By on September 10, 2010

While reading the responses to a recent BMWBLOG posting by Josh Lewis, I noted that one of the posters had put together a very interesting comparison of the BMW M3 and the Porsche 911. To put it mildly, somebody’s gone Kirstie Alley while somebody else has stayed Goldie Hawn:

Here’s the comparison, with the data being attributed to Wikipedia, Porsche, and BMW media resources. I’ve removed the GT3 and added the Carrera 3.2 to keep things historically similar:

E30: 2,740 pounds, 192 HP, 17/29 mpg, L=171″,W=66.1″
E36: 3,219 pounds, 240 HP, 19/26 mpg, L=174.5″, W=67.3″
E46: 3,415 pounds, 333 HP, 16/24 mpg, L=176.8″, W=70.1″
E92: 3,704 pounds, 414 HP, 14/20 mpg, L=180.3″, W=70.2″

Porsche 911 (base):
911: 2,700 pounds, 207 HP, 15/22 mpg, L=169″, W=65″
964: 3,031 pounds, 247 HP, 17/25 mpg, L=168″, W=65″
993: 3,064 pounds, 282 HP, 17/25 mpg, L=167.1″, W=68.3″
996: 2,910 pounds, 296 HP, 19/28 mpg, L=174.4″, W=69.5″
997: 3,075 pounds, 325 HP, 18/26 mpg, L=175.6″, W=72.9″

*1984 Carrera 3.2 US spec

Based on what I’ve seen over a few years instructing at open trackdays, I would suggest that the average novice driver will be somewhat faster around a track in the M3, but that the difference decreases dramatically as the skill level of the drivers increases.

Who’s got it right: Porsche, which has kept weight and power close to the Nineties levels, or BMW, which keeps turning up the volume?

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41 Comments on “Ask the Best And Brightest: Should Evolution be Fat or Skinny?...”

  • avatar

    Having driven neither I can only speak of my experiances with a 2006 Miata that I owned for two years.  Mazda has gone to great lengths to keep the weight down on its tiny roadster and I think it was well worth the effort.  The car was great fun, seemed to want to constantly be on the move, loved bolting around corners, and was just a willing partner.  For all of its lightweight spirited nature, it was no worse driving on the freeway or the daily commute to the office than a more “substantial” car.  It never felt cheap or flimsy.

    I say as awesome as the M3 likely is, weight will always be the enemy.  It’s akin to a trim person and an overweight person sprinting through an obstacle course.  They might both be able to get through it, but the experience will be a lot more enjoyable for the lighter, and thus more agile, body.

  • avatar

    The M3 has grown in mass because the donor 3-series has as well, in lock step with every other car in the class. The 135i is the BMW that is more in keeping with the E30 M3 and the 911, size-wise. But, of course, BMW has hamstrung the potential of that car to protect its M3 franchise…

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch

      To even MAKE that comment..
      You’d have to totally DISREGARD the concept of the 1 series was devised to make the 3,5,7 sized cars.. larger.
      If BMW didn’t have the 1.. they’d be better off.. all the while having MINI to cover that price point.
      It’s really is quite stupid.
      A 3 series (C-D segment) car.. shouldn’t get bigger.. for the hell of it.
      No car should. But look at who got big and why. . .
      Accord got big soo Civic could rise up, so Fit could be sold in the U.S. But instead of having lightweight and tossable cars.. from Honda, ya got one FATASS D segment car (Accord), one C-D segment = midsize (Civic) and a B segment hatch (Fit).. with a gaping hole.. for a C segment hatch.. with no awd.
      Let’s look at the Altima and Maxima.. one should not be the same size as the other.. forget the issues with engines in relation to size (3.5 for Maxima only, where as SE-R Altima had it and has a 2.5 standard = stripper). Then under both (sizewise).. ya got the dirtbox called the Sentra/Versa, with a giant hole above them.. and below Maxima / Altima.
      Same hole can be said for Mazda6 vs Mazda3 size issues, as well as Legacy and Impreza, Camry and Corolla. Don’t forget about the Impala / Malibu (same size) with the Cruze and or Cobalier underneath them, with the Aveo *cough Daewoo Matiz cough*, with no hatch for Cruze, and no vehicle larger than Matiz with a hatch.
      Ya don’t have to be BIG for the hell of it!
      There is actual psychology involved.. to get the lower crap models at the bottom.. to move the rest up.
      In the end..
      Whats the point of the 5 series.. as big as a 7, even though knowing they share frames?!

