Top Performance BMWs of the 2000s
The early 2000s were a real sweet spot for performance cars. All auto manufacturers, and especially BMW, were utilizing new technology to create cars that were more powerful, comfortable, and safer than ever before. This time period saw the incorporation of more electronic components such as computers and modules, but also the retention of some of the analog features that many drivers preferred, which makes them the perfect blend of new and old.
BMW was coming off of wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1999 and was also in the process of re-entering F1 as the 2000s were beginning, so it was a great time to be a BMW Motorsports enthusiast. After its success with prototypes in endurance racing, BMW switched its focus to GT class and touring car racing. They were instantly successful and took many high-profile wins in major events. This on-track success led to the technology found in many of these race cars to be incorporated into production BMWs, making them some of the best driving and performance cars ever made. Many of the featured cars are BMW M models that dominated the roads of this time period. Read on for the top performance BMWs to come out of this decade.
1. BMW E46 M3 CSL
The E46 M3 by itself is one of the most popular BMWs ever made, and the CSL was one of the ultimate E46 series models. This E46 was named after the legendary E9 3.0 CSL of the 1970s and has become a legend in its own right. CSL stands for "Coupe Sport Lightweight," and BMW took lightweight to the extreme by shedding over 240 lbs compared to a stock M3. The CSL features the same S54 six-cylinder engine as the regular production M3, but bumped up to 360 hp, and were only available with the SMG "paddle shift" transmission that was cutting edge technology found only in exotic supercars at the time.
Introduced in 2003, these cars are rare with a little less than 1,400 being produced for the world market and with none originally coming to the U.S. They are visually different than a stock M3 due to their CLS body kit and wheels, and also feature lighter body panels and a stripped down interior. The biggest difference between the CSL and a standard E46 M3 is the drastic weight reduction, which sets them apart and makes them so desirable to BMW enthusiasts today.
2. BMW E90 320Si
The E90 320Si is another BMW that was never officially exported to the United States, but has become one of the most sought after cars of this era. While the E9x M3 was a more than competent performance car with its V8, the 320Si was a true homologation special for BMW's touring car racers of the time. This car is based on the four-cylinder 320i M Sport, but only 2,600 320Si's were available to enthusiasts worldwide.
BMW has had decades of success in various touring car races around the globe, and the 320Si added its own chapter. Arriving in 2006, the race version of its N45 four-cylinder engine produced 275 hp, but this was scaled back to about 175 hp for street cars which was 24 more hp than a stock 320i. It also featured upgraded wheels and brakes, which set it apart from other e90 models and help make it a sought after performance BMW today.
3. BMW E86 Z4 M Coupe
The E86 Z4 M Coupe arrived in 2006 and is the first car on our list that was officially available in North America. Produced alongside the Z4 roadster at the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Z4 M coupe featured the same 3.2 liter S54 six-cylinder engine found in the E46 M3 and produced 330 hp. The Z4 M utilized the hydraulic power steering rack found in the M3 CSL whereas non-M Z cars of the same era featured electric power steering. It also featured other upgraded steering components, suspension, and wheels compared to the regular Z4, and other M3 CSL parts found on the Z4 M include rear brakes and rear axles.
The Z4 M is also the last M car to feature a normally aspirated six-cylinder engine, giving it a special place in the history of BMW Motorsports. This high-revving engine was paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox to provide enhanced driving pleasure for enthusiasts. Some might not like its styling (it can be an acquired taste, much like the previous generation Z3 M Coupe), but no one can deny that it is a true driver's car. It was successful in motorsports with a win at the Silverstone 24 Hour race and it helped lay the groundwork for Z4 coupes that would later go on the race in series like IMSA over the next decade. Only 1,815 of these coupes were produced for the US market during its three year production run, making it much rarer than any of the Z4 roadsters and extremely desirable today.
4. BMW M5 E39
While the E39 M5 was first introduced in 1998, it stayed in production until 2003 and quickly became one of the most sought after performance cars of the 2000s. It was the first M car with a V8 engine, and its S62 power plant produced over 390 hp and was one of the most powerful sedans in production at that time. All E39 M5s featured four-door bodies and came with six-speed manual transmissions. They also featured upgraded brakes, suspension, wheels, exhaust, and bodywork compared to other E39 models.
While all the other cars on this list are two-door coupes, the E39 truly stands out as one of the top performance BMWs due to its status as a "four-door supercar." This car might not have the competition track record as the other BMW models, but it is more comfortable and roomier than any other car on our list while being one of the fastest production sedans of its time.
5. BMW E90 M3 Lime Rock Edition
The E90 M3 arrived in 2007 and was the first M3 available in the United States to feature a V8 Engine. They produced up to 414 hp and could be purchased in multiple body styles. This M3 has become a popular car in its own right with a fantastic competition history. E92 M3s have multiple class wins at Sebring and an overall win at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, giving this model some deserved pedigree. The most modern car on our list, the Lime Rock Edition was produced at the end of the model's production run in 2013 and is considered one of the most sought-after examples.
The Lime Rock edition, named after the Lime Rock Park racetrack in the Northeast, came standard with the M3 Competition Package, and only came as an E92 coupe. The engine is basically the same as a standard M3, but it features an upgraded exhaust, body kit, lowered ride height, a faster steering ratio, and better stability control. Only 200 were produced, making this one of the rarest cars on our list, and they were only available painted in Fire Orange, which assures that they will stand out wherever they go.
6. BMW M3 E46 GTR
The rarest and overall top performance BMW of the 2000's to be featured on our list is also one of the most legendary BMWs of all time. The E46 M3 GTR is a racing homologation special designed and built by BMW to allow their V8 powered M3s to compete in GT class racing in the United States. BMW was supposed to produce ten examples of the GTR road car in order to be eligible to compete, but it is believed that only six were completed, and these road cars are one of the rarest BMWs ever produced.
The standard E46 M3 arrived in 2000, with the CSL version that is also on our list coming in 2003, but the GTR produced in 2001 for the ‘01 racing season takes the cake as the top performance car on our list. The GTR was powered by the P60B40 dry sump 4-liter V8 that was also found in the competition cars but was detuned to 382 hp and about 270 lbs-ft of torque with a curb weight of 2,976 lbs. It had a stiffer suspension and chassis than any other E46 M3 and was also lower and had additional bracing. It featured multiple carbon fiber body parts and interior parts, and featured Recaro front seats with the rear seats completely removed.
On track the GTR was the best GT class racer of its era and driven by some of the best endurance racers of all time to a win at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and multiple overall wins at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. It has also made appearances in several racing videogames over the years, which has helped ingrain the GTR into popular culture. The road going version of the GTR was never intended for the US market, so it is rare to come across one in the flesh. One was on display in the Road Atlanta paddock back in 2001 and one will occasionally surface at prestigious events like the Amelia Island Concours, but you are more likely to see a McLaren F1 than a BMW E46 M3 GTR. The GTR is not only a top performer, but also one of the rarest and most desirable cars of all time.
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