In the autumn of 2000, it was time for an all-new M3 based on the upgraded E46 chassis. While the sedan version was dropped, BMW M researched the feasibility of a rabid wagon that would be better suited to compete against the Audi RS4.
Like its successor, the epic 1994-1995 RS2 co-developed with Porsche, the new high-performance RS4 was only available as a five-door wagon. Such a vehicle makes little sense to some, yet a surprising number of European enthusiasts quickly fell in love with the combination between sports car-like performance and practicality. The M division experimented with this formula during the lifespan of the E34 M5, but never considered it for the smaller M3.
Fitting the S54 inline-six and Getrag 420G 6-speed manual gearbox was a breeze. However, the rest of the hardware and body modifications weren’t as easy to adapt as one might think.
The chassis had to be strengthened in key areas to attain the rigidity of the standard M3. The structure was also equipped with stiffer springs and shocks as well as an M-developed braking system.
The biggest challenge that the development team encountered was fitting the rear axle conceived for the coupe and convertible to the wagon body without compromising cargo space, which wasn’t that abundant, to begin with. Even in standard guise, the E46 Touring was rear-wheel-driven, so it had a bulky differential that took up a little room.
The need for redesigned components didn’t end there. The hood, front bumper, side skirts, side mirrors, and wider front fenders with their unique side vents were built from scratch for the wagon as those from the coupe or convertible didn’t fit.
Inside, the M3 gauges and steering wheel were carried over with ease. Recaro had to slightly modify the front seats which were unique to the M3 and folded in the standard body styles. The buckets, as well as the rear bench, were upholstered in a mix of Alcantara and a novel material with a metallic look that the manufacturer called F1.
Thankfully, BMW came to its senses with the current G80 model, which is set to be the first M3 that can be had as a wagon (G81). Despite its controversial front end, the car looks absolutely amazing (even with a camouflage wrap) and European fans (myself included) can’t wait to see it in dealerships. Sadly, it won’t be available in North America, but that could change thanks to wagon fanatics who have started an online petition to get the Germans to change their mind.