Buy BMW M3 or tune a 335i?

Tuning | September 12th, 2015 by 15
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There is a common philosophy amongst BMW enthusiasts that BMW’s M cars aren’t worth the money anymore because you can tune a standard BMW up …

There is a common philosophy amongst BMW enthusiasts that BMW’s M cars aren’t worth the money anymore because you can tune a standard BMW up to the same levels or performance, if not to a higher performance level, for less money. The BMW 335i over the M3 is a common one. The BMW 335i’s N55 engine can be tuned to much more than the M3’s 425 hp with just a few upgrades and it will costs significantly less than buying an M3.

I can see the appeal in getting more performance for less money. For a moment.

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The problem with that philosophy is that BMW’s M Division cars are so much more than just hp that saying so insults the M Division as a whole. BMW M cars have entirely different suspensions and different suspension geometry. The chassis setups are completely different, steering racks are changed and completely different lightweight body panels are used in some areas. A BMW M3 actually shares very little with the standard car, in terms of performance. There’s so much different that the M3 feels like an entirely different animal. So saying you can just bump up the power of a 335i and add new coilovers and make it an M3 is a joke.

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Would a tuned 335i get similar performance numbers on a dragstrip? Yea, it might even beat the M3. But that isn’t even close to the point of the M3’s existence. That’s be like me claiming I’m a better athlete than Adrien Peterson because I can beat him at chess. It’s an irrelevant comparison. The BMW M3 is as famous and revered as it is because it feels like a proper sports car. It has steering and agility far beyond what the standard 3 Series can achieve, even with the most extensive of modifications. That’s because it’s almost an entirely different car.

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Now, I’m not trying to say that modifications are a bad idea. If you can’t afford an M3 but you want your standard 3 Series be just as fast, then sure, modify it. It’s fun to make some modifications because then the car is your car. But don’t do it as a replacement for an M3 because you think it will be better. That’s a silly comparison, because no matter how fast a 335i can be made, it will never be an M3. It will be a really fast and very good car, but it won’t be the precision tool designed by some of the best automotive engineers and artists in the world. Only the BMW M3 can be that.

15 responses to “Buy BMW M3 or tune a 335i?”

  1. Kommodore says:

    M cars aren’t worth the money anymore because they’re getting monstered by Cadillacs.

  2. 2sfhim says:

    An M3 GTS driver on YouTube said it very well: the M3 GTS massacred by G Power is much slower than a standard GTS because the G Power overheats. The Ruf CTR had the same problem.
    Only some very serious performance, track oriented tuners can turn a normal BMW into a real track car, and this cost a lot. They do much more than ECU remapping. Alpina works like this (although their cars are for the Autobahn and not the track), they change a lot of parts, that’s why their cars are reliable and sell well.

  3. Hidefvi says:

    I chose the M variety because the styling was amazing vs the 435. Now the previous 335is was much more impressive than the base 328. For me aesthetics is a big deal. I want to love looking at the car from the outside and the inside. The M car offered the extended leather that is allegedly only found in M cars. That is a “monster” difference from the base car. Also what the writer says about all the tuning and suspension. I feel it was worth it even though I complain about the differences in the M3 V8 and the M4 6 turbo. Plus you don’t have 5 of them at the Starbucks. I rarely see anything like my car and it’s bone stock. Would love a smoother power delivery and an exhaust that can be quieter when called for.

  4. disqus_GOxXZ9FXC1 says:

    If the M division was serious anymore, they wouldn’t use such a heavy convertible setup adding what, 300’s to the TOP of the car? They would use a light ragtop thus focusing on weight savings, which is all that matters to true purists looking for a proper high-perf car.

    • Colin Fichman says:

      Wouldn’t be cost effective as they spend a lot of money designing, engineering, and tooling the factory for the standard hard top convertible. I agree that it’s not ideal, I guess that’s why Porsche still hasn’t gone to hard top. I would say the purists would just get the coupe, purists aren’t buying convertibles. Kind of like how Porsche doesn’t make the GT3 in convertible at all. The convertible is more of a Gran Tourer.

      • disqus_GOxXZ9FXC1 says:

        LOL, Porsche will NEVER sacrifice performance for a heavy hardtop in the name of “cost-savings.” So yes, I agree with you that BMW chose cost-effective over their true purpose. However, they have hurt the M brand and exactly what it stand for, so in the long run they have hurt themselves. I have owned a brand new 2008 M3 and a 2004 M3 and am on my 8th Porsche. The reason I have gone away from BMW is that they have lost their dedication to perfromance.

        I can tell you that many purists want convertibles, whether it’s a Corvette, Porsche Roadster such as a 918 Spyder or even a Lamborghini such as the Aventador and it’s lazy for M division to not design a light weight top the way Porsche has as well as other true sports car manufacturers… Possibly the most pure dedicated sports car for under $100k is the Boxster Spyder, 2900lbs, 375BHP with a manual drop top.

