Last week, BMW took us on a tour of the sensational E30 BMW M3, the first video of a five-part series showing the evolution of the ultimate driving machine. This time, Munich has given us a look at the car’s two immediate successors, the E36 and E46 models.

For all that talk that the M3 is the zenith of the sports sedan, it was only in its second generation in 1992 that it spawned a four-door variant which only reappeared later on with the E90 and F80 M3s.

It was also a much different car than the E30 – while the older car was a no-holds-barred racer on the road, built mainly to satisfy homologation rules that allowed it to go racing, the new E36 was designed from the get go to be a more luxurious, understated road car. The now legendary straight-six engine was new here too, initially a 3.0 litre mill with VANOS continuous variable valve timing – a first for BMW – delivering 286 PS.

Available with either a six-speed manual or, in 1997, a six-speed sequential manual gearbox (the latter, boasts head of chassis development Gerhard Ricter in the video, came to market earlier than even Ferrari’s system), the E36 went from 0-100 km/h in just 5.9 seconds.

Like its predecessor, the E36 spawned many a special edition, one of which was the M3 GT with a more powerful 295 PS engine. A mid-life update in 1995 brought along a bigger 3.2 litre motor making 321 PS. Overall, over 71,000 units of the E36 M3 were sold.

The year 2000 saw the introduction of the E46 M3, bringing back some of the harder edge of the E30. Available only as a coupé or a convertible, it sprouted a lot more muscle in the design, with a bonnet power bulge, blistered wheel arches, (faux) fender air vents and quad exhaust exits. If BMW was going for a more hardcore look than the E36, it certainly succeeded.

That exterior aggression was backed by a more powerful version of the 3.2 litre straight-six, now producing 343 PS. It was with this car that the M3 became known as a precision driving tool with a high-revving engine – this one screams all the way to nearly 8,000 rpm. Continuing with the six-speed manual and SMG ‘boxes, the E46 flung itself to 100 km/h in just 5.1 seconds.

Racing success came with the M3 GTR, which swapped its then-underperforming straight-six for the 2001 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) championship with a 500 PS 4.0 litre V8 – it won both the team’s championship that year and the 2003 24 Hours of Nürburgring. Just 10 road-going versions were built for ALMS homologation purposes.

A more reserved special edition came later with the 2004 M3 CSL. Limited to less than 1,400 units, it was far closer to the standard E46, but was 110 kg lighter thanks to removed equipment and new weight saving features like the carbon fibre roof – the first M car to have it, and it reappeared on the E92 and F80 M3, as well as the F82 M4. The engine was also retuned to push out 360 PS, while the SMG was made standard.

With the butch looks and stonking engine, the E46 M3 is a firm favourite both in our office and in enthusiasts hearts around the world, and it’s no wonder that it was even more successful than its predecessor, selling around 85,000 units when production was ceased in 2006.