It's unique, and will only get cooler with time.
When a sports car manufacturer lands on a recipe that enthusiasts love, they rarely change it. Chevrolet took eight generations before moving the Corvette's V8 engine to the middle and Porsche still keeps the 911's flat-six engine stubbornly at the back after nearly 60 years. The BMW M3 is a different story. The current G80 generation 2022 BMW M3 Sedan uses a twin-turbocharged inline-six just like the previous F80 model. But this wasn't always the case.
The original M3 used a four-cylinder engine, while the E36 and E46 generations used naturally aspirated inline-sixes. But among all the M3 generations, the E90 is our favorite because it was the first (and only) one to use a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8 (and eventually a 4.4-liter). We think this generation M3 holds a special place in history, and you should buy one before collectors take notice.
Do we really need to explain why the M3 is a special car? After 35 years and six generations, it's pretty self-explanatory. What started life as a homologation race car focused on lightweight and momentum handling has essentially morphed into a German muscle car. It uses the traditional American muscle car formula; take a small car, and toss in a big engine from a much larger car. None of the M3 generations epitomize this philosophy more than the E90.
The E90 M3 arrived during a golden era for BMW's M division, which was riding high after the E46 generation. This is a magical point in time when cars had modern electronics and everyday drivability, but turbochargers and electrification hadn't taken hold. The subsequent F80 M3 was much faster courtesy of its turbocharged inline-six, but even at the time we preferred the raw feeling from the V8-powered E90. BMW now categorizes the two-door coupe and convertible M3 variants under the M4 umbrella, but in the E90 generation, all three body styles were available under one model name.
As with any high-dollar sports car that's getting on in age, the E90 generation M3 has some notable issues that are worth discussing. The rod bearings in the S65 V8 engine are the most notorious. They can cause the motor to seize up if they fail; this will require a new engine, which could result in a total loss. No exact failure rate seems to be available, but it's safe to say that not every M3 from this generation will suffer from the rod bearing issue.
Luckily, there are preventative measure that can save the S65 engine from failing. First, allow the engine to warm up fully before revving it highly. The car features a built-in warm-up procedure that limits the rpms, which should make this easy. Most owners suggest replacing the rod bearings at regular intervals to keep them fresh, a service that can range from $700-$2,000 depending on if you can do the work yourself.
The used car market is pretty inflated as of this writing due to a global chip shortage that has drastically reduced the availability of new cars. That being said, the E90 generation M3 is still pretty affordable by new car standards. We spotted several high-mileage examples (over 100,000 miles) for less than $20,000. The body style doesn't seem to play a major factor at the low end, with sedan, coupe, and convertible models all available for under $25,000.
In 2009, BMW updated the M3 with a newer iDrive version and in 2010, the car received a slight facelift with new LED taillights and an available Competition Package. BMW produced the E92 M3 Coupe until 2013, and low-mileage examples (under 20,000 miles) can command over $80,000 to the right collector. From 2008 to 2013, BMW sold 40,092 coupes (E92), 16,219 convertibles (E93), and 9,674 sedans (E90); due to its rarity, practicality, and styling, we like the sedan the best.
All E9X series M3 models cram the BMW S65 V8 under a power bulge hood, making it look like the car could barely contain this powerhouse engine. Like the S54 inline-six before it, the S65 had a unique power band that encouraged owners to rag it out to the rev limiter. The engine didn't hit its peak 414 horsepower figure until 8,300 rpm, and it produced a relatively low 295 lb-ft of torque figure at 3,900 rpm. Oh, and the S65 sounds like a pride of angry lions under full-throttle acceleration.
The V8 M3 is still pretty quick by today's standards, hitting 60 mph in around 4.6 seconds with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission or around 4.8 seconds with the six-speed manual. If you opt for the heavier hardtop convertible model, 0-60 takes a little over 5 seconds. We've driven both the manual and DCT-equipped cars, and prefer the sensation from the three pedal setup.
Though it looks antiquated by modern standards, we think the E9X 3 Series' interior will look timeless for years to come due to its simplicity and restraint. The layout is intuitive with just the right split between physical controls and on-screen menus. Most M3 models from this era shipped with an iDrive infotainment system to control the navigation, radio, and other functions, but we'd shop around to find one with the base radio setup; it's less of a reminder of how annoying early iDrive was, and it makes the cabin look cleaner.
BMW offered several interesting leather colors, including black, silver, red, and beige, plus individual color options that were special order-only (and therefor much rarer). Some customers even ordered their M3 with cloth seats (an option that's no longer available on the modern M3), an option we'd go out of our way to find.
No matter the body style, the M3 is a pretty livable car that could easily serve as a daily driver. The M3 sedan is obviously the most practical since it has four doors, seating for five, and the largest trunk with 12 cubic feet of space. Opting for the coupe model drops the seating capacity down to four, and shrinks the trunk to 11.1 cubic feet. As for the convertible, it's the least practical of the bunch due to the hardtop mechanism taking up so much space in the trunk. With the top down, there's barely enough room for a briefcase.
There is one other downside to owning the first (and only) V8-powered M3; more cylinders equals more trips to the gas station. This generation M3 is rated at just 14/20/27 mpg city/highway/combined regardless of the body style or transmission. It's safe to call this car a gas guzzler.
The BMW M3 name is legendary among sports car enthusiasts, with the original E30 and heralded E46 generations typically commanding the most attention. The E30 and E46 are great cars by any measure, but neither matches the lunacy of the only V8-powered M3 ever built, the E9X. As cars continue to move towards smaller turbochargers and electrification, the appreciation for the E90, E92, and E93 M3 models should grow. This is one of the best-sounding engines BMW ever produced, and it's available in a car that you can drive everyday and throw car seats in the back. We suggest buying one now before all the good ones are scooped up.