The Complete BMW M3 Buyers Guide: Reliability, Performance Capabilities

The Complete BMW M3 Buyers Guide: Reliability, Performance Capabilities. This guide is going to go into every BMW M3 model ever manufactured. If you’re going to buy an M3, you most likely already understand which model you want to buy, however a minimum of delight in the history. Regardless, we are going to cover the pro’s and con’s, reliability, and tuning capacity for every single M3 design ever made.

The History of BMW M.

BMW Motorsport GmbH was officially established in 1972, 56 years after BMW was founded. Initially created to develop BMW’s racing program, the department concerned prominence in the 70’s and 80’s after developing many first-rate race cars. It wasn’t till 1986 that BMW recognized the need for high performance street cars and introduced its very first high-production, street legal performance car: the BMW E30 M3. The first true M badged car was the 1978 M1, however only 453 were made so it doesn’t fall under my category of “high-production”.

The department initially started with 35 workers, and its very first project was the BMW 3.0 CSL. The group built 1,265 BMW 3.0 CSL designs, which were specifically developed for the European Touring Car Champion. The 3.0 CSL won its very first European Car Touring Championship in 1973, followed by winning its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

By 1988 the M division had 400 staff members and was making its legendary mark on the performance street car market with the E30 M3.

Today, all M designs are evaluated and tuned by BMW’s private center at the Nurburgring racing circuit in Germany.

Fun BMW M Fact: the 6.1 L V12 engine used in the McLaren F1, which famously won the 24 hr of LeMans in 1995, was developed and constructed by BMW M.

BMW E30 M3 (1986-1991).

  • E30 M3 Engine: S14, 2.3 L naturally aspirated 4-banger.
  • Horsepower/Torque: 197hp/ 177lb-ft.
  • 0-60mph: 6.5 seconds.
  • Top Speed: 146mph.
  • Suppress Weight: Coupe = 2,568 lbs., Convertible = 2,998 lbs.
  • Production: 5,300 produced in the United States, with 185 sold in Canada, and the staying 5,115 sold in the US. Approx. 16,000 were produced consisting of European designs.

The E30 M3 is the simplest and purest M3 ever made, and likewise the most track friendly. This car was built throughout BMW M’s racing heyday and was built to destroy European racetracks, which it did. At just 2,600 pounds and a 7,000 rpm redline, the E30 M3 certainly will not fail to put a smile on your face. At 30 years old, you can’t anticipate it to keep up with any modern-day car. A Camry will probably beat you to 60mph nowadays, however it definitely doesn’t turn heads like this M3 will.

The Complete Buyer's Guide BMW M3: Reliability, Performance Capabilities

The E30 M3 has over 1,500 racing triumphes, consisting of a World Touring Car Championship title, two European Touring Car Championship victories, four wins at the Italia Superturismo Championship, and 5 24 hour Nurburgring triumphes. Wow.

E30 M3 Pro’s:

Even with only 200hp this is most likely the most fun M3 to drive.
The large fenders and front bumper provide the car so much character and make it turn heads all over.
Constantly increasing in price and value.
Racing device and remarkable 7,500 rpm redline.
Very stiff chassis with exceptional weight balance makes it incredible on winding roads and in corners.
A lot of successful touring car in racing history, winning more titles than the Porsche 911.

E30 M3 Con’s:

The cheapest E30 M3 opts for about $30k. Pristine condition one’s can go for upwards of $70k …
Not for the speed lover trying to find something that makes a Mustang GT look like a Prius.
Performance upgrades are pricey and striking the 300hp+ mark will cost $10k+.

BMW E30 M3 Reliability.

The E30 M3 is really trustworthy and can be a great everyday driver. These cars were constructed for the track, which means they were constructed to be run, and run hard. However given the age of these cars they need some considerable maintenance and the cost of ownership is most likely on the greater end compared to the newer M3 models. At the bare minimum, you will need to keep correct and fresh fluids in the car and perform regular valve adjustments given that the S14 does not have hydraulic lifters. Valve modifications cost about $200-250 from an independent store if you aren’t able to DIY it, and needs to be done every 10,000-15,000 miles. Some BMW dealerships can do it, however will the expense will like run around $1,000.

