BMWBLOG On-Track Comparison: M3 vs 335iS – BMW’s Sibling Rivalry

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Words: Shawn Molnar Photos: Greg Jarem The Battle is all too familiar. Exhausts growl from the paddock. Angel eyes glare ahead. Two serious sports cars …

Words: Shawn Molnar
Photos: Greg Jarem

The Battle is all too familiar. Exhausts growl from the paddock. Angel eyes glare ahead. Two serious sports cars patiently await their release upon the asphalt.

This time, Munich’s champion sports car, the venerable M3 has competition from within. Yes, an aspiring younger brother, the 335iS is keen to prove its birthright and battle for nobility within the brand.

Which car would find space in your driveway? That is to say, which car offers you the best all-round package for your driving needs? BMWBLOG recently compared both BMW sports cars back-to-back on a proper racing circuit – the ensuing family feud was hard fought, the likes of which we’ve only seen among in-laws. Read on to learn which brother lands the final blow.

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2011 BMW 335iS

We start out behind the wheel of the “underdog,” BMW’s newly released 335iS. Bound for North American shores only, BMW’s new sports car finds itself as a middle child. Slated somewhere between the 335i coupe and M3, the 335iS was designed to capture a target marked that yearns for more track focused performance than found in the 335i – while not letting go of their wallet with reckless abandon.

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The 335iS builds upon the 335i with new bodywork, engine upgrades, suspension changes and subtle interior tweaks. The ///M designed aerodynamics package yields real results on the track, with a functional rear diffuser eliminating lift over the rear axle. Vertical vanes in the diffuser guide airflow and maintain velocity, thus decreasing pressure and reducing lift. BMW has confirmed that this is the most aggressive rear aero package fitted to any 3 series production car… including the M3.

“Exhausts growl from the paddock. Angel eyes glare ahead.”

From behind pit wall we fasten our helmets and ready the car. A flag marshal holds us at bay until a sufficient gap lay ahead of us on the racetrack. With his signal, we get down to business and dissect the performance genes this car has inherited.

Releasing the clutch as we throttle into the powerband, a deep, harmonious sound exits the exhausts. The 6-speed transmission is faultless as we snick through the gears. Clutch actuation is firm and linear, it is easy to get behind the wheel and immediately drive fast. There is no ambiguity served up from the controls, only precise, affirmative feedback. As we approach redline in 3rd gear, we notice no curve in the N54 powerband. With a monstrous 332 lb ft of torque on queue at only 1,500 rpm, this inline-6 pulls as though a long stroke V8.

“… it is easy to get behind the wheel and immediately drive fast.”

Large inlets in the front fascia feed an additional oil cooler, and radiator. An upgraded cooling fan maintains temperature at slow speeds or standstill. Stiffer engine mounts have been installed to resist deflection during hard cornering; BMW has gone to great lengths to ensure this car’s longevity and track worthiness.

As engine rpm builds, so does your speed, along with an operatic tenor rising to a glorious crescendo – this is a climax of motoring enjoyment, where every mechanical sensation is just so. Its inline-6 speaks to tradition; there is something very honest about this car.

Handling is no less impressive; steering inputs are met with sharp, immediate responses fed back through the chassis. While no featherweight, the car feels very light and quick through transitions. A curb weight of 3,650 lbs placed evenly over the front and rear-axles gives the 335iS a 54 lb weight advantage over the M3.

“Its inline-6 speaks to tradition; there is something very honest about this car.”

The 335iS wears its little brother’s brakes, 348 mm (13.7 inch) front / 335 mm (13.2 inch) rear clamped by single piston calipers. This is no complaint as the iS stops well, consistently braking for corners with good bite and barely perceptible brake fade – even after several hard laps.

Mid corner feel is excellent, absolutely neutral until the very limit, where you will find minimal understeer. The car can easily be rotated by throttle modulation as an input of steering – this is the kind of handling most cars dream about, and fwd cars only read about in textbooks.


“… it will beg you for a track day, and stall as you’re about to leave for home.”

We are left with no doubt as to the 335iS’ sporting intentions. This is not a stylized sports car, it’s a purpose built driving machine. Every area of this car’s dynamics has been honed until sharp and sporting. In a word, BMW’s 335iS is playful – it will beg you for a track day, and stall as you’re about to leave for home. It just wants to play, and oh what fun.

