So, you’re interested in picking up a 3-series BMW. Great! They’re awesome little cars especially when they’re properly taken care of. We all long for that one car that’s just out of our reach. For BMW enthusiasts, this is typically the M3. For most BMW enthusiasts, the M3 is just slightly out of reach, so they begin to think about just settling for the 335i. But, can you modify the 335i, and make it better than an M3? Let’s dive in, and compare 335i vs M3.
For this comparison, we will be looking at the E90/E92 generation 3-series.
335i vs M3: Exterior
We all know how incredibly sexy the E92 M3 looks. Its front fascia is meaner, the hood has a giant bulge, to fit that beast of a V8 in it. The body as a whole is redesigned to look meaner, lower, and faster. But, are the body modifications really worth the premium? Well, not really.
Thanks to the BRZ and FRS, body kits are once again becoming acceptable by society. Things like crazy carbon fiber hoods, carbon fiber trunks, and massive rear wings are completely acceptable once again. For that reason specifically, you could very easily modify the 335i to look way better than an M3. It will still be considered somewhat unacceptable to put M3 badges on it, but who really cares about the badges anyways?
Regardless of looks, the M3 does have quite a few lightweight panels on the outside, which can be difficult to replicate with aftermarket body parts sometimes.
335i vs M3: Interior
So when it comes to car interiors, most people don’t modify them at all. Mostly just because it’s not something you can easily do by yourself. Any interior modifications besides a racing seat are strictly for your comfort, and not increasing performance.
The 335i and the M3 have a nearly identical interior. The M3 comes equipped with a slightly softer leather, and some of the buttons illuminate. The M3 also had an option to add carbon fiber bits and pieces. Other than that, the M3 is literally no different than a 335i on the inside.
So once again, the M3 isn’t really worth the premium at all. The only interior modifications most enthusiasts will make is adding a nice racing seat.
335i vs M3: Performance Numbers
Now we’re getting into the interesting stuff. Let’s be real here, most of us don’t really care about exterior or interior differences. We care about the numbers. Which one is faster at what? Are they good on the track?
- 335i Engine: Twin-Turbo 3.0L Inline-6
- M3 Engine: 4.0L DOHC V8
- 335i Horsepower: 300-350hp
- M3 Horsepower: 400-450hp
- 335i Torque: 300 lb-ft
- M3 Torque:300 lb-ft
- 335i o-60: 5.0 seconds
- M3 0-60: 4.4 seconds
- 335i 60-0: 110 feet
- M3 60-0: 110 feet
So, as awkward as this is, looking at the numbers tells me that the M3 isn’t really a whole lot better than a 335i. I’m sure that somewhere in the comments will be an M3 fanboy going crazy over the fact that on paper it’s not a huge amount better than a 335i.
What’s in between the numbers is the trackability, and how it feels to drive. The M3 is going to be a better car on the track, it’s that simple. These numbers are not indicative of a good track car. A good track car is going to be stiff, and fairly easy to drive at the limit. The M3 is purpose built to be on the track where these numbers don’t matter a huge amount.
335i vs M3: Aftermarket
This is where things can get very interesting in this debate. Here’s why: One of these cars is turbocharged and the other isn’t. Turbo’s leave huge performance gains on the table through a simple ECU tune. Especially since the 335i runs on 8psi, which is pretty low boost compared to most turbocharged cars.
For example, A simple stage 1 firmware tune can bring the 335i from 300hp to 350+. That’s a pretty good increase considering it’s literally just a tune and nothing else. Simple bolt on with a stage 2 tune will bring the 335i to 400+ hp. That’s M3 territory for WAY less money.
335i vs M3: Reliability
The topic of reliability can be very subjective when it comes to BMW, that is, everyone has a different agenda. Many M3 owners have had an incredible experience in regards to the reliability of their car. Many 335i owners have also experienced excellent reliability. However, many BMW enthusiasts will hide the truth to further advance their BMW agenda. It’s not that BMW is unreliable, BMW is in fact above average in terms of reliability.