Considering that the majority of the E30 M3’s for sale nowadays have extremely high, 150,000+ mileage, a possible expense to consider is an engine rebuilt. Rebuilding the seals, gaskets, bolts, etc will run you about $2k if you can DIY it, and about $5-6k to have a shop do it. If you also require to replace your cylinder head, you are taking a look at $10-15k.

All in all, the E30 M3 is an incredibly dependable engine and is developed to be run hard, but maintenance and upkeep gets pricey provided the cars are 30+ years old. You can have a look at our maintenance guide listed below which details all the periodic upkeep that requires to be done on these cars to keep them running in tip top shape.

E30 M3 Regular Maintenace Schedule (check this link till we write our guide –

BMW E30 M3 Tuning Prospective.

The M3 has a solidly developed engine, however provided its naturally aspirated, tuning options are costly and rather restricted. With bolt-on mods and upgrades, the S14 engine can get to 240-250hp at the crank. Anything above that will run you a lot of cash. I’ll lay out a few popular alternatives that lots of people on forums have actually done:.

Alternative 1: restoring the 2.3 L engine and broadening it to 2.5 L. There are a great deal of restore kits out there for this however you will require a CNC machinist to expand the size of the engine, with the overall expense of this running about $14k. This will get you approx. 300-320hp at the crank.

Alternative 2: swap the engine with an S50 or S52. The S50 is a popular swap, will land you around 320whp, and expense approx. $15k.

Alternative 3: go forced induction. The most popular route is doing the above 2.5 L engine restore and after that including a single turbo setup to the S14. A strong turbo setup can get you to the 400whp mark and beyond, but the cost for an appropriate setup, with the 2.5 L conversion has to do with $25k.

BMW E36 M3 (1992-1999)

  • E36 M3 Engine: S50 3.0 L I6 (1995)/ S52 3.2 L I6 (1996+).
  • Horsepower/Torque: 240hp/ 236lb-ft (S52).
  • 0-60mph: 5.6 seconds.
  • Top Speed: 155mph.
  • Curb Weight: Coupe = 3,219 lbs., Convertible = 3,439 pounds.
  • Production: 71,242 throughout all nations and style’s. 32,932 ended up being sold in the United States.

While the E36 M3 began selling in 1992, it didn’t go into the United States market till 1995. When it at first debuted, BMW had no plans of making an US model after E30 sales had actually just reached 5,000 cars in the US. However, BMW CCA relentlessly sent letters to BMW up until they accepted produce the cars for the US market. Price was an issue and the S50 Euro-spec engines were just too costly for BMW to offer in America. So the E36 M3 got a dialed down S50 engine that was cheaper and eventually had 76hp less than the Euro-spec models.

In late 1995, the E36 M3 received a facelift, which included a brand-new engine for the United States models. Enter the S52, a 3.2 L I6 creating 240hp, which again has to do with 80hp less than the Euro-spec models were generating.

The Complete BMW M3 Buyers Guide: Reliability, Performance Capabilities

In my opinion, the E36 M3 is up to the bottom of the M3 list. It’s power was incredibly toned back, it was constructed to be more elegant and included softer suspension. In general, it’s not going to turn any heads and it’s not beating numerous cars off the line either.

E36 M3 Pro’s:

  • You can discover among these in good shape for $10-12k. Most affordable M3!
  • 5-speed manual transmission is extremely smooth with excellent steering.
  • Easy to manage due to lighter weight and smaller sized size compared to later model M3’s.
  • Restricted slip differential from the factory makes for great traction and good handling.

E36 M3 Con’s:

  • Made more for luxury and less for the track – softer suspension.
  • Vanos, shock installs, and water pump typically have problems over 100k miles.

