Project E46 M3- Part 18: E46 M3 vs E90 M3


While we know Project E46 M3 is not going to beat every stock E90/92 out there, it’s clear that we have achieved our goal of having our car be able to hang with one, and then some. We hadn’t mentioned that, prior to this test, Project E46 M3 had already been loosely tested against three other E90/E92 M3s with similar results (we just didn’t have the numbers). Therefore, we weren’t that surprised with today’s results.

What we didn’t expect, however, was the performance of that Mustang GT. That thing rips!

Our M3 seemed to be able to stay somewhat close to the GT at speeds under 100 MPH because it was more about power-to-weight, and especially grip early on. With so much torque, the Mustang’s tires struggled (the owner has Nitto summer tires for his track days), but the 5.0’s power became more of a prominent factor as the cars pushed against that 100-plus MPH wind. If we break down the two cars’ third-gear accelerations, we see the Mustang only has the E46 M3 by 0.2 seconds from 70-100 MPH and 80-100 MPH. However, after 110 MPH the Mustang starts to say “uh bye bye, little BMW”.

Based on previous testing, and extrapolating horsepower vs trap speed numbers at the quarter, Project E46 M3 would need roughly another 35-40 WHP to keep up with the Mustang GT. That would be a tall order that might require some headwork and cams to the S54. I think we’ll stay happy with where we’re at for now.

Since we didn’t have a chance to compare dyno charts between these two cars, we did the next best thing—line them up and take their 30-100 MPH times in third gear only. It kind of represented a 2500-8000 RPM dyno pull. This would give us a look at each car’s total power band, and it was a good comparison since both hit similar speeds at the top of third (102 for the E46 and 105 for the E90). I originally hypothesized that the V8 would out-quicken the M3 down low but it was the opposite—by 50 MPH the 3.2-liter was clearly pulling ahead.

We actually performed the 30-100 MPH test with the two cars also side-by-side, and the net result—which both drivers concurred—was a little over a 1-car gap at 100 MPH between the E46 M3’s rear bumper and E90 M3’s front. The majority of that gap takes place early on in the race, and convincingly so. By about 70 MPH, though, the E46 is only inching away. The difference from 30-60 is triple that of the 60-100 MPH difference, where the E46 only hit 100 MPH quicker by just 0.10 seconds.

It makes sense, though. Although both M3s have very similar peak torque figures, what I noticed after looking at both our own Project E90 M3 (the white one) as well as the E90 M3 I tested for Eurotuner years ago, both S65 V8s hit their peak torque figures at 4000 RPM, and then dipped by 12-15 lb-ft between 4000-5500 RPM before the torque was back near its peak again. That's going to make a difference, especially against an otherwise similar car with 300 lb less weight, and it showed in the 30-60 MPH times.

While this is all very pretty impressive for this normally-aspirated 3.2-liter, we're not oblivous to the fact that a similarly modified V8 M3 would flip these results—just check out our lightly modded Project E90 M3, which is already making around 380 WHP with just a test pipe, intake, and tune. And forget comparing Project E46 M3 against a lightly tuned 335i because I just tested one from 30-100mph in third gear and it did in 8.9-sec! Turbos aren't even fair anymore.

Stay tuned, we may throw some similar parts onto this red E90 M3 soon! On the next few pages we've got some cool Subaru and Mitsubishi projects that Modified by KC has been working on. Let's check them out!

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