2009 BMW M3: Comparison Drive, Part Two
August 04, 2009
[The following is a continuation of yesterday's M3 comparison drive post. Your editor has finished his drive with the M3 and is ready for the follow-up with a base Corvette coupe.]
I've just saddled up into the cabin and it's already not looking good for America. Literally. Our Detroit editor Dan Pund once described the new Dodge Challenger's interior as a "dour black bog." Having just come out of the M3, this is comparatively what the Vette's interior looks like.
There's no pretty two-tone interior with metallic trim. Nor is there a fancy navigation screen or iPod adapter. And compared to the M3's meaty steering wheel, the Corvette's Cobalt-issue wheel feels spindly and too big in diameter. It doesn't telescope, either. Everything has just taken a step down in refinement, as if I've moved from a lovely villa in San Francisco into a rented apartment in Fresno.
Is this a forehead-smacking "I should have bought an M3!" moment? Nah. Because then I fire up the big 6.2-liter V8 and things get better immediately. At idle, the Corvette's sound is deeper, more guttural and vastly more pleasing than the M3's. It's also helped by the fact that the Corvette is cheating a little -- it has the optional dual-mode exhaust that's been hot-wired to be fully open on demand. (A 40-second video of the dual-mode exhaust (it's a black Vette but not mine) can be found here.)
My friend in the Aston Martin V8 Vantage couldn't stay around, so it's just me rumbling out of town. The Corvette has a pretty comfortable ride quality, even with the equipped Z51 sport package. Over bumps, though, the Corvette is less complaint than the M3, especially if the M3's dampers are set to the base "Comfort" mode.
Out on the country roads, departing after a stop sign gives me the chance to work the V8, umm, just a little. And yes, holy schnikeadees, you better make sure the front wheels are straight because the Corvette is ridiculously quick. With less weight to move and more torque than the M3, the accelerating Vette could fool me into thinking there's a rocket strapped where the exhaust normally is.
Shifting gears takes a tad more time than it does in the M3, but the shifter still has a pleasingly meaty and solid feel to it. In general, the Vette's drivetrain comes off as more thuggish than the M3's high-strung V8, but each is undeniably addictive in its own way. Every time you get on the Vette's throttle, you'll want to sing out the chorus from the Team America: World Police theme song.
At the start of the curvy road section, I'm predicting a humbling beat-down for the Corvette. The early sensation is that I'm just sitting in and driving the Corvette, whereas with the M3 I felt like I was part of a more collaborative effort. But the Vette quickly shows that it's not a gold-chain-wearing lump either. Once set for the corner, it has a ferocious grip on the road and generates cornering speeds just as high as or higher than the M3's. The steering actually provides a decent level of feedback and has a pleasing level of heftiness to it as well.
But I must admit, this Corvette is cheating a little again -- it has two fixes meant to address complaints we've generally had about the C6 (and noted in our recent 2009 Corvette follow-up test). Inside there's a more heavily side-bolstered aftermarket driver seat that gets rid of the lame factory "shaped for old, fat men" seat. And it also received a recent spot-on wheel alignment that resulted in the car being able to turn in more sharply (i.e., the way it should). It's fairly common for Corvettes to leave the factory with wonky alignment setups.
Even so, it's pretty obvious to me which car is the "better car" as I finish up the drive for the Corvette. Our M3 isn't as quick in a straight line, gets worse fuel economy and doesn't look as cool, but just about everything else about it for this 100-mile comparison is superior.
Of course, there is the price issue -- our M3 stickers for $67,370, or a current Edmunds True Market Value (TMV) of about $64,000. A 2009 Corvette equipped like mine has a TMV of about $48,250. Now, this isn't a direct comparison -- our long-term M3 is pretty loaded up and my Vette's a stripper. Order a Corvette with the navigation system and the top-shelf "4LT" interior and TMV rises to $55,577.
So, let's just say it's about eight grand more for the M3. Is it worth it? No question. Our long-termer is a sedan that you can drive everyday to work and then still keep up with just about any sports car on a mountain road or track on the weekend.
But a lightly equipped Corvette, especially if you get it a sweet deal on it, is stil an awesome performance value.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor