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Old vs. New: Can a 2008 E90 M3 Keep up With the 2021 BMW M3?

Putting aside its looks—which are functional—the 2021 BMW M3 is a genuine sports sedan. And if you resist ordering the Competition trim, with or without AWD, you can get it with a manual transmission. However, for some BMW M fans, new just won’t do. They prefer the older ones, like the E90 M3, which also happen to be more affordable. But can the 2021 M3’s predecessor hold a reasonably-priced candle to the new car? That’s what YouTube team Throttle House wanted to find out.

How does a 2008 E90 BMW M3 compare on paper to a 2021 M3?

A silver 2008 E90 BMW M3 Sedan by a yellow building
2008 E90 BMW M3 Sedan | BMW

The 2008-2013 M3 goes by a few different names, depending on what body style you’re talking about. In coupe form, it’s an E92; if it’s a convertible, it’s an E93, CarThrottle explains. However, since it’s based on the E90-gen 3 Series, this generation of BMW M3 is usually referred to as the E90 M3. And it has a significant claim to fame.

Almost every generation of M3 uses some kind of inline-six engine, Road & Track reports. That even includes the 2021 BMW M3 and M4. However, the E90 M3 is the only outlier.

The rear 3/4 view of a silver 2008 E90 BMW M3 Sedan by some trees
2008 E90 BMW M3 Sedan rear 3/4 | BMW

Instead of an inline-six engine, it has a 4.0-liter V8 rated at 414 hp and 295 lb-ft that redlines at 8400 RPM, MotorTrend reports. That power goes to the rear wheels via an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential and a six-speed manual or BMW’s first seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, Car and Driver reports. And it lets the E90 M3 go 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds with the manual or 4.3 with the DCT.

Despite ‘only’ having six cylinders, the 2021 BMW M3 out-guns the E90-gen car. It has a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six engine rated at 473 hp and 406 lb-ft. And while the Competition trims have more horsepower and torque, they can’t get the six-speed manual.

A green 2021 BMW M3 driving on a racetrack
2021 BMW M3 | BMW

The 2021 BMW M3 is several hundred pounds heavier than the E90 M3, Car and Driver reports. As a result, although it’s more powerful, the 2021 car isn’t significantly faster than the 2008 car in a straight line. A manual-equipped 2021 M3 goes 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, Roadshow reports.

A $19,200 2008 E90 M3 is still decently modern inside, even compared to the $76,950 2021 BMW M3

Naturally, being newer, the 2021 BMW M3 has some extra equipment and performance features compared to the E90 M3. And it’s worth pointing out that the 2021 M3 in Throttle House’s video isn’t a fully base example. The 2021 car starts at $69.9k, and the one in the video is equipped to roughly $76,950. In contrast, the used 2008 E90 M3 in the video is currently listed for sale at roughly $19,200.

Although the manual 2021 BMW M3 doesn’t have the Competition’s performance-related features, it’s still well-equipped for luxury and sport. The sedan has a digital gauge cluster, a 10.25” center touchscreen, as well as optional carbon-fiber bucket front seats and carbon-ceramic brakes, R&T reports. It also has heated front seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, adaptive suspension, an electronically-controlled LSD, and a carbon-fiber roof. And while some ADAS features are optional, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning are standard, Roadshow reports. So is automatic rev-matching on downshifts.

The gray-leather-upholstered front seats and silver dashboard of a 2008 E90 BMW M3 Sedan
2008 E90 BMW M3 Sedan front interior | BMW

However, as Throttle House notes in the video embedded below, the 2008 E90 M3 is still a fairly modern car. It has an earlier version of the BMW iDrive system, complete with navigation. Admittedly, it’s not as easy to use as the later iDrive versions, MT reports, but it’s not the earliest version.

Plus, this E90 M3 has leather upholstery, Bluetooth, a sunroof, keyless entry, push-button start, and parking assist. And it has electronically adjustable suspension and adjustable stability control, R&T reports. Also, despite being 13 years old, the E90’s interior doesn’t look dated.

Whether new or used, both cars “remain true to their badge,” Throttle House says

True, the 2008 E90 BMW M3 doesn’t have all of the technology of the 2021 M3. And the one in Throttle House’s video has over 149,000 miles on the clock. So, naturally, it has some squeaks and rattles inside. But just like the 2021 BMW M3’s looks, none of that matters once you start driving it.

In-period, reviewers gushed over the E90 M3. Car and Driver said it “borders on perfection,” and ranked it ahead of the Audi RS 4, Porsche 911 Turbo, and Nissan GT-R. Top Gear describes it as a “bargain hero.” And on a racetrack, the E90 M3 “is a riot,” Throttle House says.

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Co-host Thomas (who races BMWs) even says it drives like a modern M2, i.e., smaller than it is. Regardless of what you’re doing—accelerating, braking, cornering— “it’s just sensational,” Car and Driver reports. And then there’s that high-revving V8 bellowing and wailing at you. But when you want to just cruise around town, the E90 M3 is civilized and comfortable, MT reports.

That being said, it’s not like the 2021 BMW M3 loses out on much compared to the older car. Yes, it doesn’t have that V8 engine. But its turbocharged inline-six engine makes more torque, which means the 2021 M3 accelerates harder at lower speeds. And while the 2021 M3’s shifter isn’t the best in the business, Throttle House reports, it’s still a good manual.

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No, it’s not as quick as the Competition model is. But, as Throttle House, Roadshow, and Car and Driver reiterate, it’s more fun. Plus, because it’s newer, the 2021 BMW M3 has more interior refinement and tech, safety and otherwise, than the E90 M3. And it’s no less comfortable, capable, or well-balanced on the street or racetrack.

In short, both the 2008 E90 and the 2021 car are genuine heirs to the BMW M3 name.

Can an E90 M3 be a reliable used alternative to a 2021 BMW M3?

To be sure, not every E90 M3 is as cheap as the 2008 car in the Throttle House video. But a good-condition example on Bring a Trailer is still about half the price of a new 2021 BMW M3.

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That being said, although an E90-gen 3 Series is one of the most reliable used BMWs you can get, the M3 has some issues. The ‘S65’ V8 is known to suffer from premature rod-bearing wear and failure, as well as throttle body actuator failure, BMW Tuning reports. Both of these can be expensive to fix, especially if the rod bearings aren’t replaced in time, ECS Tuning reports. Plus, even if nothing’s wrong, the V8 will burn a bit of oil, R&T reports.

Happily, though, modern replacement rod bearings are made of stronger stuff, Grassroot Motorsports reports. And you can get WPC-treated ones to ensure they don’t fail or wear prematurely. But, as with any used car, we recommend getting a pre-purchase inspection before buying.

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A used E90 BMW M3 isn’t as up-to-date as the 2021 M3 in some ways. But dynamically, the two are neck-and-neck.

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