For lovers of per­for­mance cars, the com­par­i­son of the new year has to be M3 vs C 63. Fi­nally we got our chance and it’s a par­tic­u­larly close-run thing. But only one can be king

NZ Autocar - - Contents -

For lovers of per­for­mance cars, the com­par­i­son of the new year has to be M3 vs C 63. Fi­nally we got our chance and it’s a par­tic­u­larly close-run thing. But only one can be king

Right from the out­set, we’d have to warn you that if you’re ex­pect­ing a clear-cut win­ner from this com­par­i­son you’re not gonna get one, and that’s not sur­pris­ing given they’re so close in so many ways. The rea­son things are so alike is be­cause the three big Ger­man lux­ury car mak­ers closely mon­i­tor each other. As soon as a new model is re­leased, you can be sure it is be­ing dis­sected by the op­po­si­tion that very day.

The point is the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S, as it’s now known, are al­most like twins, even if they don’t look that sim­i­lar. They both use bitur­bocharged di­rect in­jec­tion en­gines, and each runs a rapid­fire seven-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, with op­tional shift pad­dle con­trol. Both fea­ture launch con­trol, and they each claim a 0-100km/h time of around four sec­onds. The pair are rear wheel driven, and each has an elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled lock­ing rear diff. Adap­tive damp­ing? Check. Head-up dis­play? You bet. Var­i­ous en­gine, sus­pen­sion, trans­mis­sion and ESP modes? Tick again. They even mimic each other in terms of their mi­nor func­tion con­trol units, the BMW us­ing iDrive, the Mercedes a Co­mand unit. Sports wheels, ped­als and seats fea­ture in each.

What dif­fer­en­ti­ates this pair then? The Mercedes runs a V8 and the BMW an in­line six. BMW has a con­ven­tional (if oddly con­fig­ured) stick shift lever at the base of the cen­tre con­sole, the C 63 a column shift mech­a­nism. And there are fairly ma­jor spec dif­fer­ences as well, e.g., the Mercedes has a pow­ered boot lid and slid­ing panoramic sun­roof, whereas the BMW lug­gage bay is ac­cessed man­u­ally and at the high point there’s a car­bon fi­bre panel to keep out the rain. The Mercedes has a few ex­tra safety fea­tures like ur­ban speed col­li­sion pre­ven­tion, lane de­par­ture warn­ing and ac­tive cruise con­trol miss­ing from the BMW spec list. But then it does cost $5k more too, about the amount you might ex­pect to pay for these fea­tures. Our par­tic­u­lar eval­u­a­tion unit was an Edi­tion 1 vari­ant, adding another $8k to the bot­tom line for what are largely cos­metic en­hance­ments (matt black al­loys, ex­tra tints aft of the B pil­lar and quilted nappa leather up­hol­stery) but you are get­ting a lim­ited edi­tion. Still, the M3 does get a proper gear lever and its man­ual se­quen­tial shift mech­a­nism is ori­ented the way we pre­fer it (push away for down­shift­ing). Cruise may not be of the ac­tive type but se­lect­ing a slower speed gen­tly ac­ti­vates the brakes, which is handy.

Both fea­ture launch con­trol, and they each claim a 0-100km/h time of around four sec­onds

Power ad­van­tage AMG

We won’t go into too much de­tail about the un­der-the-skin bits and bobs for these ma­chines, as both have been cov­ered in plenty of de­tail pre­vi­ously (Au­to­car Jun 14, P32, Jan 15, P82, Apr 15, P38, Nov 15, P42). Un­der the sculpted hoods of these ma­chines are mod­ern forced in­duc­tion en­gines de­signed to de­liver gobs of torque across a broad rev range, and rea­son­able fuel econ­omy for the times when they’re be­ing used as nine to five trans­port.

In the case of the BMW, the M3 ditches the atmo V8 of the E92 model and in the F80 ver­sion gets a 3.0L twin-turbo in­line six that can gen­er­ate 317kW and 550Nm of thrust from 1850rpm. Fuel econ­omy is rated at 8.3L/100km, equiv­a­lent to un­der 200g of CO2 per km. BMW reck­ons that a base spec­i­fi­ca­tion Euro­pean M3 weighs 1550kg, but ours tipped the scales at 1635kg, which is a few kgs heav­ier than the old V8 M3 Coupe. But what about the V8 pow­ered Mercedes AMG? Try 1840kg, roughly 200kg more than the M3. So that’s why it has 700Nm to draw upon from 1750-4500rpm, and 375kW, more grunt even than the AMG GT! Com­pared with the former C 63, with the 6.2L atmo V8 and voice of an aveng­ing an­gel, this new C 63 is 25kW and 50Nm bet­ter off, while fuel use is said to be one-third less at 8.6L/100km. Power to weight favours the AMG, drag­ging just 4.9kg per kW, vs 5.2kg for the M3.

How do they com­pare for style? The M3 is slightly more ag­gres­sive, with its pro­nounced power bulge on the bon­net, ob­vi­ous whee­larch flares, an­gry eyes, and louder per­for­mance ex­haust while the Mercedes is more sub­tle vis­ually. There’s not quite the mus­cu­lar­ity here, though plenty of ev­i­dence of in­tent, with a quar­tet of squared tailpipes, sub­tle boot lid spoiler and big air in­takes low down up front. Both cars sport enor­mous brake ro­tors, drilled and ven­ti­lated at all four cor­ners. The Mercedes has six-pot calipers up front, the BMW four pot­ters.