  • avatar

    I think a lot of the weight gain is due to market pressure (sales) and safety. A company could probably engineer a car to be 2500lbs. but it would be small and make a poor selling sport sedan as the 3 series is.  I had a E30 4 door up to several years ago and it was smaller than the present day Honda Civic, so what was acceptable for a 4door in 1991 is way different than what is acceptable today.  I miss the smaller lighter cars of yesteryear as much as any enthusiast but afraid they are gone.  The Porsche is niche enough as a two seater that it can play the weight /size game better.

  • avatar

    We have to keep in mind that model names are just sub-brands, and that from one generation to the next, they typically don’t carry much forward. For all intents and purposes, the M3 is a whole new car each time. These increases are PURELY BUSINESS, since Bimmer stands to gain that many more customers (while losing only a few) with each more powerful and larger iteration…up to a point. A point we probably haven’t reached yet.

    However, Porsche has the luxury–or burden–of being a purist vehicle, with very high profits and relatively little competition. Most people buying a 911 are probably dead set on it, while M3 buyers have more competition and presumably a little bit less brand/model loyalty.

    Personally, I prefer the 911 ethic. Porsche usually sticks to their guns, and seeing what monstrosities have come out of all the various brands over the past few years, the Cayenne seems downright focused and consistent in comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      “Personally, I prefer the 911 ethic. Porsche usually sticks to their guns, and seeing what monstrosities have come out of all the various brands over the past few years, the Cayenne seems downright focused and consistent in comparison.”
      Yes, about the Touareg  er, Cayenne. That thing is a pig. Just my $.02

    • 0 avatar

      What’s the focus of a Cayenne?  5000lbs with AWD with 20inch wheels and summer tires?

    • 0 avatar

      werewolf34 – the newest generation Cayenne has lost weight (about 400 lbs), increased power, and improved fuel economy.

      Once again, Porsche is endlessly refining the original concept with each successive generation.

  • avatar

    After the whole 5.0L Stang vs M3 debacle, it seems to me that this weight is definitely catching up with the Bimmer.

    No doubt, Ford has done a great job with their car, but with an extra 25Gs to work with, I really don’t understand how the Bayernisch boys have failed to deliver “decisive superiority”. Atleast some of that money could have gone to a lighter car or more power…

    I have a feeling BMW is becoming less and less of the “ultimate driving machine” and more of the “ultimate posing machine”. Drive my dad’s 09 328 and you definitely feel the “heft” despite being no larger than the Cobalt parked next to it.

  • avatar

    Fat.  People age as car nameplates age – loyal customers are more likely (but not definitely) after something a little bigger, a little plusher, a little more.  If they can stick with the same car while feel like they are getting more car, everybody wins.  New customers or diehards can go after whatever the manufacturer introduces in the slot below to fill the void if they are dissatisfied with the growth (i.e. go for a Fit instead of a Civic, or the Cayman if the 911 had actually moved on, etc.).
    Heresy maybe, but practical.

  • avatar

    There is no right or wrong, just freedom of choice.   If you think BMWs have gotten too bloated, buy a Porsche.  If you think Porsches are for teenagers, buy a BMW.  And if you think both brands are expensive hair shirts for the self-conscious, buy a Hyundai.  Choice is good.
    In defense of Kirstialification, some of those older, smaller, lighter models really aren’t that great when you take off the rose-coloured glasses.  I remember my ’89 Civic Si with great fondness, but that doesn’t mean I would actually want it back.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned several Porsches and BMWs in my 40 years of driving. I’d take the Porsche for track day or a weekend in Aspen. The BMW, however, is my prefered choice as an every day around town driver.


