I’ve wanted an E92 M3 for so long that as soon as I purchased my 2009 335i, I immediately wondered if I had made a mistake. I have never liked the boring, uninspiring looks of the 335i but I found driving it so much fun that I couldn’t pass it up when I found it on Craigslist. But as it turns out, I couldn’t help but compare it to my friend Alex’s 2008 M3 that he bought earlier this year, and as we all know: comparison is the death of joy.

I just like the way the M3 looks so much better. Of course, there is much more to admire about the M3 than just looks – it is, after all, one of the most revered sports cars ever built.

But here was my question. Alex paid roughly $31K for his whereas I paid only $17.5K for the 335i. That’s almost half! So what I was really interested in finding out is if his M3 was worth $14K more than my used 335i?

Or to put it another way, I wanted to convince myself that it was ok to have opted for the 335i instead of the M3.

So I called Alex and asked him to join me for some driving and comparing.

Me: Hey man, let’s drive.

Alex: Sorry, can’t – got plans with my girlfriend.

Me: What? You’re picking your girlfriend over me? I can’t believe you’d rather hang out with her than go drive with me? What’s wrong with you?

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And so this went on for a while until we finally got a chance to meet up.

Now, before we dive into this intelligent and scientific comparison that mainly focuses around my personal feelings on the matter, keep in mind that we’re comparing the cars exactly how we bought them. Sure, with modifications you could totally change the comparison, but for the purposes of this writeup, we are only looking at these cars for what they are.

$31K 2008 M3 w/ 59K miles vs. a $17.5K 2009 335i w/ 53K miles (both are manuals because we wouldn’t have them any other way)

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Looks

I love the bulging looks of the M3: it is the muscular, roid-pumped version of the skinnier 335i. Even after washing and waxing my 335i over and over again, hoping that somehow the looks would grow on me, I still don’t find the 335i to be all that attractive.

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Looking at the 335i puts me to sleep..zzzzz. The M3 on the other hand...now that’s more like it!

The M3 is already off to a good start and gets a point here.

335i-0, M3-1

Interior

The interior is largely the same for both cars, except the M3 doesn’t let you forget that you’re in an M-car. Besides the M-badging in multiple places along with an M-button, the steering wheel in the M3 is much thicker. The big difference here is that the iDrive in my car looks and functions better – but that’s because my car is a year newer and has the upgraded version.

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If you don’t notice the M-logos and don’t pay attention to the steering wheel, you wouldn’t know which car you were sitting in.

By the way, the seatbelt extenders in both cars are equally useless. You may get the belt handed to you but that will happen only about .00001% of the time.

I will say that when you do get the belt handed to you, you will feel true happiness since you can hardly believe that it actually worked.

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I won’t give either car a point here because I will only award points if one of the two cars clearly excels in a specific category.

335i-0, M3-1

Wheels

My 335i has terrible stock wheels – I hate them. I don’t particularly like the wheels on Alex’s car either but I do like the variety of factory wheels that come with the E9x M3. Because the M3 has flared out wheel wells and fenders, bigger wheels look and fit better on the M3 than they do on the 335i.

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Sure, the wheels could be easily changed on the 335i, but remember, we are just comparing the cars for how we bought them. I won’t be keeping the 335i for long anyway so there’s no point in changing anything – I’d just rather complain about them.

Besides the 335i stock wheels being ugly, there is an additional problem. They come with runflats which result in two things: a harsher ride and no traction. This means that I spend quite a bit of time sliding around on the road whenever I push the 335i…even just a tiny bit, like, accidentally pushing in the accelerator a little more as I’m adjusting my seating position.

On a separate note, when I do engage in some spirited driving with the 335i, I feel like I must be the only one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 335i driven aggressively since they’re mostly being driven by older folks who should’ve spent $10K less on the 328i instead. What they really should be driving, though, is an Accord.

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The M3 also has really nice looking giant, drilled rotors to go along with the big wheels. The M3 gets a point here.

335i-0, M3-2

Power

When I was searching for a car to buy, I was only casually interested in a 335i but when I came across the one that I now own, not only was it a 6-speed manual but it also had a Dinan tune on it.

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I was curious about how much more power a Dinan tune would add and drove it to find out. I was surprised by what I experienced. Apparently, the turbos on these cars are quite strong and so the upgraded tune bumped up the stock power output from 300 hp, 300 lb-ft of torque to roughly 350 hp, 370 lb-ft of torque. That made a pretty significant difference and things really got exciting beyond 3000 rpms – the car pulled much harder than I was expecting.

So you see, I had no choice but to buy the car.

