At first blush, the BMW M2 and Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 are unlikely rivals and have very little in common.
The former is a small, European coupe, the latter a big, all-American muscle machine with two more cylinders and a lot more displacement. But if you take a moment to really compare these two cars, you’ll soon learn that they’re prime adversaries, even if they have a number of significant differences. Which one do we prefer? Well, it’s tough to pick a favorite.
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The M2 is a fine performance machine, one that marks BMW’s return to its roots of building no-nonsense, driver-focused cars. Finally, a model from Munich that enthusiasts can be proud of, not another over-styled, overweight crossover monstrosity.
As for the Shelby, it’s a high-winding take on the traditional Mustang formula. It features rear-wheel drive, advanced adjustable dampers and a burly V8 engine , one that sports a flat-plane crank and spins past 8,000 rpm!
Poetry in Motion
Starting with the M2, its incredible refinement is betrayed after half a block of driving. Whether you’re commuting to work or bombing around a track, every bit of this car feels like it was thoughtfully and comprehensively engineered.
Certainly, one part of it that received more than its share of attention is found just ahead of the driver’s knees. This BMW’s 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine is an absolute sweetheart, blitzing from idle to redline with less vibration than an electric motor.
Thanks to turbocharging and direct injection, it pushes out an impressive 365 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque. An overboost function increases the latter figure by 27 for short bursts. Sparing you unnecessary math, that brings the total to 370 lb-ft.
The top-end power this engine offers is incredible; it pulls with shocking authority clear to its upper limits. In fact, it’s muscular enough to propel the M2 from a standstill to 60 miles an hour in just 4.3 seconds, or a scant 4.1 if you opt for the available dual-clutch automatic transmission.
But why would you want that? The manual gearbox is perfect, with a shifter that’s light to the touch and more fluid than the Danube River; there’s even an automatic rev-matching feature that makes even the most unskilled drivers look like Lewis Hamilton. On top of this, the car’s clutch is nicely weighted and easy to modulate, attributes that make driving the M2 as easy as putting on pants.
Directional changes are made via a meaty, leather-wrapped steering wheel. This interface element is a little light to the touch but, like the shifter, accuracy is one of its most valuable assets as it allows you to place the M2 within fractions of an inch of where you want it to go.
Hang on Tight!
That level of precision is a little tough to come by in the Shelby GT350 because this rarified Mustang feels miles wider than the BMW and nearly twice as heavy. In reality, it’s less than four bills more massive, clocking in at 3,791 pounds with the optional track package compared to 3,450 for an M2 with a stick.
No, Dearborn’s best doesn’t offer the same nimbleness or handling intuition as its German rival — dense best describes the Shelby’s steering — but this doesn’t mean the car lacks its own unique advantages. In fact, the biggest plus it offers will make your hair stand on end every time you paw the start button.
This car’s main draw is a 5.2-liter V8 that brandishes a flat-plane crankshaft, engineering black magic that significantly reduces the rotating assembly’s mass, providing faster acceleration and better overall performance. This change, along with countless others compared to a standard Coyote V8, makes a world of difference, blowing us away with a 526-horsepower stampede and 429 lb-ft of torque.
What those numbers don’t convey is just how eager this engine is; it feels more energetic than a littler of Labrador puppies that were just fed coffee grounds. Remarkably flexible in normal driving, this V8 nonetheless explodes at the top end, pushing you back into your seat with a determined heave as the tachometer needle sweeps past seven grand on its way to a heady 8,250-rpm redline. Whoa, is this a Mustang or a Ferrari? Even the most knowledgeable enthusiast probably couldn’t tell the difference riding shotgun while blindfolded.
In addition to insane top-end pull, the Shelby’s power delivery is linear and smooth, with scarcely any discernable dips or peaks. This engine is a masterpiece, one that’s mighty enough to propel the GT350 to 60 miles an hour in just 4.3 seconds, a time that’s aided by a slick Tremec TR-3160 six-speed shift-it-yourself transmission that’s even easier to manage than the M2’s offering. The clutch’s weighting and engagement range are as close to perfect as could ever be achieved by human engineers.
Which Car Wins?
Both the M2 and GT350 are world-class products that deliver plenty of smiles per gallon, but which one claims victory in this Quick Comparison? Well, much like voting in Florida on election night, it’s too close to call.
We simply can’t decide which is a better choice, as we love each of them for different reasons. The BMW is a joy to drive, refined, civilized and nearly telepathic. But the Mustang’s wailing engine, scary speed, and sexy styling are just as easy to fall for. That may sound like a copout, but luckily, you can’t go wrong with either one.