to 6750rpm and 4750rpm respectively, and when I say needed, I mean it didn’t really come alive until it was screaming into the stratosphere of its rev-range. So it was kinda like a VTEC Civic.
Ouch! Was shade deployed just then? No c’mon. I love Hondas and especially VTECs. I get that you have to rev the nuts off a car like that to really understand what it’s about, and I embrace that sort of lunatic rice-racer shouty/screamy antics. Go hunt for the high notes on the M3 and it really starts to rock and roll, and I can sing-along to that tune any day.
But if my memory of the 325i serves me correctly – it was so much more effortless in its performance delivery. It felt lustier, meatier, more enjoyable, more deadly. In the dry I’d leave 11s on the tarmac outside each of my friends houses with ease – it was sort of a ‘I was here’ signature. In the wet I’d purposely bang all first three gears in so hard the rear boots stayed lit, and yet the 3 Series tracked so straight, stayed so planted that it emboldened me with confidence.
And yes it could get a little tail-happy, but not unduly and not out-of-controlly. It would telegraph the threat through your bottom, and if slidey happened it was catchable unless you were deliberately being a nutter, which I wouldn’t blame you for either. Plus the engine was so silky smooth, and sounded so sweet and potent without having to shout its ferocity.
So I will concede that if you can lock away the mechanical respect and sympathy for a three decade-old, rather rare and nowadays valuable E30 M3, and then ring its neck around a race-track it will make the 325i feel like a lumbering lothario (often a term more accurately applied to its twangy-trouser-suspender-sporting wannabe-yuppie owners – not me though I hastily and insistently add of course).
Yet around town, the 325i was the more effortless yet potent performer, losing very little in everyday performance but being hella satisfying. In the real world, it was – and is – quite simply the better car.
Damn I miss that thing.