Alex’s M3 doesn’t feel quite as fast off the line (it has 295 lb-ft of torque) but once it gets going and you keep the revs high, the car is pretty fast. Alex did like how much useable power my car had at lower rpms which from a daily driving perspective is the better of two alternatives.

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Given that one car has more torque and the other has more horsepower, I think they balance each other out so I’ll keep the score the same in this category.

335i-0, M3-2

Sound

I’m going to deduct a point here from the 335i. The 335i stock exhaust is so muted that you can barely hear anything below 5K rpms and at 6-7k rpm there’s a straining noise emanating from the engine that doesn’t sound good at all. The M3 V8 on the other hand sounds delightful which comparatively makes the 335i sound even worse!

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Here are some clips of us driving.

335i- (-1), M3-3

Number Of Tailpipes

The M3 has twice as many exhaust pipes as the 335i so it clearly wins in this category.

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335i- (-1), M3-4

Handling And Overall Driving Experience

Obviously the M3 has better handling, but that is mostly discernible on a track. Driving around town, you won’t notice much of a difference unless you want to take turns super fast and turn on a dime.

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I’m quite impressed with the 335i handling. It’s not an M3 but it’s so much better than just about every other used car you could buy for under $20K. For normal driving, the M3 handling will only feel noticeably different if you want to take a turn at 55 mph instead of 50 mph with the 335i.

The M3 is more stable during cornering with less body roll but I’m perfectly fine taking it easier in the 335i than in the M3. The 335i still handles superbly and because it’s so good, I’ll only give the M3 a half a point here because although it is clearly superior at the track, for regular day-to-day driving, you’ll be very satisfied with the handling prowess of a 335i.

Yes, folks, the steering on the 335i is just that good.

335i- (-1) M3-4.5

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Ride

Unfortunately, the runflat tires mean that the 335i has a relatively stiff ride along with the M-sport suspension. So does the M3 because it has a track-tuned suspension although you do have different ride settings like “sport”, “normal” and “comfort”. But then again, with better tires, I’m sure the 335i would have a noticeably better ride.

Both cars are great on smooth roads; you just don’t want to be tackling bumpy roads for too long in either car.

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Overall, I would say the ride is roughly the same – so no points to either car here.

335i- (-1), M3-4.5

Mileage

Alex has been averaging 17 mpg, while I’ve been averaging 19.5 mpg.

Woohoo! About time the 335i got some points. Back to zero.

335i-0, M3-4.5

Track Days

We didn’t do this test but we all know that the M3 will undoubtedly kick the 335i’s butt on a race track. A stock 335i wouldn’t be able to keep up with an M3 unless you turned it into an M3 with modifications which some people have done. But why?? You’re so much better off spending your money on an M3 instead.

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335i-0, M3-5.5

Maintenance Costs

This should come as no surprise; M3 parts are expensive – really expensive. Alex already had to have the front brakes and rotors replaced and it cost him $1100. Repairs on the 335i aren’t cheap either, but it certainly wouldn’t cost as much as the M3.

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Go 335i!

335i-1, M3-5.5

Purchase Price

My used 335i is so much cheaper than Alex’s M3 that the 335i should get at least 2 points, maybe even 3.

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Alright, alright..2.5 it is.

And this brings us to the final score.

335i-3.5, M3-5.5

So, according to my comparison, the M3 does beat out a 335i, but keep in mind that this is the souped up version of the 335i and not the regular one.

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So, Should You Get An M3 Over A 335i?

It depends. Hah, that’s the answer you love to hear don’t you?

Be decisive, dammit!

Ok, so here’s the deal. If any of the categories, where the M3 has the edge over the 335i, is important to you like its appearance, exhaust note, or the ability take turns at a 20% higher rate of speed, then buy the M3. However, if none of those things are all that important to you and you actually care about how you spend your money, then a 335i is a no-brainer.

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A used E92 335i is an incredibly good value – if you can find one with an upgraded tune then I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. A stock 335i would still be pretty good but it’s so easy to bump up the power on these things with a simple tune that you should go for it.

It’s tough to find a better car than the 335i for the money.

So what will I do? You’re probably thinking: do what you want, I don’t give a crap. Well, I’ll tell you anyway. I will definitely own an M3 at some point – it could be my next car, or maybe the car after that – who knows. But there’s definitely something special about the M3 that a 335i will never be and I need to own one to truly experience it.

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Alex thinks I’m crazy, but there’s so much to love about the M3 that I feel like it’s worth the extra money. Hell, I might just buy his!

He doesn’t want his that bad anyway.


Torque Affair is about exploring my fascination with cars; I’m always on the lookout for things that interest me in the car world.

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