Just like many other auto enthusiasts, I had been in love with the BMW M3 since the 80’s. I am not in a position to afford a brand new one, but the prices for nice used examples of the third-generation E46 version of the car have been creeping down into the realm of the affordable, i.e., about the price of a brand new economy sedan.
Before I bought the M3 one year ago, I had been looking at newer, non-M BMW’s. I came away a bit disappointed after going to see a 2007 328i. The interior was not in great condition, the seats were not even covered in real leather, and some of the warning lights were lit up in the dash. I realized that, for the money I was willing to spend, I was unlikely to find a newer 3-series in really nice condition.
When I came across the ad for the 2003 M3, it seemed too good to be true for the price: never winter driver, never accidented, not too many miles, many new parts and two sets of wheels. I e-mailed the ad to my wife, who was out of town, and she told me to go for it (even though we had been looking at 4-door sedans!).
After an inspection at the BMW dealer in Quebec City, I pulled the trigger. I loaded the spare wheels and parts into the car and drove it home. I immediately bought some used Gislaved winter tires and had the car rust-proofed. Of course, I felt a little bit sad exposing the car to winter for the first time in its life, but cars are meant to be driven, right? Besides, I only have one parking spot, so I can’t really have a different car for summer and winter.
The fact is, the car drives surprisingly well in the snow (surely thanks to DSC plus a real limited-slip differential) and I only got stuck a couple of times, mostly trying to squeeze into my parking spot. The heated seats are a nice touch as well.
When spring came, I had my mechanic go over the car and he told me that I needed a new rear trailing arm bushing and that two of the shocks were blown. I got a great deal on a set of Koni’s and the car was returned to me better than ever just in time for summer.
I took the car out on the track once and, although I did not push it too hard, it was a total blast to drive. Indeed, this is one of those cars with a power band that can seldom be enjoyed at road legal speeds. My wife reminded me, however, that I already own a track car and “strongly suggested” I not use the M3 on the track anymore. That was the end of the car’s track career… for now!
As far as ownership costs, I have been pleasantly surprised. I haven’t needed to change any other parts on the car except rear tires and windshield wipers. The fuel economy is not great, but it’s not as bad as I had feared. The oil specified by BMW is quite expensive, but you don’t need to change it often if you don’t track the car. There is a mysterious and intermittent clunk sound coming from the left rear suspension, but I can never recreate it when there is a mechanic around. Since all my bushings are in order, I just live with it.
The car is a pleasure to drive on long trips and on narrow country roads, yet not unpleasant in the city. The low end torque is not spectacular, but ample for regular driving. The Sport button alters the throttle response and reminds you that you are driving a sports car. The upper end of the rev range is really where the magic happens. All in all, this car is a great all-rounder, comfortable on longer journeys, yet capable on the race track right out of the box. After a year of ownership, I’m still in love with this car (as is my wife).