  • avatar

    The physics/science says that extra mass is harder to accelerate or decelerate or change direction.  The myth of “road hugging weight” is just that – a myth.  If you want better maneuverability and less fuel usage – you want less mass.

  • avatar

    Jack – are you really asking an automotive forum if they prefer sports cars that weigh less? May I recommend an equally controversial follow up of “do you think your car would benefit from another 50HP?”.
    As an owner of both a Porsche and BMW I would say they are very different cars with very different approaches. I love the lightness of the Porsche when on the track or on a twisty road but that doesn’t translate into good daily commuting or road trips which is something the BMW does really well.
    BMW has definitely changed its direction in the last 20 years and is now a little more like Mercedes with an emphasis on daily usability and luxury with a sporting character.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Funny you should suggest that particular follow-up question… most people <i>would</i> like another 50hp, and they are willing to endure the weight, complexity, et al that goes with it. :)

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

     Apples and oranges, I think.  The M3 needs to work as a 4 door sports sedan and carry a child’s seat, my wife, and all our crap in 328 form as well.  A 911 is a sports car and doesn’t have to work as anything else.  Your wife/girlfriend/ date fits nicely in the passenger seat, and her designer bag will fit in the back.  (booth babe would love that line I’m sure). 

    Lighter is better on a track if you are Jack Baruth and know what the hell you are doing I guess. But most M3s and 911s will never, ever see a track, and we all know it.  If you are actually in the market for one of these, it doesn’t matter. 

  • avatar
    John Horner

    In this respect, Porsche has got it right.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    To simply answer the question: Skinny.
    I say this as a former 220lb man who has trimed up to 140lbs.  Weight is the enemy.  If you can keep that down as a car maker then you don’t have to build 500hp engines.  You could actually chase the nirvana of power and economy.

  • avatar

    I understand all the additional weight due to government regulations.  If you are forced to add features, they bring weight.
    I am sure all companies TRY to cut weight where they can but it puts great pressure on cost.
    High end, lighter materials like aluminum very likely cost more than good old cheap steel.

    I think Mazda has done a good job…but the consumer is a problem.
    The “sound” of a door closing means quality…or does it?
    My 2010 Mazda6 is very quiet and has very little wind noise.
    BUT close the door and you always wonder if you have ANY protection!  It sounds like my old 1964 Bug!

    I know it is a well built car, so why the sound?  Because Mazda seems to have found a way to use lighter materials and still keep the high safety ratings…and keep down cost.

    But the consumer very likely hears this and instantly thinks low quality.

    • 0 avatar

      I would hardly blame the weight increases of vehicles over the years on government regulations.  More like giving “consumers” what “surveys” show they want: bigger and bigger cars, which necessitate more power and heavier engines to maintain the same performance.  Airbags did add some weight, but they’ve been around in both cars for at least three generations.  Stability control?  The ABS sensors and equipment are already there.  How much could a yaw sensor and accelerometer really weigh?  Need stiffer/stronger body structure to perform well on crash tests?  Use higher strength steel with no weight penalty.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t mean to imply these were the only reasons for the weight gains.
      I am sure they are not.
      But Please include ALL required safety add ons such as glass, bumper and side impact rules.

      However, the consumer has demanded so much more.
      I sit inside my MKS and it’s loaded.
      Everything from dual moonroofs to heated/cooled seats onward to park assist and god knows how many speakers!
      This all adds up.

  • avatar

    Let’s just say it’s a sad day when 3,000 lbs. becomes the “lite” choice.

  • avatar

    Lighter all the way.

