The E36 M3 debuted in February 1992 and was in the dealer's showrooms in November that year. It was the first M3 powered by a straight-six engine; the engine used was a 2,990 cc (182 cu in) S50, which produced 210 kW (282 hp).
Initially available as a coupé only, BMW introduced M3 convertible and saloon versions in 1994, the absence of any M5 models in the BMW line-up between the end of E34 M5 production in 1995 and the launch of the E39 M5 in 1998 prompted the introduction of the 4-door Motorsport model.
Also in 1994, BMW produced the limited-edition M3 GT as a racing homologation special; all GTs were British Racing Green and featured an upgraded 295 PS (217 kW; 291 hp) 3.0-litre engine. 356 GTs were built.
In September and November 1995, the M3 coupe and saloon, respectively, were upgraded to the 239.4 kilowatts (321.0 hp) 3.2-litre S50B32 engine. At the same time, the cars received clear indicator lenses, new wheels and a 6-speed gearbox. The convertible did not receive these changes until February 1996.
The majority of E36 M3s were produced at the Regensburg factory; however, a small number of low compression right hand drive M3s were assembled at BMW's Rosslyn plant in Pretoria, South Africa. In total, 46,525 coupés, 12,114 convertibles and 12,603 saloons were produced. The saloon ceased production in December 1997, the coupé ceased production in late 1998, and the convertible ceased production in December 1999.
The E36 chassis M3 was touted as one of the best handling cars of the 1990s in independent tests by Car & Driver. Known for its benign handling and balance, the car is popular amongst circuit racers and track enthusiasts. The E36 was also one of the first cars BMW designed mainly with computer aid with the use of detailed Finite Element Analysis and other software.
North American models
The first E36 M3 to be imported to the United States was the 1995 model, which used the S50B30US engine with 240 bhp (179 kW; 243 PS) and 305 N⋅m (225 lb⋅ft), a different suspension setup and a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time in about six seconds. It was available with five-speed manual and automatic transmissions. An M3 Lightweight was produced in limited numbers for the 1995 model year.
The 1996–1999 model years had displacement bumped up to 3.2 litres, still with 240 bhp (179 kW; 243 PS), but torque increases to 320 N⋅m (240 lb⋅ft) which is the same S52B32USengine used in the early M Roadster and M Coupe. The manual gearbox remains a 5-speed despite the European versions being upgraded to 6-speed. It was also available as a saloon starting in model year 1997, and as convertible in 1998. Production of the saloon was halted in 1998, while the other models continued until 1999.
US sales figures include a total of 18,961 coupés, 7,760 saloons and 6,211 convertibles.
Other notable differences between North American and their European counterparts were as follows: Floating rotors were standard on the Canadian and European cars, but absent from the American variations. The Differential was shared between USA and Euro 3000cc cars, the euro 3200cc only had a larger unit. Rear axles and clutch on the North American cars were identical to the euro.
All late model M3s received subframe re-inforcements and more aggressive front end suspension geometry due to the differences in caster and camber yielded by top hat design and lower control arm bushings. Additionally, front spring rate was increased in addition to spindle and control arm geometry changes.