You, me, the parking lot... one hour!"
The cry rang out through the offices like a schoolyard dare. One of european car's own would square off against the quintessential bully, the Viper ACR. More than a dozen fellow editors stood dumbstruck, their faces pressed against the second-story window like a row of owls, waiting for the challenge to go down. Project M3 and the Viper ACR sat on the pavement below, snarling at each other. It was go time.
If Disney wrote this story, a couple of acne-faced, weak-suck misfits would team up to beat the handsome but spoiled rich kid and his way-bitchen car. Along the way, the two losers would learn that teamwork and friendship are the most important things in life, while the rich kid would learn that all his money and charm don't mean shit. And then it would be great because one of them would get this babe cheerleader and the other would become a famous automotive engineer whose designs surreptitiously save lives. They could call it "Faster and Even More Furious."
No, in this story, the bad guy wins, the losers go home and play Gran Turismo 2, and the girl drives off in an Isuzu Trooper with Cindy, the world's toughest software salesman.
Whoever coined the phrase "walk softly and carry a big stick" was not referring to the Viper ACR. An unabashed extrovert, the Viper ACR announces its presence with all the subtlety of a 2x4 across the back of the head. And it's about as comfortable. The Viper's lure is not its road manners, akin to wrestling with a Ritalin-addled bull, and it's certainly not its cabin, which has all the spacious comfort of a 747's toilet. No, the Viper ACR isn't concerned about making its drivers cushy--its main purpose is to crush the guy in the next lane, humiliate him, brutalize him. The Viper and its 460 bhp and 500 lb-ft of twist was born to crack heads, pure and simple.
In contrast, Project M3 is the ultimate introvert. Dressed in black paint and black wheels with an engine quieter than a box of mouse farts, Project M3 attracts little attention save for the odd BMW enthusiasts who appear hypnotized by its presence. If you wanted to make a car invisible, this was a good start.
In a deserted industrial park just south of nowhere, we squared the two off; the 2-mile stretch before us would tell more than a dozen dyno charts, flow benches and Internet sites ever could. I would drive the Viper and Pablo the M3.
In an effort to save the BMW's waning clutch, we opted for a rolling start. At 40 mph, I dropped the Viper's hammer and did my best to keep things straight.
If there's one thing the Viper does well, it's go fast in a straight line. At very low rpm, the V10's massive torque curve is 90-percent realized, filling the cabin with a demonic, truck-like roar. In third gear, the Viper feels like it can go forever, and while the speedometer quickly swung northward, the tach was in no hurry. If the M3 was making any noise, I couldn't hear it, although I did see Pablo frenetically working the gears. The two cars were absolutely neck-and neck until 110 mph, when I sloppily caught fourth gear and the Viper dropped back a few feet. It was then I heard the M3's exhaust note, a screech more like a booster rocket than an automobile.
The Viper caught up eventually, and it was obvious it would pull the M3 but only because the BMW ran out of forward gears and its current turbocharger ran out of breath. We will remedy both and issue a rematch.
What we learned in this little test is that Project M3 is a well-mannered monster, a comfortable sedan with capabilities on a par with a sports coupe packing nearly three times the displacement. And don't even start with driveability, because there's no comparison. The Viper is a terrible ride, a dinosaur of a car whose hard and jittery demeanor has all charm of a psychotic shifter cart. I like it, but I also like cars that can hold more than an Evian bottle and a gym bag. If you need an example of a utilitarian supercar, look no further than Project M3.