    Lighter = safer (although bigger = safer too, which USED to mean heavier = safer, hence the confusion).
    Lighter car = more HP / KG, meaning you can use a smaller engine, reducing the weight further, meaning
    you can reduce the size of the brakes, reducing the unsprung weight.
    With a smaller engine, you can place it more optimally in the car, improving weight distribution
    Smaller engine means you can go further on a tank of gas, so you can use a smaller tank, further reducing weight and meaning you can place it more optimally in the car,
    …and so on…

    The only problem, of course, is material science and costs haven’t really progressed very far – Audi and their use of aluminum is a start, as is improved design processes, composite materials, etc…
    (Can you tell I just bought a Miata?)

  • avatar

    Lotus is apparently making a strategic move upmarket. It will be interesting to see how much the cars they make to directly compete with Ferrari will weigh.
    FWIW, I think it’s a bad strategic move. You’re going to sell a lot more cars in the $40,000-$80,00 range than in the $150,000-$250,000 range. Unless the profit margins on the uprange cars are so dramatically larger, I can’t see how they’ll make up the difference.
    I think that growing their niche, which they have pretty much all to their selves, is a better strategy than competing with the expensive marques.

  • avatar

    My first car was a Datsun 510. I owned a 90s Miata before selling it for a Mustang GT 4.6l that was a pig on the road. Sold that for my first Bimmer, a e36 328i. At the same time I bought an e30 325iC. Currently, I have a ’97 BMW Z3 2.8l.
    I’ve got some experience driving cars of this basic class going back to when I was driving with training wheels.
    With the chipped e30 convertible I could hang with a 4 door S4 and a 2 door M3 through the twisties and, more or less, acceleration – at least comparable to how I could hang with those two cars in my 328i sedan. Top end around 137mph in both cases – and the S4 and e36 M3 driver were both relatively impressed. What was more important was the driving experience. Why the Mustang GT drove like a pig, the E36 and the E30 both delivered a more satisfying driving *experience* similar to both the Datsun 510 and the Miata.
    But it is a mistake to associate that “go-kart” experience solely with weight. It is also about balance and engineering. A Geo metro doesn’t have much weight, but it doesn’t have any balance, either. The Z3 is a much different ride. It isn’t *piggish* like the Mustang GT, but it is skittish and seat-of-your-pants – and I certainly don’t have the confidence in it that I had in the 510, Miata, E30 or E36.
    I am inclined to believe the Porsche is more likely to be less forgiving, and more similar to the Z3 experience in driving pleasure.
    I had a friend once describe the M3 line as “race cars in disguise as grocery-getters”, and I think that is an apt description. On that basis alone, the M3 is far more practical – and the growing belt-line makes more sense. When a Porsche can take your wife and two teens to soccer practice with all their gear in the trunk, with anything resembling comfort, and blow the doors off almost anything it runs into on the way there – then this comparo will make more sense.

  • avatar

    Given a sport suspension and comparable tires, the issue is weight, drag and power.
    The M3 has a higher CD and more weight than does a Porsche.  Porsche should be a better track car than an M3 with less HP.
    Check your dragmobile here:

  • avatar

    Several years ago I–the owner of a ’99 Accord LX 2.4 liter and stick and ~3,000 lbs–took the latest Acura TSX (euro accord–3,400 lbs) for a test drive. Because of the weight gain, the improvement was barely even marginal.
    At Skip Barber a year ago, the Cayman was Nirvana, the M3 wasn’t. And it was surely the weight that made the difference.
    @Educator(ot)Dan — most impressive.

  • avatar

    Subaru is about the only company to really make a significant effort to keep weight down, even with their size of their vehicles increasing. This is from a company that produces AWD vehicles.
    As for me, I hate model bloat. Keep it simple, light and tossable.

  • avatar

    Having driven all 3 series chassis , I can surely see worthwhile changes. The E90 is more comfortable then the E46, which is more than E36 etc. My e30 was the most communicative and progressive I felt, but also the least comfy and noisiest.  The E90 I felt could use more communication, but it was very well balanced. Personally as long as the goal is to become more communicative, balanced, faster, and trackable the weight is not such a problem. BMW needs to put some M5 magic in the 3 series.

