Since quite a few of us here have owned and driven the E46, we’re inclined to agree, it’s definitely one of the best cars to ever wear an ///M3 badge – but the car has a few shortcomings that, if addressed with the right BMW E46 M3 Mods, make the E46 M3 one of the most rewarding cars to drive on the planet.
#1 – WHEELS
First and foremost, the best mod for a BMW E46 M3 is wheels. Sportline CS16 wheels in 19×8.5 ET 35 / 19×9.5 ET22 offer the classic “CSL” look of the cars that really weren’t available in huge numbers stateside, and really does wonders for the car, because let’s be real, many of the wheels for BMWs that come as stock are pretty friggin ugly (sorry not sorry). But aside from CSL style, you have tons of options available to you that look great, like Forgestar F14s (often in stock in E46 fitments), VMR V710s or something a bit different like HRE Flow Form FF15 – there are way too many options to go into here, but check out some of the BMW E46 M3 Wheels we have to offer here. (remember, even if you don’t see a wheel listed, that doesn’t mean we can’t get that wheel for you at a great price – call a Mod Expert at 714-582-3330 if you’re looking for something special.)
Beyond the cosmetic aspect, aftermarket wheels are usually lighter weight, meaning better handling, better MPG and faster acceleration – and aftermarket wheels are often wider than stock, allowing you to run an even wider wheel and tire combination. That means maximum tire width and mechanical grip – so yeah, a set of BMW E46 M3 wheels is definitely one of the first upgrades you should consider. Need your wheels TODAY? Well, you’re in luck, because we stock many of the wheels you’d want for an E46 M3 wheel fitment here in our warehouse inventory. (Call 714-582-3330 to find out what we have in stock for your E46 right now!)
What about stanced or hellaflush fitments? Well, yeah, aftermarket wheels can run “stretched” fitments too – but you need to remember, if you go that route, you’re compromising performance solely for aesthetics – just know what you’re getting into and be safe about your stretch – consult a Mod Expert for more information.
For the purposes of this article, however, we’re focusing exclusively on making your E46 drive better, handle better and be faster, so fitment/aesthetics isn’t the primary concern of this piece.
So after the wheels, you’ve got the tires. Your E46 M3 probably came stock with Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tires or something, but those are probably long gone and who knows whatever the previous owner stuck on there. So if you’re going to do wheels, might as well get some tires while you’re at it. Michelin Pilot Super Sports are reputed to be one of the best performance tires you can buy for a european performance car, though Toyo Proxes, Hankook Ventus V12 Evo2, Falken Azenis, Continental ExtremeContact or Nitto Invo are also great choices. By the way, we stock most of the tire sizes you’d need for an M3, especially Michelin PSS, Toyos, Hankooks are almost always in stock, and Falkens are sometimes in stock as well. (Call us at 714-582-3330 to see what we have on hand, and we can get ahold of most tires very quickly)
(Protip: We’re a Michelin, Toyo, Falken, Nitto Tire and Continental Tire stocking dealer – and the sizes we keep on hand tend to be those for BMW fitments, so you can often get tires on fairly short notice)
#3 – THE BEST PERFORMANCE MOD FOR A BMW E46 M3
Now we’re going to get into the single best performance mod for the E46 M3 heading to a trackday. What we’re about to tell you will probably blow your mind. The best performance mod for BMW E46 M3 isn’t an intake, or an exhaust or a tune or a supercharger. Nope. This simple mod will make a huge difference in performance at your next trackday – and it’s an electric cooling fan & shroud and a radiator.
“Are you [email protected] kidding me? The best mod is a FAN?” You might be asking – you may be incredulous now, but stick with us here and hear us out.
The best mod is the one that allows you to COMPLETE a track day on a summer day. One of the E46 M3’s biggest shortcomings is its cooling system, especially if you plan to subject the car to spirited driving like canyon runs or the occasional trackday. I can tell you from firsthand experience, even if you have a brand new car and a bigass intercooler, on a hot day when you push the car, THAT is where a beefed up cooling system really pays off- and that’s why we had to call it quits after one session in the heat. So yeah, heat’s a hell of a problem. I’m sure you probably know that a “blown head gasket” is a big expensive fix and many just sell the car rather than fix it.
SO, if you live somewhere that’s on the hotter side like SoCal or a desert area, cooling mods are going to be a big boon to your engine’s longevity as well. As E46 Trackday enthusiasts were finding, the OEM radiator core doesn’t provide adequate heat transfer, making it very possible to overheat the E46 M3 during a hot lap.
