The age old question. Which is better, the 911 or the M3? As Porsche is just now releasing their 7th generation 911, BMWBLOG figured it would be worth revisiting the ongoing battle between these two German icons. The new 2012 Porsche 911S has been available for purchase starting February 2012, while the current fourth generation M3 has been around since 2008.
Porscheʼs new seventh generation 911, internally dubbed the 991, was unveiled to the world at the Frankfurt Autoshow last September. Most noticeably the new 911 has shorter front and rear overhangs, a longer wheel base, a wider front track and retains its rear engine layout. The quality and luxury of the interior of the new 991 is dramatically ramped up and sports a Panameraʼesque cockpit. To me, the 7 speed manual shifter looks out of place so high up in the dash almost truck like, the PDK though looks just right. Though a totally new body, it continues to use the same DFI engine block, 9A1, as the 09+ 911S though with different intake and exhaust.
BMW made few changes to the 2012 M3, mostly tweaking option packages and adding the Auto Start/Stop feature. This fuel saving feature still isnʼt good enough though to keep the $1300 gas guzzler tax at bay. iPod/USB, Bluetooth and BMW Assist are now standard as are floor mats and an alarm. The M3 convertible gets an optional $5000 BMW Individual Composition Package. With the introduction of the F30 3 series sedan, the e90 M3 sedan is no longer available.
BMWʼs 4.0 liter V-8 produces 414 hp at an astonishingly high 8300rpm while emitting a most wicked growl. The S65B40 motor produces 295 ft/lbs of torque at 3900 rpm, and sadly may be the last naturally aspirated M motor we see from BMW. How about the Porsche 911 power plant? Hmm, well, hereʼs where comparisons get tough. Porsche makes 3.4L and 3.8L DFI power plants, however they also have Turbo and a Turbo S. Porscheʼs 911 GT3 and GT3RS had metzger engines but which motor will come with the new 991 GT3ʻs in a year or two remains to be seen. See table for the specific numbers on the new 991 Porsche motors, but note that they, like the M3 motor, share a relatively smaller displacement high horse power, high revving nature with a lower amount of torque compared to the American iron they face on
Base price of the e92 M3 is $60,100, but when you spec out an M3 convertible and check all the boxes the price swells to over $87,000. This pales, however, in comparison to Porscheʼs 911 pricing structure. The base price is $82,100 for a “plain” 991 Carrera, but rapidly can ramp all the way up to $172,100 base price for a 2012 997.2 Turbo S cabriolet.
Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems in Porsche smokes BMWʼs. Since 2009 Porscheʼs 911 has had the ability to give you the actual PSI in your tires even while on track. Though BMW updated their TPMS in 2010, it still only gives you a warning if you are low, not the actual PSI, even if gets wicked high. In my 09 911S, I purposely lower the PSI before I go on track and once my tires get heated up, hit the pressure I want.
The ability to watch live pressure changes as your tires heat up is awesome. I sure hope BMW adds this technology to the next M3.
Both manufactures support race versions of these cars in the GT class for the American Le Mans Series. Itʼs been a great back and forth between Porsche and BMW, with BMW ultimately winning the 2011 seasonʼs championship.
For 2012 Porsche will campaign their previous generation body style, the 997.2 GT3 RSR as the 991 body style begins its slow roll out across Porscheʼs 911 line up. For BMW, Rahal Letterman Lanigan will field the M3 GTs.
Visit any BMW Club or Porsche Club driving school and youʼll see that owners of both the M3 and the 911 enjoy their cars on track. Further, both manufactures offer their own driving schools for these great drivers cars. BMW provides the Performance Driving M School at Spartanburg, SC starting with a one day course for $1,450. See BMWBLOG’s recent write up on the 2 Day M school. Porsche holds their driving schools at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, AL with one day courses starting at $1,800. Both provide the cars you drive on track as well as instruction by top notch instructors, many of whom are former race car drivers.
On the race track, weight is the enemy and unfortunately the e92 M3 weights 500+ lbs more than the new 911. This extra weight can also take a toll on the BMWʼs brakes leading to fade and a short pad life at high speed, hard braking tracks. In 2009, Car and Driver did a comparison between the Porsche 911equipped with a PDK and a BMW M3 with a DCT at Laguna Seca Racetrack, where the e92 M3 came out on top. They did, however note that the M3ʻs brakes “softened after a few hard laps….” PDK adds 45 lbs to the Porsche and the DCT adds none per the technical data provided by BMW NA for the 2012 M3 coupe.
Both the M3 and 911 have a very low squat appearance. Unfortunately both have radiators everywhere in their front end. Bump something with your front end even at low speed and you could see coolant spilling out of either the Porsche or BMW ending up with a very expensive repair. In profile, however, the BMW is much taller at 55.8 inches compared to the Porscheʼs 51 inch height.
Road and Track tested a new 2012 911S and they were able to rocket from 0-60 in just 3.5 seconds with a PDK and Sport Chrono. The best time I could find for the e92 M3 was with the DCT and was a very respectable 3.9 for 0-60. Both the 911 and the M3 have high revving engines naturally aspirated engines, which to me are the most fun type of power plants to drive on track. The nature of them makes throttle steering a blast where as the abrupt nature of the 1Mʼs power delivery during overboost combined with its short wheelbase can make for an oversteering adventure – ask me how I know!
Both the 911 and the M3 give the driver great feedback through the wheel. I was really worried about the new electric steering in the new 991, but it really was a non issue in my short drive with the car. I would still like to see how it handles bump steer on the track because I am afraid it might filter too much out. In Chris Harrisʼs review of the 991, he conceded he was most worried about how it would feel, but once he drove the 991 it had lost some of its classic feel but was easy to place the car where he wanted it. Many argue that the outgoing 911, the 997.2, has steering feedback which is the gold standard for a drivers car. I found that the 991ʼs steering very accurate, appropriately heavy and easy to point the car where you want but filtered out the fine nuances of feedback in the road.
BMWʼs attempts at electric steering however, have, well sucked. The new 2012 BMW 650i I drove was enjoyable to me only in sport or sport plus and even then still seemed synthetic and over boosted and light. Thankfully, the e92 M3ʻs hydraulic steering however is perfect -it has a thick steering wheel, good on center feel with a nice amount of resistance when turning in. I hope BMW fixes the feel of their electric steering. It reminds me of the first year or two of the e46 3 series which had poor steering feel. BMW addressed it and gave it a nicely weighted feel by the 2001 model.
BMW has stolen a page right out of the Porsche playbook and have started to release limited run M cars in the last few years -the Frozen Gray M3, the M3 GTS, the 1M. – These high demand, small production numbers are special versions of already great cars. I really wish BMW would bring a light weight track focused M3 to the US, but as the current e92 M3 is nearing the end of its run, I doubt they will. One can only hope that the next generation M3 keeps that great road feel, driver involvement and goes on a diet.
Given the raft of 911 variants from Porsche, its makes for a difficult comparison to the M3. Truthfully, they also appeal to different a demographics especially with the price increases of the 991. There is also the argument that they are rather different in every day usability given the differences in interior and storage capacities. The model Porsche I drove was a 2012 911S (991) with a window sticker of $120k. A better comparison for the M3 might be the base Carrera which was has not yet been released.
Price and size differences aside, these two German automotive icons go head to head in the same class on race tracks on both sides of the pond. Which is better, the M3 or the 911? In my mind, there really is no right answer to this question. I, however, look forward to the ongoing rivalry both on and off the track.