2011 BMW M3

As the 335iS gently pops and pings cooling down in pit lane, we head for a nearby M3.

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“… much like a muscle bound weight lifter in a T-shirt: it’s kind of hard to hide your power.”

Created early on in the 3 series design process, the M3 is overt in its performance-focused shape. Flared wheel arches house a wider track and beefy wheels; a functional hood inlet sucks in cool air and a restrained trunk lip spoils lift over the rear. That’s not to say that the M3 seeks attention; it doesn’t, but much like a muscle bound weight lifter in a T-shirt: it’s kind of hard to hide your power.

The M3 exudes an aura, even sitting motionless on the asphalt. It’s special. As your eyes follow its flowing sculpture, you’re aware that M engineers have perfected every component, every line, every material. The carbon fiber roof speaks to its Formula 1 pedigree, the E92 M3 being designed near the height of BMW’s F1 career.

Getting behind the wheel, the differences are subtle. Both cars sport excellent seats with ample lateral support and both place controls exactly where you want them. Pedals are placed perfectly for heel-and-toe downshifting and a beefy, thick steering wheel feels good in your hands.

Press the engine start button and this is where the similarities end. Unlike the divine choir belting out mechanical hymns, the M3 starts with a flatter idle and builds to an intense sound – think Linkin Park vs Andrea Bocelli.

“… a beefy, thick steering wheel feels good in your hands.”

Switching the suspension setup to its firmest setting we head out on track. Carrying slightly more speed into the first corner, we brake hard and turn in. The M3 responds with razor sharp precision and immediate feedback. Dead flat through the corner a firmly sprung suspension keeps us on the knife-edge – suddenly the 335iS feels a touch soft to our recollection! Clipping the apex we power out and feel the rear wheels fight for grip. A small wiggle from the tail is reigned in as we put the power down, all 414 hp released before a quick up-shift at 8,400 rpm – what magic!


Every input you feed is returned with instantaneous response, this car is electric. As your fingertips guide the wheel, every neuron is on high alert. Unlike the 335iS, the M3 demands precision at the limit, it is less forgiving (though still forgiving in the greater arena of sports cars).

“… suddenly the 335iS feels a touch soft to our recollection!”

Perfect balance runs in the family tree, at apex the M3 is neutral and ready for corner exit. Such precise handling seems to open up new possibilities in each corner; with such impressive accuracy you can place the car exactly as you want it.

Large brakes burn off momentum as you prepare for the next corner. Cross-drilled and ventilated discs provide the stopping power. Sport tuned ABS management resists intervention when driving hard on track. During our time behind the wheel we did not suffer from bake fade, and petal feel remained consistent.

BMW’s M3 has a mandate to perform.”

Lap after lap, the M3 sets a blistering pace, never feeling stressed by your sporting antics. It is a supreme sports car, worthy of the many accolades rewarded by a unanimous press core.

///M lineage runs deep in its blood; BMW’s M3 has a mandate to perform.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?


The M3 is a proper sports car, one that closer emulates racecar behavior relative to the 335iS. Whereas the 335iS has a playful, fun spirit – the M3 is dominated by a focused demeanor, it is not here to play: this is serious business.

Performance figures split the siblings perfectly in thirds. We find the 335i Coupe to have a 0-60 acceleration time of 4.8 seconds, while the 335iS finds 60 in an estimated 4.6 sec, topped only by the M3’s 4.1 second acceleration time. Power figures follow a similar trend, the 335i Coupe outputs 300 hp / 300 lb-ft torque while the 335iS turns 320 hp / 332 lb ft of torque, topped again by the mighty M3’s 414 hp / 295 lb-ft torque. The curb weight of each car tells a different story; to summarize, the 335i Coupe is laden with 3,542 lbs, the 335iS with 3,650 lbs while the M3 tips 3,704 lbs at the scales.

“This is not a car, it’s artwork. And it’s worth every penny.”

The M3’s weight is felt behind the wheel – though so well compensated for, it becomes a non-issue while lapping the track. As a hardened sports car and when facing exotic competition, excessive weight really is the M3’s only drawback.

Both the 335iS and M3 come equipped with proper 6 speed manual transmissions; however those numb from the waist down can opt for a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Don’t get me wrong, the DCT is excellent – but when exploring a car’s limits on track, the gratification and reward of switching your own gears is unmatched by any automated system. Yes, it’s faster by a tenth or two, but unless your last paycheck was received from an F1 team, you can probably trade a tenth for the joy of rowing your own gears.


