BMW E46 M3 vs C32 AMG Mercedes

BMW E46 M3 vs C32 AMG Mercedes, Lets start this by pointing out this is not a virtualization post.  Its about my other favourite and passionate topic, CARS.  I have been wondering about which is best, and which one would I buy, an E46 M3 or a C32 AMG.  This post is mainly for me to understand the differences between the two cars, and hopefully get some responses from owner of both, or either.

Lets start off this thought process, I have owned three BMW’s and one Mercedes in my lifetime so far.  All of the BMW’s I have loved, (330 CI Clubsport, 325D M Sport Tourer, X3 SE), but my experience with the Mercedes was not good (a C220CDI Avantgarde).  I think the experience of the Merc was more about me than the car.  Nothing went wrong, but I went from a BMW 330CI Clubsport with 240+BHP to an old mans Merc C220CDI 150BHP.  It was boring and limp, and had no excitement value whatsoever.  Hence my reluctance to thing about another Merc, even though the AMG is a different beast to a C220CDI.

Lets look at the stats, that always helps doesnt it…

E46 M3 vs C32 AMG

BMW E46 M3

Mercedes C32 AMG

  • 338 hp
  • Torque: 365 N·m (269 lb·ft) @ 4900 rpm
  • 0-60 in 5.1 s for manual and SMG, 5.5 s for cabriolet
  • 1/4 Mile — 13.3 s @ 104 mph (167.4 km/h)
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (250 km/h)(electronically limited); 191.38 mph (308.00 km/h) (delimited)

  • 349 hp and
  • Torque: 332 lb·ft (450 N·m) @ 4,400 rpm
  • 0–60mph in 5.2sec
  • 0–100 in 12.6 with a
  • 1/4 mile of 13.6@106mph
  • Top Speed: 155 MPH (electronically  limited)

Stats provided from wikipedia (as always)

So on paper the M3 looks less powerful with less torque but still faster over 0-60 and 1/4 mile.  So what am I thinking about then?  M3 all day right…

Well this is my dilema, so the M3 is a really nice looking car, but everywhere you drive people know you have an M3, not a bad thing, but can be a problem in car parks etc.  Also the M3 only has two doors, and I have a family.  The Mercedes has 4 doors, and is more practical, and is an auto, which is great for every day driving.

Would I notice the difference between the two every day?  I am not sure, on a track I imagine I would, but for everyday use, I dont know.

My other concern is that the Mercedes comes from a time when they had a bad reputation for reliability, and as most of these cars are now 70k+ miles, how much will it cost in the long run?  I dont know.

So I still cant decide looking at the stats.  On the one hand, everything says get the M3, but something in me thinks the AMG would be awesome.  It really is a wolf in sheeps clothing, sat at the lights everyone would think you were an old boy, until…

So as you can tell, I am still none the closer to making a decision.  If these were new cars I would simply have the dealerships let me use one for the day and decide, but that isn’t an option.

I am interested to see what anyone else thinks.  Do you have an M3 or an C32 AMG and what do you like/dislike, or even better, do you own both?

Answers on a postcard please 🙂

E46 M3 vs C32 AMG E46 M3 vs C32 AMG

25 Responses to BMW E46 M3 vs C32 AMG Mercedes

  1. PiroNet August 21, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    I used to own a E46 M3 and drove it on well known tracks.It is an awesome car period!

    The six in line is superb and the sound is mmmm sweat. If you go for manual 6-gear like I did, you’ll feel the kick every time you’re shifting up.

    With the SMG II gear box you’ll get the F1 acceleration assistant function which is just BRUTAL with a smell of burned rubber 🙂

    The famous M button. Honestly don’t turn on the M button for your daily commutes. Pressing the M button and you get another car, an angry race car that will challenge your driver skills. On M5/M6 series the suspensions get reshaped (EDC) on top of the engine, throttle and steering wheel on the M3 series.

    Even though it is a 2-doors car, there are plenty of space at the back (this is not a Porsche). But I agree you’ll get even more space with the Merc…

    About maintenance, expect a new set of tyres every 12-18 months! You just can’t drive this car like a Merc even if it is a C32 AMG… That also means you’ll get more stressed and won’t be able to do long trips.

    If you want to drive it on tracks, you will have to install proper springs (I went for AP Racing suspensions), change brakes oil and … brakes pad!