BMW E36 M3 Reliability.

Like any BMW, these cars are excellent and reasonably problem complimentary IF they were taken care of by the previous owner. However, buying one nowadays indicates the car probably has well past 100k miles. There are lots of S52’s running strong past 200k+ miles, however lets cover some common things to look for on these high mileage cars:.

Suspension products on old cars in general can wear down extremely easily. Examine the rear shock installs to make certain there are no cracks in the towers. Inspect the rear trail arm bushings and listen for clunking sounds while driving around.

The most important thing to check is the cooling system. They frequently fail every 80k miles approximately. Make certain there are no fractures in the overflow tank or radiator necks. I would be cautious if the car hasn’t had its full cooling system revamped a minimum of one time previously. This includes a new radiator, expansion tank, pipes, thermostat, thermostat real estate, water pump, and so on. The early design years had plastic real estates and composite impellers on the water pump, both of which you wish to ensure have been upgraded to metal.

The S52 has VANOS (which you can read about here) which is a common issue causer in cars with > 100k miles. You’ll want something that has currently had a Vanos restore.

BMW E36 M3 Tuning Potential.

BMW short-shafted the United States designs providing just 320hp vs. 240hp on the Euro models.

These cars aren’t going to set you back in your seat. But the handling and suspension still make it a fun car to drive. Simply not as enjoyable as it would be with 320hp. Provided the car is naturally aspirated, common bolt-on modifications such as an intake, exhaust, etc won’t add any substantial power to the car. Required induction is actually the only method to make serious power with the S52, but be ready to open up your wallet. If you aren’t interested in FI, then the very best E36 M3 mods are a lightweight flywheel, updated clutch package, coilovers, and a chassis x-brace.

If you desire the additional 50whp on this car without breaking the count on a turbo setup, you can get a Turner Phase 4 Plan for a little less than $4k. This will get you 55whp and 22lb-fts of torque.

Superchargers: Stage 1 and phase 2 kits are available. Stage 1 will get you to 350-370hp and stage 2 is 400-420hp. The cost varies from $3.5 k-$ 7k depending upon stage and set.

Turbochargers: A turbo set is the simplest path to 400whp+ on an S52 engine. There are lots of kits out there, with the starting price around $6k and running up past $10k for the highest horse power setups.

This thread is remarkable, read it for info on every possible E36 M3 mod:

BMW E46 M3 (2000-2006).

  • E46 M3 Engine: S54 3.2 L I6.
  • Horsepower/Torque: 333hp/ 262lb-ft.
  • 0-60mph: 4.8 seconds.
  • 1/4 Mile: 13.0 seconds at 104mph.
  • Top Speed: 170mph (limited to 155mph).
  • Suppress Weight: Coupe = 3,399 lbs., Convertible = 3,797 pounds.
  • Production: 56,133 coupes and 29,633 convertibles, globally.

Due to the intro in 1999 (production year 2000) of the E39 M5, the E46 M3 was only produced in coupe and convertible designs. The engine remained the exact same size as the E36, at 3.2 L and kept the I6, which has actually been called the pinnacle of BMW performance. The car can be found in either a 6-speed manual or SMG II transmission, which is an abbreviation for a fancy name that we today know as paddle shifters. The S54 engine was constructed off of the M54, but is more so an evolution of the S50 engine utilized in the Euro-spec E36 M3’s.

The Complete BMW M3 Buyers Guide: Reliability, Performance Capabilities

In 2004, BMW launched the M3 CS, understood is the United States as the ZCP plan. The ZCP package, in the United States, uses the same S54 as the base models, so there were no power advantages. The plan was primarily a cosmetic package that consisted of 19-inch BBS wheels, bigger brake rotors and calipers, stiffer suspension, and different interior trims. The ZCP package in Europe was referred to as the M3 CSL and had a modified consumption, camshafts, and a lightweight exhaust manifold, leading to increased power to the tune of 355hp and 273tq.