And a bigass radiator just doesn’t cut it, unfortunately. You’d think, a massive core and a lot more volume would be enough, but no. Trackday torture tests showed Mishimoto’s Large-Core Aluminum Radiator for E46 M3 alone wasn’t enough to keep the E46 M3 cool – Mishimoto’s R&D team found that even with a huge radiator, there simply weren’t enough points for the heat transfer to occur.
While the E46 M3 has an electric fan up front, its primary cooling fan is a MECHANICAL fan clutch, directly attached to the motor- adding mass to the rotating assembly and ends up robbing you of around 3whp across the entire rev band and 5whp at higher RPM.
And the difference isn’t just with the giant Mishimoto radiator. Check out the difference their improved fanshroud setup made even on the STOCK radiator.
So by finishing your trackday, of course your E46 M3 is faster – and since you’re still driving it and not pulled over, overheated on the side of the road, it absolutely “THE BEST” mods you can do to an E46 BMW M3 headed to the track or the canyons.
Now that we’ve dealt with performance, let’s talk about the E46 BMW M3 suspension. You guessed it – the next best mod you can do is a decent set of…
When your M3 was NEW, it handled great. But your E46 isn’t new anymore. Heck, it’s at the newest, nearly a decade old, and in another few years, it’ll be old enough to drive itself. What that means is that the OEM shocks are spent by now – even if you don’t have 50k, the shocks have a finite lifetime, and since many of you guys want to lower the car anyways, and there’s no point in installing lowering springs on a car with blown out shocks. When it comes to coilovers for the E46 BMW M3, you’re only limited by the size of your wallet, because you’ve got everything from budget coilovers to crazy FIA-spec setups ready to hit the DTM racing circuit. BC Racing’s BR-series coilovers for E46 M3 have been really popular lately, as they sell for just $1000 flat and offer 30-way adjustability. Other options include Ohlins Road & Track, Bilstein Electronic Adjustable Coilovers, Bilstein PSS10 Coilovers, ST Suspensions XA Coilovers, TEIN Coilovers, and Vogtland Coilovers for E46 M3.
At a trackday, you might need to adjust your suspension to tailor it to the conditions of the track – every track is different, and all tracks are different from surface streets – so adjustability is the name of the game. Not only that, but coilovers allow you to have a service called CORNER BALANCING done, which evenly distributes the weight of the car across all four corners of the suspension for better balance and handling performance. As we’ve mentioned before, at the ModAuto shop
#5 A BEEFY STRUT TOWER BRACE & REAR SHOCK MOUNTS
I can’t talk about E46 Coilovers without mentioning the importance of beefed up shock tower mounts. Yeah the M3 has a factory strut tower brace, but that’s flimsy as heck – and the weakness of the strut towers of the E46 is a well known problem – we discussed it at length in our post about shock tower mushrooming.
You can address this with simple OEM BMW Shock Tower Reinforcement Plates ($20 each), or a good strut tower brace, like the DINAN unit pictured, Active Autowerke’s strut tower brace for E46, Cusco’s strut tower brace for E46 and Rogue Engineering’s 3-point Strut Tower Brace for E46 will also do the job while simultaneously affording you the benefit of reduced shock tower deflection under hard cornering.
As long as we’re talking about the structural failings of the front shock towers, we can’t forget about the rear shock mounts. As we mentioned in the piece about Strut Tower Mushrooming, the rear shock mounts like to deform too,As we’ve mentioned, the rear towers as just as problematic – flaws in the original BMW design leads to the failure of the bushing as the inner metal sleeve and rubber bushing separate, causing speaks, rattles, clunks and deflection of the rear shock mount. Rogue Engineering offers a fantastic set of beefed up rear shock mounts that can actually cope with the stresses placed on your suspension by the less-than-perfect roads in the United States. so a set of ROGUE ENGINEERING REAR SHOCK MOUNTS are a MUST as well.
I mean, you’re going to be subjecting the car to extreme stresses at a trackday, particularly much harder loads than usual – so if they’re a must for a street car, you’d be a fool not to on a track car.
Now let’s talk about brakes. Brakes are the ultimate “While I’m at it” mod.
Since you’re going to have to replace your brakes as you put miles on the car no matter what you do, why not put something better in, since you have to replace the parts anyway? See why we call it a “While I’m at it” mod?
We’ve mentioned before how much of a difference good brakes make on an E46. A StopTech Stage 2 brake package makes it straightforward and surprisingly affordable to step up your stopping power for a fraction of the cost of a Big Brake Kit. No matter how you look at it, superior stopping power is going to be an improvement your car – stopping faster means a greater margin of safety, and better brakes means you can brake later on the track to make that overtaking pass.
