The 10 Best BMW M Cars of All Time

Posted 5th February 2024

3 minute read

The 10 Best BMW M Cars of All Time

Established in 1972, BMW’s M Division began with only 35 employees. The aim being to bring a taste of their successful motorsport heritage to the commercially available road car. Swiftly growing to 400 employees by 1988, the rest is history. BMW M has since become a household name with an undeniably legendary status within the world of motoring.

From its humble beginnings to the present day, the BMW M name has evolved into something more than just its most hardcore road-going offerings. With M Sport trim lines available on most models as well as the large range of M Performance models, more colloquially known as baby M cars, times have certainly changed. We’ve taken a dive into BMW M’s history and selected 10 of the best BMW M cars ever made. It’s certainly not been easy, and we’re sure we’ll stir up some controversy with these selections, but let’s get started. Our list is in order of model release.

1. BMW 3.0 CSL (E9)

Initially introduced in 1972, BMW’s 3.0 CSL was homologated to make the car eligible for the European Touring Car Championship. This iconic model is practically a road-legal race car, with a major focus on lightness and aerodynamics. Perspex side windows, a thinner steel body, and even the deletion of trim and soundproofing in some countries were implemented in order to reduce weight.

It wasn’t until 1973 that the 3.0 CSL was released in its ultimate form that would earn itself the ‘Batmobile’ nickname. This variation had an increased engine displacement from 3.0 - 3.2 litres as well as the unmistakable aerodynamic package which included an air dam, front fender fins, a rear roof spoiler, and a rather large rear wing! Despite its somewhat tame power output of 203 hp by today’s standards, the 3.0 CSL is optimised for maximum track performance which translates into an exhilarating vehicle to drive on public roads.

2. BMW M1 (E26)

The first-ever BMW to be branded with the famous M division name, nothing quite like the M1 has ever been recreated by BMW to this day. A naturally aspirated mid-engined sports car with Italian styling from one of the world’s most influential car designers, Giorgetto Giugiaro. An anomaly of sorts, the M1 did however remain true to its German roots mechanically speaking, with its M88 3.5-litre straight-six engine deriving from the 3.0 CSL. This time producing 277 hp with an exquisite soundtrack to match. 453 BMW M1s were produced in total, all of which were left-hand drive.

As envisioned by the head of BMW’s motorsport division, Jochen Neerpasch, the M1 was to be a car developed with Lamborghini to compete in Group-5 racing. Unfortunately, due to various challenges, the M1’s development process was a difficult one, which ultimately resulted in the M1 never quite achieving the motorsport glory it could have.

Despite this, an M1 Procar was created for competitive racing. This track-built specification saw a boosted power output of 470 hp as well as enhanced aerodynamic components. Competing in both Group-4 and Group-5 among other racing series, the M1 also had its own slice of unique motorsport history. This was the spectacular BMW Procar Series which saw the top five F1 drivers, based on their performance in practice sessions during the respective Grand Prix, participate in a race where they drove identical BMW M1 cars against private drivers, established racers, and emerging talents. An absolute spectacle, such racing would never be seen today and certainly thrilled viewers around the world.

3. BMW M3 (E30)

The E30 M3 is a true poster car. Perhaps one of the most recognisable cars BMW has ever built. It was also the first ever M3, and just like the legendary M models that came before it, derived directly from BMW motorsport. With multiple championship victories in touring car racing, this generation of M3 pulsated with success. This was one of the more closely matched models when comparing the road-going car to its racing version. A considerable focus on performance and circuit driving capability is evident - the brake system with ABS and ventilated disks alongside an extremely sporty suspension and damping setup, ensures you can really feel the racing-inspired engineering behind the car.

BMW E30 M3
The four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine at the heart of the E30 M3 produces 200 hp and utilises sophisticated technology to provide low weight, high torque, and improved durability. This contributes towards a 6.15 kg/hp power-to-weight ratio, an impressive figure at the time and one that certainly provides considerable driving enjoyment today.