  • Perfect 50/50 weight distribution.
  • Lots of online forum info for DIY’s and performance upgrades.
  • Affordable nowadays, looks fantastic, and offers adequate performance for a 15-year-old car.
  • If you are looking for good reliability and a fun amount of power, great everyday driver.


  • SMG transmission had problems and was less trustworthy than manual variations.
  • Valve changes are ocassionally essential, similar to the E30.

S54 Engine Reliability

Compared to the E36, the S54 was a considerably stronger developed engine, but it definitely had more problems. The engine has more moving parts which suggests more things to go wrong. Earlier models had a rod bearing recall, so make sure this was fixed if you are taking a look at an early design E46. Subframes are understood to crack, so ensure this is inspected prior to acquire and strengthened if there are any fractures.

SMG is understood to cause problems and a common failure is the SMG pump which costs approx. $3k to fix. A lot of SMG owners have actually decided to do a manual conversion to enhance reliability and save on prospective repair costs from SMG failure. In addition, the VANOS system is known to fail with time. There was also a recall on this so examine to see if the VANOS seals were restored or have actually been changed.

Outside of those problems, the S54 is a terrific engine and fairly problem complimentary. Ignition coils are understood to go bad quite rapidly, however this is a common upkeep product and shouldn’t drive you far from ownership.

Overall, if you are purchasing an E46 opt for the manual transmission and for the coupe, not convertible. The convertible is uglier, in my opinion, and it’s heavier.

S54 Tuning Potential

Like all of the other M3’s (with the exception of the F80) tuning is rather limited without adding a supercharger or turbocharger because the car is naturally aspirated from the factory.

With complete bolt-ons (FBO), you can anticipate approx. 330whp and 260wtq. FBO will run you a couple of thousand dollars.

With a supercharger, there are plans out there that produce anywhere from 475hp-575hp at the crank. These sets plus install variety from $10k-$ 15k. 600hp+ can be gotten with an aggressive supercharger setup and a tune.

Superchargers are the more popular option, but there are likewise some turbo kits out on the marketplace. I’ve seen dyno’s with turbo sets ranging from 450whp up past 700whp. The 700whp dyno I saw was a $12k develop, however all labor was done by the shop that developed it, so no labor expense is consisted of in this number. Probably closer to the $20k mark if you include labor.

BMW E90/E92/E93 M3 (2007-2013).

  • E90/E92/E93 M3 Engine: S65 4.0 L V8.
  • Horsepower/Torque: 414hp/ 295lb-ft.
  • 0-60mph: 3.9 seconds (DCT E92).
  • 1/4 Mile: 12.4 seconds at 114mph (E92 DCT).
  • Top Speed: 178mph (limited to 155mph).
  • Suppress Weight: Coupe = 3,648 lbs., Convertible = 3,538 lbs.
  • Production: 65,917 internationally.

The E90 and E92 versions of the M3 became the standard for the performance car market. When Mustang would launch a new GT, the question became, “well how does it compare to the M3?”. This car has actually won comparison tests versus all of its competitors: C63 AMG, Lexus IS-F, Audi RS4, Audi RS5, CTS-V.

The S65 won the International Engine of the Year 5 years in a row! Which’s 5 years out of only 6 years of it being produced.

The Complete BMW M3 Buyers Guide: Reliability, Performance Capabilities

Motor Pattern Magazine said the E90/E92 M3 is an undeniable contender as the world’s single greatest car.

Car and Driver called the M3 the world’s all-around best car for the cash, the finest car on the market, period.

Jeremy Clarkson of Top Equipment said “The M3 is the very best car, and always will be, and there’s no point in ever believing otherwise.”.

Do we require to say anything else??

