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S54 M Coupe vs Volvo P1800, Jaguar XKE, E36 M3, E46 M3C

Don Eilenberger has had the fortune to own some very nice cars over the years including his current S54 M Coupe. Here’s how they compare:

I’m on my second M-Coupe now. Had one in ’99 when they first came out, now have an ’01 S54 one.

Volvo P1800

Other cars of some interest I’ve owned (or own) – lots of Volvo P1800′s (S’s and an E). A 2,700lb car with 115-130HP. 0-60 was actually respectable for it’s time, a tad over 10 seconds (fast was ANYTHING under 12..) Handling was where the P1800 came into it’s own. Even with skinny 180-15 tires on it, it outhandled almost any sports car of the era that wasn’t a Ferrari, or.. Jag, which was my next neat car. The P1800′s set me up for 2 seat sports cars, with a short overhang, and the driver seat closer to the rear wheels.

1965 Jaguar XKE Roadster

Had a ’65 XKE Roadster. The view down the hood of the M-Coupe is about identical to the XKE view, except the XKE had functional  louvers in the hood and chrome washer jets – plus 3 wipers.

Handling was outstanding for narrow tall tires, ride quality was excellent due to the full independent suspension (rare at the time), and performance – the car weighed less then 3,000lbs, and had an honest 275HP 4.2Liter straight 6 in it. It did 0-60 in something like 7 seconds, outstanding for it’s time. Top speed was 150MPH, again, outstanding for the time. Mine would do an honest 140MPH with the top down.

Jaguar XKE 4.2 Performance

The driving experience of the XKE, bear-trap clutch pedal, direct no-power steering comes closest to the M-Coupe. It was a raw visceral car, easily capable of chirping the tires in 2nd gear at 40MPH, something I resist doing in the M-Coupe (but I’m sure it would if I turned off the DSC.)

1998 E36 M3

That car started my love of I6 engines. I owned a lot of BMWs through the years, but one other favorite worth comparing to the M-Coupe was the E36/M3. Had a convertible with the S52 engine and 5-Speed ZF. Much like the M-Coupe the grip on corners never stopped, and the S52 engine could pull like a freight train. It had a certain raw quality to it compared to the current E46/M3 convertible, which is much more civilized than the M-Coupe.

2002 E46 M3 Convertible

I now own 2 M’s, the M-Coupe and the ’02 M3C. If I was given the choice of only owning one of them, the M-Coupe is the keeper. The E46/M3C is my winter beater.. :)

There is more power in the E46/M3C, but it’s used less effectively (more weight by about 400lbs does that..) The shifter in the M-Coupe is far superior to the M3 shifter (which was fully reworked during a clutch job recently), having a much more precise pattern. Clutch on the M3 takes about 1/2 the effort of the M-Coupe, but the M-Coupe beats itfor feel once I removed the rubber hose (and restrictor) and replaced it with a flexible stainless hose.

I saw mention of the exhaust note on the coupe – I love it. It’s deep and not obnoxiously loud. Unfortunately – I also love the “rasp” the M3is imfamous for – it’s such a great mechanical sound I wish the M-Coupe had a bit of it (although it has attracted some undesired LEO attention once or twice.)

M3 radio, HVAC, seats, interior room, interior finish quality all beat out the M-Coupe, but it doesn’t actually matter. The M3 is a bit too civilized to really make my blood rush. The M-Coupe is a perfect combination of raw motoring and performance for me. That’s why I’m on my 2nd one. I bought this one after test driving one for a friend who was considering buying one, and I remembered just how much fun the M-Coupe was. It still is, and it’s usually the one I pick to drive if I don’t take my BMW bike to work.

If you have a comparison to share, please send it to me at and I’ll post it.


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Jon Martin
Fort Collins, CO