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The E46 generation of the BMW 3 Series is nearly two decades old, but it continues to hold a sterling reputation. This model’s engineering has stood the test of time, and its versatility has prolonged its vaunted status among enthusiasts. Inevitably, those qualities have prompted high BMW E46 M3 prices on the used car market. Still, most pre-owned E46 M3 models are more affordable than a new M3.

The BMW E46 M3 has left a lasting legacy

The BMW E46 was the third iteration of the 3 Series, including the M3 high-performance trim. That generation followed the E30 in 1986 and E36 in 1992. After receiving criticism for failing to make substantial changes to the E36, BMW pulled out all the stops to produce a new design from scratch with more individual parts and components to give the next edition its own flavor. 

When the E46 M3 sports car debuted in 2000, it stunned the auto industry. It looked sleek and strong and housed an equally impressive engine. The E46 packed a 3.2-liter S54 straight-six harnessing 343 hp at a redline of 8,000 rpm. It also boasted individual throttle bodies with electronic throttle control and 269 lb-ft of torque that helped buck the M3 from 0 to 60 mph in just over five seconds. Those specs were top-notch then and remain comparable to modern-day sports cars. 

So, when drivers got behind the wheel, it was love at first drive. During the E46’s six years of production, it became the second-best-selling M3. BMW sold 85,766 units. 

The BMW E46 M3’s excellence and increasing scarcity have led to high prices

A side view of a silver E46 BMW M3
E46 BMW M3 | Getty Images

The BMW E46 M3’s timelessness means finding one to call your own takes considerable cash, especially for models in pristine condition. 

The magic of this car is that it can be many things to many drivers. The E46 was factory-customizable thanks to numerous trims and options for exterior and interior colors. And though the E46 GTR sport model was used in racing championships during the early 2000s, the standard version still provides plenty of utility as a daily driver. 

The enthusiasm for BMW E46 M3s also leads to their appreciation in value over time. That’s a good thing to hear if you already own one, but if you’re looking to buy one, the potential dent in your bank account will only grow.

The average price for an E46 is about $26,000. In 2016, it was just over $19,000. And that’s for models with plenty of miles on the odometer. Expect to pay more for a low-mileage E46 M3 than you would for a new M4. Earlier this year, a used E46 sold for $84,000, and the limited-edition E46 M3 CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau) is known to command over $100,000, Sports Car Market reports.

The price range among E46s is vast because the mileage, history, and overall condition are significant variables. Maintenance bills can rack up, especially if you plan to use the car regularly, so be prepared to spend more cash keeping it in good shape. 

More affordable alternatives

A green BMW M3 four-door, which compares to the BMW M4 coupe
2023 BMW M3 | BMW

If you’re not interested in regular repairs, the 2023 BMW M3 is an excellent alternative at a lower price than any low-mileage E46. 

After creating controversy with the 2022 M3, BMW came correct with this year’s model. The standard M3 is a rear-wheel-drive sedan producing 473 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Its twin-turbo three-liter inline-six engine can push it from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds. (Other trims can reach that speed in as little as 3.4 seconds.) It also features an infotainment system with a 12.3-inch touchscreen, a one-year subscription to SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and several advanced driver-assistance systems. A new 2023 M3 costs about $72,800.

The evolution of carmaking is such that the latest vehicles have surpassed the BMW E46 MC in safety, technology, and other areas. So if you want a newer car that more directly compares to the E46’s output, the 2022 BMW M240i strongly resembles the classic. Though these cars might not fulfill your nostalgic desires, they offer better value than a barely driven E46.