E9X M3 Pro’s:

  • V8 with one of the very best sounding factory exhausts, ever.
  • 8,400 rpm redline.
  • Double clutch transmission is fast and incredibly smooth shifting.
  • 400whp is easy with a couple of basic bolt-ons.
  • Fairly budget-friendly.
  • Extremely useful – drives like a luxury car at regular speeds but truly opens up under throttle. Great for the Father with kid’s. Your spouse will just think its a good-looking sedan that’s safe for the kids.
  • More reputable than all of its predecessors.

E9X M3 Con’s:.

  • Low torque for its engine size.
  • Potential rod bearing and throttle actuators problems.
  • iDrive isn’t excellent.
  • The N54 came out at the same time and can make way more power than the S65 for a lot less $$$.

E90/E92 M3 Reliability.

The S55 engine in the F80, in early 2019, is still too new to truly understand how dependable it is. For the time being, I am going to crown the S65 as the most reputable M3 engine that has been made to date. There are really just 2 prospective problems to worry about with these engines: rod bearing failure and throttle actuators failure.

The factory rod bearings are incredibly tight which does not allow for adequate lubrication and ultimately results in the bearings breaking. What will this cost you? $10k+ for a brand-new engine. Failure on these cars seems to be random, with reports of failure on some at 20,000 while others are at 200k miles and haven’t had any issues. The safe solution here is investing $2.5 k upfront to change the bearings and avoid this from taking place.

The S65 has 2 throttle actuators on it, which are responsible for opening the individual throttle bodies. A common sign of failure is the car entering into limp mode. They are tough to get to, and the parts are expensive at approx. $850 per actuators, so total repair work expense is about $2.5 k. Unfortunately, there is no maintenance that will avoid this, failure is random.

BMW S65 Tuning Prospective.

The S65 comes packed with an excellent quantity of power from the factory, so this might be enough for some individuals. For others that it isn’t, making extra power in these cars is pretty easy and low-cost. A catless exhaust system will include near 32lb-ft and 40hp of torque. An intake will provide an additional 8-12hp. A tuner running a more aggressive tune will bring in an extra 25hp and 20lb-ft of torque.

FBO Horsepower: a full-bolt on S65 will push 400whp and 300wtq.

S65 Turbo/Supercharger Horsepower: turbo or supercharged S65’s can get up and over 650whp, but the disadvantage is that the sets are very costly and the overall cost will likely run you around $20k.

Unfortunately, at the same time BMW was manufacturing the S65 and putting it in the M3, they likewise constructed the N54 which is probably the most tuneable engine ever (along with the 2JZ). While the S65 would top out at 400whp with bolt-ons, the N54 was going on to break 450whp on bolt-ons and about $2,000 worth of parts. Given that the N54 came stock with twin turbos, upgrade kits are fairly low-cost and the cost of developing a 650whp S65 is most likely 5x more than building a 650whp N54.

BMW F80 M3 (2014-2018)

  • F80 M3 Engine: S55 3.0 L Twin-Turbocharged I6.
  • Horsepower/Torque: 425hp/ 406lb-ft.
  • 0-60mph: 3.8 seconds DCT, 4.1 seconds manual.
  • 1/4 Mile: 11.66 seconds at 119.24 miles per hour.
  • Top Speed: 174mph (limited to 155mph), however probably much faster (no conclusive data).
  • Curb Weight: 3,590 pounds.
  • Production: 34,677 internationally, 16,057 US.

If the M3 needs to be a 2 or 4 door car, BMW had actually never ever really been able to figure out. The E30 was coupe just. The M5 had a couple of year production space, so BMW decided to make the E36 in coupe and sedan. The E46 was coupe just. And then the E9X variation had both coupe and sedan. In 2014, BMW introduced the M2 and M4, which are just two door coupes. So, the M3 will now permanently be a 4-door sedan. We’re glad they figured it out.

For being a V8, the S65 had an enormous lack of torque. While horsepower didn’t increase much with the S55, torque took a big advance from 295 to 406.

