Bmw M3 E36 vs E46 vs E92 vs F80 - Comparison

Bmw M3 E36 vs E46 vs E92 vs F80 – Comparison

Bmw M3 E36 vs E46 vs E92 vs F80 - Comparison
Bmw M3 E36 vs E46 vs E92 vs F80 – Comparison

We get it all of the time – What’s the best BMW M3 for for track? Should I get an E36 M3? Should I swap an S54 into an E36? Should I get an E46 M3 with the S54? Should I get an E92 M3 with the S65 V8 and available DCT? We feel each car has it’s pros and cons and we decided to lay it all out here to give you as much info as possible so you can make a decision based on what’s right for you. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with any of these generation M3s!

We know there is an E90 M3, an E30 M3, an F82 M4 and convertible variations, but we decided to leave those out to keep the comparison as focused as possible. We picked the ones that are the most popular track cars to compare.

Comparison overview (Factory Specs) – BMW M3

Off the showroom floor

E36 M3 (96-99)E46 M3 (01-05)E92 M3 (08-13)F80 M3 (15+)
EngineS52 I6S54 I6S65 V8S55 I6 Twin Turbo
Weight3,219 lbs3,415 lbs3,649 lbs (DCT)3,516 lbs (DCT)
HP to Weight13.41 lb/hp10.26 lb/hp8.81 lb/hp8.27 lb/hp
TQ to Weight13.41 lb/tq13.03 lb/hp12.37 lb/hp8.66 lb/hp

Comparison overview (Standard Bolt on Modifications) – BMW M3

Here we take the factory cars above and add standard bolt on power mods. (Intake/Exhaust/Headers/Tune)

E36 M3 (96-99)E46 M3 (01-05)E92 M3 (08-13)F80 M3 (15+)
Weight3,219 lbs3,415 lbs3,649 lbs (DCT)3,516 lbs (DCT)
HP to Weight11.92 lb/hp9.11 lb/hp7.85 lb/hp6.39 lb/hp
TQ to Weight12.38 lb/tq11.98 lb/hp11.05 lb/hp6.40 lb/hp

Comparison overview (Bolt ons and heavy weight reduction) – BMW M3

Lightweight exhaust, remove rear seats, speakers, interior pieces, etc

E36 M3 (96-99)E46 M3 (01-05)E92 M3 (08-13)F80 M3 (15+)
Weight2,600 lbs2,850 lbs3,150 lbs (DCT)3,250 lbs (DCT)
HP to Weight9.63 lb/tq7.60 lb/hp6.77 lb/hp5.90 lb/hp
TQ to Weight10.00 lb/tq10.00 lb/hp9.55 lb/hp5.91 lb/hp

As you can see above, the F80 is a monster when it comes to power to weight ratio, both factory spec as well as with bolt ons and with weight reduction. In order to obtain the weights above, you have to go through some pretty serious weight reduction. The weights are estimated without a driver and are based on our experience with heavily stripped cars. You can get each car a little lighter and most are going to be above these weights, but this will give you a comparison of about where most of the generations currently sit in terms heavy weight reduction.

Comparison overview (Supercharged and Forced Induction) – BMW M3

A clean title, good condition example of each one, picked with the earliest year

E36 M3 (96-99)E46 M3 (01-05)E92 M3 (08-13)F80 M3 (15+)
Weight3,219 lbs3,415 lbs3,649 lbs (DCT)3,516 lbs (DCT)
HP to Weight8.94 lb/hp6.20 lb/hp5.83 lb/hp6.39 lb/hp
TQ to Weight10.79 lb/tq11.02 lb/hp8.69 lb/hp6.39 lb/hp

Above is the most horsepower that is currently recommended for each car, with the factory motor, on the track. The F80 can make much more power, but we haven’t seen power levels over about 550 be reliable (yet) on the track. The E92 has a 650 horsepower kit as well, but it requires higher octane, and most customers run the 625 horsepower kits. Each platform is capable of more power, but this is a demonstration of track readiness. In this case, the E92 is the shining star for horsepower to weight. However, any one of the supercharged cars will require modification beyond a standard kit in order to run cool on the track.

