E9X M3 Buying Guide

The E9X generation BWW M3 stands out as being the only V8-powered M3. Here we delve into what makes this generation a great buy, the foibles to look out for, and now being collector grade status, we look at where values are heading.

Upon launch, some were doubtful that the E92 would be worthy of the M3 name. Larger, more refined and with a big V8, was it a worthy successor to the E46 M3?

Yes, it was bigger, and as a result genuinely roomy, but the engineers at BMW managed to disguise the car’s weight gain. With fantastic poise and balance of grip this was no blunt instrument, but a true driver’s car.

The E90 saloon variant was more of the same. It had to make do without the fancy carbon fibre boot lid but gained even more practicality as well a set of blistered rear arches. The convertible E93 however is more of a GT car, thanks to it tipping the scales some 230kg heavier than the E92 coupe.

Today, the E9X M3 has future classic status assured thanks to being the last naturally aspirated M3. And what an engine it is – based upon the same engine as the shrieking V10 from the M5 and M6, it’s no lazy muscle car engine. The cross-plane S65 V8 came with a host of tech, including individual throttle bodies to give racecar like response, indeed the block was made in the same factory where BMW’s F1 engines were produced. As a result, the V8 actually weighed 15kg less than the previous E46 M3’s straight-six. No wonder the S65 won the International Engine of the Year award an impressive 5 times.

For the engine alone, the E9X M3 feels like little money for such a complete car. So let’s get into the nitty gritty.

So how many E9X M3s were built?

In all forms, the E9X was a rarer car than its predecessor, likely due to being launched during a worldwide recession. There were just over 14,000 RHD cars built (8,277 UK cars), some 40% less than the E46.

For some reason, the 4-door E90 M3 was a far, far rarer beast that the E92 Coupe. Perhaps partly influenced by the fact that the previous generation E46 M3 was only available in Coupe form, partly due to there being more of focus on the Coupe upon launch in 2008, where the M3 was pitched against the 911 as the do-it-all Sports Coupe.

Time has been kind on the E90 though – its rarity influencing its cult status, and in our eyes the more pronounced rear arches make it the better-looking car. How rare? Just a paltry 631 E90 M3s came to our shores, with only 308 manuals across the pre and post facelift variants. For context, that makes a manual E90 M3 rarer than a 991 GT3.

For those who want to really geek out on the production numbers, the brilliant post on M3post is worth reading, and includes numbers of every variant made.

Which one should I go for?

Price no object, the successor for the modern icon that is the E46 M3 CSL, is the E92 M3 GTS. At the time, a great car in its own right, it didn’t quite create the furore promised by its bright Fire Orange paintwork, not helped by being launched within months of one of the modern greats – the Gen 2 997 generation 911 GT3 RS – and the small matter of it being £117,000 new upon launch in 2011.

It’s fairly academic as only 17 examples of the E92 M3 GTS came to the UK. Indeed, BMW didn’t quite build the full intended production run of 150 cars. For us, nice as the off-the-shelf Recaros, expanded 4.4 litre engine and other modifications were, for our money you’d have to be real BMW fanboy to look past the aforementioned GT3 RS.

Same goes for the uber-rare E92 M3 CRT. Sharing that same wonderful 4.4-litre S65 engine (making 30bhp over the regular M3), and a host of exclusive carbon fibre parts, the weight saving advantage over the GTS was undone as it came with a relatively luxury interior, presumably due its practical 4-door layout. This “lightweight” special came in at 1,580kg – 200kg more than the lightweight Porsche mentioned above.

No surprises then that there’s a fair amount of ‘Club Sport’ builds out there that seek to take inspiration from the GTS and CRT. The revised DCT gearbox software the GTS received can be installed into regular M3s, and a myriad of suppliers provide replica splitters, spoilers and other components to create a quicker car for a fraction of the cost.

The real-world consideration is whether you want to hold out for the Competition package (also known as the ZCP package in the US market) over the base M3. Arriving a couple of years after launch, ticking a box costing £3,315 meant you received gorgeous 19” CSL-inspired wheels, 10mm lower suspension with electronic dampers, as well as an MDynamic mode to allow more play.

