This Understated E46 BMW M3 Is The Perfect Q-Spec

You could walk past it in the street and assume it was an old 320d, but thanks to sensible wheels and a manual gearbox this low-key E46 M3 will be an absolute joy to drive

Remind me later
All images: Collecting Cars
All images: Collecting Cars

Some people would say this E46 BMW M3 is in all the wrong exterior spec. It rides on modest-looking 18-inch wheels and comes painted in probably the model’s least showy colour. The side vents and flared arches blend into the Topaz Blue Metallic paint and if it wasn’t for the four fairly small but 100 per cent real exhaust tips poking out at the base of the rear bumper, you’d almost dismiss it as just another old 320d.

But, for people like us, this might just be an ideal real-world spec for what remains one of our favourite accessible performance car heroes ever. It won’t attract thieves or envious vandals anything like a Phoenix Yellow example will, and those wheels deliver a suppler, more enjoyable drive than the popular 19s. It’s the basis of an ideal Q-car spec sheet.

BMW - This Understated E46 BMW M3 Is The Perfect Q-Spec - Used Cars

It’s also a manual; the six-speed gearbox a gift from the gods of motoring when teamed with the justifiably famous S54 straight-six 3.2-litre engine. Its 338bhp is a lot for the era of car and balances perfectly with the lithe and chatty chassis. Naturally there’s also a superb aural accompaniment to the pursuit of the redline; something hard to come by in a 300bhp+ hot hatch – the exception being the warbly five-cylinder Audi RS3.

This 2002 car, 98,000 miles young (that’s 5600 miles per year) and free of rust, needs some minor cosmetic work to bring it back to as-new condition. Its 18-inch M Double Spoke wheels have already been refurbished. It’s for sale with Collecting Cars, an auctioneer that aims to be higher-quality and safer than a certain yellow-themed online marketplace you might have heard of.

BMW - This Understated E46 BMW M3 Is The Perfect Q-Spec - Used Cars

Its service book shows 13 services with the most recent carried out by the current seller. The engine oil was replaced along with the oil and air filters. The brake fluid was changed and the valve clearances were adjusted, says the listing. Not stopping there, the seller also fitted a new auxiliary belt and tensioners.

Interestingly, the transmission was also ‘refurbished.’ A new clutch and flywheel were installed, the gearbox linkages were renewed and the propshaft guibo coupling was also replaced. The centre bearing and bolts were added to the list of jobs done and the whole thing was reassembled with fresh oil. As long as OE-spec or better parts were used, the transmission should run beautifully for a long time to come. Hopefully the previously worn item isn’t an indicator of abuse.

BMW - This Understated E46 BMW M3 Is The Perfect Q-Spec - Used Cars

It’s not totally standard, as few E46 M3s are. The seller installed the Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs, lowering the ride height a little, and upgraded the brakes with M3 CSL-spec discs and calipers from a Porsche 911. These red items do still say Porsche on them. The original BMW calipers are included with the sale, should you wish to reinstall them.

The high-spec interior is all original though, with grey Nappa leather and the optional BMW Professional media system with satellite navigation. There’s climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors and M tri-colour stitching on the steering wheel. Because fancy.

BMW - This Understated E46 BMW M3 Is The Perfect Q-Spec - Used Cars

Six owners are recorded in its history, including the current one. Clearly it’s a car that has been used and enjoyed. The bidding has reached £7250 for this car with a fair number of ticks against its name. If you made a new year’s resolution to buy an all-time great affordable performance car, and you don’t want it to be too flashy, why not start here?