I believe the E9X generation (2008-2013) M3 is the best BMW sports car to come out of Bavaria. You’re probably thinking, “Oh great, another clickbait rant by some pseudo gearhead.” But hear me out.
It seems auto enthusiasts are coveting their old school sports cars more than ever these days, as evidenced by skyrocketing prices of anything with a peaky naturally aspirated motor, three pedals, and a balanced chassis. Just a few years ago, cars from the Honda S2000 to air-cooled Porsche 911s were less than half the cost they command on the open market today. This era of turbochargers and automatic transmissions on all-wheel drive platforms has sent the enthusiasts scrambling to grab and hold on to the glory days of motoring.
In the world of BMW M, the M3 represents the pinnacle of the brand’s driving performance in a package that can be used for the commute to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, grabbing groceries, and everything in between. It’s the car designed for someone who wants to thrash backroads and track days on the weekends while also donning a business suit on Monday.
Over the many generations, it’s gotten bigger, faster, and more luxurious, but one thing remains the same: it always feels special. Many would argue the latest F8X generation has lost that charm the predecessors had, and I would agree. Sure— there are much faster or more capable performance cars these days, but none of them quite stir the soul so well, at least not before costing magnitudes more. Simply put, where else can you buy a tight, high performing sports car that is available with a manual transmission, with a naturally aspirated motor that revs beyond 8000 RPM, has premium build quality and materials, and can be had for under $50,000?
In my mind, the E9X was the final swan song in this evolution. The car was finally modern enough to deliver the creature comforts and build quality many people expect from a premium car these days, yet it never felt like this aspect trumped its roots. From the moment you step into the wonderfully soft, leather clad interior and grasp the perfectly sized steering wheel in your fingers, you know it is special. It blends these comforts and pleasantries with a perfect dose of driving focus. Hop in, press the starter and the 4.0L naturally aspirated V8 sparks to life with deep snarl, the valve lifters tick away, and the motor begins to settle into a smooth idle.
The E9X formula was much the same of the previous M3s: take a perfectly balanced chassis, throw in a high-revving race-inspired engine, send power to the rear wheels, add a manual transmission, and GO. Let me tell you, boy did it ever work in this iteration…
The result is a car that absolutely begs to be thrashed. No, seriously. You have to wind the motor out all the way to its 8400 RPM redline where it makes its peak of 414 HP. Shift any sooner and you literally leave power on the table. Mashing the throttle pedal opens all eight throttle bodies wide, engulfing copious amounts of air and burning fuel faster than an Escalade. There’s nothing economical about the fuel here, folks… Stay in it and tachometer swings upwards effortlessly, the V8 motor screaming all the way to the top with a relentless surge. The higher you rev it out, the faster it goes, and the harder it pulls! All the while churning out one of the greatest V8 exhaust notes this side of Maranello. This S65B40 engine is a masterpiece of engineering.
But wait, it gets better as the road winds and curves. You barely have enough time to appreciate and comprehend the engine’s linear power delivery, and then the car impresses again with its sublime composure. Chuck it into an off-ramp or a winding road, and everything settles in with surgical precision. Steering inputs are incredibly accurate and you can feel the texture of every pebble underneath those front tires. The limits of grip arrive without any nasty surprise, as the car can be placed on whichever line you desire. Dial in more throttle, and you can make the rear-end dance with waves of counter steer. It’s bloody magical, the whole car just wraps around you like a perfectly fitted glove. The steering, the throttle, the brakes, the suspension: they all work in perfect unison to reward the driver’s efforts.
It doesn’t matter if you are doing serious driving or hooning. It doesn’t matter if you’re crawling in rush hour traffic in complete comfort or carving up a racetrack. You pick the flavour and the M3 happily obliges. Every single time. It’s the jack of all trades.
And that’s the E9X M3’s intangible secret to driving nirvana: man and machine truly feel as one. Whatever your mood, it matches. This M3 makes you the conductor to a glorious V8 motoring symphony. Get one while you can, and happy composing.