One of the guys in my office recently purchased a used BMW M3 (it's a 2001 so an E46 model) and he hasn't stopped bragging about it and talking about how fast the car is and how well it handles, etc. etc. So, as a dedicated Porsche guy I challenged him to a little comparison testing.
The results were surprising:
Acceleration - To my surprise, the M3 was/is faster than my 993, I guess after seeing the spec I shouldn't have been so surprised. The BMW has 333 HP which takes you from zero to sixty in 4.8 seconds vs. 4.9 for my 97 C4S with a M64/21 engine producing 285hp. So, while it's not getting blown away, it is still a touch faster in a straight-line.
Top Speed - Very close call here. The BMW has a published top speed of 155 mhp while the 97 C4S has published top speed of 157 mph (on a side note, the C2S has top speed of 160 mph).
Transmission - To the best of my knowledge the 993C4S was not available with Tiptronic (which is a good thing). The 6 speed, close ratio transmission is easy to use and has nice, quick, short throws for fast gear changes. My friend's BMW has the SMG Drivelogic tranny or SMG II. This is a Formula 1-style electrohydraulic manual gearbox with no clutch pedal. Basically, it is an F1 style paddle shifter on the steering wheel. From a coolness factor, I think this wins, but I still prefer the feel of the clutch and a short-throw shifter.
Handling - This is purely subjective. I think the Porsche 993 C4S is the winner hands down. It basically sticks to the road and with the all-wheel drive and is much more forgiving than most other Porsches. I also think you have a better "road-feel" in the 993 than in the BMW.
Brakes - The Porsche is the clear winner here! I mean come on we're talking about the "Big Red Brakes" from the Turbo series. This car stops when you want it to and where you want it to. That's all there is to it.
Consumables and Maintenance - Both cars have their pros and cons in this area. While I don't have exact numbers on costs of ownership, the Porsche seems to have a slight advantage for a few reasons. 1. The Porsche 911 model has been around much longer and as a result has a larger number of service techs and shops available to choose from. 2. I personally know of at least four (4) 993s being driven as daily drivers with an excess of 100,000 miles each. I can't say the same for any M3 (I'm sure they exist, I just don't know of them). 3. The 993 C4S if driven lightly can receive well in excess of 24 miles per gallon; while the BMW is known to consume gas at a much higher rate.
Interior - Again, this is a subjective choice. The BMW has a more modern feel to it with a more conspicuous amount of electronics and computers. I personally like the big dials of the Porsche and that same look and feel that is uniquely Porsche from the 1960s on (my aluminum gauges don't hurt either from an aesthetic point of view). The BMW has more interior space and more trunk space, but most likely you're not buying either of these cars to store luggage or tote around a family. From a driver's perspective, the 993 is more driver friendly with the gauge layout and has more legroom than the BMW.
Appearance - The 993 is the clear winner here. Many say that the Porsche 993 C4S is the culmination of 40 years of design. The Turbo-wide body look, the aggressive stance, etc. I can't even tell you how many nights I walk out to my garage just to look at my car. It looks fast just sitting there. Recently, the MOFA in Boston did a show on some of Ralph Lauren's car collection. While the show did not include a 993 it did include a 959 (which we all know is just another 911 derivative from a styling standpoint). There wasn't an M3 to be seen within a mile of the place.
I'm interested in knowing if we have any BMW readers and your thoughts on this comparison. My opinion is biased, obviously, but I still think I fairly described things.
My cousin is a big Subaru WRX fan and has been busting my chops about how good these "tuner" cars are. I'll probably work on a little comparison of that next.