Arriving with much fanfare and to critical acclaim in 2000 was the E46-generation of the M3. Under the bonnet was the charismatic new 252 kW/365 Nm 3.2-litre S54M engine, coupled with either a 6-speed manual Getrag transmission or the automated SMG system (with steering-mounted paddles). With a redline of 8 000 rpm and a stirring engine note, the E46 M3 quickly became an iconic machine. It could blast to 100 kph in 5.2 seconds and was electronically limited to 250 kph.
2000 BMW (E46) M3 Touring
Strongly considered as an additional M3 derivative was a station wagon (Touring) version. If it was given the green light for production, it would've entered into battle with the B5-generation Audi RS4 Avant. Sadly, it never received the go-ahead and only one prototype was built.
2001 BMW (E46) M3 Convertible
In the absence of a sedan derivative of the E46 M3 and the Touring version being stillborn, the Convertible was the only other body style on offer. It was around 100 kg heavier than the coupe, and consequently, its 0-100 kph time was affected, with the benchmark sprint completed in a claimed 5.5 seconds.
2002 BMW (E46) M3 GTR
A precursor to the E90-generation M3, the E46 M3 GTR featured a 4.0-litre V8 (P60B40) engine producing 368 kW. It was developed to compete in ALMS (American Le Mans Series), which it did successfully, but a rule change forced BMW to build and sell 10 road going GTRs to the public. It is said that only 3 were ultimately built and that they all now reside in the BMW M Division's collection. Either way, the next year the rules changed again, demanding that 100 cars and 1 000 engines had to be built. This was too much for BMW, so it pulled out of ALMS.
2003 BMW (E46) M3 CSL
The E46 M3 CSL (for Coupe Sport Lightweight) is one of the most desirable M3 models – of any generation – and just short of 1 400 units were built. It featured a number of weight-reducing components (including a carbon fibre-reinforced roof panel) and a plethora of cosmetic, drivetrain and suspension modifications. Even the rear glass was thinner to eke out every little bit of weight saving possible. Overall, the CSL was about 160 kg lighter than the standard car.
The CSL's engine was fettled too and benefited from a different air intake system with larger manifolds, modified camshafts and exhaust valves, and a lightweight exhaust system. Power went up to 265 kW and the 0-100 kph sprint time was reduced to 4.9 seconds. The CSL was only offered with the SMG II transmission that featured a launch control mode. The removal of the top speed limiter was an option offered by the factory.
2004 BMW (E46) M3 Silverstone
Although the M3 Silverstone featured no performance-altering modifications, it was a notable special derivative as 50 examples were produced exclusively for the UK market during 2004. The 50 cars (30 manual, 20 with SMG II) all were painted in Silverstone metallic and had dark Estoril Blue extended Nappa leather interiors.
2005 BMW (E46) M3 CS
The E46 M3's final swan song was the CS, officially given this labelling only for the right-hand drive UK market. It is, however, essentially the same car as the left-hand drive "ZCP" coded model, and featured the Competition Package as standard (275 of the so-called M3 CS derivatives were made for the UK).
The Competition Package included the following items: cross-drilled brake rotors (13.7 inches at the front) with 2-piece compound rotors; reduced steering ratio; M Track Mode setting for DSC; 19-inch cross-spoke alloy wheels; Alcantara-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel with the M Track Mode button; milled aluminium effect interior trim; Interlagos Blue metallic paint.
Arrival of the 4th generation (E90, E92, E93): 2007–2013
2007 BMW (E90) M3 Sedan
The E90-generation heralded the introduction of a high-revving 4.0-litre V8 engine (S65 B40) for the M3, a powerplant that developed no less than 309 kW and 400 Nm of torque. This gave the M3 blistering performance, with a claimed 0-100 kph time of 4.9 seconds. It was offered with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed M-DCT (dual clutch transmission). Although the E9x-generation M3s were heavier than their forebears, they did employ a lot of weight-saving items, including a carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof and a front axle made almost entirely from aluminium.
2007 BMW (E92) M3 Coupe
Like its sedan sibling, the Coupe version used the new V8 engine (said to be a truncated version of the E60 M5's 5.0-litre V10) to great effect and was even fractionally faster (0-100 kph in 4.8 seconds). Like its sedan and convertible counterparts, the Coupe had the M Variable Differential (that directs more power to the wheel with greatest traction), MDrive button (that allows driver to store and call up his/her favourite dynamic settings), and Power button (that alters throttle response).
2008 BMW (E93) M3 Convertible
For the first time the M3 Convertible featured a folding hard-top, as was the fashion at the time. Unfortunately, the hardtop and its folding mechanism added around 200 kg of ballast to the car, so performance suffered.
2009 BMW (E92) M3 GTS
This spicy number was a limited production run of around 140 units (coupe only) that offered more power and less weight than the standard car. It emerged from the factory complete with a roll-cage in place of the rear seats. It also featured a larger (4.4-litre) engine and a lightweight exhaust system with titanium silencers.
Power went up to 331 kW and torque to 440 Nm. It scorched to 100 kph in 4.4 seconds and would only run out of puff at 305 kph. It was offered only with the 7-speed M-DCT transmission with unique software and increased oil capacity. Of course, the brakes and wheels were upgraded too, but the big news under the skin was the upgrade to a true coil-over suspension set-up with double-adjustable shock absorbers.
