What you see on these pages is a classic battle of the old school vs. the new. In the blue corner we've got the reigning champ, the awesome E46 M3 and its high-revving 3.2-liter engine, paragon of in-line six-cylinder performance. But wait, there's more. Nik Saran of VF Engineering outfitted the car with an intercooled supercharger system enlarging the M3's generous power curve.
In the red corner, we have the new 335i, the first factory turbocharged BMW has produced in more than 30 years and bearing the latest in BMW technology, including new Precision Injection and double VANOS. And there's two-count 'em-two turbos beneath the hood, smallish units with reactive temperaments.
Although you could argue the E46 M3 is relatively dated, it could also be said that the car (and its brilliant engine) was ahead of its time. It only takes a few miles behind the wheel of an M3 to realize its brilliance. What ensues is an engaging, visceral thrill ride, one hell of a hard act to follow. Almost.
Whereas the M3 is raw and visceral, the 335i is serene and quietly confident. The big difference is the 335i doesn't seem like it's even trying. Does the term 'powerfully relaxed' make sense? Probably not, but that's the impression I got from the new BMW turbo.
VF Engineering M3If you're looking for a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool sports car, look no further than the VFE M3. Saran and company have done a fabulous job designing the supercharger system to work with the high-strung S40 engine. Running a modest 5.5 psi of boost, the Vortech supercharger exhales into a proprietary VFE intake manifold/plenum, an aluminum affair that replaces the factory's high-tech plastic unit and its assorted guts. VFE uses a charge-cooler (air-to-water) system, leaving the engine more resistant to heat soak, an absolute necessity for consistent boosted performance.
VFE has gone to great lengths ensuring its system is both robust and factory correct; basically, everything is overbuilt. The bracketry is wrought from heavy aircraft-quality aluminum and the piping is fabricated from the same crinkle-coated polypropylene BMW uses.
Clamps, fittings, idler pullies, oil lines and belts are also culled from BMW's parts bin. With the exception of the blower itself (gleaming chrome), the entire VFE kit appears to have been there since birth.
This M3 also wears a full set of Alcon brakes from our friends at Stasis Engineering. The front units are six-piston monoblock calipers with 14.4-inch two-piece rotors; the rears, four-piston monoblock calipers and 13-inch two-piece rotors. The Alcons are immensely powerful and benefit from being designed specifically for this application. In other words, this is not a one-size-fits-all, big-brake glamour kit. The Alcons are the real deal and their effectiveness is undisputed. Running gear is ultra-lightweight Volk Racing TE37 Limited Edition (18.5 pounds each). Their 19-inch diameter is offset with a diamond-cut lip and a unique inwardly angled configuration. The suspension underpinnings have been modified to include H&R RSS coilovers, a decidedly sporty set-up for aggressive street or moderate track use.
Although it's stickered up with rice-boy decals, the VFE car is fairly understated, and that's where the much of its appeal lies. On the road, it behaves with such fine mannerisms it's almost impossible to ascertain what's happening under the hood. The supercharger is virtually undetectable from inside the car; only a faint reedy whistle is audible to fellow drivers. As much as I'd like to say the M3 turns positively monstrous under load, such is not the case. It retains its poise right up to redline, somewhere slightly north of 7750 rpm. The real shock comes from the speedometer as triple digits appear with frightening brevity. And this is the real beauty of the VFE system. The M3 behaves like before, only it's faster, quite a bit faster. Quarter-mile runs in a similarly-equipped VFE-supercharged M3 reportedly saw times of 13 seconds at 119 mph. Too bad our car suffered a slipping clutch, because I'm convinced a VFE M3 could easily hit the mid 12s-if that sort of thing is of interest.
At first look, this 335i appears extraordinarily ordinary. No fancy wheels, no massive brakes; even the tires are stock. And that's what's so intriguing. Equipped with a little black box no bigger that a pack of French smokes, this BMW simply rips. If you haven't spent much time in a new 335i, you're missing out on a new definition of refinement. Smooth as glass and scary quiet, the 335i features a distinct harmonic, something like the supercharged P51 Mustangs of old. Not especially loud, mind you, but unique.
