This comparison test between the 470-horsepower, 6.4-liter 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 and the 335-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe is intentionally not apples to apples. And so what?
When was the last time you stood, bleary-eyed and groggy, drinking a watery coffee at some breakfast buffet deciding between a Red Delicious and a Granny Smith? In real-world breakfast decisions the hand wanders between what you should eat — the apples — and doughnuts. Warm, frosted, delicious doughnuts.
Challenger versus 1 Series M Coupe is not a comparison that can be solved by rubric, pyramid or with beans on a scale. For this comparison test we've abandoned the normal battery of charts and forms and taken a breakfast buffet approach to the dilemma. This time we drive, test and debate the cars with one question in mind: If our uncle Harold died and left us $50,000 with the specific instructions to buy something fun, which car would end up in our garage?
M Coupe vs. Challenger? What?
Whatever we'd buy with our windfall, it would have to be special. It would have to be limited edition (both of these cars are, with only 1,000 M Coupes and 1,100 Inaugural Edition 392s available). It would have to be fast, have a manual transmission, drive the rear wheels and it damned well better be a coupe.
The $49,585 as-equipped 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe was the obvious first pick. It's all-new: a shorter, lighter, smaller more nimble M car in the vein of the E30 M3 that lured many of us to the Bavarian brand.
Its 335-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 sends power to the ground through a slick six-speed manual transmission and a pair of 265/35ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s. Gearchanges don't happen with the rifle quickness of some straight-line-specific cars, but the feel and precision is there. Get everything just right and the 1 Series M Coupe blows past 60 in 4.5 seconds (4.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like at a drag strip) and powers through the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 107.7 mph. You don't need all the power in the world when you weigh 3,346 pounds.
Speaking of All the Power in the World...
The 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 has it. We're talking about 470 hp and 470 pound-feet of torque from a naturally aspirated 6.4-liter pushrod V8. Four-hundred-and-seventy horsepower! Do you remember when the Viper didn't even have 470 hp? Or when the Corvette didn't? Oh...wait.
So it has a 135-hp advantage over the 1M, but the Challenger also weighs 4,257 pounds. No surprise then that it produces remarkably similar numbers at the drag strip: 4.7 seconds to 60 (4.4 seconds with rollout) and 12.9 seconds to the 1,320-foot mark with a trap speed of 111.0 mph. Wheelspin, unsurprisingly, is a problem when trying to twist 255/45ZR20 Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. So is wheel hop.
||2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
||2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392
|0 - 60 (sec)
||4.5 (4.3 with rollout)
||4.7 (4.4 with rollout)
|1/4-mile (sec @ mph)
||12.9 @ 107.7
||12.9 @ 111.0
|Skid pad (lateral g)
|Braking 60-0 (ft)
|Curb weight, as tested (lb)
If the Road's A-Windin'...Just Give It Up
Features, feel, looks and personal preferences on these two can be debated eternally, but there's one area where a clear winner emerges: Handling.
It's hardly surprising, then, that the smallest U.S.-market BMW wearing M3 shoes and suspension and packing a power upgrade by M is the standout on mountain roads. It responds to every input instantly and predictably. The biggest challenge is trying to stay below double the posted speed limit.
Traditionally when running the canyons of Southern California the faster car is the one with the faster driver. That theory doesn't apply here. Put your mom in the 1 Series M Coupe and she'll be at the lookout on Mulholland so far ahead of you and the Challenger that she'll have time for tea and her arthritis medicine. With M Dynamic Mode enabled, wheelspin and slip angle are expertly controlled, and driving fast — insanely, stupid fast — is an exercise in precision only available in a carefully metered instrument like an M car.
The 2011 Dodge Challenger's steering, quickened for 2011, is still too slow for roads with actual corners, and the big boat feels a full 3 feet wider than the 1. Count on sawing at the wheel like a ship's captain as the M Coupe disappears into the mountains.
These observations were validated by our track testing, which saw the M Coupe and its wider Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s sneak through our slalom at 71.3 mph. The Challenger leaned and clawed its way to a 66.6-mph run on Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. The drubbing continued on the skid pad, where the M circled at 0.96g vs. the Challenger's otherwise respectable 0.91g performance.
Its size and power mean the M Coupe is built for carving corners and shaving apexes while the larger, heavier Challenger fishtails heroically a quarter-mile behind. But hey, powerslides are fun. Really fun.
It's easy to get lost in the minutiae of the data when fast cars are involved. The passionless results of weather-corrected track testing and the calculated weighing of feature against feature are a slap in the face to car guys everywhere. Some cars are just special even if the spec sheet doesn't tally up. And it doesn't add up in favor of the Dodge in this case.
But the unmeasurables do.
You're hooked to the Dodge from the second the start button is pressed. It erupts with a rock and a wobble from 6.4 liters of American iron. The whole car twitches and dips in response to a stab at the throttle. In that respect it's not unlike the utterly raw Challenger Super Stock drag car we raced a few years ago, except with this one you can terrorize the drag strip and your daily commute.
Maybe it's the size or the bright white paint and blue stripes, maybe it's that the 392 is an American car in Santa Monica, or maybe it's that we'd been revving the engine without moving for 9 minutes. Whatever the cause, any time a Prius driver flips you off, it's a win in our book. And it's the kind of win you'll never get in an M car.
Livability also goes to the Dodge. Its seats blend long-haul comfort with competent bolstering. The new dampers erase the old car's floaty ride and replace it with well-balanced firmness and compliance. Sixth gear at 70 works out to only 1,600 rpm in the Challenger, while the M Coupe churns at 2,250. There's also the twitchy ride and droning tire howl at speeds above 50. Don't forget, you're going to drive the M Coupe to those racetracks where it is so dominant.
These inconveniences are the price you pay for track focus.
Six vs. Eight
The new 6.4-liter doesn't rest on a baritone idle, though. This engine sings through the entire rev range. We remember the days when overhead-valve V8s would begin to choke at 5,000 rpm and demand a shift shortly thereafter. Those days are long gone and it's easy to let the siren song of 470 hp crash into the 392's 6,250-rpm rev limiter, tires ablaze. And every time you do, you giggle just a little bit.
The 2011 BMW M Coupe? It starts, runs, accelerates and idles like a vacuum. Sure, it's an expensive, exacting vacuum built by a team of engineers who fully understand sucking. And in the end it's a masterful machine carefully calibrated for sucking precision. But it's so focused on sucking that it's virtually emotionless. Even its burnouts are antiseptic.
A casual conversation between editors sealed its fate:
"You should drive the M Coupe before it goes away. It's good. Really good."
"I've got meetings all day and something for the kid tonight. Will I have any fun driving it home? I don't have time for Mulholland."
"Nah. Unless you drive it hard on the right road it's no different than a 135."
"OK, I'll take the Challenger."
Eat up, Fatty
At the end of the breakfast buffet, you don't have to explain to anyone why you took the apple. Nobody cares about apples. The 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe is like that. It's the safe answer to a singular problem. It's extremely fast and immensely effective as a driving tool. And when you appreciate it on those terms, there are precious few cars as good.
And that's precisely the problem. You'll need no terms to appreciate the 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8. No racetrack, no mountain road, no measuring instruments, nothing but a heavy right foot. It's as far from a sterile expression of speed as can be created. It's loud, raw, unapologetically American and as quick as the M Coupe in the quarter-mile. It is speed and charisma.
And the explanation for why you bought it? Well, which do you prefer...apples or doughnuts?
The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.