Tuesday, April 14, 2015

15k: Bang For Buck: 2006 BMW M3 E46

The C5 Corvette Z06 might be the fastest unmodified vehicle you can get for around $15k, but that doesn't mean you want to buy one.  The Z06 has 265 mm wide tires on 9.5 inch front wheels make for lots of grip, but it also can feel a bit numb, and the stock fender gap looks like the Z06 is ready for the Paris-Dakar rally.  Additionally, the car is so bloody fast that any attempt to enjoy the limit on or off a race track involves significant risk to people, pets, and other things...so there has to be a better way.  What about the best handling** car for the same money?  This is where BMW's E46 M3 comes into the picture.  Find this 2006 BMW M3 E46 offered for $15,500 in San Fernando Valley, CA via craigslist.

It may have cost $50k MSRP (before options) when new, but this E46 M3 features a whole lot of depreciated metal for roughly the price of a new Nissan Versa Note.  Part of that depreciation comes from the potentially expensive repair bills, but it is a savagely fast car with a screaming inline-6 and puma-like reflexes for the cash.

Under the hood is the S54 naturally aspirated inline six that puts 333 horsepower and 262 ft-lbs of torque into a 6-speed automated manual gearbox.  The S54 is an expensive beast when things go wrong, but they are pretty rugged engines that drink 10W60 Castrol oil specifically formulated to lubricated the money out of your wallet with $150 DIY oil changes.  Avoid any S54 engine where the owner has taken it to Jiffy Lube and put whatever oil they have into it. 

The SMG II transmission was almost identical to the DIY shifted 6-speed except for the addition of an electrohydraulically controlled clutch and shifter mechanism.  Driving the early M3 SMG transmission is great at full boil - it shifts fast and furious, but at lower speeds the action becomes balky and is either too slow or too fast.  The SMG II is also equipped with a few "easter eggs" including hidden launch control and burnout modes-- but these should be used sparingly unless you want to regularly change your clutch.  I've put a few miles on an SMG shifted E46 and found it surprisingly satisfying to drive rapidly, yet easy to use in traffic.

See a better handling car for $15k? send it here: tips@dailyturismo.com
**Haha -- handling is a totally unquantifiable term so no one can argue in the comments that X car handles better.  I could have said that E46 M3 has the greatest limbic resonance of any car and faced similar repercussions. 


  1. Do you really advise us to buy the SMG version?

    For my $, i'd get a 6-speed with Cinnamon!

    Must have the cinnamon.

    1. That has an SMG as well.The person didn't list it correctly.

      That interior is gorgeous. I really want an e46 M3 some day. I love my 330i and I bet the M is sooo much better.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. So couple things:

    1) SMG to 6-speed conversion is very do-able and relatively common and inexpensive these days. Heck, it utilizes the same gearbox.


    2) While this engine is extremely high-strung in nature, if maintained I have found them to be incredibly reliable....yeah, you have the normal things to look out for---exhaust hub sprocket cracking, camshaft bolts backing out, but like a lot of Internet car topics, those get more airplay than probably deserved. If the car had records (valve adjustments, regular oil and fluid changes), I wouldn't worry about about a 100k+ mile S54 engine.

  3. The one thing I have learned about the e46 is that around 100 -120,000 miles every suspension component is shot. Completely.
    Also the cooling systems need to be serviced (expansion tank and possibly radiator). Lastly some cars suffer from the rear subframe ripping of the body. Just a few things to look out for.

  4. While it's nowhere near the breathtaking, soul sucking, demented and despicable depreciation of some other models in the BMW catalog, you're telling me this $50K (sure...+++++) car suffers from all of these items you guys mentioned as well as a myriad of other issues? And you guys are hardcore fan boys and girls, right?

    I'll agree that just about anything with an M badge is a special car to drive. But lordy lordy that's just downright awful about maintenance, especially when held up against the lens of other similar vintage cars that are just broken in around 100K. How does BMW continue to get away with such absolutely outrageous...ness?

    Suddenly, I'm a huge fan of the brand. Everything negative that I said before was wrong and I take it all back. I'm selling everything I own to get one. There can be nothing else.

