I used to own a '98 M3 Coupe before replacing it with our present 540i. I miss that car. Haven't had a chance to really play with our '94 Cobra yet, but the guy who owned it before me spent a fair amount of money on the suspension as he enjoyed auto cross and such. That said, from what I have seen / experienced, it's pretty fun; but just doesn't compare in terms of handling, control and overall composure to the M3. This shouldn't be surprising. After all, we're talking about apples and oranges here. One car sold new for, what? $20k? The other twice that plus some good sized change? I'm not a brand snob, trust me, but if you've owned the cars in question it's not too hard to see that money didn't just go towards the badges & name. And that engine... smooth, linear, damn near bullet proof, will bounce off the rev limiter all day long... not nearly as powerful as the Mustang in the torque department, but BMW really knows their stuff when it comes to the inline six. (Actually, it's really more of a slant-six, but anyway...) Auto crossed it a few times, did a few laps around Thunderhill... but I do live in the mountains... so hard driving was frequently the order of the day.
One area the Mustang has the BMW beat, without question, is the affordability of upgrades in the power department. Want to supercharge your M3? That'll be $5k. Want to turbo? That'll be $10k+. Want to do cams? Start at a grand, work your way up. Suppose suspension is a wash. Stock brakes on the M3 are leaps and bounds better than the Cobra. If you want, grab some Euro rotors, some uprated pads, spiffy gold/blue fluid and you're pretty much set for anthing other than serious track use. The Cobra? Yeah... ummm... lots of money to bring it on par?
(No idea what a great brake kit costs for these cars, but would wager $1.5k to start?)
Anyway... sorry for rambling. I'm a tired SOB today and nothing realted to installing my motor went right to boot. They're both fun cars. But in all honesty, if I had to chose between an E36 M3 and a SN95 Cobra? I'd keep the M3... power deficit and all.
BTW - if a guy pushing 7' could drive a E36, so can you. (No, not me, I'm only 6'6") All about the right seat and the right people making the right brackets for you.
Oh... sorry... BTW #2. I drove my M3. A LOT. 600+ miles a week a lot. For about two years. Lots, and LOTS, of twisty mountain roads. Am thinking hard here... but honestly don't recall any serious problems with the car. Tires, sure. And brakes too. Run of the mill maintainence stuff. (Don't forget the transmission & diff fluids... fuel filter too) But IIRC we never replaced the clutch. Passenger side seatbelt buckle had a gremlin related to the airbag sensor. Oh, a O2 sensor went bad. Ah, and yes, the water pump & radiator shortly after buying. (Will admit, BMW and cooling systems are a strange thing. At least the new cars seem to have solved that... finally.) Ummmm.................... ??? Put around 65k on it during the short time I owned it. Was really quite a solid and reliable car. YMMV of course and not saying a Mustang wouldn't be just as good... just not understanding why people think BMW's are so high maintainence.
Right - good night!