Project E90 M3: Head to Head with 2016 Mustang GT

With the weights complete let’s review where both cars are at.


4.0L V8

92 x 75.2 mm bore x stroke

8,300rpm redline

414hp (465hp) – stock (modified)

295lb-ft (338lb-ft) – stock (modified)

3,722lbs full – (3,619lbs empty)

50.5 / 49.5 %  Front/Rear weight distribution

245/265 ExtremeContact DW

7-speed DCT

Gear – Ratio – Speed at Redline

1st 4.780 – 44
2nd 2.933 – 71
3rd 2.153 – 97
4th 1.678 – 124
5th 1.390 – 150
6th 1.203 -173
7th 1.000 – 208
Final Ratio – 3.154

Mustang GT

5.0L V8

92.2 x 92.7 mm bore x stroke

7,000rpm redline

435hp (stock)


3,835lbs full – (3,692lbs empty)

52.8 / 47.2 % weight distribution

255/275 ExtremeContact DW

6-speed manual

Gear – Ratio – Speed at Redline

1st – 3.657 – 48
2nd – 2.430 – 72
3rd – 1.686 – 103
4th – 1.315 – 132
5th – 1.000 – 174
6th – 0.651 – 267
Final Ratio – 3.31

MotoIQ Project E90 M3 vs 2016 Mustang GT Dyno
Looking at the dyno sheets of Project E90 M3 (blue) and a stock 2016 Mustang GT (red), there is an obvious difference in powerband and torque.  To make as much power as Project E90 M3 with a 1,300rpm lower redline, the Mustang needs almost 80lb-ft more torque.  Keep in mind that our M3 made over 10whp more with the addition of K&N air filters (in Part 5) but on a much hotter day than the baseline of this 379.76whp pull, so the peak power of Project E90 M3 is likely very similar if not more than the Mustang.


After weighing the cars, we headed over to Palm Beach International Raceway for the on-track comparison tests.  We like PBIR because of how close it is to downtown West Palm Beach as well as its layout makes for a great test track to benchmark the performance of a car.  PBIR has a lot of long duration sweeping corners which are like skidpads that test the lateral grip capability of the car as well as trail-braking performance and power-down abilities out of a corner.  The track’s long straight and heavy brake zone allow cars to stretch their legs and push the brakes to the limit.  PBIR also has a few switch-backs which test the transient response of a car.

First up was the industry benchmark, the M3.  Behind the wheel the outward visibility is excellent with a distinct view of the M3’s “power bulge” hood, indicating something special is powering this sedan.  The Napa leather-wrapped seats are supple and offer decent support when cornering.  The thick rimmed steering wheel has equally as nice leather and great feel in the hands.  Overall the driving position of the M3 was very comfortable despite wanting to sit lower in the car with a helmet on.


I turned off traction control, set the suspension to stiff, and maxed out the shift response.  Pulling out of pit lane, the M3’s S65 V8 effortlessly zipped up to its 8,300rpm redline as I grabbed the right paddle and upshifted into 3rd.  The S65 is a very special motor and it makes some great noises as it winds out, especially with a more aggressive exhaust than OEM.  The motor needs to be revved to get the most out of it, otherwise it is a bit lethargic since the S65 does not have the torque or mid-range of the Mustang due to its short stroke.  It actually feels similar to our own Project NSX or a Honda S2000 than what comes to mind when people generally think of a big torquey V8.  The E39 M5’s S62 fits that bill much better.


Grabbing gears, the Getrag DCT Transmission didn’t skip a beat, especially with the new DCT Tune from Turner Motorsports, which greatly improves the shifting by smoothening out the aggressive ‘slam’ from the gear change, as well as improving downshifting response and greatly improving the shift logic in automatic “Drive” mode on the street.  While the argument between paddle-shifted and manual transmissions will never end, I enjoy and race cars professionally with both transmissions.  DCT is hands down faster and the data proves that.  While a driver is not as busy behind the wheel working sticks and pedals, they have more time and attention to focus on driving with more precision than they would with a manual.  I can guarantee if you take any top-level Prototype, Formula or GT car and put a standard synchronized manual transmission in it, the car will be slower and the driver will be less consistent. But I digress.


As I entered the first sweeper, the steering is superb.  The weight and feedback through the hydraulic steering is going to be greatly missed by future generations.  Turn-in is razor sharp and the car points down to the apex with just a faint hind of understeer.  Mid-corner the chassis was playful and I could induce understeer or oversteer based off my inputs.  This response gives the E9X’s chassis the best balance of any M3 generation even though it’s the heaviest.  By comparison, E30s-E46s tend to be set up with a little more entry understeer and on-throttle easily controlled oversteer (especially the 1996+ 36s and 46s).  Meanwhile later model F8X M3/M4s oversteer at a drop of the hat, are extremely easy to drift, and really struggle at putting power down.

The dampers did a great job controlling the body movement and the car responded instantly, feeling light on its feet and hiding its weight quite well.  While the handling was excellent, the outright grip left something to be desired.  The data showed peak lateral grip was an impressive 0.92 Gs, but it was far too easy to overstep the limit of grip and end up understeering, or oversteering excessively.  Putting power down was an exercise in managing grip by carefully rolling on the throttle smoothly without spinning a tire.  Despite a lack of torque, the M3’s higher revs keep it in the powerband to have plenty of power to send the car into an easily controlled lurid slide.  Due to the tight damping and responsive handling, the E9X M3 is also effortless to drift which I find quite enjoyable.


Braking force was good but the stock OEM pads were the limiting factor and don’t hold up to extended sessions at the limit. Upgrading the pads and fluid will allow the car to run long sessions without an issue, especially with its large, drilled, semi 2-piece rotors.


As each new M3 comes out there will always be criticisms, often by owners and fans of previous generations.  But the E9X M3 is a fantastic car and deserves a special place in the M3’s history.  The E9X has a very stout chassis that feels ‘tight’ and is probably one of the most neutral variants of any M3 generation.

Crossing the line, the M3 put down a 1:33.825 lap time around PBIR, 0.978 seconds faster than our baseline test.

MotoIQ Project E90 M3 Motec Data PBIR
When comparing the 1:34.803 baseline lap (red) to the new 1:33.825 lap (black), the 50whp increase was apparent on the straights, accounting for a 1.56 second improvement in lap time.  Given the 0.978 second difference, a little over half a second was lost in the corners to the baseline.  Despite having well over half the tread left on the tire, its age caused just over half a second time penalty.

Billy Johnson Formula BMW USABilly Johnson Turner Motorsport Z4 GT3

While some people might view this competition is heavily biased based off of me driving for Ford, consider that in the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series, I raced Z3 Coupes, Z4 Roadsters, was the only Z4 M Coupe to podium in a professional series in North America, drove the Turner Motorsports M6 & M3 GT cars, the infamous E46 M3 GTR, and was a Factory BMW “Junior” driver -which got my career started.  I have the upmost respect for both brands, have owned many Mustangs and M3s, and I’m just a car guy who loves cars.  This review is a review on what happened.

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