    Oh wait. My brain just returned to normal. I contemplated owning a car that needs this sort of maintenance within this sort of mileage and I did what any thinking adult would do - I turned and I ran!

    1. Is there a comparable car as an option?
      Every manufacture has tried unsuccessfully to take down the M3. There is a price for being epic.

    2. That’s a question that I’ve discussed with many an enthusiast and it always ends in an explanation of why I don’t like German cars in general. Let me clarify that last item; I like ALL cars, from the lowliest to the most expensive. But in the case of a vast majority of cars from the land of poets and thinkers somehow it’s accepted that they’re worth a premium over quite similar cars that don’t suffer the horrific depreciation and outrageous maintenance costs. YES, German cars are engineered well and great to drive. But the companies that make them are not stupid and yet they clearly refuse to address this issue and deal with it. That’s outlandish behavior from companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but it’s totally unacceptable from VW who has stated publicly that it wants to be the biggest automaker in the world. Think about that for a second; Volkswagen wants YOU to buy an inferior (over the long haul) car – at a premium – and be happy about it. What other company does that? I’m sure a lot of DTers are like me and instantly scream “Apple and Microsoft!” at their screen, but that would be ignoring the fact that those products don’t cost anywhere near what a car does.

      I’ve been accused of bracket/bench/brunch/bucket racing here on DT, as if that’s a bad thing. But without the specs and some relatively trustworthy numbers, we’re left with the purely subjective (“But it doesn’t FEEL as good as I go around the track at 120 mph!”). The question is, are there cars that are comparative to the M3 (let’s focus here on our 2006 example). The answer will be a resounding “NO” if you’re brand blind. It happens and if that’s true, then you’re excused like the “special” relative that you only see at family holidays. Seriously, get over there and spend some time with them – you might actually like them!

      So, tossing out all of the numbers like year, MSRP, performance and residual values, the answer is YES Dorothy, there really ARE cars out there that compete with or are even better than (say what?!?) the M3 in all of the myriad of subjective things people put on cars. And forget what the magazines write; they don’t live with cars for 10 years at a pop like a normal enthusiast might. They live in tiny bubbles where if the thing throws a tire, they just jump into the next supercar on the lot. That’s NOT reality, so why trust what they say from a long term perspective? You just can’t, not logically.
      Ignoring the comparative M-B AMG and Audi S models for the exact same reasons our M3 is problematic, here are just a couple of performance 2+2 coupes sold in America that come quickly to mind.

      Infiniti G37
      Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
      Ford Mustang
      Lexus RC F
      Chevrolet Camaro
      Pontiac GTO
      Dodge Challenger (yeah yeah, it’s too big…whatever)
      Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec
      Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 (too big! Oy vey…)
      Pontiac Firehawk
      Toyota Supra Turbo

      Some of you may note that I’ve left off the 911 and XKR. Again, maintenance costs are too much in comparison to the rest of the world. A wiper blade for a 911 shouldn’t cost more than a wiper blade for a comparable car, that’s just downright insulting. But if there’s an exception to my rule, the 911 is probably it.

      I can hear the DTer sputtering through my computer speakers as I write this. Remember, REAL people don’t have their company pay for a leased car so they don’t give a crap and not everybody races their daily driver. The ability to go faster than the speed of light and corner so hard that your insides rip out through your ribs is not the end all, be all folks. It might be for you, but that doesn’t make it so for the rest of us.

      This should have been titled, “Why K2MC Has a Problem with German Cars”. Again, I don’t hate any car or automaker. But I DO have a problem with companies who want to charge me a premium for a product that has historically scored average or below reliability and don’t seem to have any issue with continuing that behavior.

      That’s baloney in my book and I’m calling it. You heard it here first, folks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    3. The price for being epic is that some people buy the baloney.

    4. PS Out of all the German cars sold in America, I've only personally owned a Porsche. My family have had a series of M-Bs and BMWs, which is not my fault. My experiences with VW and Audi cars comes from friends. I am not an expert on German cars and don't claim to be. I fully understand that there are ALWAYS outliers and you should too.

    5. I say this with all friendliness, but it takes a certain type of negative bias to think that the M3's accolades are primarily due to undeserved positive bias. For example, you bag German cars for "horrific depreciation" but then the only cars on your list that don't suffer similar or worse depreciation are the Supra and CTS-V. (And it's a little duplicitous, IMHO, to continually rail on German depreciation but then say "tossing out....residual values" when you hold up your preferred alternatives.)

