BMW has announced that the current generation M3 Coupe will be the company's last.
To make way for the M4 Coupe, due in 2014, BMW says it will cut the 3-series badge in favour of the 4-series. That means that both the current Coupe and Cabriolet models bearing M3 badges will be the last to go on sale. The convertible M3 will end production in September.
Here, Autocar pays tribute to the M3 Coupe and its siblings.
In 1986, it was motor racing that first persuaded BMW to prefix the name of its smallest model range with the letter ‘M’.
The first ‘E30’ M3 was built in small numbers to legitimise its appearance at circuits around the globe. The required 5000 cars needed to homologate the model flew from the shelves, helped by the popularity of the World Touring Car Championship. Each car came with radical styling - including flared wheel arches and a tall rear wing. In 1988, the Coupe was followed with a Convertible version, available exclusively in European markets.
Such was the popularity of the concept, however – high power, low mass and a small footprint on the road – that the company was forced to consider a replacement.
The E36 arrived in the UK in 1993, being powered by a 3.0-litre straight-six engine. It stayed in production until 1999 and spawned Coupe, Cabriolet and, for the first time, Saloon variants. It was the first M3 to be powerred by a straight-six engine, which was upgraded in late 1995 with the introduction of a 312bhp, 3.2-litre unit to the range. Subtle styling changes also accompanied the engine change.
Again, Convertible and Saloon versions followed the Coupe a year later.
Another followed in 2001, the E46, and with it came more of the spoorting edge that had been lacking in earlier models. The same 3.2-litre straight six from the previous generation was carried over, but re-tuned to put out 325bhp. Top speed was electronically limited to 155mph, while 0-60 times fell to sub-five seconds. This generation of M3 was the first to use an electronic throttle as opposed to previous generations which used cables.
Three special versions of the E46 were produced, the M3 CS, the M3 CSL and the M3 GTR V8.
Today’s M3 coupe was launched in 2008 and gave the range a significant overhaul in terms of styling. This generation lost many of the straight edges and harsh lines of the previous model, choosing instead to use a much softer appearance. It also caused a bone of contention with M3 purists, who disliked the move to a V8 engine.
In the beginning it would have been difficult to see that the M3 would be such a sales success for BMW. Those with long memories will recall that the 1993 M3, the successor to the great original, was lambasted for being too soft and in possession of poor steering.