An elegant and sophisticated coupé now emerged on the roads with a powerful yet cultured six-cylinder engine. The four-valve engine delivered 286 hp, thanks to the VANOS variable valve timing. This innovation allowed the opening point of the inlet valves to be adjusted to the engine speed and load. The advantage was that torque, power and consumption could be optimised simultaneously.
The new BMW M3 engine was a pioneer among naturally aspirated engines generating 320 newton metres at 3600 revolutions. The coupé took 6.0 seconds to sprint from a standing start to a speed of 100 km/h, and the acceleration only stopped at a speed of 250 km/h. This was not because the engine had run out of power but because the electronics brought the acceleration to an end. BMW had set this voluntary limit.
For the American market, M3 had to make do with significantly reduced power. In order to be certain of complying with US exhaust emission laws, engineers used a 525i engine enlarged to three litres. This engine generated 244 hp in the M3 thanks to the VANOS variable valve timing and generated speeds of up to 220 km/h. It could have packed a bigger punch but the regulations precluded this.
The substantially enhanced engine output of the new model demanded a revision of the chassis and braking system. The result had to be thoroughbred athleticism yet suitable for everyday road use, as well as being specially designed to meet the requirements for 17-inch tyres. The new model was given a particularly powerful braking system with generously dimensioned inner-vented swing-calliper front and rear disc brakes. At that point, ABS systems were already being installed as standard in every BMW, and the ABS for the M3 was specially tailored to the performance of the high-power sports coupe. The result was that the new BMW M3 decelerated from high speeds even more effectively than its predecessor, which had defined benchmarks in this area. At a speed of 100 km/h, the car only needed 2.8 seconds or 35 metres to come to a standstill. Braking from 200 km/h was possible in less than 6.0 seconds.
In 1994, the new open-top M3 based on the four-seater 3 Series Convertible was launched fitted with a power-operated hood as standard and innovative safety technology. In 1994, BMW also debuted the four-door saloon M3. The four-door car was undoubtedly the most successful combination of sportiness and everyday road use that had been sold up to that point under the M3 badge. Shortly after the expansion of the M3 stable by the four-door saloon, BMW announced on 20 July 1995 that the M3 was getting even more dynamic. The new model could only be distinguished by white indicator lenses, a black cool-air intake in the front spoiler and wheels styled differently from the coupe.
The updated model had a new engine with a bigger displacement than the existing engine, precisely 3201 cubic centimetres, and hence a good basis for improvement of the key statistics. The maximum torque rose by some ten percent to 350 newton metres while the reference engine speed fell from 3600 rpm to 3250 rpm. The sixcylinder engine with four valves for each cylinder generated 321 hp at 7400rpm. At the same time, the development engineers increased the compression from 10.8 to 11.3, which benefited power and consumption. The most impressive features were provided by the performance stats of the new M3. The sports car sprinted to 100 km/h in just 5.5 seconds. The explosive performance curve was combined with a high level of elasticity. The sports car needed just 5.7 seconds for acceleration at speed from 80 km/h to 120 km/h in fourth gear.
The engine in the new M3 was not the only area to have a thorough overhaul. The engineers at M GmbH also carried out some intensive work on the power transmission and chassis. For example, they implemented the desire of many M3 customers for an additional drive level with a new six-speed gearbox. The sixth gear exerted an overdrive effect. This reduced revolutions at high speeds, which mainly served to minimise driving noise at very high speeds and cut down fuel consumption. The chassis sector was one of the key domains of each M3. Engineers were mainly working on chassis tuning here. Dampers and spring rates were completely revamped without reducing ride comfort. The servo-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was retained in principle, although the steering effect was transmitted rather more directly and conveyed rather more road contact to the driver than previously.
In 1997, M GmbH was the first automobile manufacturer in the world to market the BMW M3 with the Sequential M Gearbox (SMG) at a premium price. This gearbox offered seamless gear change with the clutch being operated fully automatically. The driver simply pulled back briefly on the selector lever to go up the gears and pushed it forward for downshift. This system delivered extremely short shift times while at the same time preventing the driver from selecting the wrong gear. The new gearbox combined the easy operation of an automatic with the opportunity for sporty manual gear change and demonstrated a broad array of advantages on the road.
On the one hand, the clutch pedal was eliminated, while in contrast to a conventional automatic there was no hydraulic converter with its losses, weights and inertias resulting from the operating principle. Compared with a conventional manual gearshift, there were neither losses in performance values nor efficiency compromises on the basis of the converter slip. Most importantly, the joy of changing gear experienced a tangible enhancement because the Sequential M Gearbox enabled lightning manual gear changes up and down even when the accelerator pedal was floored. The driver no longer had to concentrate on changing gear and could instead exploit the reserves of the M3 and concentrate entirely on driving.
The gearbox took the M3 into new territory in the sport-car sector and was a runaway success story. A boom followed on from initial scepticism when production was brought to a close. Almost every second M3 in this generation was fitted with an SMG gearbox. The exceptional sports car had become a sales hit. This car rolled off the production line in Regensburg precisely 71,242 times. From 1992 until 1999, it was the silent star in the firmament of the extensive BMW range to be manufactured there as a coupé, convertible and saloon.