        So, to use the top off of a standard 3 series in the name of cost-savings is exactly the point I’m trying to make. Screw cost savings, make the car what it’s supposed to be and in the long run you’ll stay relevant.

        • Colin Fichman says:

          Yes but they make convertibles in the 911 Turbos but not for their GT cars.

          I don’t really think BMW and Porsche are comparable. Bmw sells 100X more cars than Porsche(besides Cayennes), and they are much more affordable. They are a mass produced quality product, I think of it more like a Ralph Lauren Polo. Porsche is more of a Hugo Boss.

          Convertibles have significantly more flex/less torsional rigidity so I somewhat disagree. The 918 Spyder while incredible, is the least potent of the current new class of “hypercars”. Go on the Corvette forums there are countless threads talking about flex in coupe vs convertible. Boxster is 2 seater and in a completely different class of cars, and M3 is still faster with extra weight. All convertibles are heavier. Manufacturers decide to go ragtop vs hardtop purely based on expectations of their customer’s tastes. They go with what will sell. Most people use M3’s as daily drivers and belive it is a good balance of performance and practicality for the money. A M4 convertible starts at $72K, a 911 Carrera S convertible starts at $133K.

          The M6 convertible(ragtop) is much more comparable to a 911 Convertible.

          All manufacturers are going in the same direction – forced induction, larger heavier bodies, and loaded with tech. Compare the M3 convertible to a CLK 63 or an Audi RS5.

          • disqus_GOxXZ9FXC1 says:

            You do have several good points, for sure. After all, it is a 3 series first; not built as a sports car from the ground up. I do still think, however, since they use a carbon fiber top to lower weight and center-of-gravity, that they should produce a lighter (rag) top in the name of performance.

            After all, even though I compare M3’s to the latter cars you mentioned, BMW’s M division is still the gold standard that those other companies chase. The M division SHOULD ALWAYS be targeting Porsche as benchmark for their cars; that is my opinion. :)

        • João Resende says:

          Never ? Not quite .
          See the Targa . It’s even heavier than the convertible . And just for the sake of having a mechanical mechanism for that little top.

          • disqus_GOxXZ9FXC1 says:

            I said NEVER “in the name of cost savings.”

            Besides, purists don’t buy the Targa, but there’s a market for it so they offer it. Anyway, the Targa has long had a stigma because of it’s heavy glass top

    • Colin Fichman says:

      I think there are better examples, like them offering so many M Sport/ M diesel variants. Yes the brand has been diluted and isn’t purely an enthusiasts car anymore but it is still one of the best performance divisions on the road and is 80% different than the 335/340i.

  5. Stephen Garrett says:

    First off, the notion that the N55 can be tuned to much more power than the S55 with little investment is a false one. Everyone knows the N55 is handicapped by the small, single turbo. They aren’t even capable of making the power levels the N54 was. FBO on an N55 might get you close to the advertised power level of the M3, but you’re fooling yourself if you think they’ll dyno the same. The only way you are going to outpower an M3/4 is with an upgraded turbo. And you have then voided any warranty you had, as well as compromised the engine’s long term reliability and longevity. And then all the M3 owner has to do is a tune and they’re still a leg up in power.

    Secondly, it’s not just about power. M cars are a full integration of all the accompanying hardware and fine tuning to make a car perform at it’s highest ability, and to do so reliably. You can make a 335i as powerful as a stock M3. You still have inferior suspension, brakes, body, engine internals, and drive line. You have to put a limited slip in the 335i. You have the 8AT rather than the DCT. The list goes on and on.

    You could argue the new car’s aren’t as special all day long, and I’d be inclined to agree. But you can’t reduce the gulf between the two cars to just a hp-to-dollar ratio. Virtually every other peformance car will fail in the same metric. Why buy a ZL1 when you can slap a ProCharger on a standard SS and murder it? Why buy a 650S, when you can undoubtedly tune the new 570S to the same power level for much less? Hell, why even buy a 335i when you can tune a 328i to the same power levels and have a better balanced car? Where do you draw the line?

    Truth is, there’s a lot of engineering that goes into these cars to justify the cost difference. Whether or not consumers at large realize this is another matter. There’s room and reason for both cars to exist.

    • Bellisarius says:

      Agree with everything. Have an M Performance 335i which can do 0-60 in 4.6 / 4.7 but would never consider it an M3 rival, not even previous gen. Can tune it to 380 easily and possibly get 4.3 but it will still not be an M3 the moment I reach that first turn.

      If I wanted really sportier- Porsche. Or more robust 2/4 door automobile, then M3 M4.

      A lot of times people do not understand the engineering. A 335i is a pretty terrific daily driver proposition. Daily Driver. Winter Sluch Mud Summer. Any M or Porsche are a terrific sports day driver. not a highway traffic grocery or pick up an aunt car. Open roads, curves, throttle, shifter, stick or PDK.

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