1988: BMW M3 Evolution
You all know how great the first generation BMW M3 was. Is. To this day, it remains arguably the high water mark for the small sports sedan concept, though be warned: embarking on this as a conversational subject is guaranteed to win you exactly zero friends at the pub.
In ’88, though, BMW decided to make it even better, by upping the power of the 2.3-litre four-pot to 220bhp, adding larger wheels, thinner rear and side glass, a lighter bootlid, and new front and rear spoilers. Pointy.
1990: BMW M3 Sport Evolution
This is the Daddy of the E30 M3 generation, featuring as it did a larger version of that four-cylinder engine, bored out from 2.3 to 2.5 litres, and producing 238bhp. Essentially, BMW turned the M3 into a road-going touring car.
Then there’s the not-so-small matter of the adjustable front splitter and rear wing, along with a smaller fuel tank (for weight saving), and an overall suspension drop of 10mm.
Just 600 were made in total. And you will want one in any dream car collection you devise.
1995: BMW M3 GT
Yes, the E36 M3 is the one considered by purists to have lost the magic of the original, yadda yadda… whatever. Yes, it might not have had the touring-car-stuffed-into-a-road-car-body feel of the first, but it was still a 300bhp car (and then more) capable of 250km/h and many skids.
The ‘standard’ M3s came in 3.0-litre and then 3.2-litre ‘Evo’ versions, but just before the Evo, a GT version appeared. It got an adjustable front splitter, new rear wing, aluminium doors, stiffer suspension, and a few engine tricks to raise the 3.0-litre straight-six’s power to 295bhp.
Future classic? Quite possibly.
1993: BMW M3 GT-R
Reportedly, BMW made a handful of these for homologation (same story for the fabled E36 ‘Lightweight’ M3s), but proper info is hard to come by. Apparently they had 300bhp, too. Here’s the racing version. Sweet.
2000: BMW M3 Touring
OK, so technically, this counts as a special edition. It never saw production, granted, and only one ever existed, but it is ‘special’. It was built as a prototype by BMW to assess whether an E46 M3 estate was feasible.
It was, unsurprisingly, feasible, requiring little modification to the regular E46 M3 production line to accomodate it. It’s still not too late for this, BMW…
2001: BMW M3 GTR
The car on the left was a result of the car on the right. And it’s significant, because the car on the left is – officially – the first ever M3 to pack a V8.
Built to satisfy homologation rules so the racer could, um, race, the road car got a stiffer, sportier chassis setup, optimised aero, CFRP panels, and a lightweight interior. Oh, and 380bhp.
2003: BMW M3 CSL
The E46 generation M3 was of course, the third generation to wear the M3 badge, and came as standard with a 3.2-litre engine producing 343bhp, and could sprint from 0-100km/h in 5.2secs. All nice and lovely.
But in 2003, BMW decided to resurrect the ‘CSL’ nameplate to make it nicer and lovelier. Yep, the E46 M3 CSL is one of the greats, with more power from that 3.2-litre straight-six (360bhp), and many lightweight body panels to strip the fat.
The roof, centre console and door panels were all constructed using CFRP, it had a lighter, thinner rear window, and the air-con and stereo were junked.
As a result, BMW’s test runs at the Nürburgring returned a time of 7m 50s. All 1,383 CSLs were sold within a space of months. Find one, drive it once, and then store it for all time in a hermetically sealed box.
2005: BMW M3 CS
Arriving a short time after that CSL comes a sort of CSL-Light. This car featured some of the CSL’s elements: those gorgeous BBS alloys, a quicker steering rack, the same spring rates, the ‘M-Track’ mode function, bigger brakes and some Alcantara inside.
It didn’t feature the same engine upgrade, but with 338bhp, was still fearsome enough.
2010: BMW M3 GTS
For the fourth generation M3, the E92, out went the straight–six and in came a V8 for the first (proper) time in an M3. You’ll recall the E46 GTR was built in a limited run, which packed a V8. But that’s as rare as they come.
In 2010, and following numerous customer requests, BMW rolled out the harder, hand-built GTS version. It featured a carbonfibre roof, titanium exhaust silencers, a lightweight centre console and door linings. It also didn’t feature any rear seats, air conditioning or music-listening facilities.
All the better then, to hear that enlarged, more powerful 450bhp 4.4-litre V8 (up from 414bhp and 4.0-litres) sing. The suspension was upgraded, as were the brakes, and it got revised traction control and 19-inch light alloy M wheels. Also, it was quite orange.
Just 135 were built in total.
2011: BMW M3 Pickup
Again, technically a special edition, but only one was built, and - as we found out - quite lairy to drive, too. It was built to replace BMW’s E30 Pickup, which had been in service at that time for over a quarter of a century, and was beginning to show quite serious signs of age. A new one was therefore needed. Enter the not-an-April-Fools-joke E92 M3 Pickup.
414bhp up front, 450kg payload at the back, limited traction. Like we said, lairy. But cool.
2011: BMW M3 CRT
Like the GTS, this was also a lightweight special edition. It was some 70kg lighter than the standard M3 sedan on which it sat, and utilised BMW’s expertise in carbonfibre tech – which would later come to full fruition in the i3 and i8.
So, you got a CFRP bonnet and rear spoiler and a CFRP air-channelling element inside the front apron. Then there were the seats, made from CFRP layers wrapped around a recycled-paper honeycomb with an extra carbon layer. There was special sound-proofing, a titanium exhaust, and the same 4.4-litre, 450hp V8 from the earlier GTS.
0-100km/h? 4.4 seconds, half a second down on the standard four-door M3, and a 290km/h top speed. Just 67 were built, and here's one we drove in Singapore...