    Final note, don’t fool your passion for cars with facts, list of requirements and trying to be objective. This is not about building a cloud architecture design for a customer but driving experience, feelings and passion. There is no place for objectivity here 🙂

    Final final note, today I won’t buy an E46 earlier than 2005/2006 … they used to have infant illnesses that were fixed with recalls though.

    In any ways, have fun with your new car 😉

    • David Hill August 22, 2013 at 12:24 am #

      Thanks for the advice. I am in agreement with you, stats mean nothing. I am definitely swinging to the M3.

  2. Steve L. August 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Now this is the stuff I like to see on the v12n feed 🙂

    First off, I’m not a big Merc fan… never have been, but if you’re going to do a fair comparison I would look at the C63 AMG instead.

    With that out of the way, the E46 M3 is one of my favorite cars, scratch that… My favorite car that I’ve ever owned… I’ve owned 2 2005’s over the years and have nothing but great things to say about them. They are probably the best mix of luxury and sport that you’re going to find before the scales tip too much in either direction. Awesome track toy, great driver around town and absolutely fantastic on the highway… I can’t stress how much of a pleasure this car is on the highway. The motor is snotty but can still get 30mpg if you’re real light on the loud pedal. Beautiful interior, sleek but doesn’t look like a spaceship like most cars.

    As suggested above, stay towards the 2003.5’s and above, seems like the 05/06’s have better luck with freak issues. I would also stay away from SMG’s at this point as the pumps are costly and prone to failure. Replace your RTAB’s, replace your exhaust cam bolts (often incorrectly referred to as VANOS bolts), flush your differential and have your cooling system inspected.

    Have fun!

    • David Hill August 22, 2013 at 12:23 am #

      Thanks for the advice, yes I always like finding random car posts on virtualization blogs too 🙂 I am in agreement with the merc, just cant bring myself to do it after have a c220cdi…

  3. James Smith August 22, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I’ve already answered this once, but I am going to say M3 all the way again.

    Mercedes didn’t design their AMG cars from the ground up, so the c32 is basically just a C-Class with a big engine! BTW this has now changed and the recent crop of AMG’s C63 etc are much better I am told.

    BMW however have real pedigree in this sector and time and time again have built the best super saloons/coupes.

    M3 M3 M3!

    • David Hill August 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

      I hear ya, and agree with you. Its going to have to be an M3. Thanks for posting

  4. Paul Johnston December 30, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    The c32 amg is a fantastic car, and very rare so you don’t see many out and about which i like. I’ve had some fun against a few M3’s and still to be beat 😉

    P.S the C32 is not just a c-class with a big engine, their built a lot better and different to the stadard models.

  5. Tris February 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    I’m a bit late with my advice but in case you’re still pondering the choice…
    We currently have both these cars in our household, having owned a 2002 E46 for 3 years and a 2004 C32 for 2. They are very different cars – so which is right for you will depend on what you want from a car. The M3 is a much more compromised “raw” racer. Compared to the Merc it is noisy and harsh, an absolute hoot when you’re on your own and able to push on, but with passengers I find it feels a little bit silly for a road-going car.
    The Merc is our family workhorse, wafting along quietly and comfortably, but able to accelerate savagely when you want it to. It’s nowhere near as engaging to drive as the M3, but it is totally effortless and much more practical as an everyday car. Also, as someone who doesn’t like the attention flashy cars tend to get, I love the fact that it looks like any other one of the millions of C-class’s on the roads.
    As far as costs go, the Merc wins hands-down, but maybe I’ve just been lucky so far. Ours is on 170,000 miles, (40,000 of which are ours) and the only mechanical problem so far has been having to replace the fuel pump (£300-400 all-in if you don’t go to Merc!) as well as some electrical niggles which have been there since we got the car and I’m not bothered by enough to fix. Despite the poor reputation of this vintage Merc, I think the only serious issue to watch out for is the radiator rusting and allowing coolant to leak into the oil cooler, ultimately damaging the auto gearbox (a problem that affects many models of this era, not just the AMG). This issue should only affect pre-2004 cars as the radiator supplier was changed from 2004. Servicing is every 10,000 miles and can be dear as it has 12 spark plugs but DIY keeps the cost down. It does shred rear tyres if you’re heavy-footed but I can still get 20k miles out of a set of budgets. I haven’t done accurate calcs but my gut feel is that it is slightly less frugal on fuel than the M3 – it reports 25mpg on average to the M3’s claimed 28mpg – but neither have been particularly designed with fuel economy as a priority.
    The M3, in comparison, is our weekend toy car. At about half the mileage of the C32 it has already suffered both of the major mechanical failures this model is prone to – that is the rear subframe cracking and the SMG semi-auto gearbox pump failing. The first was repaired by BMW for free, as nearly all cases where the car is under 10 years old will be, while the second was expensive for me! Servicing is expensive, with every other service requiring valve clearances to be measured and adjusted, a labour intensive job making the service £700-£1k even at independents.
    If I had to choose just one, I would have to choose the Merc for sensible reasons, but I would really, really miss the M3.

