Back in the ’80s, prior to even the E30 M3’s existence, there was the E30-generation BMW 325i Coupe and it was the best version of the E30 3 Series. Even after the M3’s debut, there many enthusiasts that preferred the non-M 325i instead. Sure, the E30 M3 had an incredible motorsport-derived engine that revved gloriously and it had suspension and handling that made it superior to almost anything else on the road. However, the lesser BMW 325i, in many ways, was actually more enjoyable to drive.
The E30 M3 used a 2.3 liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine that made 192 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, which wasn’t even a lot at the time but it revved beautifully. However, on the flip-side, the BMW 325i at the time used a 2.5 liter naturally-aspirated inline-six-cylinder engine that made 168 horsepower and 164 lb-ft of torque. Sure, the 325i had less power from a larger engine but it was easy to tune more power out of it, and still is. Plus, you didn’t have to rev the nuts off of it to make power, so it was much easier to drive quickly in the 325i.
Additionally, the 325i’s straight-six was far smoother and even made a better noise. During an August 1987 Car and Driver review, author Arthur St. Antoine wrote, “If I could sing like the engine in the new BMW 325is, I’d pack Carnegie Hall for weeks.” So not only was it easier to use, the experience of using it was actually better than that of the E30 M3’s engine.
Plus, the BMW 325i was more comfortable inside, quieter on the road, and much cheaper to maintain and repair. The E30’s S14 engine, while incredible, was a high-strung, racing-bred maniac, which meant that expensive maintenance was necessary to keep it running. The BMW 325i straight-six was a decade-old, battle-tested iron block design that was as durable as it was enjoyable. That meant far less maintenance and whatever maintenance was need was far cheaper.
Today, not only can you pick up an E30 BMW 325i for a fifth of the price of an E30 M3 but it will be far cheaper to maintain and repair. Financially, it’s obviously the smarter move. However, because its engine is smoother, makes more torque low down, makes a better noise, and is more easily tunable, it’s actually better to drive. Another point for the 325i is that you can actually drive the damn thing, without worrying about precious M3 parts. E30 325i parts are relatively easy to come by. E30 M3 parts? Not so much.
Want another reason to buy the E30 325i instead of the M3? Body styles. The BMW 325i came in Coupe, Sedan, and even Touring (wagon) body styles. The E30 M3 was only available as a coupe. Which means if you want a classic sports car that can actually be used with your family, the 325i is far better.
So if you want a proper classic E30, forget about the absurdly expensive M3, however iconic it may be, and stick with the humble 325i. Both your wallet and your soul will be happier for it.