What an amazing car is the E46 M3 coupe. I think I speak for the entire ec staff when I say that. There is no doubt that the E60 M5 and E63 M6 are outstanding machines capable of thrilling all drivers even in the darkest of times. But the packaging of this current M3 is one of the car world's perfect things. And I'm certain that the E92 M coupe with the V8 will be a nice bag of bolts, too, but I do worry for it when it has to follow such a thoroughly class act as the E46.

More to the point, the E46 M3 is so tune-able, even though one could easily argue that it needs nothing to make it any better.

That said, take this Hartge E46 M3-based supercharged H50 V8. Hartge's been pumping up and racing Bimmers since 1971. In this case, the term "E46-based" literally could mean that pretty much only the base has been used, since the heavily modified powertrain pulls ingredients from several sources in the BMW lineup.

What happens when you cruelly reject the 3,246cc S54 straight-six and jump in bed with the 4,398cc M62 V8 motor from the 4.4i X5 and punch it out to 4,930cc to rival the 4,941cc capacity of the S62 5.0-liter V8 in the E39 M5? And add a 7.25-psi SRM Opcon twin-screw compressor to reach for the stars at 493 bhp? Something crazy is what happens. I was shaving rubber off of the 20-inch tires in first through fourth gears of the six-speed manual with its 2.93 final-drive ratio and limited-slip differential. In fact, first gear is practically unusable without a feathery-light clutch foot. Four hundred forty-three pound-feet of torque is there at just 2000 rpm, all 502 lb-ft peaking at 4000. Redline is set at 7000.

Hartge explains that doing all of this modification work to the M62 4.4 versus just yanking a S62 unit whole out of an old M5 is necessary due to the added stresses resulting from the kompressor. In the end, heavily modifying the M62 ends up being cheaper than futzing with a S62.

The basic aesthetic model here has been the immortal E46 M3 CSL. Two hood inlets grab most of the attention and the CSL-style side fender slats help out, too. Carbon-fiber aero pieces surround the bottom edge, the front splitter looking particularly evil. The interior is a temple of worship to the CSL with all of its laminated carbon-fiber trim pieces. All seating in this car driven here is actual CSL seating. And Hartge has installed a carbon-fiber roof panel. Of course, I had to ask from whence they sourced this latter item. Of course, they all looked at one another, laughed about it and said that they cannot reveal the non-BMW German source for this. Some sensitivity is in the air apparently, because BMW continues to not make available such 3 Series upgrades. With beastly acceleration like this-zero-to-62-mph in just 4.2 seconds-and an unlimited top speed of 193 mph, that rear spoiler is actually working hard to keep things stable. Note the Mach III dual-oval exhaust tips dead center that replace the 2x2 M exhaust. The sound is frightening. But, to clarify, great frightening.

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