Comparison overview (Problem Areas) – BMW M3

General Problem Areas – Most common problems

E36 M3 (96-99)E46 M3 (01-05)E92 M3 (08-13)F80 M3 (15+)
Problem AreaSubframe
Shock Towers
Cooling System
Trailing Arm Bushings
Transmission Mounts
Rod Bearings
SMG Pump
Throttle Actuators
Crank Pin

Comparison overview (Cost of engine and transmission replacement) – BMW M3

Forum and eBay prices as of the date of this post

E36 M3 (96-99)E46 M3 (01-05)E92 M3 (08-13)F80 M3 (15+)
Transmission$400$800$1,800 (DCT)
$2,500 (6MT)
$3,350 (DC)

The BMW M3 E36, being the oldest car here, is going to have the most little problems. Generally, the S52 is pretty stout and once refreshed can be used very reliably as a track car. Commonly, the cooling system is not up to par and there are some oil starvation issues, but both can be fixed relatively easily. We recommend replacing all bushings and as many “easy to access” gaskets as possible to have the most reliable motor. Most customers replace their valve cover gaskets and do a head gasket job as preventative maintenance when they are going to be tracking the car. The manual transmissions are solid. The E36 suffers from the same subframe problems as the E46, but since the E46 is a heavier car it’s more prevalent in the E46.

The BMW M3 E46 arguably has the most small issues of the bunch, but is also a big jump up in moving pieces over the E36. While the S54 is generally a strong motor, the vanos, valve cover gasket, head gasket and other issues pop up frequently. Earlier cars had a rod bearing recall. Subframes are known to crack. We highly recommend having the subframe checked and if uncracked, reinforced before tracking. We also recommend getting full maintenance done on the motor as generally most S54’s have gone over 100,000 miles and probably weren’t babied. SMG has been known to have issues, and the SMG pump is very expensive (over $3,000). Most do a SMG to manual conversion to save on cost and improve reliability.

The BMW M3 E92 has been one of the most reliable M cars yet. There are cases of rod bearing failure and premature rod bearing wear, but for the most part the S65 is very strong. Many people have reported over 140,000 miles, 50+ track days, and not a single problem. Many people also have supercharged high mileage cars and also generally report no problems. While no car is perfect, the S65 has proven to be very reliable.

The BMW M3 F80 is very new still, but aside from some issues with the crank pins, the motor has taken a lot of boost, upgraded turbos, and many other mods and hasn’t broken a sweat. There are a few rare cases of blown motors, but for the most part, which a solid tune, the motors have proven to be very reliable. We will see over time if this holds out.

On the track – The real world

The various generation M3s all share what BMW calls “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. This means BMW builds these cars to not only perform on the track, but also be a comfortable daily driver. They are supposed to do everything well. However, each one does share something unique over the others, especially in modified form that really makes them completely different cars on the track.

The BMW M3 E36 M3 is the lightest of the bunch, has the least amount of computer intervention and is arguably the most “raw” of this bunch. The S50 (found in the 1995) and the S52 (used above, found in the 1996 to 1999), is not the most powerful motor at 240 horsepower. However, for those who want a starter track car, it doesn’t get much better than the E36 M3. Easier to manage on the track with it’s power level, light and nimble, lower cost of consumables and lower entry cost.

Next up is the BMW M3 E46 M3 which makes almost 100 horsepower more than the E36 but doesn’t weigh that much more, making it that much more of a handful on the track but also that much more potent. The S54 is a masterpiece and loves to rev. The E46 suspension offers lots more grip and feedback and the car is arguable the perfect size. The car can be made pretty light and the S54 takes well to modifications, which makes this an awesome track weapon.

The E9X series, E90 and E92 specifically, have a glorious 4.0L V8 S65 engine that screams to a 8600 RPM (tuned) redline, has linear power delivery and weighs less than the S54 in the E46. The E92 is heavier, but also has a more advanced suspension setup and as seen in this video is the only BMW M3 to go under 7 seconds on the Nurburgring with a stock motor at this time. This is Porsche 918 Nurburgring territory! While the heaviest M3, it is also one of the most capable.

The F8X series introduces the first turbocharged M3. This changes the dynamic of the M3 line up due to the turbo engine power delivery. No longer is there the all motor linear power build which many claim helps to propel the older generations with more confidence and grip around corners. The F80 and F82 make significant amounts of horsepower and torque over the other models, and with proper cooling have no problem putting the power down lap after lap. However, the suspension continues to improve, and users are looking to add wider and wider tires to gain more traction. While the E9X still holds lap records that the F8X has yet to beat, we feel confident that as tuners and racers dive deeper into this new platform, the F8X chassis will be the track champ.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.