I would advise against buying this car if you don't have money for maintenance or if you can't do the maintenance yourself. I have been wrenching on cars for 30 years and have money set aside for maintenance, but I do all the work myself. It is extremely easy to work on if you have any mechanical knowledge. Parts can be pricey but I've saved thousands doing all the work myself. That being said, in the 2 years that I have owned it, it is my DD, I have only had one proper break down when a TPS sensor gave up. I drove it home in limp mode and replaced the part in 20 minutes. Make sure the car has documentation and service records before buying. I have the SMG transmission, which I love, but know that the SMG hates driving slow, especially in traffic or around town. Maintain the car and it will take care of you (saw a 300k mile car posted on ebay), neglect it and it will make you suffer. Suspension is stiff and can be jarring, especially when you have a hangover.
I just turned 80 and I Knew what to expect from an e46 M3 w/SMG; (drove a silver Coupe for 5 years before it got totaled) Just bought a pristine, carbon black convertible instead of a motorcycle. SMG requires smooth driving style to avoid jerky behavior that many people can't seem to learn to overcome. I would put my SMG up against any 6 speed manual, and when you switch to automatic, your wife can drive it. Otherwise, I set my shift pattern on 5 bars and paddle shift. Must have the correct limited slip differential fluid from BMW to avoid jerky shifts and grinding noises during tight turns. I replaced stock exhaust with Rogue Engineering rasp eliminator, and a Remus axle back muffler system..sweet mellow tone and no rasp. To enjoy top down driving at speed, you'll need a simple to install wind deflector.
Amazing balance of performance and practicality. Research the VANOS, cam bolts, and rear subframe. Upgrade kits and parts are available for all. They can cause major damage if not inspected and addressed (if nec., as far as the subframe). Convertibles are reportedly less likely to have the rear subframe problem. Skip the SMG - arguably hard to live with, unreliable, expensive. Consider removing the manual transmission's Clutch Delay Valve (CDV). The car can be hard to shift smoothly and fellow owners recommend it, saying doing so solves the problem (I'm planning to do it). Car is a remarkably comfortable tourer on the highway and is equally adept at carving up mountain roads. Seats are the best I've ever had and upgraded stereo (Harmon Kardon) is the best OEM I've ever had as well. The convertible does flex a bit. Top up, there are blind spots. It's also hard to judge the corners of the car from the driver's seat and easy to scrape the front spoiler. Parts and oil can be expensive, but considering the car's performance, it's still a good value. You can drive it like a Honda all day or get on it and accelerate like a hoon.
UPDATE 11/28/16: Still love this car. Had the CDV removed and it does shift much more smoothly. The strong online enthusiast community for these is helpful, friendly and informative. Some people find the e46 M3's ride too harsh; I suspect this is regarding the coupes and the convertible's extra weight improves things. Also, the 19-inch wheels reportedly result in a much firmer ride (I have the 18s). As the cars get older parts can be crazy high, but here again the online forums are a great resource. And a quality, well-reviewed independent mechanic is invaluable.
Bought this amazing car last year with 55k orig miles. I've since driven it for 12k miles and can only say great things about it. It runs, drives and handles outstanding. The solid build, craftsmanship and styling of this car is top notch. The exterior color is called Carbon Schwartz. At first glance, it looks Black; but, in sunlight it seems to change to metallic dark Blue. Have to see it to believe it! Interior is Black with Black convertible top and 19" wheels. All original, non SMG, regular 6 spd. No problems at all. A practical yet powerful convertible sports car with room for 4 people and suitcases. A powerful, great handling sports car that gets 20mpg!! BMW got it right!!
Style, power, handling, build quality, gas mileage, room for four, plenty of trunk space, and reliability.
If you can find a well maintained used one, buy it.
It's a keeper that will never go out of style and will have you smiling every time you drive it.
Can't think of anything. Except, maybe a little deeper interior middle console storage compartment, to keep sunglasses, eyeglasses, etc. But it's not a big deal,
as there are other storage compartments to make use of (glovebox and door panel lower pockets).