Out of the box, the 335i is already a quick piece. Packing 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, more than a few people are already calling it an M3 Killer, the car with the potential to kill BMW's favorite son (the not-yet-introduced E92 M3). I don't think the crew in Munich is worried, not at this point, at least. If they were to spend a few days behind the wheel of this car, they might get nervous.
There's a certain amount of voodoo going on here; few modifications this simple net such stunning results, not without eventual repercussions, anyway. Perhaps souls are an accepted form of payment. In any case, we found it impossible to keep the Vishnu 335i connected to the ground. The first three gears were met with gobs of thick, white smoke, the kind Camaro boys love. Leaving DSC active allowed the BMW some semblance of traction and we indulged in bowel-squeezing, turbocharged fun. We would find an open stretch of road, launch, brake and repeat. We did this for the better part a day, enough to burn through two tanks of premium.
So which is more important, torque or horsepower? The explosive torque of Vishnu's 335i is intoxicating but somewhat short-lived. Although both cars are virtually neck-and-neck to 60 mph, the M3 soon hits the afterburners and leaves the young upstart in the dust. Comparing the dyno sheets is a study in polar opposites, a teeter-totter type affair.
Although both cars have the same parent, their personalities are very different. The supercharged M3 is a Type A personality: powerful, aggressive, outspoken. Moreover, the revamped suspension and brakes left this car a highly track-worthy entity, a vehicle you could drive to the local circuit, flog, and go home on the same tank of fuel. The M3 is still the alpha male of all BMW 3 Series.
The Vishnu 335i is more relaxed and provides a sense of serene isolation. It doesn't feel so much in the world but skimming its surface. Although 335i tuning is in its infancy, it's a forgone conclusion this car will become the Toyota Supra of the Euro bunch. Give it a few months and watch as this new turbocharged stud shakes the industry.
BMW fans have never had it so good
+ Tuner Takes
*Given the 335i's potential, we spoke with a few key industry players regarding product development. Our thinking is this: if a simple black box can provide a significant power boost, what would happen if you access the entire computer? Answer: even more power and responsiveness.
"We acquired a 335i development car and have just now started probing the ECU," says Garrett Lim. "The 335's computer is an entirely new processor, very fast and capable but also somewhat sensitive to heat and stability issues. In any case, it is a significant upgrade and will allow us even more control. We'll let you know the moment we have anything concrete."
"We're going through 'stages' with the 335i, deciding what the best improvements are and what the mandatory improvements are," says TMS founder Will Turner. "Right now, our car has been fitted with software, a limited-slip diff, cat-back exhaust, larger intercooler and oil cooler, coilover suspension and Hartge aerodynamics. We're going to shake it down on the track, see what breaks and fix them so they don't."
As usual, the crew at Dinan had little to say about its intended 335 development. However, given Steve Dinan's extensive experience with BMW turbocharging, one can safely assume great things will come out of its Northern California operation. Dinan will make us wait until it's perfect... which is exactly what we'd expect.
Aaron Neumann of Neuspeed has been a busy, busy man. Apparently, more than a few of his distributors have been begging for 335i upgrades, developments Neumann is 95 percent close to realizing. At this point, Neumann has been able to access the code via BDM (backdoor debugging management) and found what amounts to the Holy Grail in terms of access and tunability. By the time the magazine hits the newsstands Neuspeed will most likely have software capable of wringing great gobs of power from the 335i. Like all Neuspeed products, it will be solid and yet safe. It's where we'd take our own 335i for tuning.
+ Voodoo Tuning
How that little black box makes its magic*Anyone who's tuned a car in the past 10 or 15 years is familiar with the infamous 'chip.' Chip tuning really came into its own with the proliferation of turbo cars. It suddenly became easy for tuners to turn up the boost and make big power gains for minimal monetary outlay. Hard mods like intakes and exhausts suddenly looked like a rip-off when compared to a chip or ECU reflash.
As you can imagine, vehicle manufacturers aren't that excited about tuners having such easy access to turning their conservatively tuned and warranty-friendly machines into what they consider ticking time bombs. OEs are now trying everything they can to stop or at least slow down the development of chips and aftermarket software.