Recognised at the time as a noticeable improvement, we would argue an immaculate M3 is worth having over a car which may have better wheels, but big bills impending. Indeed, you couldn’t actually specify the Competition pack on UK E90 M3s, although you may find examples where the wheels have been retrofitted.

For those more interested in something a little rarer, you may be interested in one of the Limited Edition E9X models which came out as the car had a light facelift, with revised infotainment and very mild styling tweaks. We use that term “Limited” loosely though, as the E9X M3 got close to rivalling the Mazda MX5 for its number of Limited Editions. There’s the Edition, Special Edition, Limited Edition 500, Performance Edition, Individual Edition, and Frozen Editions (of which there were Silver and Black).

Most importantly, other than being a fan of the colour options, there are no mechanical differences that you can’t get on the regular M3 Competition pack. If you were buying new, essentially the Limited Editions were to get cars out of the showroom doors – priced at a point where it would be more expensive to spec a regular car with the individual options they would come with. As a result of this, we’d argue the key is to focus on the mileage and condition of each example you review, unless it truly is worth more to you to be able to tell your mates you have a Limited Edition M3.

So how does that all affect pricing?

As we’ve discovered, there were 9 times the number of Coupes to Saloons delivered to the UK. Today, reviewing cars for sale at the time of writing, that grows to 10 times – just 8 E90 M3 Saloons for sale. As a result, expect to pay 15% or more for than the rarer version.

Despite being rarer than the Coupe, the reality is time generally isn’t kind on Convertible versions of any hardtop-derived sportscar. In this case, the E93 M3 Convertible can be had for 30% less than the Coupe. Due to the nature of Convertibles often being a second or third car, there are still many low mileage examples available, and quite often they’re in great condition having been more likely to have been garaged, too.

Undoubtedly the limited edition cars are worth a little more, but don’t be afraid to push on pricing – some privately sold cars are priced very optimistically.

Sold! What should I be looking out for?

As covered in our Buying Guide, the E46 M3 has a few items that many consider essential before buying. That’s because they’re big jobs, that total amount to virtually the cost of the car.

The E9X M3 hits back in affordability due to there only being one major job talked about – rod bearings. Due to tight clearance and the resulting lack of oil lubrication, failure can occur.

The key word there is ‘can’. Although there seems to be widespread consensus that you should change the rod bearings before the car hits a “higher” mileage (let’s say, 80,000 miles), the evidence points more towards how the engine being built as the determining factor.

This is down to the apparent randomness of failures – some car’s have replaced worn bearings at as low as 30,000 miles. Others are on 150,000 miles without an issue. Meanwhile, there are many, many cars who have had rod bearing replacements that didn’t need it. However, you simply won’t know if your car is a bad one until it’s opened up – it comes down to whether the engine was built with the current journal diameters that then allow oil to flow through.

The winner of course is BMW specialists – a nice constant flow of £1,500 jobs from paranoid M3 owners is easy business. Putting the sarcasm aside for a second, for that outlay you get piece of mind from using improved aftermarket rod bearings and bolts which increase clearance, and with regular oil changes, it should never be an issue again. One job that should also be done as part of the rod bearing job is the engine mounts. Its fair to say M3s have got progressively heavier, and yet BMW did not think it necessary to improve the mounts – look out for a receipt when flicking through service history.

On a smaller scale, ignition coils going or a faulty injector are not unheard of and are clearly noticeable when driving. The only other regularly talked about engine related issue is the throttle actuators, which is a £500 fix that will reveal itself with a lack of power and eventually a Christmas tree on the dash. 

An issue being revealed with age is that the rear subframes start to crumble. We’ve seen some pretty horrific photos, but naturally its something difficult to look at when kicking tyres on someone’s driveway. 

As with any car that’s potentially 15 years old with a few miles on her, worn bushes, leaking dampers, water in the headlights, and seized rear calipers are ones to watch out for. Higher mileage cars should come with a nice chunk of paperwork for you tell if previous owners have kept the car in fine fettle. Other than that, the E9X is great value in terms of running costs (well, if you don’t count fuel), with servicing costs inexpensive for a car of its performance. Just be sure to check out that paperwork, reviewing MOT history, and purchase an HPI report.

Good luck!

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