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The Battle is all too familiar.

Exhausts growl from the paddock. Angel eyes glare ahead. Two serious sports cars patiently await their release upon the asphalt.

This time, Munich’s champion sports car, the venerable M3 has competition from within. Yes, an aspiring younger brother, the 335iS is keen to prove its birthright and battle for nobility within the brand.

Which car would find space in your driveway? That is to say, which car offers you the best all-round package for your driving needs? BMWBLOG recently compared both BMW sports cars back-to-back on a proper racing circuit – the ensuing family feud was hard fought, the likes of which we’ve only seen among in-laws. Read on to learn which brother lands the final blow.

2011 BMW 335iS

We start out behind the wheel of the “underdog,” BMW’s newly released 335iS. Bound for North American shores only, BMW’s new sports car finds itself as a middle child. Slated somewhere between the 335i coupe and M3, the 335iS was designed to capture a target marked that yearns for more track focused performance than found in the 335i – while not letting go of their wallet with reckless abandon.

The 335iS builds upon the 335i with new bodywork, engine upgrades, suspension changes and subtle interior tweaks. The ///M designed aerodynamics package yields real results on the track, with a functional rear diffuser eliminating lift over the rear axle. Vertical vanes in the diffuser guide airflow and maintain velocity, thus decreasing pressure and reducing lift. BMW has confirmed that this is the most aggressive rear aero package fitted to any 3 series production car… including the M3.

From behind pit wall we fasten our helmets and ready the car. A flag marshal holds us at bay until a sufficient gap lay ahead of us on the racetrack. With his signal, we get down to business and dissect the performance genes this car has inherited.

Releasing the clutch as we throttle into the powerband, a deep, harmonious sound exits the exhausts. The 6-speed transmission is faultless as we snick through the gears. Clutch actuation is firm and linear, it is easy to get behind the wheel and immediately drive fast. There is no ambiguity served up from the controls, only precise, affirmative feedback. As we approach redline in 3rd gear, we notice no curve in the N54 powerband. With a monstrous 332 lb ft of torque on queue at only 1,500 rpm, this inline-6 pulls as though a long stroke V8.

Large inlets in the front fascia feed an additional oil cooler, and radiator. An upgraded cooling fan maintains temperature at slow speeds or standstill. Stiffer engine mounts have been installed to resist deflection during hard cornering; BMW has gone to great lengths to ensure this car’s longevity and track worthiness.

As engine rpm builds, so does your speed, along with an operatic tenor rising to a glorious crescendo – this is a climax of motoring enjoyment, where every mechanical sensation is just so. Its inline-6 speaks to tradition; there is something very honest about this car.

Handling is no less impressive; steering inputs are met with sharp, immediate responses fed back through the chassis. While no featherweight, the car feels very light and quick through transitions. A curb weight of 3,650 lbs placed evenly over the front and rear-axles gives the 335iS a 54 lb weight advantage over the M3.

The 335iS wears its little brother’s brakes, 348 mm (13.7 inch) front / 335 mm (13.2 inch) rear clamped by single piston calipers. This is no complaint as the iS stops well, consistently braking for corners with good bite and barely perceptible brake fade – even after several hard laps.

Mid corner feel is excellent, absolutely neutral until the very limit, where you will find minimal understeer. The car can easily be rotated by throttle modulation as an input of steering – this is the kind of handling most cars dream about, and fwd cars only read about in textbooks.

We are left with no doubt as to the 335iS’ sporting intentions. This is not a stylized sports car, it’s a purpose built driving machine. Every area of this car’s dynamics has been honed until sharp and sporting. In a word, BMW’s 335iS is playful – it will beg you for a track day, and stall as you’re about to leave for home. It just wants to play, and oh what fun.

2011 BMW M3

As the 335iS gently pops and pings cooling down in pit lane, we head for a nearby M3.

Created early on in the 3 series design process, the M3 is overt in its performance-focused shape. Flared wheel arches house a wider track and beefy wheels; a functional hood inlet sucks in cool air and a restrained trunk lip spoils lift over the rear. That’s not to say that the M3 seeks attention; it doesn’t, but much like a muscle bound weight lifter in a T-shirt: it’s kind of hard to hide your power.

The M3 exudes an aura, even sitting motionless on the asphalt. It’s special. As your eyes follow its flowing sculpture, you’re aware that M engineers have perfected every component, every line, every material. The carbon fiber roof speaks to its Formula 1 pedigree, the E92 M3 being designed near the height of BMW’s F1 career.

Getting behind the wheel, the differences are subtle. Both cars sport excellent seats with ample lateral support and both place controls exactly where you want them. Pedals are placed perfectly for heel-and-toe downshifting and a beefy, thick steering wheel feels good in your hands.

Press the engine start button and this is where the similarities end. Unlike the divine choir belting out mechanical hymns, the M3 starts with a flatter idle and builds to an intense sound – think Linkin Park vs Andrea Bocelli.

Switching the suspension setup to its firmest setting we head out on track. Carrying slightly more speed into the first corner, we brake hard and turn in. The M3 responds with razor sharp precision and immediate feedback. Dead flat through the corner a firmly sprung suspension keeps us on the knife-edge – suddenly the 335iS feels a touch soft to our recollection! Clipping the apex we power out and feel the rear wheels fight for grip. A small wiggle from the tail is reigned in as we put the power down, all 414 hp released before a quick up-shift at 8,400 rpm – what magic!

Every input you feed is returned with instantaneous response, this car is electric. As your fingertips guide the wheel, every neuron is on high alert. Unlike the 335iS, the M3 demands precision at the limit, it is less forgiving (though still forgiving in the greater arena of sports cars).

Continued at BMWBLOG.com

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BMWBLOG On-Track Comparison: M3 vs 335is

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