How Powerful Is The E46 BMW M3 After 21 Years?

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If it lost one horse per year, it would still produce over 300 hp.

The E46 M3 is an iconic car, still coveted by many gearheads. We can still quote the original output of the famous 3.2-liter straight-six engine: a rather neat and easy-to-remember 333 horsepower.

But here's a fact that will make you feel old. The E46 M3 is 21 years old. Yes, folks. It's old enough to buy a beer.

As we all know, age, like gravity, can be the nastier word for a child born out of wedlock. It wreaks havoc on all of us, but what does it do to an engine? We love to quote the abovementioned figure when we fondly reminisce about the greatest M3 of them all. Does it still have as many horses, however? Have some of them escaped while the M3 was maturing to an age where it could order a bourbon?

That question can now be answered thanks to Christian from Vehicle Virals. He purchased an E46 for just $3,000. It had 173,000 miles on the clock, which is most likely why he got it for so cheap. That, and the fact that E46's have a reputation for being costly to maintain. For the record, this particular M3 is not standard. It has an ECU tune, a performance intake, and an upgraded exhaust system. In theory, it should produce more than the claimed 333 hp.

Vehicle Virals guestimated that it would produce around 280 hp. The old girl blew them all away and posted a figure of 290 hp at 7,250 rpm. Given the mileage, that's a stellar result. It seems German horses are trained to stay put.

This makes a good case for the M3 in the old E46 M4 Vs. Ford Fiesta ST debate, though Fiesta ST prices have dropped significantly. If you're looking for fun for even less, might we suggest a glance at our list of sub-$20,000 sports cars?

Vehicle Virals/YouTube
Vehicle Virals/YouTube
Vehicle Virals/YouTube
Vehicle Virals/YouTube

Unfortunately, the second run proved futile, and the E46 delivered on the more negative side of its reputation. The M3 started smoking, which is a sure sign of imminent piston ring failure.

To make the video more interesting, Christian also invited a friend with an E36 M6 and an E90 335i. The E36 M3 has 255k miles on the clock, while the 335i has a set of 17T turbos to help it produce more power. The E36 M3 still produces 204 hp. That's not bad considering US models produced 240 hp when new.

The tuned 335i won the day, posting an impressive figure of 568 hp. That's more power than the current M3. Heck, that's within spitting distance of BMW's twin-turbocharged V8 M5. The 335i engine is favored by tuners, as you can get a fairly reliable 450 hp out of it.

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