For those who insist on the DCT, smooth, fast shifts are actuated by solid metal petals on either side of the wheel – just as God intended: Right for up shift, Left for down shift. A fully “automatic” mode will allow you to eat breakfast, text message all your friends, shave or perhaps do your makeup while driving. Or, you could pay attention to the road, and fully engage yourself in the driving experience. We hope you pick the latter.

Finally we arrive at the cost equation. Again, BMW has quite literally split all three siblings by an equal gap. BMW’s 335i lists for $42,650 followed by the 335iS at $50,525 and the M3’s $58,400 price tag.


Choices, Choices

And the winner is: … entirely based upon your needs. Yes, anti-climatic, we know.

For all those who lust after tire burning, track ready performance with a great blend of public road usability and value – it’s tough to arrive at any other car than the 335iS (inside, or outside of the company, for that matter). It’s every man’s sports car, full of passion and awfully fast.

“… it sounds like angels singing, and leaves you smiling after a playful drive.”

For those who yearn for something of a higher calling, the M3 offers race-bred pedigree, prestige, cache, and the excellence of M design that pervades every detail. This is not a car, it’s artwork. And it’s worth every penny.

In conclusion: if you have the money, there is no substitute for an M car. But if your budget is closer to mine, you will not be let down by the underdog of this comparison. BMW’s 335iS is brilliant on track and comfortable on the road, it sounds like angels singing, and leaves you smiling after a playful drive.

This younger brother packs a punch, and it will fight for space in your driveway.

36 responses to “BMWBLOG On-Track Comparison: M3 vs 335iS – BMW’s Sibling Rivalry”

  1. Roundel Ron says:

    This my friends is what I call stalling out with the new 3 already I am sick of the games.

    While BMW walks on egg shells with the new model they are being compared with HYUNDAI that is enough blasphemous behavior to make u want to release a time traveling car. BMW do what you do best and quiet the competion.

    Thank you

  2. Doug says:

    Nice article Shawn. Exciting to read.

    Let me ask.. how do you think that an upgraded N54/N55 engine (say, 400hp/400lb-ft) would compare to the V8 in the overall M3 package? We pretty sure at this point that we’ll have a 3.0L turbo in the next M3.

    • Shawn says:

      Doug, thanks for your comment.

      We’re trying our best to bring you world-class automotive journalism and photography. The more you learn the more it seems there is to learn.. :)

      As for the M modified N54/N55, obviously there would be key differences in the intrinsic performance characteristics of each engine configuration (Turbo I6 vs NA V8). The question really lies with M division. What they are capable of is nothing short of phenomenal. What would they be able to extract from a 3 L turbo? and how would it behave?

      First of all, the main drawback of M moving to turbocharged engines is lower rev limits (in my opinion). Of course, the most publicized drawback is turbo lag, but we’ve seen and experienced proof that BMW has eclipsed a level of engineering ability that allows them to all but fully eliminate perceptible turbo lag (it will always exist of course, it’s how little that matters).

      What rev limits would be likely on the new turbo M engines? It’s a great question and a company secret for the moment. What we do know is that the 335iS currently redlines at a safe 7,000 rpm (safe meaning fit for a production car with longevity expectations). We know M is capable of more, but we’ll have to wait and see. Certainly we will not see the current 8,000 + redlines of the NA engines, but I’m hoping for a nice 7,250 to 7,500. The key is eliminating boost and dialing back the turbos as rpms increase.

      The reality in practical terms is that all of this concern over redline is somewhat inconsequential and matters not. What’s really happening with turbo engines is that the usable power band is moved lower in the rpm range. But as a fan of the “high rev concept” engine that M has built for so many years, I find that high redline really adds to the excitement and entertainment value of the car on track.

      So overall, the new turbo M engines will be more efficient and more powerful (hp/l) than the NA engines they replace. They’ll just feel different and have lower redlines with more low end torque.

      If they sound anything like the 335iS, then we’re in for a treat!

      • Shawn says:

        Forgot to add,

        You may find our “Diet Turbo” editorial to be an interesting read, it answers a few of the above posed questions.