    • Harry February 8, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

      Hi Tris,

      I just found this thread while researching options to replace my elderly Corrado VR6: basically looking for the best second-hand bang-for my bucks in a reasonably well handling and practical package. If you could post again and say a little about the the C32’s handling I’d be very grateful. there is surprisingly little in terms of reviews on he web.

      • Tris February 9, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

        Hi Harry
        I’m perhaps not best placed to comment on the handling as I only drive on the road (not tracks) and I don’t exactly take these cars to their limits! Nonetheless, as you’d probably expect, the M3 is a lot more confidence inspiring in the corners. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of shape in the M3 but the C32 has caught me out a few times – and the massive torque combined with the auto box unexpectedly shifting down often lights up the traction-control warning. It feels like a heavy car in the corners and a bit wallowy whereas the M3 feels comparatively agile. It’s definitely built for cruising rather than racing.
        Recently when following a Mini Cooper S along a dark and wet country road, the Mini was easily leaving me in the bends, taking them much faster than I dared to in the Merc. It’s quite possible that this would have still been the case if we had swopped cars though – I was taking no chances!
        Hope that helps.

  6. Harry February 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Should have said to David Hill, hope you don’t mind me hi-jacking your blog in a minor way ofr this purpose. Blog etiquette is not my strong point….

  7. Leon March 21, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    M3 191.38 mph delimited I think not! C32 amg 5.2 sec 0-60 mph try 4.6!

  8. Paul Johnston April 21, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    As for the handling of the c32, yes they can be a little soft if pushed hard in the corners, but a decent set of H&R springs makes a huge difference, i now have Eibach coilovers on my c32 and it handles much better now and looks the part lowered.

  9. Andrew Trapnell April 22, 2014 at 5:43 am #

    Let me say right now I’m not a Merc fan. Porsches and BMWs are far more my thing. I raced and rallied cars for many years. We recently had a stunning 03 C32 come into stock (we are Prestige dealers). I have to say that I was deeply impressed with the C32 after a fast country ride; slightly softer than the M3, useful power spread with a mid range punch that makes short work of overtaking. What surprised me most was how well screwed down the suspension was. A comfortable ride and surprisingly sure footed. To me the leather interior has it all over the M3. Bose sound system is top class. This one has Xenons, nav, electric blind etc In summary, a brilliant Q car. On the way home some guy in one of those new Toyota 86s which was all modded up arrived on my tail. The Merc just monstered him on sheer brute force even on a B road. So, despite it’s design age, it’s a pretty handy thing even by today’s standards.

  10. Phil April 22, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    I was recently in the same predicament, E46 M3 or C32 AMG? I decided to check out both and have test driven them and probably have to concur with Tris on most points. The M3 just appears to be a sports car even parked, and the ride was much harsher than the C32. The M3 was not as quiet and there was much less room in the back for passengers. Practicality was a point for me, since i was going to use it as a daily driver. The C32 seemed to check all my boxes, fast, smooth, refined, comfortable, roomy, tiptronic auto for cruising, and has a rarity factor that the M3 doesn’t. In the end, i chose the C32 and could not be happier with my decision. I did quite a bit of research before pulling the trigger about known issues, fixes, tips etc. And honestly i am amazed how easy this car is to work on. I love cars as a hobby, and have owned a horde of different vehicles from all types of manufacturers and this is truly an easy car to repair. There’s been a few gremlins that are common problems on all C-class Mercedes of this era but everything i’ve done has been small weekend projects – many American cars i’ve owned have been MUCH harder to get into. Also, the sound this car makes is just epic. All in all, it’s a great car and very special with it’s hand built engine and AMG heritage. The M3 is a great car, but for something you will drive often and regularly i feel the Merc is the best overall choice.

  11. Peter June 30, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi!, I owned a c32amg and I don’t understand how you guys are comparing it to M3 BEAMERS. i USED TO SLAUGHTER THEM FOR BREAKFAST. I sold it to a mate of mine who changed the exhaust, Changed the compressor pulley from .7 to .9, took it to Killarney and promptly dumped a m5 with turbo’s on the quarter mile by half a second. As for handling it was the most responsive vehicle I have ever driven (at high speed on the Gordons Bay /Pringle Bay coast road-12 minutes flat) Guys , if you can’t dump an M3 have the car checked, there is something wrong!!