The truth of the matter is this: Any given repair done on a BMW can be over twice as expensive as a similar repair on another car. So it boils down to this; if you plan to own a BMW out of warranty, you better have deep pockets.
With that out of the way, we can return to the subject at hand: Which one is more reliable? Unfortunately, I was unable to find any concrete numbers regarding the reliability of these two, but after poking around BMW forums it seems as though the M3 is actually more reliable than the 335i. This surprised me since the M3 is borderline exotic, but I forgot to account for turbo reliability. It seems as though many of the 335i’s reliability issues stem from the twin turbo system.
As I mentioned before, the BMW brand is incredibly expensive to repair. The M3 and the 335i are no exceptions to this. However, with the added strain of turbochargers, the M3 actually ends up on top in regards to reliability. But, the cost of the repairs done to both the M3 and 335i is terrible.
335i vs M3: Cost
Okay, so this can be really difficult to talk about because prices vary greatly. But, from what I have seen on Craigslist locally (Phoenix, Arizona), prices for a 335i range from $10k to $20k. The prices I’ve quoted are for different years, with different mileage, all of them in what looked to be great condition.
The E90/E92 M3, on the other hand, is quite a bit more expensive. Prices range from $23k all the way up to $47k! So to put this in simpler terms, the M3 is about 2x the cost of a 335i.
We discussed what you get for that cost. Basically, you’re getting a slightly more aggressive body, nice suspension, nice brakes, and a kick ass engine. But, is that all really worth $10-20K extra? Well, yes and no. Depending on how good of a deal you get, you can build a 335i to be faster than an M3. But, if you get a good deal on an M3, a 335i with the equivalent dollar amount in modifications won’t be able to keep up.
So Which One is Better?
So, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer for the 335i vs M3 debate. If you can afford an M3, I say go for it. But, if you can’t afford an M3, just pick up a 335i and modify it a little bit. We all want the M3, but unfortunately, it’s just not economically feasible for most of us.
Also, if you’re going to the track a lot, get an M3. Heavily modified cars never last long on the track. The factory reliable is something every track driver looks for. If you’re not going to the track, and you just want a fast BMW, get a 335i and throw a tune on it.
135i: N54 vs N55 - My Humble Opinion
I don't want to start a war, but I did want to just share my experience after doing a ton of research on these two engines and the disconnect between what I read and what I felt this weekend during several test-drives.
On paper these engines are basically the same. And we've all read the usual threads highlighting differences (reliability vs moddability, etc.). And as far as transmissions, the usual sentiment is that DCT is the more "performance-oriented" compared to the steptronic. But as far as my personal experience, the N54 cars are DRAMATICALLY more fun, more "urgent", and less laggy.
A couple months back I test-drove my first 135i, an N54. It totally blew me away, and I couldn't stop smiling. After that I knew I wanted a 135i, so I started researching feverishly. That led me to decide I definitely wanted an N55, due to reliability and slightly better mileage, and DCT (I love the DCT in my Jetta).
So on Saturday, I went to test-drive an N55, expecting an identical experience to my last test-drive. But it wasn't. The car flies after it gets going, but I felt like I had to wait for it to get on the same page as me. At first I dismissed my experience as user error, or misremembering that N54 test-drive. Or wondered if the N55 I test-drove was perhaps not running at 100%.
So I decided to drive as many 135's as I could on Sunday to settle the issue for myself. I drove 3 N55's and one more N54. And damn if the results weren't identical. The N55's felt really fun, but not in the same ballpark as the N54. The N54 was just, "I need to own this car right now.".
Anyway, suffice it to say I'm set on buying an N54 now, "reliability" issues be damned. And I hope I haven't offended anyone. This is just my opinion. I wanted to share it with the Internet in case someone else finds this useful. Moral of the story: go test-drive these things. All the advice in the world can't compare to 5 minutes behind the wheel yourself.