An automotive enthusiasts dream: Motor Trend‘s Carlos Lago takes all four generations of BMW M3 out on the automaker’s Spartanburg, South Carolina test track and compares the E30-, E36-, E46-, and E92-generations side-by-side.
If there is one common characteristic between the four very different generations of M3, Lago tells us, it’s that all of the cars have great chassis balance, predictable handling, and communicative steering. As time has gone on – unsurprisingly – the M3 has gained both weight and power, giving each generation a very different character from its predecessor. While the E30 with light on its feet and felt spunky thanks to its good power-to-weight ratio, the E36 follow-up maintained the nimble handling prowess while adding a dose of power; the E36 was good for 240 hp when new, compared with the 192 hp of the E30.
With the E46-generation M3, BMW changed the formula – instead of the focus being on a taut and nimble chassis, BMW focused more on the M3’s powerplant. Because of that ideological shift, the E46 M3 feels bigger and heavier, yet also sharper, faster, and more responsive. Also, unlike the past two M3s, the third-generation car was created to be substantially different from the base 3 Series, sharing no body panels, having a wider track, and unique mechanical components. The E46 “doesn’t feel like a direct replacement for the E36, though it is; this feels more like the predecessor to the E92,” according to Lago.
That brings us to the current, E92-generation M3 and its honking 4.4-liter, 414-hp V-8. Of all four of the M3s so far, the E92 instills the most confidence in the driver. How do we know? Well, just check out all of the powerslides Lago performs in the eye-searing Lime Rock Edition M3. However, it’s not all about power – the E92 combines usability with its power so well, that the car is both an ease and a joy to drive.
Check out the video below to hear Lago’s take on all four generations of BMW M3, or to just revel in the sight and sound of the beautiful-looking and –sounding coupes.