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E90/E92 BMW M3 Buyers Guide

Back when we were on the hunt for a new daily driver, the BMW M3 Coupe (E92) was a strong contender for a spot in our garage. There’s no question that BMW knows how to make a performance car, but very few manufacturers can make one that doubles for both a daily driver and weekend/track car, as well as BMW can. From the high revving 414 HP V8, to the quick dual clutch transmission, to the stunning body lines, there was very little to dislike about the M3 aside from the popularity, which made it a dime a dozen. With the new F80 BMW M3 just released, prices have dropped a little more, making the E92/E90 BMW M3 a great buy. We decided to share our findings and experience with the iconic BMW M3.
It should be no surprise by now that the BMW M3 might just be the best car in its class. Although we did own a Mercedes C63 AMG, which we loved for different reasons, the BMW M3 has consistently been the better all-around car than the C63, Audi S4, or Lexus ISF. We looked at the M3 because it was classy, yet had sex appeal in stock form, and was even better when modded. The support for the M3 was also 10x better than any other competitor with an extremely large following both online and offline. This also meant that there were a lot of aftermarket parts available to enhance the car to our specs. Our goal was strictly a daily driver with short stints at rallies or weekend drives and the M3 fit the bill quite nicely.

When the search began, we had to narrow down based on our budget of roughly $40k. First and foremost, we instantly decided for the coupe over the sedan. No disrespect for the sedan but a coupe was better looking and more realistic as we never carry more than an extra passenger. Second, we wanted a dual clutch transmission because of daily driver usage. We’re sure the 6 speed manual is just as good but it is not enjoyable when you spend half the time in California traffic. BMW does produce some very unique colors but we looked for solid Alpine White. We would of loved a pearl white but the Mineral White was not introduced until 2011 and was out of our price range. From there, that would leave us with only the 2008-2010 models available within our price range as of this publishing. But to be completely honest, an older M3 is essentially the same as a newer LCI (life cycle impulse) M3 aside from new colors and available technology.

Anytime you buy a new generation of a vehicle, there are going to be quirks and issues that the manufacturer cannot catch until it’s in the hands of thousands of owners. For this reason we opted NOT to look at the 2008 model BMW M3 entirely. The 2008 is the baseline against all later M3’s and the only significant difference is an inferior DVD based navigation system. The 2009 model (our choice), upgraded to a HD based navigation system, but the biggest change was the sedan that received newer LED taillights that were much better looking. 2011 introduced the most significant changes, including several mid cycle updates that were unofficially announced but noticed by enthusiasts. Perhaps one of the best changes for 2011 were the new LED taillights for the coupe which brought the M3 up to modern day standards.

The first 2011 mid cycle update (Sept 2010) was the 2011.5, which improved the bluetooth capabilities and iPod connectivity with the addition of Combox. The second 2011 mid cycle update (March 2011) was the 2011.75, which added BMW Apps functionality to allow you to use apps like Pandora or Facebook from your iPhone. BMW also introduced a Competition Package in 2011 that came standard with 19 inch wheels, 10mm lower suspension, and revised dampening settings. It was subtle enough to improve handling characteristics without breaking the bank. There were also complaints of BMW using lower quality materials in the interior for the sake of cutting costs in 2011 but such miniscule issues should not deter you away. As you can see, essentially BMW left the mechanical drivetrain untouched over the years which made the 2009 model desirable in our eyes. All of the new technology features were not a must have, especially since we aren’t iPhone users anyways.

When we were scoping the market for the BMW M3, we had to understand the different packages and options available. We found some that were very barebones with no iDrive / navigation that was an immediate turn off. Because we didn’t plan to keep the car for too long, we had to keep in mind options and packages that would be desirable for the next owner. The quickest way to learn more about a car and what can be optioned is by looking at a brochure for the car. The year to year packages change slightly but based on our desire for a 2009 M3, we looked specifically for an Alpine White interior with a black or fox red leather interior. Carbon fiber roof was an option in place of a moon roof and was a must have for us to offset the white, but to also help resale as it is very desirable. Carbon fiber interior would also be nice but you can’t go wrong with brushed aluminum either. Luckily most cars for sale have one or the other.

The three packages available were the: Premium Package, Technology Package, and the Cold Weather Package. Immediately the Cold Weather Package was crossed off the list since there is no cold weather in California. We could live without the heated seats or headlight washers. On the other hand, the Premium and Technology Packages are a must. Premium Package has basic essentials like power folding mirrors, leather interior with your choice of interior trim finish, wireless bluetooth technology, and a few more small things. Technology Package added iDrive and navigation, keyless entry, M Drive for your different driving modes, and Electronic Damping Control for suspension tweaks. The other options that are not available in packages but would be nice to have are: extended leather which extends along the transmission tunnel and underneath the dash, Enhanced Premium Sound, iPod/USB adapter, and rear Park Distance Control for aided reversing.

Although we have no first hand ownership experience, the general consensus says the BMW M3 is a reliable car. Earlier cars had transmission issues that all seemed to have been sorted out with revised transmission updates available for free at network dealers. But perhaps the biggest issue with the BMW M3 lies with its engine. As great as the S65 motor is, there have been many reported incidents of rod bearings failing causing the engine to blow. We highly recommend you to do your due diligence prior to buying and reference a few forum threads like this, this, or this on the issue.

As always, we recommend buyers of any exotic, luxury, or sports car to get a PPI (private party inspection) to identify any outstanding issues, even open recalls. BMW does offer a CPO program which extends the factory limited warranty to 6 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. However, please be aware that the CPO warranty coverage items has changed for cars CPO’d after 1/1/14. Also CPO warranties are transferable between private parties BUT if a car is sold by a non BMW dealer, then the warranty might be lost (assuming CPO was added after 1/1/14). Then again, if you plan to mod your car in any way, the warranty may become voided, so choose your path wisely. The great thing about the M3 community is the immense support provided which makes parts and service somewhat reasonable. You can simply change aesthetic items or even go with crazy supercharger or twin turbo setups if you’re a horsepower junkie. A few simple mods are a must in our opinion, and had we obtained an M3, we would of gone with exhaust and ecu tune.

Luckily, a set of test pipes to delete the primary cats costs less than $300 used. The M3 stock exhaust is actually quite good and many people go to great lengths to cut open the exhaust chamber to re-route the tubing for a true straight pipe design. You can find countless videos and threads on the web to show how great this sounds for very little. Unfortunately, a cat delete will throw a check engine light code but that is easily fixed with an ECU tune. An ECU tune such as the popular Evolve Tune or BPM Tune can increase power, enhance transmission shifts, and even code various electrical components such as display or keyfob controls. Best of all, this combo puts the BMW M3 power close to the ~400rwhp mark. Lastly, if you opt for any pre-2011 model, we highly suggest you to pick up a set of used rear LED taillights for less than $500 a pair. This will enhance the look ten fold.

We believe right now is still a great time to buy if you are in the market. If you can find an 09-10 BMW M3 for around $35,000 with all the options/packages mentioned above AND a warranty of some sort, we would call that a great deal. Be sure to use resources like this buyers guide, resources like the BMW M Registry for in-depth info, and the BMW M3 forums for your general questions and vehicle classifieds. We are certain that this breed of dying V8 sports cars will be one to remember.

Before you begin your search, make sure to check out Exotic Car Secrets to learn how you can follow our strategies to save over 80% on your next car.

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