The current BMW F80-generation M3 has been on sale since 2014 and while a replacement is on the cards for later this year, incremental improvements to the current car has seen it stay one step ahead of its rivals. Starting with this generation of M-cars, the coupe and convertible models were rebadged as M4 models but aside from the door count they are all but identical.
Turbocharging was also introduced for the first time in the M3, giving it a huge boost in torque over its V8-powered predecessor albeit with a soundtrack that is far less captivating. That said, the increase in performance is impressive and even the standard M3 starts off with 430 bhp and is capable of hitting 60 mph in a little over four seconds. The track-focused 460 bhp CS models are even sharper to drive and offer adjustable suspension and carbon fibre body panels for a reduced kerb weight.
As an overall package, then, these are all great M Cars but let’s not forget that BMW has an enviable back catalogue of desirable M models already. While they may not be quite as dynamically capable, they do offer an even more immersive driving experience and oftentimes for far less than what a new M3 would cost.
To see what was out there, we picked out some of the very best classic BMW M cars that not only cost less than a new M3 but will most likely be worth more than one in the years to come.
Something else that has increased over the years along with the performance figures is the asking price of modern M cars.
The standard M3 saloon starts at £59,905 OTR while at the other end of the scale, the M4 CS is a wallet-busting £92,795 before options.
This may be in line with what BMW’s rivals are asking for their sporty offerings, but it does bring into range a lot of very desirable current and future classic M cars that still have what it takes to put a big smile on your face each time you get behind the wheel.
The Current Classics
The following selection of BMWs all classify as collectible classics, while they may not match a new M3 in overall performance they offer their own unique brand of driving pleasure.
They can also be found for less than the price of a new M3 but not for long…
The one that started it all is still considered by some to be the best M3 of all time.
While it definitely offers an entertaining and engaging driving experience, don’t be fooled into thinking that it is going to be able to compete with a modern sports car, after all these cars are now over 30-years-old and even the most powerful variant had a small capacity 2.5-litre inline-four pushing out at most 235 bhp.
No, what the E30 M3 offers is an uncorrupted connection between the driver and the road, it may lean a bit into corners and you may miss that slug of mid-range turbo torque but as a package, it still delivers as big a smile over a challenging piece of road as it ever did.
Prices vary wildly with ratty examples starting at £40,000 while mint examples can easily eclipse even the price of a modern M4 CS.
The E46 M3 is at the cusp of entering modern classic car status, it was universally praised at its launch back in 2000 and while the SMG transmission is not everyone’s cup of tea, it combines everyday useability with a level of performance that is still impressive almost two decades on.
Whether you are looking for a solid investment or just a fun weekend toy you will want to look at a coupe with the manual gearbox, stay away from funny colour combinations and make sure that there is a solid service history on hand too.
Prices are already on the up, but you can still find a great example for well under £15,000. If you still aren’t convinced that the E46 M3 is a sure-fire classic, take a look at what has happened to the lightweight CSL variant in recent years, values for these cars have gone through the roof, you could buy two modern M3s for what the best condition examples are now trading for.
Z4 M Coupe
Using much of the same running gear as the E46 M3 but wrapped in a sporty coupe (or roadster) body shell, the Z4 M was a 338 bhp sports car that delivered an even more intoxicating driving experience.
Values for its predecessor often top £35,000 and the Z4 variant is heading that way too. With a 0-62 mph time of 4.8-seconds the M Coupe is still quick even when compared to contemporary sports cars, the wayward handling of the Z3 had also been tamed by this stage so you can actually use the available performance more of the time.
With values hovering around £20,000 for decent examples you can buy two of these for the price of one brand-new M3.
To many BMW fans, the E39 M5 marked the highpoint in the marque’s ballistic saloon car range. The 400 bhp V8 gave the big car serious performance and it handled like no big family car had ever done before.
These cars are following in the footsteps of their forebears and starting to command big figures, but for now, a little over £12,000 will still secure you a decent example.
There are a few mint condition examples that are already going for over £30,000 but that is still a big saving over a new M3 and while it may not have the same level of performance, you are unlikely to care once you hear that sonorous V8.
E31 8 Series
The crown jewel in the 8 Series range is the 375 bhp 5.6-litre 850CSi, its V12 powerplant and manual gearbox gave it strong performance and you will pay at least £50,000 for even poor condition examples.
A more attainable and plentiful model is the 296 bhp 850i, or the similarly capable 840Ci, both can be found for around £10,000 which is superb value for these swoopy ‘90s wedges.
Your running costs are inevitably going to be higher than they would be on a brand-new car but then again these cars are not going to depreciate like a new car either.
The Future Classics
Due to a combination of values and relative newness, the next few cars are not quite ready to be classified as classics just yet. But given a few more years that is sure to change.
The E60 M5 was a revelation at launch, its 500 bhp V10 engine had more in common with a supercar than a family saloon and this applied to its performance figures too.
The excitement was short-lived, however, the SMG transmission, while brutally effective at the limit, proved to be fragile and jerky in normal use. That amazing V10 also enjoyed drinking fuel almost as much as the supercars it was being compared with.
Prices have therefore remained somewhat depressed but with the wholesale move towards vehicle electrification, the prospect of owning one of these amazing yet flawed machines will surely see them become sought-after models in the years to come.
If you like to get in at the bottom of the market, then £10,000 is all you need to secure a slice of motoring history that will never be repeated again.
The F10 M5 is more than likely to become a modern classic in the near future, it has only just been replaced by the F90 model but its twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 still gives it the kind of performance that will scare most contemporary sports cars.
A good one will cost you around £23,000, which is half the price of a base M3 and with 553 bhp it is every bit as quick as the newer car.
The US and Canada also had the option of a 6-speed manual transmission although the rest of the world got the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, not exactly a hardship as it was a big step up from the E60 M5’s SMG offering.
The current M3’s predecessor is undoubtedly destined for classic car status, prices have already firmed up and desirable variants such as the saloon body style equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission are already rising in value.
The appeal of this car lies in its high-revving 4.0-litre 400 bhp V8, it may not have the instant whack of torque that the current twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline-six unit offers but it rewards you with a far better soundtrack and a wilder top end.
Early cars can be found for under £17,000 while later models with minimal mileage are closer to £30,000.