Many different variants of the E30 were made, including the rare convertible and M3 Sport Evolution models. The Sport Evolution is regarded as the very best by many, featuring a revised engine, aerodynamics, and one-piece racing seats.

4. BMW Z3 M Coupé (E36/8)

The BMW Z3 M Coupé is a real oddball. Its design is often compared to that of a clown's shoe or other items you wouldn’t usually associate with a car. Polarising looks? Yes. A brilliant drive? Also, yes. You’re either going to love or hate the way this car looks but there’s no denying just how good it is to drive.

BMW Z3 M Coupe
The E36 M3’s 3.2-litre 6-cylinder straight-six can be found under the bonnet, unless it's the February 2001 or later model which houses the upgraded S54 unit from the E46 M3. The exceptional agility of the Z3 M Coupé stemmed primarily from its fundamental design principles: a front-engine layout, rear-wheel drive configuration, extended wheelbase, nearly balanced weight distribution at around 50/50, rearward-positioned seats, a low centre of gravity, complemented by a robust suspension system and a wide track.

5. BMW M5 (E39)

Widely considered one of the all-time great super saloons, the E39 excels in just about every category. The V8 M5 is exceptionally versatile, being both practical and capable of such high performance, leading to many instances where these cars accumulated substantial mileage. With its understated aesthetics, roomy interior, and comfort features, it became highly attractive to executives and drivers requiring swift and stress-free long-distance travel.

BMW E39 M5
The E39 M5 introduced numerous groundbreaking elements for the M5 series, marking several firsts such as the inaugural V8 engine, fly-by-wire throttle system, inclusion of DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), implementation of BMW's VANOS variable valve timing system, and various other advancements in both electronic and mechanical realms. This model truly ushered in a new era for BMW M cars. Despite its extraordinary features, only a relatively small quantity of right-hand drive M5s were manufactured - 2,595 units to be specific. Even fewer being the crucial facelift models released in the 2001 model year.

6. BMW M3 CSL (E46)

The BMW M3 CSL stands as an iconic and pinnacle achievement within the third generation M3 series. In 2003, BMW M harnessed the very best of motorsport technology and elevated the sports car to new heights with the M3 CSL.

The commitment to lightweight construction was fully followed through on the M3 CSL. Boasting a kerb weight of 1,385 kilograms, the BMW M engineers successfully trimmed an impressive 110 kilograms from the already finely tuned M3 Coupé. This weight reduction was achieved through enhancements in the body and interior, along with refinements in the engine, transmission, and chassis. Additionally, a specially designed thin-walled exhaust system was employed by the engineers to further contribute to the reduction in weight.

Exhibiting radical agility, the M3 CSL stands out for its exceptionally precise steering. To achieve this remarkable trait, it was exclusively outfitted with the potent SMG II transmission featuring Drivelogic. During testing on the renowned Nordschleife, the M3 CSL demonstrated its prowess with an impressive lap time of 7 minutes and 50 seconds.

7. BMW M5 Touring (E61)

From its inception, the BMW M5 Touring was envisioned as a five-door car designed for the racetrack, delivering impressive power to the road. Equipped with a 5.0-litre V10 engine, 507 hp, and a peak torque of 520 Nm, its extraordinary engine shared a manufacturing lineage with the Formula 1 motor blocks of its time. With a maximum engine speed of 8,250 rpm, the Touring accelerated from 0-62 mph in just 4.8 seconds. Adding to its allure was the distinctive and captivating sound, a characteristic unique to 10-cylinder engines with a high-rev concept.

BMW M5 Touring
The BMW M5 Touring successfully overcame traditional preconceptions by embodying the qualities of a luxurious touring limousine, a spacious estate, and a high-performance sports car in one. Technically extraordinary and ahead of its era, this M car combined the practicality of a five-door car with the emotional thrill of a powerful sports car. It featured a captivating powertrain and a comprehensive array of M-specific components. The BMW M5 Touring E61 stands out as a rare and coveted collector's item, destined for value appreciation, with only 1,009 units licensed worldwide.