The OEM E46 BMW M3 brakes aren’t terrible, but if you’re going to subject them to track day use, your old OEM brake pads and rotors probably won’t hold up to the task for long, or worse, leave you plowing into a tire barrier under heavy brake fade.
The OEM rotors can be blank or slotted, depending on your options. While the E46 M3’s OEM brake rotors are vented and that’s good, we can bolster braking performance even more with better materials in the rotor itself, by slotting or cross-drilling the rotor and by installing better compound brake pads – but still utilizing the stock calipers – so it’s all serviceable just like factory and there’s no need to go to a race specialty shop to get new brake pads when it’s time to drive the car on surface streets.
Rubber ages, and so you are probably going to need new brake lines in the near future anyways – stainless lines don’t expand like rubber does under extreme pressure and heat, so they help resist brake fade for a longer period of time by denying the brake fluid the space to boil as well as providing much sharper braking response and are an excellent compliment to any brake upgrade.
You can easily sharpen the feel of the brakes by getting rid the spongy and probably aged/deteriorated brake lines and replacing with a set of StopTech Braided Stainless Steel Brake Lines for E46, and replace the brake fluid of unknown age/origin with fresh appropriate-spec brake fluid. Other options are available, like AMS Stainless Steel Brake Lines for E46 M3, but it’s easier to just grab the stage package and get everything you need in one “kit”.
Beyond the performance aspect of cross-drilled or slotted StopTech Brake Rotors, there’s also the fact that well, they’re pretty damn good looking, and gives you something to show off behind whatever wheels for BMW are your style. The Cross-Drill pattern creates additional paths for hot brake exhaust gases to exit the rotor when you apply the brakes heavily, which helps stave off brake fade (a condition that greatly reduces braking performance and response) thanks to its superior cooling. That’s why if you’re heading for a trackday, a StopTech Stage 2 Brake Package for BMW E46 M3 is one of the best trackday mods you can do for a BMW E46 M3.
Last but not least, let’s talk about AERO. The BMW E46 M3 is one of the few cars you can buy REAL functional aero parts for. A CSL Style Front Bumper for BMW E46 is readily available for a competition-ready look, and that socket on the driver’s side of the bumper? That’s not for a fog light or brakes, that’s for a ram air-effect cold air intake duct. Pretty boss, am I right? No wonder a CSL front bumper is so popular amongst E46 M3 enthusiasts.
Then you have the option of fitting the CSL bumper with either Carbon Fiber Splitters, or a 1-piece Carbon Fiber Front Lip for E46 CSL Bumpers which affords a mild amount of downforce as well as the added benefit of looking utterly sick. Rumor has it however, that the real money, aerodynamically, on an E46, are corner dive planes. But let’s not get all Adrian Newey here. Downforce is aerodynamic pressure pushing down on your car, helping keep it planted on the road, even when physics normally wouldn’t allow your car to maintain grip.
If you’re REALLY serious about track duty, DTM FiberWerkz released a GTR-S functional front bumper for BMW E46 M3 with integrated splitter w/corner dive planes, brake duct provisions and functional race undertray. If you want FUNCTIONAL aero, that’s your ticket.
And as long as you’re going CSL, may as well go whole hog with a CSL Style Boot Lid for E46 BMW M3 – for those uninitiated with british verbiage, boot means trunk. The CSL Style trunk is available in carbon fiber, which offers the benefit of shaving quite a few pounds off the back of the car, and that ducktail turnup in the trunklid does afford a small amount of downforce at speed… but mostly it saves weight and looks great, weighing in at just 15.4lbs, whereas the stock trunk is more than 26lbs.
Should you want to save a few bucks or plan on painting it anyways, the CSL Style trunklid is also available in FRP. Should you want to go wilder, a DTM Style Trunklid for E46 M3 recently hit the market with an even more aggressive ducktail.
Last but not least, finish off the CSL look with a Carbon Fiber CSL Style Rear Diffuser, shown below in Laguna Seca Blue, framing the not-currently-available Rogue Engineering Exhaust for E46 BMW M3. We’ve discussed what a diffuser does in depth and in detail before, but the long and short of it is that it cleans up airflow exiting from underneath the car. Or at least, that’s supposed to be what they’re for. In race applications, Brawn GP destroyed the competition in Formula 1 one particular year thanks to an especially clever rear diffuser, so they can be quite effective… but mostly, they allow you to run alternate exhaust configurations and look sick.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our recommendations for beefing up your E46 to carve the corners at the next autocross or trackday.
Interested in upgrading your brakes, or have questions? Call us at 714-582-3330 to speak to our friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable Mod Experts for advice on what setup is right for you, your budget and your goals or to make an appointment to have your brakes serviced. See you next time!
Story & Photos Nicholas Gregson