BMW has really thrown down the gauntlet with its new twin turbo 335i. The engineers clearly spent extra hours trying to make this ECU extra tough to crack. Lucky for us there are computer nerds like Vishnu's Shiv Pathak. While many looked at the 335i and claimed it couldn't be reprogrammed, Pathak knew from experience it would just require a different angle of attack.
A piggyback computer allows the tuner to intercept all the data going between the car and the ECU in both directions. Working between the car's sensors and the ECU allows the tuner to leave some data alone, allowing the car to make changes to operating parameters as needed, while other data is modified to values the ECU is comfortable with. When asked why he prefers this system over a flash Shiv replies: "We knew this engine was going to be used in the 5 Series, 1 Series, etc. We wanted a product that can be moved from one car to another. We also wanted to implement additional functionality such as launch control, user customization, on-the-fly mapping and other things that aren't all possible with a reflashed ECU."
After hundreds of hours of testing, Vishnu came up with the PROcede Tuning System. While 'tuning system' may be a bit overstated for a small box and a wiring harness, you can't argue with the results. The car showed 345 hp and 391lb-ft of torque at the wheels on the dyno.
Pathak is more than happy to share exactly how his product works and what went into making it work. When they started, there was no data available on the car; the dealer couldn't even provide them with a list of error codes. They had to log every code, determine what caused it, and work out what each meant. Every pin in the ECU harness had to be traced back to the sensor by hand-obviously, very tedious.
When they actually started tuning, they began with 16 channels of data, but soon found that only four channels were really necessary to achieve what they were looking for. This means that aside from those four aspects the PROcede is modifying, your car is running on factory programming. The customer can, however, specify different channels to be used for different features. Gear based boost control and launch control are just a few of the options available.
The big question is always about the warranty. This part gets sticky for everyone. Unlike a standard reflash, in the event of a catastrophic failure the car owner could pull out the PROcede box and no one would ever know. The factory ECU would show that the engine was operating within factory specs when the failure occurred and they would have a tough time not honoring your warranty. Does this mean you will have to remove the system every time the car goes in for service? Pathak assures us the only way to find the Procede unit is to physically look for the box; the dealer won't find it through the OBD-II port.
Vishnu Tuning originally only offered the Procede direct to customers at dyno days. After large amounts of testing on different cars, in different conditions, they have proven the product is useable everywhere. You can now order straight from Vishnu's website and they will send out the computer and instructions for you to install it yourself. -Michael Febbo
2005 Bmw M3 SuperchargedLayout
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.2-liter in-line six, dohc, 24-valve, supercharged and intercooled
H&R RSS coilovers
Stasis/Alcon six-piston monobloc calipers, 14.4-inch rotors (f)Rear- Stasis/Alcon four-piston monobloc calipers 13-inch rotors (r)
Wheels and Tires
2007 BMW 335iLayout
Volk Racing LE 37T, 19x8.5 (f) 19x10.5 (r)Toyo T1-R, 245/35 (f), 275/30 (r)
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.0-liter in-line six, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled, PROcede performance computer
In the quest for balanced testing, european car will standardize its fuel with Texaco. In an effort to level the playing field on all testing, we have determined that the consistency and quality of Texaco fuels will eliminate variations in testing and reduce outside influences on the testing process. A premium quality fuel allows the car to run at maximum efficiency while testing without having to worry about knock or detonation. The proprietary detergent additive package in the fuel allows fuel injection components to operate as designed, reducing the likelihood of variation.-Michael Febbo
The dyno graphs above really illustrate just how different the power delivery is on these two cars. The 335i, with its two small turbos, is all about low-end torque and instant power. The supercharged M3 behaves exactly as it did stock, high revving and high-strung. The 335i feels like a bigger engine, you might even say similar to a V8. You can cruise at low revs and the power is always there. Turbo lag doesn't exist, even at the low end. By 6000 rpm, the show is over and it doesn't reward you to bang the thing off the rev limiter. The M3 feels like a smaller, naturally aspirated race engine. You want to keep this thing on the boil all the time. Below 4500 rpm, there isn't much going on, but past there things happen in a hurry. Unlike most supercharged engines, this thing wants you to swing the needle all the way around. Power just keeps building until 7750 rpm. Once someone swaps some larger turbos into a 335i, it will feel closer to the M3. Until then, these two will remain night and day.