    • Sean July 24, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

      What are you talking about, maybe these m3 have problems or the driver is crap. A M3 will trash a C32 for breakfast! No wonder they release a C55 to cover they embarrasment. The bottom line is BMW are ahead not Mercedes fanboy!

  12. Leon July 24, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Sean you are a mug m3s are common as muck, the c32 is better all round car, quicker 0-60 quicker quarter mile more practical, more reliable and better looking you tool.

  13. Peter Simpson July 25, 2014 at 4:27 am #

    Well said Leon. Could not have put it better myself.

  14. Iain August 19, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    So much balls talked here.
    So i have actually owned both, for years. I had my m3 for four years and my c32 for three, i still own the c32 alongside an e30 m3 and a euro e36 m3. Lets be clear, the c32 in estate form is a more usefull car, i have a family and as such this was my main reason for switching from the m3 to the c32. You cannot buy a M3 estate. The c32 will be worse on fuel, but parts are cheaper, especialy consumables.
    Both cars were essentially reliable giving few issues, the m3 was modified and used on track from time to time so saw harder use than my C32, so did consume a few more parts, but nothing of any great note. Over my time with the c32 other than servicing i had done a wheel bearing, control arm, caliper and a occupancy sensor. Again worth noting that i do all my work myself and actually know what i am doing. On a twisty road a c32 would not see which way an m3 went. In a straight drag (which is pretty much the preserve of idiots) the c32 would probably be faster but only if manually knoced down into first with traction “off” (its very difficult to fully switch off the esp). The c32 has an open rear diff, a steering rack that is far too long and suspension that is pretty lack lustre. The steering though slow is accurate, brakes are generally good. The m3 is a different animal, faster rack, clever shear pumped LSD which works wonderfully and the suspension is passable out of the box, though not exactly cut out for track use.
    The m3 is the better car as a driving machine, there is no argument here, and frankly comfort levels in standard form are not the dissimilar. If you cannot drive a manual day to day then, well, i feel for you. Its not hard, there is no trick to it and where i come from pretty much all cars are manual.
    The c32 auto box is resonably good, though can be dim witted during overtake if not manually overridden i.e. it will drop to or three cogs wring the neck of the engine for the last 200rpm then move up, rather than dropping two cogs and saving a pointless change.

    As a family car the c32 is good, its fast in a straight line, well equiped, has a good safty score and is well engineered, if you need an estate and dont want to look like a dick in an audi its a great option, don’t however be fooled into thinking its a rival for the m3 as a drving machine though, its not.

    As an asside the point about the M button and smg II in the m3 is complete and utter rubbish. the m button in the e46 does nothing more than change the throttle mapping, you would get the same effect from wearing heave shoes, its a gimmick for children. SMGII is a festering pile of junk, it is infact a completely standard getrag 6 speed manual with the return spring removed and a high pressure hydraulic ram attached to the clutch and selector rod. if you cannot move your arm fast enough, then practice. SMG is a bil waiting to screw you over, its rough on the driveline, and rough on the clutch. The point about not buying an m3 older than 05/06, again, utter crap. cars before 03 had some rare instances of bearing failure and some oil consumption issues both were revised in early 03 with new rings and bearings, most pre 03 cars were recalled and fixed.

    If you do want an e46 m3 you do need to be aware that the differential mounts can pull out of the floor pan, this is a problem. if the car is modified, bmw will tell you to poke it, if it is over 100k miles or 10 years, they will tell you to poke it. If they tell you to poke it you will be looking a a very large bill.

  15. David February 25, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Well, let’s be frank here, the M3 has held its value better then the C32. I myself have a C32 with 170k miles on it, and it has a few quarks, but all in all its a great car… That being said, if you can afford a 05/06 M3, you can afford an 04/05 E55 and I don’t care what side your on, the E55 AMG with its 470+ hp and 490lbs of torque, will not be touched by anything… Period

  16. Dan May 4, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    This has been helpful because I just bought one and most reviews I was seeing were saying alot of bad things about the C32

  17. luke May 12, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

    Im looking at buying one, 144k Miles, £3k. Im just worried about the high milage!

    • David Hill May 19, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

      Yeah as they get older the miles get higher. Should be ok though if you get a good one with full service history.

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