      You mention reliability....I owned the vaunted G37S (6 speed manual, no less). It was in the shop 36 days in the only year I owned it before getting fed up and dumping it. My e46 M3? No days, aside from the one day I dropped it off for maintenance (valve adjustment). You're really surprised when we are talking above about a 100k mile car above that it needs a suspension refresh? What car doesn't? Even when the G37 worked, it was on paper one of the greatest cars I owned, and in reality, one of the most uncomfortable and boring. (Don't get me started on Audi/VW---I wouldn't own one today if given to me, if that helps illustrate my loyalty to brand before country of origin).

      And as for maintenance---your argument probably holds some water if we're talking about folks who run to the dealer for any and all service---I get the impression though that isn't most of us here----I just changed brakes and pads on my MB E350----cost me about $100 to do the front. In fact, you know the main reason I like German cars (BMW's in particular)? It's the online community.....if there is a repair I want to perform on just about any German model, someone has done it, documented it, and photographed it---it's a phenomenal resource---better than any Bentley manual I could buy. When I went to a G37 forum, 90% of the posts were "check out my wheels, yo", or "should I get 35% or 50% tint?".

      I've driven many of the cars you cite----very few would I want to live with daily. If I'm buying a car with the sporting pretensions of the RCF, it had damn well better have a stick. If you think the Challenger, Genesis, Firehawk, and any Mustang that isn't $40k+ or Camaro that isn't $60k+ can hold a candle to the M3 in the handling dept, I have to assume you haven't driven the M3. Hop in any 100K mile version of the domestic cars you mention and enjoy the rattles and creaking plastic that ensue. In fact, the only real car you mention that I would (gladly!) own would be the CTS-V, but then you are comparing a car that still hasn't dropped below $40k on the used market to one that can be found in the low teens---not exactly apples to apples.

      While I can say there are alternatives to the e46 M3 that I might consider, the only non German ones at the same price point would be a WRX, RX8, or 1st gen CTS-V sedan, and ALL of them generally are known for more problem areas than the M3.

      Bottom line, I think someone who struggles to find a comparable alternative to the e46 M3 is probably on more solid ground than someone who dismisses it immediately because it's German. Cheers buddy.

    6. I see a lot of cars on that list that are either (a) nowhere near a match for the M3 dynamically, at least not without a pile of aftermarket stuff (b) have their own durability issues and/or (c) are old enough to have parts-availability issues.

      The Infiniti G-cars are nice enough. Some ergonomic gotchas on the early ones (Nissan had a fetish for weird parking brake locations). The CTS-V coupe is vastly more expensive than an E46 and it's basically a submarine, you need a periscope to see out of the thing - the sedan's a vastly better car.

      GTO is wonderful but stuff breaks on those too, glass differentials like the early CTS-V and interior stuff wears out, they're bigger and heavier than an E46 - M5 territory - but I'd rather have a 6-speed GTO than an M3 (and I'd rather have a 6-speed G8 GXP or one of the new Aussie Chevies than a GTO or any late-model M5.)

      Call me back on the Challenger when they section it three inches. Though (here come the doors again) I'm quite fond of the current 300 SRT8.

      Mitsu is old and a bit fragile and not all that dynamically (here come the doors again, get an Evo 8/9 instead). 300ZX better bet, especially turbo, but they all have their weaknesses. The MkIII Supra Turbo cracked cylinder heads like popcorn. The MkIV pretty much bulletproof but, once again, a little difference in style - you can make a MkIV Turbo go faster than an M3 just on sheer power. Biggest problem with these is the Japanese had a fetish for removable roofs and, like the M3 convertible isn't a 'real' M3 the Mitsu/Nissan/Toy cars are heavier, weaker, squeakier with the hatch roofs and Toy sold only a handful of very early MkIV Supra Turbos without the roof cut out.

      There are very fast Mustangs but once again compared to the E46 even the best of the S197 cars is a blunt instrument. They're fairly durable but feel cheap.