        Here is a quick excerpt from the article,

        “BMW has long utilized turbo charging in the design of their engines. In 1987 their 1.5L 4 cylinder turbo F1 engine supplied to Benetton was producing around 1,300 bhp in qualifying trim at 79.8psig. This turbo engine redlined at 11,500rpm! There has been some concern from the masses that BMW ///M has lost its way and turbo ///M cars will not satisfy as they will not be able to rev freely and communicate as purely with the driver. Rest assured, ///M will continue to deliver world benchmark engines, it’s in their heritage and their very DNA.”

        Full article follow the link,

      • Doug says:

        Yes, I remember that article very well. In that, Auday and I were discussing supercharging possibilities. I still think they should employ a small supercharger instead of the *small* turbo – they could cut its intake when the turbo is maintaining pressure.

        I did quite a lot of research and the main rev limitation appears to be the valve/cam assembly. The variable-timing system chosen for the inline-6 for optimization (efficiency) supposedly is only good for up to 7k or so?. AFAIK that’s why they forwent it on the M3’s V8 – which raised the redline but hit the next limit of the valve spring rebound speed. F1 engines apparently use hydraulic valve actuators and can rev to 24k or so. There’s probably other factors (pumping loss?), but that’s the understanding I have. I don’t understand why the turbo itself would be a limiting factor.

        I have to wonder what they did with that inline-4 turbo they teased us with, that can hit… 12.5k or so (?). Either they’re improving the variable valve/cam system or the F1-style system is becoming economical, perhaps?

        That’s unreal about the 1300hp 4. 80psi??? Seems like you’d have a very high frequency of… explosions.

        • Shawn says:

          Yes, there are many factors in the equation. F1 engines use pneumatically actuated valvetrains to achieve their incredibly high rpm.

          One factor limiting turbocharged engine rpm is the increased exhaust flow at higher rpm – the turbo turbine has its own rpm limitations, and the boost pressures on the intake would become too high unless the turbo is dialed back as the rpms increase. Many factors for sure, but it really is amazing what they are already capable of.

          After seeing the teaser video that Horatiu just posted (of the new 1M with Dr. K Segler) I’m quite confident that this will be an amazing car. We’ll just have to wait and see what they’ve accomplished with the engine.. :)

          It’s great that they’ve built the “everyman’s” M car, one that a larger percentage of the public can afford. It sounds like to power output will be close to or greater than that of the E46 M3, hopefully in a lighter car. Better start saving my pennies.

        • P123 says:

          F1 cars rev to 19000rpm by the way, the previous V10’s reved to 20000.

        • P123 says:

          F1 cars rev to 19000rpm by the way, the previous V10’s reved to 20000.

  3. Laszlo says:

    if you can afford it buy the M3. You will NEVER regret it.
    Not enough dough ? Well sell your sister… or wife :-) Still worth it !!! Living alone and no sister ? Sell your soul. If that’s also gone then go for the 335iS. But you might want to consider a slightly used M3 instead. Yes, its that good.

    • maxnix says:

      Agreed, until you take a cruise on the highway and find it is very tough to break 20 mpg in a M3 with a V8 whereas the 335is will be pushing over 24 mpg even at high speeds.

  4. Spikoloco says:

    you forgot to talk about lap times….at the end that is what really counts when testing these cars..I bet the M3 is 1.5 sec faster per lap than the 335is….ST

    • Shawn says:


      Yes, we would have liked to have recorded lap times but unfortunately did not come equipped to record them. This press event was held by BMW at a racetrack in New Jersey and there was an emphasis on driving impressions, not hard numbers. Our laps were not continuous as we had a stop/start policy at one point on the track.

      Perhaps in later comparisons we will be able to gather this objective data, we would certainly like to and we know it’s valued by our readers.

      Thanks for your input!

  5. Jimmy says:

    Roundel Ron, Hyundai, really? The Gen coupe is being compared to the Mustang, and still can’t win that fight. The mags are comapring the Gen Sedan to the E60 5, and the Lexus ES and GS, yet it seems like they are trying to shove the Genesis down our throats—I see no real takers. What’s your beef? Hyundai has no 3 series competitor or 1 series competitor.

    • maxnix says:

      Both early generations of the Q45 were VLSD.

      BMW limited LSD severely when M cars came along to those models almost exclusively.

      In the early days, BMW would put LSD on any manual I6.

  6. auday says:

    Nice article.

