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The E39 M5 is an everyday supercar whose restrained exterior belies the power that comes from the monster lurking underneath its skin, a 4.9 liter V8 that makes 394 hp and will scream its way up to a 7,000 RPM redline. There’s something very pure and unadulterated about this car, and this gives it a special place in the heart of most M-enthusiasts. That purity comes from the application of a very simple (and by now seemingly old-fashioned) formula: take a big, naturally aspirated motor and add 3 pedals, 6 gears and only subtle exterior modifications to the already quite conservatively styled 5-series body shape. The product is a practical, four door sedan that you can use to pick up your groceries and drive your family to the mall. Or, blitz around the track.
Like this past weekend’s 135i, a potential alternative to the M3 that I’ve considered quite a few times is the 335i. Upping the ante a notch, in 2011 BMW introduced the 335is; ostensibly, the spiritual successor to the ZHP package that the E46 had in the 330i. As they had with the 1M, BMW kept the N54 twin-turbo motor in the 335is instead of the usual N55 single turbo that was in the 135i and 335i. Tuned up to a reported 320 horsepower and 332 lb.ft of torque, the N54-equipped 335is also enjoyed a revised short-shift 6-speed gearbox and M-Sport styling outside, bringing it closer visually to the M3 – along with unique split 5-spoke wheels. While the 335is wasn’t much of a match for the high-revving V8 of the M3, in real world conditions it wasn’t much slower – and notably, with a healthy bump in torque over the S54, the 335is matched or bettered the reported E46 M3 acceleration numbers. Having just driven an E46 M3 this past weekend, the soundtrack is great but there’s a notable lack of grunt under 3,000 RPM – certainly to be expected, but when I get into even my considerably less powerful Passat, the fun of the turbo engagement at lower revolutions to provide a healthy kick in the pants – even at partial throttle – is something it’s hard to get out of a normally aspirated car without huge displacement. On top of a bit of extra grunt and some go-faster body kit, this particular 335is was optioned in one of the better blues BMW has offered in recent generations; LeMans Blue Metallic: