M2 Comp. vs E36 M3 - Bimmerfest - BMW Forums



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F87 M2 (2016 - current)
BMW will be unveiling the upcoming F87 M2 and this is the place to talk about it. Are you adding one of these to your garage?

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Old 09-20-2019, 01:05 AM
joe53 joe53 is offline
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M2 Comp. vs E36 M3

My 1997 E36 M3 (built in 1996) is now 23 years old, and is still a joy to drive (particularly at the track). But after a dozen years of reliable and trouble-free daily use, by 2008 I needed a new ride I could trust for long highway trips. I declined to replace it with another M3, which had ballooned in size and replaced the inline 6 (arguably the best BMW engine ever, and certainly the most balanced engine BMW ever made) with a shoe-horned V8 from the M5. Definitely not for me.

So I made do for another decade with lesser BMWs still using the inline 6, (335xi, M240i). Certainly good cars in their own right (particularly after a full Dinan3 upgrade for the 335) but still lacking the panache and handling of the E36. The E36 was the car, after all, that was crowned as the "Best Handling car at any price" by Car and Driver magazine in 1997. Enter the 2019 M2 Competition. The M2C made the "10 Best" list in the same magazine in 2019, with glowing reviews. Hence this comparison.

For the first time in over 20 years, I was tempted to buy another true M car. The use of the 3.0 L. inline 6/twin turbo engine from the current M3/M4 (admittedly slightly detuned), was all the incentive I needed to take a test drive. The seat of my pants suggested this might be the best accelerating, handling and braking BMW I had ever driven. So I bought it.

After several months of use, how does it compare to my former favorite, the E36 M3? Let me count the ways ...

First of all, the dimensions/weight of both cars are very similar, with the M2C being only slightly larger and heavier. It took the advent of the 1M/M2 to restore proper BMW performance sports car dimensions. Sports car size is a personal preference of course, but iconic sports cars of this size (or smaller) include the Jaguar XKE, the Triumph TR3, the Aston Martin DB5 (James Bond), the first generation Thunderbird, the first Corvette and of course the first gen E30 M3. One has to question why successful small sports cars invariably end up obese, or why people buy these bloated successors ...

For design and external appearance, I have to give a nod to the M2C, which reminds one of a USAF stealth jet fighter (particularly given the black on black and window tint options on my car). It is aggressive and menacing, whereas the silver E36 is deceptively a vanilla undercover car, giving no hint of its hidden powers. The M3 did have fog lights and front headlightlight spray cleaners, not available on the M2C, due to the need for large air scoops to feed the engine. But nobody ever complimented me on owning a great-looking E36, while I have had several for the M2C. Advantage M2C.

Power to weight ratio matters! In the E36 version it was 167 bhp/tonne. In the M2C it was 248, an almost 50% increase. This was due entirely to increasing power output from 240 bhp to an impressive 405, as the curb weight of the M2C was actually about 230 lbs more than the M3. Twin turbos account for the power boost, as engine size/type (3.0L/inline 6) were the same for both. Torque increased from 236 to 406 lb-ft. Advantage M2C.

Not surprisingly, all this extra power and torque translated into vastly improved performance. The E36 with 5-speed stick had a best 0-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds; the M2C clocked 3.9 seconds with a 6-sp. manual (beating the automatic option). Quarter mile times decreased from 14.3 to 12.4 sec. Lateral G on the skidpad increased from 0.91 to 1.00. (All tests from Car & Driver). Even without accelerometers, I was convinced by my back that the M2C performance was outstanding, and far better than the E36. Advantage M2C.

Braking performance was only slightly improved, according to Car and Driver testing. The E36 stopped from 70-0 mph in 158 ft, the M2C in 151 ft. This despite the M2C having massive cross drilled rotors (15.7"/15.0") versus the E36 vented discs (12.4"/12.3"). But the seat of my pants again tells me that the latest M2C brakes are far grippier/sensitive than any I have ever used. Very impressive. Again, advantage M2C.

Steering in recent BMWs has been problematic for me, ever since BMW switched from hydraulic to some electronic fly-by-wire system. The steering in my E36 gave perfect road feedback, and has not been replicated in any BMW I've owned since then. I was very disappointed in the steering feedback in the 335xi and the M240i. (Sport mode in the M240i did improve things somewhat. But mushy is the adjective that springs to mind). The steering in the M2C is somewhat tighter, and approaches (but does not reach) the feedback from the E36. Advantage E36.

Shifting the 5 speed in the E36 was swift and clean. Heel and toeing came naturally. I can't say the M2C shifts are any better, and the rev matching on downshifts are not well matched. I disable this option in favor of heel/toe in the M2C, which works for me. No advantage here(although 6 speeds are better than 5).

Assessing handling is very subjective, particularly when I no longer have track access. But this M2C is definitely planted, and difficult to upset (judging by my tight circular cloverleaf ramp speeds). That said, the tendency to oversteer and drift are best exploited at the track. The carbon fiber strut brace under the hood has eliminated any sway or roll that I can detect. The M2C suspension is stiffer than the E36, and you certainly feel the potholes and asphalt repairs. Plus you cannot dial in a softer suspension. It is definitely tuned for the track. That said, I find it adequate for comfort as a daily driver, but your mileage might vary. My track experience with the M3 was a joy, and the M2C is as much fun on the twisties. So no clear advantage here, but that M2C suspension is oh so tight and taut.