    I’m curious to know why “The M3’s weight is felt behind the wheel “, I agree that the E92 is overweight in general but 50lbs more than the 335is is not that much of a difference, and with a CF roof that would offset the center of weight lower, the wider track, and with understeer-free tuned suspension (understeer is usually where the heavy weight is felt), I think the 335is should have felt much heavier, unless if the steering wheel of the 335is is tighter and more communicative than the M3 but I doubt it.

  7. shawn says:


    Thanks for your feedback. Speaking of feeling the car’s weight behind the wheel, I was refering to the overall weight of the car, not the 50 lb difference between them. It simply does not respond like a 3200 lb sports car or lighter.. this is the M3’s heaviest flaw (exuse the pun).

    I sincerely hope that BMW’s next gen M3 is a much lighter car (and with their recent push to produce CF body paneling and components on volume production cars (like the MCV), I anticipate the next M3 will be put on a major diet).

    • Auday says:

      thanks for explaining, … Yeah I totally agree the E92M3 is overweight and it’s easy to feel it. I think it’s not the extra LBs only, for example the E39 M5 is a heavier car but feels tighter and lighter, … I think it’s the relatively light steering wheel and the front suspension geometry that make the new BMWs in general feel heavy.

  8. chas says:

    Sounds like a light weight 328, might be as much fun on the track. The weight is surely a lot less (especially with just the sports package and 6MT). Then again, the purposly slow response of the accelerator and clutch (and too tall gearing) make the car feel heavier than it really is. Not bad for a luxury car, but pretty bad for a true sports sedan.

  9. Max says:

    What year is that 335i that you quoted of having 0 to 60 in 4.8? is that 2011?

  10. Shawn says:


    You bring up a good point, the numbers we quoted for the 335i (Car and Driver) were from 2007. To the best of our searches we did not find any test results on the updated 2011 model sporting the N55 single twin-scroll turbo. While BMW claim identical power output from both engines with a 10% increase in efficiency in the N55 – we do not know if the 2011 will be as quick. Unfortunately, we are not (yet) setup to perform our own reliable testing to find exact numbers. In the future, we aim to bring you our own independent testing numbers.

    • Max says:

      That’s too bad.:( I was very hopeful that these were numbers for the 2011. This information is apparently not yet available anywhere. Some one has go to be able to do it some time soon.

  11. arthuro says:

    m3 is the winner chessmate 335is.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this piece, Shawn. Great work! Recently, I had the chance to put a M3 coupe through it’s paces at the Performance Track in Spartanburg. This is serious business is so right man! It’s hard for me to like another car after climbing out of the M3 drivers seat…

  13. alberto says:

    Shawn, what a great article. Keep up the good work.
    All the best.

  14. aChinese says:

    I wonder how the 1M will go against these two cars. Can we compare them at least on paper for now? I know the 1M won’t be out for another few months.

  15. Sam Kramer says:

    I agree, I believe a 1M 335is and M3 comparo is certainly in order.

  16. If you want to drive your BMW on the track then it has to be the M3 I would sooner buy an older model M3 if you don’t want to pay the extra cash

  17. R.T. Elkin says:

    335iS has an open differential instead of a limited-slip (BMW could take a pointer or two from Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe here, fercryinoutloud.)…what do you project would change if it were properly outfitted?

  18. Bfd says:

    Great article, thanks! One thing I like to point out is your bias towards the manual transmission. I agree it may be a tad slower than those new-fangled DCT trannies, but the joy of shifting can’t be overstated. Further, you may also want to note that with regular fluid changes, i.e., every 30,000 miles or so, a manual trans is far more durable than its automatic equivalent. Good Luck!

  19. I
    saw your videos. Yes I am completely  agree the E92M3 is overweight and it is easy to feel it. I
    think it’s not the extra LBs only, for example the E39 M5 is a heavier
    car but feels tighter and lighter, … I think it’s the relatively
    light steering wheel and the front suspension geometry that make the new
    BMWs in general feel heavy.thank you so much for sharing knowledge about different types of cars.

  20. Kodiakrugby says:

    Are you sure they modified the suspension? I think it’s the same as the 335i.

  21. Dick B says:

    Shame on the editor/proof reader. To wit: “petal feel”………..”press core”………Come on, is this a professional writer or just a regular person who hasn’t learned good English yet?

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