The replacement for the original M3 first appeared at the 1992 Paris Auto Show. This E36 coupe model got the 3.0 L S50B30 straight-6 engine, which produced 286 hp (210 kW).
For the 1996 model year the M3 was upgraded to a new 3.2 L, 321 hp (236 kW) engine (S50B32), a six speed gearbox and the M5's larger brakes. The new SMG gearbox was also offered as an option. These models are often described as the "Euro" models to differentiate them from the models sold in North America, which were quite different. The 3.2 Euro is also known as the M3 "Evolution" or "Evo".
The first E36 M3 to be imported to the United States was the 1995 model, which received a 3.0 L engine with 240 hp (176 kW) and 305 N•m (225 ft·lbf) (S50B30US) and a different suspension. The reasoning behind the less powerful motor was largely due to both the projected excessive costs in producing the original engine for the U.S. market and the possible difficulty in getting the European engine to pass more strict U.S. emission laws. An M3 that was sold in the United States in 1995 was one of 2953 '94 models shipped from Europe. This coupe has a 3.0L 24-valve DOHC straight six-cylinder engine. This engine produces 240bhp at 6000rpm and 225lbs-foot of torque at 4250. BMW also produced somewhere between 120 and 125 M3 Lightweights (only 85 made it to the US), often called the CSL (for compact sports light). These were reduced weight versions of the model intended to be used on the street or on the track. It was about 200 to 300 pounds lighter than a stock M3 with many of the car's features removed, such as air conditioning, leather seats, and the sunroof.
The 1996-1999 model years had displacement bumped up to 3.2 L, with 240 hp (176 kW) and 320 N•m (236 ft·lbf) which is the same engine used in the early M Roadster and M Coupe. The 1996+ model is known for being more difficult to tune for performance, due to slightly smaller intake manifold runners and more complicated electronics (OBDII). It was also available as a sedan starting in model year 1997, and as convertible in 1998. Production of the sedan was halted in 1998, while the other models continued until 1999.
*Average of independent magazine sources. US residents, multiply by 1.2 if you want to convert an Imperial mpg result into US mpg. **Timed by Autocar at 162 mph with European (155mph limiter) *** Car & Driver ran both their routine and extended (35,000) mile 3-liter M3s through their test procedures and returned much quicker results than most. The average figures quoted are fairer for the private buyer's expectations today, but for the record, C&D recorded 0–60 mph in 5.5 seconds in both sessions. They recorded 0–100 mph in 14.6 seconds and 14.2 seconds at 98- or 99-mph terminal speeds for the standing 1/4 miles. Car & Driver ran an automatic-transmission 3-liter M3 through the strip procedures and returned 0–30 mph in 2.6 seconds, 0–60 mph in 6.7 seconds, 0–100 mph in 17.1 seconds, and a 15.3-sec/95-mph ;-mile pass. Both top speed (137 mph) and average fuel consumption (24 US mpg) were reportedly unaffected. Curb weight was up 72 lbs, at a reported 3,304 lbs.
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Best Handling Car at Any Price
Car and Driver September 1997: "The Best-Handling Car for More Than 30K" An article by Car and Driver comparing the E36 M3 to the Acura NSX-T, Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Viper GTS, Ferrari F355, Honda Prelude SH, Porsche Boxster, Porsch 911 Carrera S, and the Toyota Supra Turbo.
BMW's M3 is one of the least-expensive cars in this group. It's also the tallest and narrowest car and has the most-usable rear seat. Its first-place finish proves that superb handling does not require exotic-car packaging or exotic-car prices.
The M3's cockpit works naturally. The driver's seat offers a commanding view of the road and the hood's corners. Hands fall instinctively to the steering wheel and shifter, as do feet to the pedals. Heel-and-toeing is possible, and a dead pedal is included. An adjustable steering wheel would have been nice, as well as more lateral support, but these issues didn't get in the way of our adoration.
The M3 possesses uncanny roadgoing ability. This is the most-agile car here. The steering eagerly bites into corners and is alive with feel. "Constantly talking to my fingers," wrote Csere. It latches onto a line in corners as if on a mission from God. Webster: "Rolls gracefully into curves at a constant rate and goes right where you point it."
The M3 covers for you. The suspension shrugs off bumps, swells, and off-camber depressions without upsetting the line. Not once did any driver cross it up. Smith: "Overcooked a corner, and the BMW's forgiving nature made it interesting rather than scary." Even at the hairy edge of traction, the M3 is accepting of further driver input, which builds tremendous confidence. Unlike the Acura NSX, the Dodge Viper, or even the Ferrari F355, you feel free to explore the M3's limits without fear that something awful awaits if you miscalculate.
The M3 is like one of those mules that pull tour duty in the Grand Canyon, year after year: It isn't capable of a misstep. This car lets you seek out its limits quicker and more confidently than any of the other cars here. If that doesn't make for a winning handler, we don't know what does.
.... So, what's the best-handling car at any price? ...It's an eight-horn salute to the BMW M3 as "the best-handling car."