1997 BMW M3

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$39,380

starting MSRP

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

1 trim

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1997 BMW M3 review: Our expert's take

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The boomers are getting older and wider, and their kids are getting older and taller.

Consequently, Mr. and Mrs. Boomley have been buying sedans instead of coupes.

As is the case whenever the Boomleys burp or stub their toes, cataclysmic socioeconomic changes follow. This time around, their shifting driving preferences have left sedan sales booming – and coupe sales dying.

Someone has already pulled a sheet over the stiffening body of the Toyota Camry coupe. The Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar coupes will be interred at the end of the model year.

The Boomleys’ shift from two to four doors has even been felt at BMW M, which is the special BMW toy factory where speed-crazed Munich munchkins build the M3.

The M3 is a limited-production, hot-rodded version of the German automaker’s delightful 3 Series car. Until this year, this high performer had been available only as a coupe. But in 1997, it is also offered in the sedan form I tested.

As an additional concession to those softening Boomleys, the sedan is offered with an automatic transmission as well as a manual gearbox. The coupe maintains its performance purity by being available only with the ZF Type C five-speed manual. (Happily, the tester was fitted with the Type C, a city slicker whose moving parts seem to be made from an alloy of silk and steel.)

There really isn’t much aesthetic difference between the M3 coupe and sedan, because the 3 Series car is lovely in either two- or four-door form. And there isn’t a performance difference either, because both cars use the same go-fast hardware.

And go-fast is what you get from this $39,380 cutie. The manual M3 goes from rest to 60 miles an hour in 5.9 seconds, which is serious sports car stuff.

Although it has a top speed of 155 miles an hour in Europe, the M3 has been electronically limited to 137 in this country. I guess BMW just wants you to drive at a sensible speed.

The quick trip to the hairdresser this car affords is courtesy of an enlarged and tweaked version of the 3 Series inline six. The regular 3-car engine displaces 2.8 liters and develops 190 horsepower. The M3 variant has been bored and stroked to 3.2 liters, and puts out a rousing 240 Hohenzollerns.

(Actually, the folks at BMW will hate me for calling horsepower by such a name. BMWs are made in Bavaria, and the Hohenzollern royals were Prussians. Bavarians like Prussians about as much as doctors like malpractice lawyers.)

The M3’s spirited engine is matched by brilliant suspension performance. The sedan stays flat and unflustered when you push it hard in a corner, and its grip is exceptionally tenacious. That bite doesn’t come as much of a surprise if you bother to check out the rubber before you go barreling into the turns. The tires are 17-inch, Z-rated numbers with widths of 225 millimeters up front (225/45ZRl7) and 245 in the back (245/40ZR17).

A delightful aspect of the new M3 is the ride it affords. M3s of old really beat you up on rough pavement. This car doesn’t. Its suspension delivers the degree of athleticism BMW wants, and still affords a comfortable ride.

The pleasures of driving the M3 go beyond its athleticism, of course. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be taken from the sheer precision of this car’s design and execution.

But even wonderful cars usually have warts, and the M3 is no exception.

The warts in question here are aesthetic rather than functional, and might not be warts at all in the eyes of other beholders. But they sure are in mine.

Wart #1: The flared panels under the doors and the extended front spoiler. These are add-ons intended to make the M3 look hotter than the 328i sedan it is based on. I hate this kind of speed racer junk. It’s an afterthought that does violence to a car’s styling.

Wart #2: The bright yellow/brown upholstery in the test car. This was a color only a diaper could love.

SPECS
Base vehicle: Rear-wheel drive, 3.2-liter engine, five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel power disc brakes, anti-lock braking system, variable-assist power steering, traction control, sport suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, P225/45ZR17 front tires, P245/40ZR17 rear tires, dual air bags, security system, climate control, cabin air filter, stereo/cassette, central locking, power windows, power mirrors.

Test model: No extras.

Base price: $39,380

Test model: $39,950 (inc. shipping)

EPA city rating: 20

Test mileage: 21

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper, roadside assistance, three years/36,000 miles scheduled maintenance.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.7
  • Interior design 4.7
  • Performance 4.9
  • Value for the money 5.0
  • Exterior styling 4.7
  • Reliability 4.7

Most recent consumer reviews

5.0

Buy one now before they get expensive

I've been driving my 1995 as a daily driver since day one and currently have driven over 200,000 miles. This is one of the best cars I've ever owned. It's been reliable and easy to work on as a DIY. It's been a pleasure to drive and own. Parts are still reasonable. Because it is a M3, it will keep its value if you keep it up and take care of it. You should buy one now before they become really collectible and expensive.

4.3

A very fun sports car!

The E36 M3 is a very fun car to drive, especially with a standard transmission. The reliability is okay, as BMW was making decent cars back then compared to today. The ride is okay, but hey, it is a sports car. Overall, I would purchase one if you can get them very cheap (5,000 dollars and under!) (If it is a REAL M3, not just a 3 series).

4.9

Ultimate daily sports coupe

Elegant styling is matched only by its combination of speed, handeling, and braking. Overall package is as near perfection as I’ve experienced in a road car.

See all 12 consumer reviews

Warranty

New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by BMW
New car program benefits
Bumper-to-bumper
48 months/50,000 miles
Roadside assistance
48 months/50,000 miles
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
Maximum age/mileage
Certified Pre-Owned Elite with less than 15,000 miles; Certified Pre-Owned with less than 60,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
1 year/unlimited miles from expiration of 4-year/50,000-mile new car warranty
Powertrain
N/A
Dealer certification required
196-point inspection
Roadside assistance
Yes
View all cpo program details

Have questions about warranties or CPO programs?

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