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

  • Porsche Cayman
    The Porsche Cayman is now in its second generation

    Porsche Cayman

  • The stated criteria for the GT86 read like a purist's manifesto: rear-drive, no turbo, ordinary tyres

    Toyota GT86

  • BMW M235i
    The BMW M235i is a rear-wheel-drive turbocharged coupé which rivals the likes of the Porsche Cayman

    BMW M235i

  • Costliest car gets the deftest chassis to ever underpin a TT - the best reason yet to buy into Audi’s coupe.

    Audi TTS

  • Peugeot RCZ R
    The front-drive RCZ R packs a 266bhp turbocharged engine

    Peugeot RCZ R


First drives


Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week