This year marks the 50th anniversary of BMW’s M division. That fateful letter has given us some of the best driver’s cars ever, and high on that list is the E92 M3, the first and only M3 with a V8. That model’s swan song was the limited-edition Lime Rock Park, with its eye-searing orange paint and factory Inconel sport exhaust.
As part of Monterey Car Week, BMW brought out a bunch of its greatest hits for journalists to drive. I’ve already written about my experiences with the 1973 3.0 CSL and 1988 E28 M5, but the E92 M3 is a model I’d driven before, albeit years ago. Now that I’ve been privileged to drive all kinds of sports cars, supercars and vintage BMW M cars, how does the E92 stack up?
In short, beautifully. The E92 is even better than I remember it being, for a handful of reasons. The first, obviously, is that unbelievable 414-hp 4.0-liter S65 V8 with its sky-high 8,300-rpm power peak and 8,400-rpm redline. Not only is it an incredibly free-breathing and responsive engine, it’s also likely to be the last M3 without forced induction, and that alone makes it worthy of celebration.
The S65’s relatively low torque output, just 295 lb-ft, also adds to the experience. It makes you work to keep the engine on boil and above the torque peak of 3,900 rpm. It also makes the experience more controllable, since you’re a little less likely to overwhelm the rear tires with a sudden poke of the throttle. The M3 was available with a perfectly nice six-speed manual transmission or a surprisingly good (for 2013) dual-clutch transmission (DCT) that rivals Porsche’s PDK for speed and usability. The version I’m driving has the DCT.
The real thing that makes the S65 legendary, though, is the sound. The Lime Rock Park edition comes with the M Performance accessory exhaust system, which is not only a bit louder (though not annoyingly so), but also accentuates the right frequencies, making the engine sound both angrier and sweeter at high revs. As a bonus, it’s also over 20 pounds lighter than the stock unit, not that you’d notice.
The next thing — and maybe the most striking to me, after all these years — is how good the steering feels, particularly compared to any modern sports car with electric power steering. The E92’s hydraulic system, combined with the M Competition package’s stiffer suspension and lighter wheels, makes for wonderfully communicative steering. It’s weighted perfectly, neither too heavy nor too light, and the accuracy is fantastic. This is arguably the biggest thing that separates this car from the M3s and M4s that followed it.
The E92’s chassis is also worth mentioning. The M Competition package, standard on the Lime Rock Park edition, gets unique electronic damper control calibration, and that system does an excellent job of differentiating between the hardcore M mode and the softer everyday mode. In its softest setting, it’s never sloppy or floaty. In the stiffest setting, it’s not something you’d want to live with every day, but it’s not going to knock a filling loose or bounce you off the road on bad pavement.
The chassis works together with the excellent steering to make an incredibly controllable and enjoyable performance car. The E92 feels playful in a way that the current M3 and M4 do not. The current-gen car just feels angry all the time. It’s unbelievably fast and competent, but it doesn’t feel fun in the same way as the E92.
When it comes to the interior, the E92 is ultimately just a nicely equipped 3-series. The seats are supportive, but not full-on race buckets like you’d get in the current car. (There’s a special place in hell for BMW’s $4,500 optional M Carbon buckets.) The overall feel is fairly spartan, in typical BMW fashion, but it’s comfy and a nice place to spend time. The Lime Rock Park gets an Alcantara steering wheel, which is just a recipe for grossness after a few months of skin-oil buildup. The steering wheel rim is also a bit thick for my taste.
Ultimately, when it comes to in-car tech, 2013 was a long time ago, and the E92 arguably feels the oldest when it comes to this area. iDrive famously sucked at that point, and many of the driver assistance features we’ve come to enjoy are nowhere to be seen. That said, I don’t think anyone buying an E92 in 2022 would care. It’s just not that kind of car.
BMW’s museum example Lime Rock Park M3, being low-mileage and perfectly maintained, completely recalibrated my sense of what a sports car should be. It doesn’t have to be supercar fast or menacingly hard-edged. It doesn’t have to have an ear-bleeding exhaust or every technological bell and whistle under the sun. It just has to be approachable, engaging, visceral and rewarding of good driving. The E92 does that all with aplomb.
A few years ago, I promised myself that the next car I buy would be a 997-generation Porsche 911, and I meant it. I love that car and hold it as the platonic ideal of what a sports car should be. But goddamnit, this E92 M3 Lime Rock Park has me reconsidering that decision, and that’s not something I ever thought I’d say.