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BMW M3 E46 - Best BMW M cars

Great looks, great performance and a hardcore limited-run model to boot, the E46 BMW M3 had it all

The fabulous E46 M3 was the last in the line before the model’s character changed completely with the introduction of V8 power. When the E46 was born in late 2000, the high-revving BMW straight six engine was still king of the road – this time with 333bhp, an 8,000rpm red-line, electronic throttle control, and the option of steering-wheel paddle-shifters for the 6 speed transmission.

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If that wasn’t enough to set enthusiasts drooling, the limited edition CSL version was a stripped-out lightweight version with carbon fibre roof panel and further uprated running gear. 

BMW E46 M3 (2000-2006) specs 

  • Production: 85,744 (2000-2006)
  • Engine: 3.2-litre, six-cylinder
  • BHP: 333bhp
  • 0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
  • Max Speed: 155mph

What’s the BMW M3 CSL like to drive? 

Steve Sutcliffe tries it out on track

The M3 CSL I recall as a truly great car that was ruined by a rubbish SMG gearbox, which deserved no place in a chassis this good, but the CSL has aged well. Its chassis is still an absolute peach, with deliciously uncorrupted steering and fantastic damping, plus it has one of THE great six-cylinder engines of all time. It still feels properly quick, and its ’box, although far from cutting edge beside more modern paddleshift autos, doesn’t seem as much of a hindrance today somehow. Either way, I couldn’t get enough of the CSL.

 Just to sit in it feels incredibly special, and from the outside it looks even more gorgeous today than it did in 2004, when it cost £58,455. That’s risen today to more than £110k for a mint example such as this, but if ever a car deserves to be worth double what it cost new, 18 years later, this is it. I ache to own it, possibly because I know I never will.

BMW E46 M3 CSL (2004) specs and prices

  • Price new: £58,455
  • Value now: £115,000
  • Number built: 1,383
  • Engine: 3.2-litre 6cyl 
  • Power/torque: 355bhp/370Nm
  • 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds 
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Gearbox: Six-speed SMG 
  • Weight: 1,385kg
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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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