It worked, and the E36 was a hit in the marketplace when it arrived here for the 1995 model year -- but at what cost? Today, the E36 is worth the least of any used M3, and its resale value continues to plummet while the E30's climbs ever higher. The third-generation E46 -- despite receiving an engine built by the M division -- is following in the E36's depreciating footsteps. With each successive generation, the M3 has appealed to more buyers but become less and less special. The used-car market agrees.
Just when we hoped BMW might get M back on track, the unthinkable happened: M -- the division that wouldn't make a version of the 7-series because it just seemed wrong -- sold its soul to the accountants and slapped its badge on a pair of immensely profitable 5300-pound SUVs with turbochargers, torque converters, and four-wheel drive. The X5 M and the X6 M made it clear that M had no interest in building a car for the performance junkies who helped its first cars achieve their legendary status. Judgment was final and harsh: there would never be a spiritual successor to the E30 M3. Instead, from here on out, M would spit out cars for the nouveaux riches Joneses who wanted to out-Jones their Porsche Cayenne-driving neighbors.
After two and a half decades of bitching, moaning, kvetching, and begging, scorned M fans finally gave up the good fight. BMW's corporate guys, sick to death of hearing about that damn old E30, probably heaved a sigh of relief. They heaved too soon, because the magnificent, V-8-powered current M3 hasn't sold well, despite its you-don't-have-to-really-care-about-driving automatic transmission option and the fact that it's available as a coupe, a sedan, and a convertible. Sure, the world economy did kindasorta melt down, but that hasn't stopped new 5- and 7-series models from flying out of dealerships. Perhaps something else is at play? Could it be that when the M brand abandoned the very enthusiasts who had preached its virtues to the mainstream world, the mainstream world stopped caring about its cars?
BMW executives would probably answer, "Oh, hell nein!" -- but the reality is that they required every engineer who worked on the little orange car in these pictures to drive the E30 M3. At the official press introduction of the newest M car, we were told that the goal for this car was to "recreate the feel and focused driving environment of the E30 M3."