8. BMW M2 CS (F87)

The first generation M2 was an astounding success for BMW. The original M2 Coupé debuted in 2016 before the M2 Competition was unveiled in 2018 and finally, the M2 CS concluded the F87 generation, which finished production in 2021. The M2 CS is the most hardcore example available.

A spectacular sports car, the M2 CS is engineered for race track performance and offers either a precise dual-clutch or traditional manual transmission for maximum driving engagement. Power output is boosted by 40 hp, alongside tweaks to the suspension setup, optional carbon ceramic brakes, and other key components. The CS has been fully optimised, including additional aero such as a carbon fibre rear lip spoiler and front splitter. The exterior and interior of the M2 CS show clear signs of its pedigree, specific detailing such as the matte gold 19” alloy wheels, large central bonnet vent, Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, and unique CS interior elements are delightful additions.

9. BMW M5 CS (F90)

The M5 CS just had to make the list. At the time of writing, the quickest BMW production car ever made, it’s hard to comprehend just how impressive this family saloon is. A further development of the already blisteringly fast M5 Competition, the CS takes things up a notch further.

At the heart of the M5 CS is the incredible twin-turbocharged S63 4.4-litre V8 engine, which produces 635 hp and 750 Nm - helping to propel the M5 CS from 0-62 mph in less than 3 seconds. As well as a slightly increased power output over the M5 Competition, the CS weighs nearly 70 kg less. This is thanks to an abundance of carbon fibre and Alcantara, carbon ceramic brakes as standard, and other weight-saving methods. In addition to performance benefits, the CS also looks exquisite. With exclusive paint finishes to choose from including the extremely popular Frozen Deep Green with bronze accents, as well as iconic yellow CS DRLs. On the inside, it's just as spectacular. Highly supportive and aesthetically delightful carbon bucket seats in both the front and the rear ensure all passengers can sit comfortably and safely even when pushing the M5 CS to the limit on track.

It’s undoubtedly the ultimate performance saloon and a pretty rare one at that. With an estimated 1,000 units built worldwide, it’ll be hard to get your hands on one of these, but be sure that if you do then you’ll experience BMW engineering at its very finest.

10. BMW M3 Touring (G81)

For many years, fans of BMW M dreamed of a full production Touring version of the beloved M3. This finally came true as the G81 M3 Touring was revealed at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022. Despite being almost identical to its saloon sibling, the cool factor of the Touring was an instant hit - people just love a fast wagon.

BMW M3 Touring
The M3 Touring’s larger boot boosts practicality and makes it an extremely desirable performance car for daily driving. Additionally, the increased weight that comes with the Touring body does little to impact the exceptional performance of this car. Just like the current generation M2, M3 Saloon and M4, the M3 Touring utilises the twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine known as the S58 - one of the most impressive engines currently on offer. 510 hp and 650 Nm are at your disposal, with instant power delivery whenever you need it. The trusty ZF 8-speed transmission as well as M xDrive all-wheel drive are also equipped, forming a stunning package that is everything a modern high-performance car should be. An expectedly fantastic interior compliments the experience, filled with modern technology, great build quality, and bold designs should that be to your taste.

Just like many other modern BMW M vehicles, you can also direct all power to the rear wheels for some addictive drift action - doing so in an M3 Touring makes the experience that much more special. The car’s characteristics can be completely transformed in a split second thanks to custom presets that can be assigned to the steering wheel's M1 and M2 toggles. If you’re trying to convince someone that a performance car can be practical, this one is certainly one of your best picks.

BMW M4 Collection

Now that you’ve learned more about some of BMW M’s very best, why not explore our current stock where you may just find your dream car?

BMW M Stock 

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