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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For You get thrilling performance, amazing handling, a strong image and practicality

Against Running costs are high - but they're worth it for the sheer thrills

Verdict You're buying a strong combination of awesome performance and day-to-day practicality

Go for… Clean cars

Avoid… Thrashed cars

BMW M3 Coupe
  • 1. The ride is firm around town, but at higher speeds it becomes more forgiving
  • 2. The M3 comes loaded with stability and traction technology, big alloys, air-con and six airbags
  • 3. A professional inspection is strongly advised, especially to spot accident damage
  • 4. Wear of the engine's big-end shell bearing is common - check that oil pressure isn't low
  • 5. Check all the electrics inside the car are working properly
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BMW M3 Coupe full review with expert trade views

The M3 is a focused driving machine with thrilling performance and fantastic handling. Yet you can use it every day, even if you have kids.

At its heart is a brilliant 3.2-litre straight-six engine, from which BMW has wrung 338bhp. The acceleration will amaze you, with no let-up all the way to the 155mph limiter, but at the same time the engine is flexible enough to just pootle around in traffic.

While the ride is firm around town, we reckon it's a small price to pay for the more forgiving ride and sublime handling you can enjoy on faster roads. There’s plenty of road and engine noise, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: the straight six engine sounds fantastic when it's worked hard.

Inside, the M3 is clearly a 3 Series, but the bespoke dials, steering wheel and sports seats give an inkling of the car's capabilities. And, as in the standard 3 Series Coupe, there’s space for four adults, although rear headroom is restricted, and you get a decent-sized boot.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Desirable and iconic but lots to choose from so history and condition are vital

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

The M3 comes fully loaded with kit – from stability and traction technology to big alloys, air-con and six airbags. However, we'd avoid the larger 19-inch alloys – they may look good, but they do nothing for the ride quality.

In addition to the standard precise six-speed manual, BMW also offered an SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) paddle-shift auto. It’s effective but brutal, so unless you do lots of track days, stick with the manual.

In 2003 came the limited-edition 360bhp M3 CSL. It is even more focused than the standard car: more powerful and lighter, and with bigger brakes, sharper steering and more. The CS arrived in 2005, matching many of the CSL’s parts to the M3's standard 338bhp engine.

The classifieds will have plenty of M3s, and there are many more in BMW’s network and with specialist dealers, but get an independent inspection before you think about signing a cheque.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Good value now, demand for SMG 'box, CSL a specialist market

James Ruppert
Used car guru

You’re getting a day-to-day car that can challenge Porsches and the like, so be prepared to pay for the privilege, especially if you plan to take it on tyre-shredding track days. That 338bhp engine translates into group 20 insurance, and claimed fuel economy is 21mpg at best.

Maintenance isn’t cheap, either. Figures from Warranty Direct indicate that BMW main-dealer labour rates are over 35% more expensive than average. However, find a decent independent specialist, and you should pay around half of what you would at a franchised garage.

Warranty Direct’s research also indicates that the M3’s reliability is a little below par, and average repair bills are not small. While servicing costs can be upwards of 30% higher than for any other 3 Series, the M3 can still be less expensive to maintain than its sports car rivals.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Desirable and iconic but lots to choose from so history and condition are vital

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

M3s are built to be driven hard – and hold up well. However, they’re not indestructible: check any proposed purchase over thoroughly, and seriously consider a professional inspection, especially to spot crash repairs.

Check all the electrics, too. If something’s not working, make some calls to find out how much it will cost to repair. In all cars, check for low oil pressure, because wear of the big end’s shell bearing isn’t uncommon. And, if you’re trying an SMG, be ready for a brutal gearchange that can get you kangarooing down the road.

Bear in mind that the car you’re looking for may well have some warranty remaining, and keep an eye out for a car with a desirable extended warranty.

The good news is that owners like the 3 Series: the JD Power customer satisfaction survey in 2006 ranked the standard car overall joint 11th out of 139 models, and third in the executive car class, while BMW came joint fifth out of 35 manufacturers.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Good value now, demand for SMG 'box, CSL a specialist market

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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