Asymmetric warfare: A couple months back I had the privilege of testing three incredible machines: a 997 GT3 RS 3.8, an RS 4.0, and an RS 3.8 with the engine bored and stroked to 4.1 liters. My 1M came along for the ride as the camera car for a few days of amazing driving. While it’s unquestionably unfair to compare BMW’s cheapest M car to an RS 4.0, a car now 4x it’s price and in my opinion one of the finest things ever to come out of Weisach, I’m going to do it anyway. Because, well, I can, and because I thought you guys might enjoy a little write-up.
Of the three RSs, it was the 4.0 that impressed the most. The engine didn’t have the punch of the 4.1, especially in the torque department, but the way everything worked together, particularly the suspension, was sublime. It’s one of those cars that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and given the parts involved that’s saying something.
Coming from the 1M everything in a GT3 RS feels weighty on first impression. The steering is heavier, the clutch feels nearly double the weight, and even the gearshift has more heft, as if the whole cars is simply more serious. It leaves me slightly conflicted- the steering feels great and the clutch doesn’t bother, but the shift leaves room for improvement. It’s remarkably shorter throw, but where a 1M gate feels like Nylon, the RS feels like metal that hasn’t quite been de-burred. The sharp edges feel just notchy enough to slow progress- I admit, surprisingly, to slightly preferring the 1M’s. The seating position in the 4.0 is clearly better, though- low and just right, vs the “on” rather than “in” the car of the taller BMW.
Once rolling the 4.0 surprises by not feeling hugely fast. It is of course, but it disguises its speed, simply because it puts it down so well. You’d expect the rear end to squirm trying to channel 500 hp, but it only hints at any strain. It uses the same massive tires and rear weight bias that let a GT2RS put down well over 100 extra horsepower, so at first the 4.0 feels surprisingly over-tired. The 1M, of course, is the exact opposite: it borrows its rear end and tires from a car that puts around 100 ft lbs less to the wheels, and it clearly demonstrates this by squirming and shimmying down the road when the boost hits. They are two very different ways to go similarly fast at lower speeds, the slower car feeling surprisingly quicker than the faster. But just a moment later the 1M begins to run out of breath just where the 4.0 is hitting its stride, and the gap widens towards redline as the GT3 feels nearly quick as it really is.
It’s nearing this redline that the 4.0 starts to gel. Initially it’s almost a cold fish, so locked down that you don’t get the feedback you’re looking for to judge grip and speed. Push the envelope, however, and you learn the RS 4.0’s true personality comes out: a faithful German Shepard that really wants to play. The harder you push, the better it gets, damping, body control, feedback, brakes, engine... It’s biggest fault is that the limits are simply so high for the street- playing like this can get you in big, big trouble. But it may well be worth it- the sound, rowing through the gears, the massive traction out of the corners.
The 1M, on the other hand, is again hugely different in character. At reasonable speeds it’s even more playful- boot the throttle with TC off and you’ll get easy sideways slip angles in first gear that you’d never see in the 4.0, which would simply take off. If you’re comfortable with an arm full of lock you can find all kinds of excuses to have stupid fun well below the speed limit. But as the pace increases this advantage becomes a deficit, and chasing an RS exposes this clearly. If 4.0 is a German Shepard then the 1M is Labrador puppy, even more playful but a little clumsy once it gets really stuck in. On real world roads the 1M losses poise over bumps, leaning, sliding and flailing out of bends while the locked down RS puts lengths on it. In slippery conditions in the 1M you’ll either have an arm full of lock or the TC light nearly constantly lit, while the ridiculous traction and poise of the RS lets it walk away. The 1M shouldn’t be able to stick with a 4.0, so no surprise that it can’t, but in the wet driving the wheels off it trying becomes less than fun. The stock 1M’s comfort zone is really low to medium speeds and drier pavement- leave this and it becomes less efficient, while the RS 4.0’s comfort zone is much, much wider.
That said the 1M may well be the better everyday tool, precisely because of its affinity for lower speed fun. The 4.0 is nice to drive slowly, make no mistake, but after you experience it driven quickly it’d be awfully difficult to both put a lot of miles on and hold onto your license. The 1M, on the other hand, can feel fast while going slow, both an advantage and disadvantage.
It’s hard to imagine two cars more similar and yet more different. Both are low volume 2011 collector cars, some of the sportiest models available from the sportiest German manufactures. Both are rear wheel drive driver’s cars, have spectacular brakes, engines, and manual transmissions, and both are worth more now than new. However one is precise and efficient, turning every ounce of thrust into forward motion, while the other is a hooligan that earned its reputation largely by doing the opposite. The solution is obvious- get one of each, and I undoubtedly would, using the 1M daily and then taking the 4.0 out for the occasional more serious blast. Unfortunately with 4.0s now trading above 300k this is a luxury likely to remain out of reach for nearly all of us. One day, however, if my ship comes in, I’ll certainly be able to make a little extra room in the garage. Until then I’ll be contented driving my 1M, sideways and as much as possible.