      No car is perfect and few are bulletproof, especially when used like one wants to use an M3. We have this thing called the 'internet' and every one of these cars has fans, detractors, and a bunch of info out there, you pays your money and you makes your choice.

    7. I've been a big M-car fan for years (owned an E36 M3, E38 M5 and regularly driven a E46 M3) and while cars like the G37 are certainly a match on paper, there is something special about the ///M (particularly E46 M3).
      And then mrkwong hit the nail on the head --"match for the M3 dynamically" -- this is where the M3 shines. The steering effort, suspension travel, spring rates, and shock damping are perfectly setup for the street, not the track or a Detroit boulevard, but a nice b-road or so cal freeway clover loop on-ramp. You could setup those other cars to have that same feeling, but from the factory most are too soft, and a few (STi, Evo) are too stiff. Getting that final 10/10 suspension feeling is extremely difficult, but the only company that does it right year after year is BMW in their Ms.
      The only reason I don't own/drive an E46 M3 daily is they don't make one with 4 doors.
      I don't always drive a BMW, but when I do, I make it an M.

    8. This is all Baloney!!! We all have been fooled by German propaganda!!!

      If you take away the lies it really drives like a dodge diplomat with 4 flat tires.

    9. I'm reminded of the time GM sent Bob Lutz around a track in a blower CTS-V and then said 'come beat it', and a guy in an E90 M3 did. Barely. And noted afterward that it was pretty clear the M3 was not the faster car.

      I love the CTS-Vs. The early ones were cheaply built - used to say that Saab put more money into one seat than Cadillac put into the whole interior - and they didn't like to get off the line fast (wheel hop killing rear suspension mounts, diffs, etc.) but they felt five hundred pounds lighter than my E39 M5 and GM did a fabulous job making the Stabilitrak work 'loosely' enough to let you have fun.

      The later ones fix most of the bad stuff (as long as you get the Recaro seat option) and add another 150HP. Can't touch that.

      They're still not quite up to BMW material standards (but the difference is small now) and rearward visibility ain't good (but many cars are worse these days) but it goes like habanero-propelled snot.

    10. @FTB, I readily own and acknowledge my negativity towards German cars in general. AGAIN, I remind you that I understand that there are outliers - in EVERY brand. It's funny, because the cars you mentioned as competitors to the M3...yeah, none of them are coupes. In fact, all three were 4-doors(ish in the case of the RX). Does the M3 come as a sedan? Yep. But we weren't discussing that here. The same can be said of many of your other critiques. That's all a different kettle of fish.

      I'm glad you love your M3. Can I have a ride? I DO love the M3 and I acknowledge the fantastic qualities. Is it a car like no other? Again, SUBJECTIVE. But my PERSONAL take is no, it isn't. And for the price of the legend, I'm expecting more. Is that fair? Probably not to you. But hey, my money is my money and vice versa.

      I actually think some brand blindness is a good thing. Companies need loyal customers. That's great. You keep buying them and I'll...uh, not.

    11. And there are people who still believe the world is flat.
      No point arguing with them.

    12. It's all good, but you seem to be veering in and out of new vs used in this discussion. When a new 4.6 Mustang was sub $30 and the M3 was $55k, and that's what was being discussed, that's a great debate. We're not talking about that though---we're talking about a car that TODAY can be found in nice shape for $13-15k and comparing alternatives against it's present market value. I don't care what it cost new....I didn't buy a new one then (M3 or any other car for that matter), and I wouldn't today--I don't buy new cars---that's why I'm on DT and not Edmunds.com. So for the topic at hand, the "price of the legend" is a dirt cheap screaming bargain.

      As for Coupe vs Sedan/multi-door, I don't really care about that as a personal comparison point----if it has a rear seat and can fit my two kids, I'm ok with it. A 996 911 would be an obvious alternative for me though, but I was trying to list non-German options.

    13. Boy, I really mixed you guys up here by tossing too many ideas into the pot I think. There's the issue with this particular gen of M3, which I argue that you guys are using subjective critique while not allowing me to use the numbers while you refer to them. So there's no winning on either side there.

      The other is the general issue with the German carmakers, which doesn't seem to be going one way or another either. We will all agree to disagree, which is exactly what I thought we'd all do! Again, totally fine.

