The BMW M3 carries possibly the most famous single-consonant, single-digit car name in the world – but just because a car wears the famous badge it doesn’t mean it gains automatic access to the league of superstars.

The M3 name was born out of the company’s motor racing activities, but along the way its reputation has endured a bumpy ride. Today it may be regarded as a de facto performance superstar, but there is plenty of proof in the car’s history to suggest that the men and women from Munich haven’t always been able to hit the spot.

The first ‘E30’ M3 was built in small numbers to legitimise its appearance at circuits around the globe, but such was the popularity of the concept – high power, low mass and a small footprint on the road – that the company was forced to consider a replacement.

One followed in 1993, then another in 2000, and then a fourth-generation M3, which is what we test here in coupe, saloon and convertible forms.Those with long memories will recall that the 1993 3.0-litre M3, the successor to the great original, was lambasted for being too soft and in possession of poor steering. Initial reports suggest that type E92 might again be too anodyne to do justice to the M3 badge.

Question is, what kind of M3 is on sale today, and is it still worth buying with all-new, next-generation models now on the not-so-distant horizon?

Top 5 Sport coupes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the BMW range

Driven this week

  • MX-5 RF 2.0 160
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    The distinctive 'retractable fastback' roadster promises typical MX-5 dynamics coupled with better refinement. It achieves the former, but the latter isn't quite there yet
  • Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi Premium
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    Facing increasingly formidable opposition, the Hyundai i30 has been overhauled for 2017. The result is a recognisably mixed bag
  • 2016 Infiniti Q50 Country Road
    First Drive
    12 January 2017
    Infiniti’s premium mid-sized saloon packs a serious punch, but lacks the dynamic prowess of European rivals
  • Nissan Micra Tekna IG-T
    First Drive
    10 January 2017
    Not quite a class-leading return to form, but a more stylish and tech-savvy kind of Micra than we’ve ever known – and an encouraging one to drive
  • Infiniti Q60 2.0t Premium Tech
    First Drive
    9 January 2017
    Infiniti’s entry-level mid-sized coupé has the looks to do well, but little of the substance to go with them