I sold my much loved E30 318IS a couple of years ago and replaced it with a cheap high mileage (143k) E36 M3 EVO coupe (costing £3700 from a specialist dealer). The main reason being I wanted a car with a Limited Slip Diff and I wanted to try having more power. Also, I owned an E36 318 for a couple of years in 2002-3 and really loved its handling - particularly the balance.
As I've owned my M3 for a couple of years, I think it's time for a review. The car has done a good job so far - it's been 100% reliable and now has 150k on the clock. I put new suspension on it last year - a Bilstein B12 kit, which is a little lower and tighter than standard. This wasn't really necessary, but I couldn't resist. The car performs very well now, but I'd say stick with the standard suspension unless you do track work. The reason I spend some money is I had intended to sell the car on if I liked it so I could buy a low mileage minter. However, mine runs so well, there didn't seem any point. I've also done some work to the body work - replacing one rear arch and one front wing. Now the car looks clean all round.
The car came with some over the top E46 alloys, so I've gone back to the standard 17" sunflower alloys. Older cars always seem to look better with OE wheels, which is a little annoying, as I'd like to be a bit more creative. I also have a set of alloys with track tyres on. I got these cheap on ebay (wheels and tyres).
I've done one track day so far with the BMW owners club. The car handled this very well, although I didn't thrash the engine or push the brakes very hard. My car seemed to keep up with all the other E36s out there, which was encouraging. The claimed horse power is 320, but I've not had chance to check this yet - I'd like to know how much it still is pushing out. Rather surprisingly, it proved impossible to entice the rear end to let go on track. I had a session with the BMW club's chief examiner who encouraged me to push harder and harder through the faster right handers of Charlies and Chris curve. He assured me the rear would not let go and it didn't. The balance of the car is such that understeer comes first. This was a little surprising because the car will push the rear out on the road if you accelerate hard out of roundabouts or junctions. But at racing speeds there's no chance of spinning the rear wheels. The track tyres were excellent (Dunlop Formula R). They seemed grippy and very robust. The rears for example were pretty knackered before I put them on, but looked the same at the end of a hard day. I'm going to use the same tyres for at least another track day.
I use the car mostly for long distance trips for work, which are infrequent - trips to other universities, train stations and airports. It's a great motorway car - comfortable, secure and returns about 34mpg (averaging about 90mph). Also, you can push on every now an again. There's not many faster cars on the road either which is a fun feeling. Also, now the car is over 150k, the mileage is really not that important to me. I'd like to take it over 200k, but I may change it first.
The car performs in a similar way to the E46 M3, which are actually not that much more to buy these days. However, I do think the E46 looks significantly better. However, the E36 does look impressive in the flesh - big and butch. It's very easy to drive - my wife has used it for the school run, but the gear box can be a bit tough if it gets hot in traffic. It feels like a serious car to drive even at normal speeds.
My main criticism would be rust - there will be some issues at some point and the steering - I'd like more feel from the front. This is more an issue on the road than the track, so it may just be the tyres I'm using. I have some new Contis to put on which I hope will cure this. Appart from this I like the car very much.
BMW E36 M3 EVO coupe
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1 January 2013
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