      Folks that own or have owned an M3 are going to fight tooth and nail that this is the best car in the world. I totally get that. And they're going to HATE everything else. If you're a brand loyalist (which is great, really), then you're going to do the same thing! Want to talk to me about FWD Volvos? Yeah, I thought not. Everybody just wants to rag on them. I'm a brand loyalist and I love FWD Volvos - guess what sort of response you're going to get out of me? Yep.

      But if you have no problem with a $118K 7 Series that's worth about $14K 10 years later...uh, can I borrow some money? That's insane, no matter how you look at it. My crappy FWD Volvo (which admittedly lose PLENTY of value as a brand) was $35K when new. It isn't worth much of anything anymore, Blue Book is around $2,500. So it's lost $32.5K, which is a LOT of money. But then, I actually paid only $7K for it 12 years ago so...I've only lost a couple of grand. I understand that not great logic, but the money lost in the 7 is just plain outrageous for a company that constantly screams how great they are.

      BMW is powerful. But they choose not to make their modern products have what seems to be a shorter life span and are clearly engineering in parts that wear out faster than many econoboxes. I continue to not get that, at all.

      Here's what I propose. Why don't you guys buy me an M3 and I'll drive it for 10 years. I'll even let you pay for maintenance! What a guy, I know. I promise to be open-minded about it and really give it an honest report on how it all went. Does that sound like a good plan?

    14. You're right, FTB. It's hard to factor in generational differences. I tried to stay as generic as possible, leaning towards the newer end of the scale.

    15. +11111111111 on "I don't buy new cars".

    16. You're also right Sean Scott. There IS not use in arguing with people because they've made up their mind. BUT you've never met a person like me and I'm happy to consider all of the information. Frankly, I'm truthfully considering putting my money where my mouth is and I might replace my V70 with a 3 wagon in the future. But again, it might be an outlier (either way - good or bad). So, it's tough. But it's impossible to argue with the deprecation that German cars suffer. That's black and white and out of control for "premium" vehicles.

      Wait, the world isn't flat? #$%^&*(* why didn't somebody tell me?!?

    17. Nah, I love em, but I don't have German car myopia. Find me a mint 780 (2nd prettiest car of the 80's) with a V8 swap and a manual, or a cherry 850R wagon, and I'm a buyer.

    18. Additionally (OMG I'm doing multiple stream of consciousness posts---I'm turning into you!), a big intangible in this discussion is future value. There aren't any givens in this world, but a 2006 Mustang GT is a $10k car today. A 2006 M3 can be had for $15k. (Forward looking projection alert). In 10 years, a 2006 Mustang is a $5k car and I would be willing to bet that the M3 is $25k+. That's some bang for the buck.

    19. Welcome to the Daynja Zone, my friend...


      I think you're right about future values in the cases of both cars you mentioned. History sure does seem to indicate such. So, it's not terribly wrong to state that some BMWs (most likely two-door M models) will lose value (relatively) big and then regain some in the future. That's possible. My example of the 7? Yeah, no. That car is never going to gain back any of the value it lost, which was unarguably IMMENSE. But that's the 7, I hear you yell, not the M3! Yeah, but the 7 is the flagship of the brand and that ain't right. No sir, not right at all.

      BTW, I'm not singling out the 7. It's just that it's a perfect example, the most extreme. And that fits my purpose and statement the best, so...uh...there you go.

    20. I’d compare the depreciation between the 7 and my V70, but I can already hear the screaming from the beau monde. K2MC, you ask, why don’t you at least compare apples to apples (with a tiny bit of orange)? Please excuse my caveman math (and logic). Values are private party, good condition, 12K miles a year, Blue Book.

      The top of the line 2005 7 went out the door for an MSRP of $117,000. Now worth around $14K, an owner lost $10,300 per year just driving it around normally.

      Let’s pick on the largest automaker in the world at the moment, Toyota. A 2005 Lexus LS430 had an MSRP of about $57K. Ten years later, it’s worth…$14K (surprise!). The LS owner would have lost about $4,300 a year.

      Back to the orange; in the time I owned my car, I lost about $450 per year in ten years.