Seating in the M2C is a clear winner, when compared to the "Darth Vader" seats of the E36. The programmable electric seating memory settings for 2 users was not available in the E36, which offered only manual adjustments. The M2C adjustable lateral support bolsters are welcomed, and the backlit seatback M2 insignia is a nice touch. Both cars came with front seat bum-warmers, a necessity in the True North. The rear seats are not really usable for adults in either car, but the fold-down capability allows for optimum trunk space in both. BMW should have designed the M2C as a 2-seater. Advantage M2C.

Mileage: By my measurements, the E36 M3 gets about 31 mpg (US) combined, and the M2C (using 91 octane, as with the E36) gets about 28 mpg. Advantage E36, but not by much. Turbines do consume more gas. The E36 recommended 91 AKI octane, the M2C recommends 91 as a minimum, and 93 for best performance (presumably for track).

Value: My E36 cost about $60,000 Can. in 1996 (about $43,000 USD at that time). Factoring in inflation, it would translate into $92,000 Can/$66,000 US in 2019 dollars. My M2C cost me $75,000 Can (about $56,000 USD) in June. This is with minimal options: metallic black paint, summer and winter rims and tires, and a manual tranny. But no moon roof or Harmon-Kardon sound. I had both these latter options in previous BMWs, and don't miss them.

When you factor in inflation and the advances in technology and performance over 2+ decades, I think the M2C is an overwhelming winner in the "bang for the buck" category compared to the E36. Which does not denigrate the old M3, which I still feel is a classic.

Gripes of the M2C are few. The dashboard is way over-engineered in typical German style. The nanny-nags (to not depend on this or that system), and to buckle up are annoying. I don't dare attempt to change a radio station while driving. The red "Start" button is hidden behind the windshield wiper stalk, and I keep activating that unneccesary start/stop button that shuts off the engine when stopped at intersections. I miss the 6 CD changer that lived in my E36 trunk (I'm dating myself) but I have most of my music stored as mp3's in the car's memory. And Sirius XM was Siriusly obnoxious in aggressive telemarketing of its satellite radio, until I complained to BMW. And my left knee keeps hitting the headlight control button, and changing it from the automatic setting.

My biggest gripe was that BMW did not ask for any meaningful post-purchase feedback. All I got was a survey clearly related to marketing, but not to engineering likes/dislikes. A total waste of time that I did not submit. I'm interested in giving feedback to improve a product, but not to just improve sales.

In summary, the M2C is a blast to drive, and the true successor to the DNA and spirit of the E30/E36 M3 - and possibly the best value in any M car extant.

Full disclosure: I'm not a journalist, and have no affiliation with BMW or the automotive industry.
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  #2  
Old 09-20-2019, 02:12 AM
Autoputzer Autoputzer is online now
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Another advantage of the E36 M3, at least the pre-LCI's, is that didn't just have a square set-up, they had a "pentagon set-up," with five identical tires and wheels. So, a set of 32k mile tires would last 40k miles with rotation, and you didn't have to worry about your spare tire being dry-rotted. (I had an eight year old donut spare tire fail the first time I drove on it.)
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Old 09-20-2019, 08:07 PM
joe53 joe53 is offline
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Good point!

I always liked having a full size spare in the trunk, and always disliked the noisy run-flats that basically could not be replaced. The M2C avoids run flats but replaces the spare with some "repair kit" of dubious utility, but no jack. Advantage E36.
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Old 10-05-2019, 12:00 PM
Micster Micster is offline
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Thank you Joe53 for the terrific write-up! I'm in the market for a new car and am considering the M2C. Still have the '08 550 & '07 335, but both are long-in-the-tooth and have become money pits. Spending time here on the forum has been an excellent resource; thanks to all those who contribute.
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Old 10-06-2019, 08:21 PM
joe53 joe53 is offline
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Glad to be of help, Micster.

I have always kept my new cars for about a decade (M240 excepted), despite getting a bit obsolete. It's a testament to their good engineering. I still have my '97 E36 M3 which I save for local Sunday drives (only about 60,000 miles on it).

Depending on your tolerance for a stiff suspension, I can guarantee the M2C will meet all your performance expectations. I'm so pleased that I plan to return to the track next season at Mosport after an absence of more than 15 years.
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Old 10-10-2019, 02:35 PM
Micster Micster is offline
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Hi Joe,

Picked up new ride Tuesday evening. Absolutely LOVE it (M2C, 6M, Alpine White) and cannot wait for 1200 miles to arrive. Very much appreciate your input, not only in this thread, but your contributions elsewhere on the forum. To characterize my experience so far: FUN!
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Old 10-10-2019, 09:33 PM
joe53 joe53 is offline
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Glad to hear you chose the M2C Micster- congrats! And on your good sense to go with the manual 6.

That break-in period will fly by quickly. Enjoy

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