  • avatar

    Most consumers say fatter is better, but enthusiasts are the opposite.  It’s hard to produce a 2000-lb car and a 5-star safety rating in the same package, particularly if it’s to have any utility.
    But I drive a Gen-1 xB, whose relative skinniness is part of its appeal.  I don’t need track performance and I don’t want to pay for Volvo safety.  Most of that car’s original appeal was lost in the Gen-2 xB, whose sales have dropped to 1/2 of the Gen-1.

  • avatar

    It’s a ridiculous vicious cycle. Fat Americans want fat, bloated cars and the manufacturers are obliging by making bigger cars so ppl buy them and b/c ppl buy them, they keep on making even bigger cars thinking that’s what ppl want.  What about for the normally sized ppl that want normally sized cars? I think ppl have lost a sense of what’s a “sensible” size. I have friends complaining that the 1st gen TSX or the 2nd gen Lexus IS is too small. Ppl think that the new Sonata is the right size, which I think is way too big as with Accord, Maxima, Altima, Camry, and now sadly Mazda6 and Legacy have fallen victim to this trend. The cars are simply too big! It’s not like the roads and parking spaces are becoming any bigger! What happened to those times when everyone was driving the 89-93 Accord and no one ever complained about its size! 91-96 Camry was the perfectly sized family sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      What happened to those times when everyone was driving a 57 Fairlane and no one ever complained about its size?
      I’d like to throw the scrawny whiners (er, “ppl”) of the world into the trunk of my 55 Buick where you’ll simply vanish into the dark recesses, never be heard from again.
      Here’s another perspective. I’m 6 feet tall, which is average, mind you. I’m not fat by anyone’s definition. I physically can’t fit into some of these cars. My wife’s friend offered to drive us to lunch one day. She had some kind of anonymous Japanese appliance of the type you seem to revere. We slid the passenger seat all the way back, and I couldn’t sit inside unless I propped my knees on the dash with my feet off the floor. We took our “fat ppl” Suburban instead, which I had no trouble parking. Amazing!
      And before you begin a response-rant, I will point out that my wife has a Solstice, which is very small yet perfectly comfortable. And to swerve my response back to something with with relevance to the actual blog story, the Solstice is itself sadly overweight, but it’s utterly unrelated to the interior ergonomics. In other words, you’ve completely missed the point.

    • 0 avatar

      Ok, who let the troll in?
      Someone always has to go there, and push small-minded Anti-American propaganda.
      Two people push the idea that American desires all center around the fact that we’re “fat”. Small-minded Europeans who have never travelled to America, or self-loathing Americans who haven’t travelled to Europe. At 165 pounds and 5’11”, with a wife who is 5’9″ (a good pair of heels and she is taller than me) and 130 pounds, let me tell you, when we’re in Europe, we’re surrounded by people who would be more comfortable in a Cadillac Escalade than a Porsche 911. Now… I’m often BIGGER than the Europeans around me – and so is my wife, but that is because we’re TALL compared to our relatively stature-challenged brothers and sisters across the pond. I do find that many European cars – with their Econo-box dimensions, leave me wishing for more leg and head room.
      Additionally, you’ll find that most Europeans have smaller family units, live in smaller houses (flats, really) in metropolitan areas and travel less. Americans tend to have larger families, live further from the metro areas, and travel more. Culturally, taking the kids and a couple of friends all over town for various activities isn’t as big of a challenge for Europeans. You can argue that our lifestyle of trips to the mall and to swim, volleyball, soccer, football and baseball practice with all the attendant gear in tow is somehow a bankrupt lifestyle if you would like – at least there you would have some sort of logic and reason behind your argument – something better than a first year liberal-arts student’s argument that, “Americans want big cars because they’re fat”.
      Here, let me come up with a counter-argument that is just as lame as the idea that cars are fat because Americans are fat. I.Q. is clearly directly related to car size. People with bigger brains want bigger cars. That is why my daily driver isn’t my Z3, or even my wife’s X5. Nope, I’m such a genius my daily driver actually *is* a Cadillac Escalade.
      How is your Smart car working out for you, laoh?
      Ok… leaving that aside, I think the comments here show – pure enthusiasts want light, tossable, impractical cars. Those of us who are enthusiasts but don’t have Jerry Seinfield’s bank account appreciate that the M3 gives us a relatively affordable, relatively practical alternative – even those of us who don’t have size 46″ waistbands.

