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BMW M3 (E36)



Although all of the sedans on this page are very quick, only a handful can truly be considered sports cars. That is what the BMW M3 is, a 4-door sports car, simply a 2-door M3 with more practicality. The two cars have identical length, wheelbase, track, front/rear weight distribution (which by the way is a perfect 50/50) and curb weights. The North American spec 3.2-litre, 24-valve with variable timing, 240 horsepower powerplant somehow manages to provide almost identical performance to its European sibling.

Against one of the M3's main rival, the C43 AMG, the M3 trails by 2 cylinders, 1.1 litres of displacement and 62 horsepower, however it still trounces it in the 0-60 mph and 1/4 mile tests by 0.3 and 0.4 seconds, respectively. The only time when the C43 finally manages to catch up is when the BMW hits its premature 140 mph electronic speed limiter, shaving off about 10 mph over its real top speed. Did I mention that the Bimmer also costs about $15K less? Back to the perfect weight balance. Couple that with the black magic BMW must use on its MacPherson front struts and world-class steering feel, and it's no wonder the M3 was judged The Best Handling Car in America by the editors of Car and Driver. While the 67.0 mph time was recorded in a comparison test with the Mercedes C43 AMG, speeds as high as 69.4 mph have been achieved (4/97 issue of MT). Add four-wheel disc brakes that will shame a Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 or a Lotus Esprit V8 and there is no way that anyone can be justified in not calling the M3 a sports car.

As for the interior, it lacks cruise control, power seats and tilt steering-wheel and provides tight rear-seat legroom but wins points for its attractive design. The only real gripe with the M3 must be its five-speed ZF manual transmission. Although providing the same number of gears as its two main competitors, the C43 AMG and S4, the M3's unit provides engine speeds that are always about 1000 rpm higher than comfortable in top gear, regardless of speed. This is somewhat advantageous because the driver rarely needs to downshift in order to make a swift pass, however it also leaves a sixth gear to be desired. Specs are also listed for the European spec E36 3.2L M3. Note the power (* European ratings in DIN) and price differences. - by Traian Popescu

Specifications North America / Europe

Price, USD/GBP 39,700/38,420 Engine Type 24-valve DOHC I6
Powertrain Layout Front engine, RWD Displacement, cc 3152/3201
Horsepower@rpm 240@6000/321*@7400 Torque, lb-ft@rpm 236@3800/258@3250
Curb Weight, lb 3109 0-62 mph, sec 5.5/-
1/4 mile, sec@mph 14.0@98.6/- 600 ft slalom, mph 67.0/-
60-0 mph, ft 112/- Top speed, mph 140/155