The Complete BMW M3 Buyers Guide: Reliability, Performance Capabilities

We mentioned previously that BMW probably made an unintentional error with the N54 engine. While the engine was only putting down 300hp at the crank, the twin turbo setup integrated with forged internals, allowed for aggressive tuning. The end outcome: an N54 with $2,000 of mods making 50-80whp more than the S65 E9X M3. I wouldn’t have been too delighted as the M3 owner.

While even BMW’s low-end engines are going to turbocharger setups for performance purposes, we don’t think its a surprise that the S55 has actually ended up being as much of a monster as it is. We’ll conserve the rest for the tuning area below …

S55 Pro’s:

  • Twin turbo setup make it tuner friendly.
  • Least expensive horse power out of all other designs, 500whp for about $1,000.
  • Perfect balance of 4-door usefulness and performance.
  • Torque is right where it must be after a soft output on the S65 M3’s.

S55 Con’s:.

  • It can get expensive with all of the add-ons and bundles.
  • Exhaust noise is produced and not quite the same as a naturally aspirated 400hp car.

BMW S55 Reliability.

The S55 is constructed off of the N54 platform, which certainly had its fair share of common problems. Thankfully, up until now after 4 years of production, the S55 doesn’t seem to have any glaring common problems. There is one possible failure that trips up the majority of prospective buyers: the crank center concern.

The crank center issue happens when the nut that holds the crank center to the crankshaft loses its tension which results in the crankshaft and camshaft timing getting thrown out of whack. This causes the pistons to smash into the valves and leaves you with a couple of thousand dollar repair work bill. While this does occur once in a blue moon on highly modded cars, the problem is a lot of BS, primarily attracted by a business called TPG Tuning who made an “upgraded” crank hub that is really worse than the OEM one.

Related: How Much BMW N20 Horsepower Have?

The S55 crank hub is the same one used by the N54 and N55. TPG declares both these engines have common problems with the crank center … we own 3 N54’s, 2 of which are extremely tuned, and we have actually been BMW bloggers and active online forum members for several years, and have never found out about a crank hub concern on an N54 or N55. Don’t buy their product and do not get worried about this issue.

Do not get me wrong, crank hub failure is a concern, however it definitely isn’t a common one. The majority of the failures originated from 2014 and 2015 models who were running 550whp or more. BMW changed the bed plate in 2016 which repaired this issue and made it less common, so choose a 2016+ if this does issue you.

If you do experience crank hub failure, the total cost with parts and labor to fix it is only about $2k. The magnitude of this issue has been overplayed.

BMW S55 Tuning Prospective.

With the S55 developed off the N54 platform, you can expect a high degree of tuning capacity. BMW struck the nail on the head with this engine and lastly constructed an M3 that is easy and low-cost to tune and make huge power from. The previous M3 models required induction, to the tune of about $10-20k to get any severe power gains over the stock engine. Add twin turbos and now the M3 can make an extra 100whp by simply including a flash tuner.

The S55 with a flash tune (bootmod3) and catless downpipes will dyno approx. 500whp and 550wtq.

FBO S55’s with stock turbos, stock fueling, and E85 has been dyno ‘d at 552whp and 575wtq.

FBO + Phase 2 turbos + meth injection + race gas will get you approx. 750whp and 675wtq.

The S55 M3 is hands down the most tuner friendly M3, and the very best alternative for anyone looking to put down severe amounts of power without investing severe quantities of money. The cars themselves are pricey enough?

All in all, 700whp+ on the S55 is exceptionally obtainable. 500whp will just cost you about $1,000 and you can get to 550whp for less than $2,500. In general, the S55 engine is exceptionally tuner friendly and by far the very best M3 for people who are looking to put out major horsepower.

The current S55 horse power record is 1,163 whp and 983wtq. At 41psi, this is naturally on a fully constructed motor. Super impressive and keeps us anticipating future developments on the S55. The engine is still new from a tuning viewpoint so there must be big strides made here over the next few years.

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