    • 0 avatar

      . Now… I’m often BIGGER than the Europeans around me – and so is my wife, but that is because we’re TALL compared to our relatively stature-challenged brothers and sisters across the pond.
      Donovan, like it or not, America is rapidly becoming Land of the Lard.  Check out the active map at the link below.  It has nothing to do with height.

  • avatar

    It’s remarkable to me that after a 300 Lbs increase between the 911 and 964 variants, Porsche has managed to keep the weight stable for 20 years while adding more features and meeting ever stricter government regulations and growing a few inches too, and don’t forget adding a water cooling system along the way. Power has gone up and fuel efficiency has improved. Well done Porsche.

  • avatar
    That should settle the issue of obesity in America…It’s not trolling Donovan, it is the sad truth. Cars are not the only thing that have exploded in size.

  • avatar

    You know what amazes me? The same people who were furious that our government got it wrong on the WMD claim in Iraq will throw a CDC report on obesity onto the table as if it is indisputable fact and not potentially biased by government agenda.
    But if you read that report, it has an underlying theme that neither the media nor the people who want to claim *America* is fat want to face up to…
    Go ahead, follow golden2husky’s link to the CDC report, read the report and then ask yourself…
    Does this report actually apply to the typical target demographic of a North American Porsche or M3 buyer. Because it is clear that even golden2husky didn’t take the time to actually understand the CDC report, I’ll save some time here. The answer is “no”. The typical target demographic of a North American Porsche or M3 buyer is probably among the LEAST likely to be affected by obesity in our society.
    The more granular this report gets, the clearer it is that the “obesity epidemic” isn’t as broad as the media and the government would like you to believe – and where it is hitting the *worst* isn’t in a segment of society that is most likely to be looking for a Stuttgart badge on their car.

    It is trolling. It is bringing an entirely unrelated political talking point into a discussion about automobiles. It has no place here.

    Another flaw with this argument – the American *hubris* that these cars were designed with the *AMERICAN* body-type in mind. Let’s be clear. The UK is the second fattest nation in the world, closely following America’s statistics, but without the radical divide by ETHNICITY in obesity. You know where the trends align? By income and level of education. To wit, the UK’s weight problem isn’t largest among those most likely to be looking at a luxury German badge as an automobile purchase. Going further, there is a huge concentration of purchasing power in the Middle East in nations like Dubai and Saudi Arabia. These are huge markets for Porsche and high-end BMWs. The argument that these kind of cars are growing in size because America is *fat* is spurious. It isn’t like the difference in euro-spec and American-spec accommodates for American *body* size.

    But you’re right, there is an epic explosion of not having any critical thinking skills in America today, and it is tragic.

  • avatar

    Strange… my IQ is in the 140-ish and up range and I drive a compact. Maybe I should upsize…

    I think it’s awfully misleading to compare a sports sedan (two-door or four, it’s still a sedan) based on a mainstream model and a sports car that isn’t. The 911 hasn’t had to get bigger to keep up with the Joneses… the M3 has.
    Look at the aforementioned Miata… Mazda has kept the weight gain minimal between generations, even as their compact cars have gained more and more weight. Used to be their Familia weighed about as much as a Miata, but the new Mazda3 is about 400+ pounds more than the current MX-5 with the same engine (2.0).

    I’m sure a lot of us would like to see a return to simpler days when we all drove cars with Twiggy-sized waistlines…. but there’s a good reason why cars are bigger nowadays… I might miss the light and nippy feeling of the car I learned on (a 93′ Sentra… arguably the best Sentra there ever was)… but I don’t miss scrunching up my legs to fit in the back seat (or the front!), the way crosswinds would blow you two lanes to the right or the wonderful crash safety that the thin tin-panels afforded.

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