2012: BMW DTM Champion Edition
In 2012, BMW returned to the DTM after a 19-year break and managed to win drivers’, team and manufacturers’ titles to fill their Munich trophy cabinet. Not a bad haul.
To celebrate the effort, they announced this, the DTM Champion Edition. It was based on the E92 Competition Pack M3, so came with a 10mm lower ride height, a new Sport setting on the dampers and a reprogrammed ESP system.
For this Vader-spec DTM version, you also got carbon flaps and gurney, darker chrome accents, wheels that match the paint, and also bits of livery – including an M strip over the carbonfibre roof – dotted around the car.
2016: BMW M3 Competition
And so we come to the modern M3, which of course, is a moniker only available for the sedan (the M3 Coupe is now the M4, which we’ll come to shortly…)
This one gets an extra 19bhp (for a total of 444) from that turbocharged, 3.0-litre straight-six, new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars at both the front and rear, and reconfigured driving modes on the adaptive suspension. And a new diff setting. We’ve driven it, and it’s rather good.
The M4 Competition Pack is, similarly, good also.
2016: BMW M3 '30 Jahre'
Essentially a Competition Pack M3 with the exterior and interior bedecked in carbon trim. The seats benefit from BMW’s finest Merino leather – here in black with blue inserts and embroidered logos aplenty.
Plus, there’s a massive amount of kit you’d normally have to pay extra for – adaptive LED headlights, a fancy stereo and much besides. All 30 Jahres came with the DCT ‘box, too (and 444bhp as in the CP). Only 500 were planned, with just 30 allocated for the UK.
2016: BMW M4 GTS
That’s more like it. The new M3 Coupe is now the M4, and the hardest one is this GTS. It gets an uprated turbo sixer, using water injection to produce 493bhp – up 68bhp on the standard M4 – along with a raft of aero and carbon components. And wheels.
There’s a carbon front splitter and big rear spoiler, the latter adjustable through three heights, no back seats, the front two replaced with carbonfibre buckets, and thinner doors. There are even 911 GT3-style pull straps in place of handles inside. The kerbweight of the M4 GTS now stands at 1,510kg, a 62kg drop on standard.
Want some stats? 0-100km/h takes 3.8s, while the top speed is now 306km/h, up from a limited 250km/h. The obligatory ‘Ring time is 7min 28sec: a quite staggering 24 seconds quicker than a regular M4 and the same as Walter Rohrl’s time in a Porsche Carrera GT.
2016: BMW M4 Competition Sport
Meet the Spain-only CS: 444bhp (same as the Competition Pack) at 7,000rpm, and a healthy 450Nm of torque. It’ll go from 0-100km/h in four seconds flat, which is just two tenths down on the M4 GTS (3.8s), and top out at a limited 280km/h (down 26km/h on the GTS too).
There are new side skirts, a new rear diffuser, CFRP mirror housings, a high gloss finish to the kidney grille and side mouldings, and of course, a monster, carbonfibre rear wing. And new seats. And CFRP trim on the inside. And a numbered plaque. Only 60 were planned.
2016: BMW M4 DTM Champion Edition
Just like its E92 big brother did, this special edition celebrates BMW’s 2016 DTM win. And, basically, it’s a GTS in different stripes.
So in comes the water-injected, 493bhp straight-six, a carbon bonnet, roof and rear diffuser, and aforementioned stripes. Oh, and a 0-100km/h time of 3.8s. Just 200 are being built.
2017: BMW M4 CS
The most recent entrant onto this list effectively plugs the gap between the M4 Competition Pack and the M4 GTS. The standard M4’s 3.0-litre turbo six has been wound up to 454bhp, a rise of around 30bhp over standard (or 10bhp over the Competition). Mated exclusively to the 7spd paddleshift gearbox – no manual here – you’ll be completing 0-100km/h in a scant 3.9secs. And yes, it’s still rear-wheel drive.
The top speed is curtailed by M Division’s higher, 280km/h limiter. Though with a claimed 9.5l/100km and 197g/km of CO2, it’s actually the greenest M4 yet, too. We can sense how much you care.
The CS borrows aluminium suspension components from the Competition Package, and gets standard Adaptive M Suspension, with its own, more focused tune. The result is a 7m38s Nürburging lap time, which is as quick as a Lexus LFA, but still some six seconds off the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. That does have 503bhp from its Ferrari-tuned engine, mind.
There are exclusive M4 CS tunes of the steering and stability control systems, you get super sticky Michelin Cup tyres as standard, a GTS-inspired carbon bonnet (less weight, obvs) and a unique aero profile for the CS, which includes a carbon Gurney flap on the rear spoiler.
And it’s rather good, too, as we’ve now found out. “This is one of the cars that feels expertly set up right from the off.,” we concluded. “Hold the Alcantara steering wheel, let off the manual handbrake and pull out of the car park and there’s such accuracy and satisfaction from each control, you’d conclude it’s brilliant without actually going much quicker.
“Naturally, though, it gets better the more revs you use, and the further you dig into its deep reserves of grip. The larger rear wheels (and therefore tyres) help make this an M4 you can fully trust, one that’s predictable and not liable to give you a mid-corner fright. In the dry, at least. We’ve not had the chance to try it in the wet…
“Much like the Mercedes-AMG GT R we’ve recently driven, it’s an example of a track-minded special being a much better and more approachable road car than its base model, rather than being spiky and intimidating.
“The CS is tangibly more athletic than standard – there’s naff-all body roll – yet it sends more information through its seat and steering wheel. Its extra focus leads to a more communicative car, which breeds more confidence from its driver, who in turn works the car harder and has more fun. It’s a virtuous circle…”
BMW recently gave the M3 the CS treatment too, more of which you can read here.
Now, we’ll have seven E46 CSLs, please, one for each day of the week…
STORY Vijay Pattni