      The 7 lost over $100,000 in ten years and depreciated $10,300 per year. That’s an unacceptable financial loss, no matter how you look at it. The fact that the 7 is the flagship model of the brand makes it even more astounding. All cars lose money the second you drive it off the lot (sometimes even just sitting there!), but six figures!?!

      That all said, has anybody driven the M235i and if so, what did you think of it?

  5. Almost any car driven energetically by someone sensitive about how a car behaves is going to be up for a pile of new suspension parts right around 100K. Some sooner - my old Infiniti Q45 had no wear pieces in the front suspension that'd last past 60K miles.

    Yes, BMWs of that vintage have a lot of limited-lifespan plastic in the cooling systems. Fortunately, most of it's cheap enough, and if you want to spend more money there's aftermarket alternatives for a lot of it. A few things are best replaced preemptively, lest they leave you stranded.

    The rear subframe thing is important. My recollection is that it's fairly easily and cheaply fixed if done before significant damage is evident, but a major evolution if you let things tear loose.

    I'm not sure how long it takes the oil-change counter to tick down on an E46 M3, on my M5 it takes about 12K miles if I wanted to let it go all the way. I usually change at 6K, so basically two changes per service-indicator cycle. Yeah, 7 liters of Castrol TWS 10W-60 at $14/liter last time I looked.

  6. Ad states rear subframe has been reinforced. Prefer the E36, though it is underpowered I felt better connected. With no maintenance info in the ad, I'm guessing there are issues that need to be addresses. Otherwise nice price.

  7. Though I've never driven one of these it is on my short list for our next car. My problem is that the ones avaliable here are spendy or have been in an accident. I'd love to be closer to this one as it's right in the ball park price wise.

  8. Sold my M3 03 SMG last year, excellent car in so many ways, very scary big ticket repairs lurking. The clutch replacement on a SMG is north of $3k and most independent shops in my area won’t touch the job. Good comments about the rear suspension tear out, particularly if the car has been tracked, or worse yet been doing burnouts.
    I drove the car at Laguna Seca, you must use the paddle shifters, automatic gets lost, no matter what the mode selected. I also found the automatic mode too erratic for street driving, the paddle shifter works great.
    There are over 50 “hidden” features you can access on this car, pretty neat but also makes you wonder about the computers.
    I’ve owned and raced several Porsches, the M3 has the balance of a 944 and more grunt than a 996, plus you can car golf clubs and passengers.
    Great value, but keep $5k in your budget for repairs and tires.

    1. I'm citing Timothy's (thanks for your feedback, BTW!) as support to what I'm saying. Sorry if that upsets you Timothy.

    2. Yeah, that;s cool. I had a V70 T5 Wagon, great car until it would just die in the fast lane on the 405. Dealers could not fix it...also had a WRX, bullet proof and we have a Outback XT Turbo with 135k miles, great car.

    3. Cool! Interesting comparison between the 944 and M3. I must admit that never occurred to me, but I can see how you could come to that conclusion.

  9. Instead, I'll take an E36 M3 sedan with a 5 speed, sunroof, folding rear seats, a completely new cooling system, suspension, 2 sets of different OEM wheels with tires, in a better color combo, with an S52 with 290whp thanks to a TMS Stage 3+ with Schrick cams etc. for thousands less than that price. More reliable, more rare, just as quick, and more iconic. How do you know you can get that? Because that's exactly what I bought instead of an E46 M3 with that mediocre tranny.

    1. How many miles were on it when you bought it?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. 120K

      Interior in mint condition, and the Harman Kardon Traffic-Pro GPS works perfectly still...kind of amazing actually.

    4. Very interesting and thank you for your response, Achman. How many miles do you have on it now and how long have you had it?

  10. There's a part of me that thinks that there's a business model in renting a big warehouse out in BFE, buying up a hundred clean early E36s and a comparable number (okay, add 20% for the ones that fail compression, etc testing) S54 powertrains, clean up the cars and go through the interiors, change the cam drives and cooling bits on the engines, put 'em together with the buyer's choice of suspension and brakes.

    But probably not...though the facility GM has in Australia that turns base Holdens into HSV models isn't much more than that.

  11. 120K

    Interior in mint condition, and the Harman Kardon Traffic-Pro GPS works perfectly still...kind of amazing actually.


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