I’ve enjoyed my 1999 BMW E36 M3 for more than 10 years. When the car was introduced back in 1995, it sparked criticism from some BMW enthusiasts. The E36 M3 wasn’t as raw as its E30 predecessor, a truly iconic car. The version sold in North America also did not have the more exotic and powerful engines of the European model. So despite accolades like Car and Driver naming it the best handling car in America in 1997, the E36 in many ways has been the least appreciated of the BMW M3 generations.
The passage of time seems to be changing this view. As BMWs have gotten bigger, heavier, more software dependent and less reliable, older generations have begun to be more and more appreciated by a core group of BMW enthusiasts. The latest catalyst for this reappraisal has been the great amount of press greeting the introduction of the 2014 BMW M235i.
In three separate reviews, this car is touted as the one that returns BMW to its dynamic driving roots and could entice old school enthusiasts to give up their older models. In two of the reviews, the E36 M3 is specifically called out as an example of what BMW used to represent.
The review by Jeff Sabatini in the April Car and Driver describes this particular kind of BMW enthusiast really well:
“You know them by the tarnish on their roundels, the newest of which are now eight model years old and at least two generation obsolete. BMW knows them for their unwillingness to replace their beloved E36 and E46 Bimmers with the larger, and in management’s view, much-improved successors. This uniquely American cohort perplexes the Germans because such refusal comes despite, or perhaps because of, a self-avowed passion for the brand. The 2014 2-Series is Munich’s latest and best attempt to bring this crowd back into the fold.”
At Automobile magazine Michael Jordan amplifies this point and connects it right to the E36 M3 – sorry, no link up yet:
“Second, it (the M235i) makes you think you’ve taken a ride in the BMW wayback machine, since this car combines the intensely personal feeling of the 1970s 2002tii with the affordability and drivability of the legendary, late 1990s E36 chassis M3.”
Legendary – what a difference 15 years can make! Rich Farquhar at Bimmer magazine also gives the M235i a positive review but in some ways prefer the 228i because its very comparable to the (you guessed it) E36 M3:
“As much as we enjoyed the M235i, we can’t help but be intrigued by its little brother. Its 240 hp and 6.2-second 0-60 time put it more or less on par with the old E36 M3, and so does its $33,025 base price, $9,000 less than the MSRP on an M235i.”
Why BMW has lost the hearts of enthusiasts is a topic for another post. To continue to grow and be profitable there are strong market forces the company needs to respond to. However I’m on record that some of BMW’s decisions make it very hard for a certain kind of BMW enthusiastic. The cracks are starting to widen between the premium image and the driving reality of newer models.
Until that fact begins to cut into sales, this debate will take place mainly in car magazines, online forums and sites like this one. In the meantime, it’s a lot of fun to see a superlative driver like my E36 M3 get its due. I’ll just keep driving like it’s 1999.
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