2009 BMW (E92) M3 Edition
In some markets, such as Russia and Italy, the M3 Edition was known as the "Black & White edition" in reference to its trademark colour scheme, although BMW offered the car in 5 different paint colours. There was only one small mechanical change compared with the standard car – it had shorter (by 10 mm) springs. A total of 707 M3 Editions were manufactured.
2010 BMW (E92) M3 Frozen Edition
The M3 Frozen Edition, wasn't a unique product to the South African market, as some still believe, but what is true is that the Frozen Edition sold in South Africa was a little more special than those in the rest of the world. Easily identified courtesy of its matte black finish and black wheels, the SA-market Frozen Edition included AC Schnitzer software, air intake and exhaust system as standard, giving it a very memorable sound. With 330 kW and 420 Nm of torque, the M3 Frozen Edition was a scorcher, punching to 100 kph in 4.5 seconds and on towards 290 kph.
2011 BMW (E92) M3 Competition Edition
Fitted as standard with the M-DCT transmission and the Competition Package, the so-called Competition Edition had a long production run but only 385 were ever made, with most of them painted in the Frozen Silver metallic colour. In the UK this model was known as the M3 Frozen Silver Edition. There were no drivetrain upgrades.
2011 BMW (E90) M3 CRT
This is quite a special version and, sadly, one that never came to South Africa. The CRT used the drivetrain and chassis of the track-focused M3 GTS coupe and was reportedly built to show off BMW's expertise in manufacturing Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP).
Using left-over CFRP pieces from the i3/i8 projects, BMW fashioned a number of items from this material, including the bonnet, front seats etc. Overall, around 45 kg was saved and yet the M3 CRT's standard specification was considered quite generous (automatic climate control, navigation etc.). It did, however, have 2 individual rear seats rather than a bench.
BMW made 67 M3 CRTs, all in the same trim, with only 5 of those being in right-hand drive form.
2011 BMW (E92) M3 Pick-Up
For the second time in the M3's history, BMW built a pickup version. Based on the body of the convertible model, the pickup was used to good effect as an April Fool's joke on the world's motoring press. BMW even released images of the pickup pounding the Nurburgring Nordschleife and boasted about a 450 kg payload. The truth, however, was that the original E30 M3 pickup had to be retired, and this E90 pickup was to be pushed into service around the M Division factory. This time, however, it was also licensed for road use.
2012 BMW (E92) M3 Limited Edition 500
The Limited Edition 500 was built for the UK market and available in coupe and convertible body styles. As the name suggests, only 500 examples of the car were built. It offered no extra power or enhanced dynamic ability, with the focus instead being on offering extra equipment. It was available in 3 colours: Imola Red, Mineral White and Santorini Blue, the colours of the M Division. All models featured the so-called Shadowline exterior trim and black alloy wheels.
2013 BMW (E92) M3 DTM Champion Edition
To celebrate its triumphant return to DTM racing in 2012, BMW built 54 examples of this DTM Champion Edition, all equipped with the M-DCT transmission and Competition Package. Frozen Black metallic was the colour of choice, with generous use of the M tri-colour strip. It also featured the Canadian flag and the letters SPE on the rear side windows, in reference to Canadian Bruno Spengler, who was the champion driver. There were no drivetrain changes.
2013 BMW (E92) M3 Lime Rock Park Edition
The Lime Rock Park Edition was a US-only derivative with a production run of only 200 cars, all painted in Fire Orange. It featured various carbon fibre bits, including the front splitter and rear spoiler, ran a lowered ride height and had the competition package fitted as standard. You could have it with either a 6-speed manual 'box or the M-DCT dual-clutch, and while there were no changes to the engine, the ECU software was different to create less noticeable interference from the DSC and traction control systems. It could also run all the way to its top-end of 300 kph.
Arrival of the 5th generation (F80)
2014 BMW (F80) M3 Sedan
Arriving in 2014, the F80 generation car heralded quite a big shift in BMW's naming policies. For the first time, there was no M3 Coupe (rebadged M4), and the M3 badge would only be applied to the muscular sedan version. The Convertible, based on the Coupe, also received the M4 moniker.
The F80 also saw a return to a free-revving 3.0-litre straight-6 engine, but this time with M TwinPower turbo technology. Power went up to 317 kW and torque to 550 Nm. The 6-speed manual transmission was still offered, along with the more popular M-DCT 7-speed dual-clutch. The use of lightweight components resulted in an overall mass about 80 kg lower than its predecessor. The M3 blitzed the 100 kph sprint in 4.3 seconds (manual) or 4.1 seconds (M-DCT).
2015 BMW (F80) M3 Competition Pack
The highly acclaimed M3 Competition Pack introduced new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars to supplement the Adaptive M suspension. There were also modifications to the differential and DSC system to further heighten the dynamic (entertainment) capabilities of the vehicle. Visually, the car featured several changes compared with the standard M3, including the M Sports exhaust with black chrome tailpipes and the Shadow Line exterior trim. Most importantly, power was upped to 331 kW, cutting the 0-100 kph time by 0.1 seconds.
2016 BMW (F80) M3 30 Jahre Special Edition
In celebration of the M3's 30th anniversary, BMW introduced the limited-edition 30 Jahre in 2016. Only 500 units were built and 30 allocated to South Africa. It featured the Competition Pack upgrades (including 331 kW power boost) as standard, as well as Macao Blue metallic exterior paint finish, an original M3 colour.
Sources: BMW Press, BMW Registry, Wikipedia, Cars.co.za