Generation II: E36 M3 "3.2 Evo"
Will the real M engine please stand up?
If you never drive a European-spec E36 M3, you might think there's nothing wrong with the second-generation M3 that came to America. But despite the E36's huge commercial success here-not to mention the critical acclaim it earned-it has a dirty secret: the engine cover says M on it, but it's not an M engine.
All of the normally aspirated engines in M cars share two primary characteristics: they're high-revving, and they have an individual throttle butterfly for each cylinder. Neither of the two 240-hp engines in the U.S-spec E36 M3 (a 3.0-liter for 1995 and a 3.2 thereafter) fit the bill. In fact, they're little more than standard 3-series engines with higher displacements and more aggressive cams. Their 6500-rpm redline is hardly motorsportlike, but the engines' simpler design kept the M3's price palatable to American buyers.
The European E36 M3 also started life with a 3.0-liter under the hood. With six throttle bodies and a 7300-rpm redline, though, this one was a real M unit and produced 282 hp. It eventually gave way to a better engine: with more displacement and an even higher redline, the 3.2-liter version belted out 317 hp-77 hp more than the American-market 3.2-liter. It featured variable valve timing on both camshafts and an 11.3:1 compression ratio and was attached to a six-speed manual transmission (a first for the M3). Aluminum door skins helped offset the bigger engine's extra weight, and two-piece front brake rotors helped dissipate the extra energy.
The European 3.2 trades almost none of the trademark BMW six-cylinder refinement for the extra thrust, save for a nudge in the backside at 2200 rpm when the cams switch timing. At about 5200 rpm, when the U.S.-spec E36 is quickly nearing its redline, there's another cam phase shift, and this M3 snorts a metaphoric kilo of crystal meth, sprinting headfirst into its 7600-rpm limiter with clenched teeth and dilated pupils.