Speed and brak­ing sim­i­lar

How does this all trans­late to straight-line per­for­mance then? The pair is al­most in­sep­a­ra­ble on that score. Brakes are stun­ning on both, the big­ger units of the Mercedes ap­pro­pri­ate for rein­ing in the ex­tra weight. At the pedal the AMG has a bit more bite, right through its travel, and pro­duced slightly bet­ter stop­ping dis­tances. At speed the AMG is se­cure and sta­ble un­der brakes, the BMW less so. But then it doesn’t quite have the on-rails sta­bil­ity the C 63 dis­plays be­fore you even go near the brake pedal. At real world speeds, both slow in ex­em­plary fash­ion, the AMG just a bit more so.

Head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, can a se­ri­ous six out­pace an epic eight? The C 63 has a sim­ply bril­liant Race Start func­tion. While rated at 4.0sec flat, we never man­aged any bet­ter than 4.30sec for the C 63 but then, as men­tioned, it is heav­ier set than in base Euro con­fig­u­ra­tion. Per­haps it works well be­cause it is at­tached to one of the best au­tos in the busi­ness, es­sen­tially a con­ven­tional seven-speed sys­tem with multi-clutch tech­nol­ogy (MCT), a clutch pack in­stead of a torque con­verter. Off the line in nor­mal traf­fic sit­u­a­tions, it’s a model of smooth­ness whereas the BMW gets un­der­way with the usual hes­i­ta­tion as­so­ci­ated with dual-clutch tran­nys. Un­der launch con­trol, the Mercedes hooks up just so, con­trol­ling wheel­spin per­fectly, up­shift­ing at light­ning speed. We per­for­mance tested the same car on two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions at two dif­fer­ent places and got the same fig­ures to within a hun­dredth of a sec­ond.

The M3? Well, the usual. It ain’t id­iot-proof, that’s for sure. A cou­ple of times we ac­tu­ally got launch con­trol ac­ti­vated and sim­ply spun up the rears as it drifted this way and that down the road. A mir­a­cle we even got un­der 4.5sec, not us­ing LC, we’d add.

If you sub­tract the launch from the equa­tion, you get two cars that are al­most iden­ti­cally quick, though the one with slightly su­pe­rior power to weight fig­ure does get the up­per hand numer­i­cally, post­ing a best over­tak­ing time of 2.10sec to the M3’s 2.30sec. So a scant win to the AMG of 0.2sec for both cri­te­ria.

both slow in ex­em­plary fash­ion, the AMG just a bit more so. Head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, can a se­ri­ous six out­pace an epic eight?

Set up lo­gis­tics

In the real world, on the open road, they are both lu­di­crously (scare your pas­sen­gers wit­less) quick when in the zone, ie, at the mid­dle to high points in the rev range. Be­low that, they have another zone of im­pres­sive mus­cu­lar­ity, from about 2500-4000rpm, which is where they’re op­er­at­ing much of the time. The BMW is onto it just a bit ear­lier than the C 63, its light­ness telling?

Dif­fer­ences re­late more to user modes and here the BMW does gain a bit of an ad­van­tage. For starters, its user se­lectable modes are on the cor­rect side of the gear lever. If you want to fid­dle with en­gine, sus­pen­sion, steer­ing or trans­mis­sion set­tings, just hit the ap­pro­pri­ate but­ton and the re­sults are shown within the in­stru­ments. Want to save those? Just push and hold the M1 or M2 but­ton on the steer­ing wheel.

Such things are not quite so easy, nor as log­i­cal in the C 63. For the but­tons are all on the wrong side of the Co­mand twirler, mak­ing them an­noy­ing to ma­nip­u­late. And then the re­sults aren’t shown ahead of you. Best just to select In­di­vid­ual in the Dy­namic Drive mode and set them up as you’d want them.

Where the BMW adds another bonus point is in its en­gine mode set-up. Where the high­est Sport+ is near as dammit per­fect for straight­en­ing out back­roads apace, the top Race Mode in the AMG C 63 is es­sen­tially a cir­cuit set­ting, where up­shifts oc­cur only at the red­line, mak­ing it su­per­flu­ous for road work. And the mode be­low isn’t quite stroppy enough, so you take to the pad­dles, but these aren’t as er­gonom­i­cally pleas­ing to use as those in the BMW.

Dif­fer­ent per­sonas

They’re roughly even on the per­for­mance front, but what about road hold­ing and han­dling? Here, the BMW again edges ahead but it’s a close-run thing, closer than it has ever been in the past. The BMW al­lows a lower, sportier driv­ing po­si­tion and is also lighter, and it just feels a touch eas­ier to place, and is a bit more play­ful. The Mercedes coun­ters by hav­ing slightly bet­ter body con­trol, which means it’s as quick through cor­ners ul­ti­mately but is a shade clin­i­cal. Both have de­cent elec­tric steer­ing, though we still pine for the old days when tac­til­ity at the hy­draulic helm was more or less a given.

There’s no ques­tion the C 63 is eas­ier to steer from the rear through a cor­ner on the throt­tle, thanks to the ex­tra torque and the smaller rear con­tact patch. Both step out use­fully and safely us­ing their in­ter­me­di­ate ESP set­tings, the BMW need­ing a bit more of a nudge to un­stick the tail. As an aside, we were for­tu­nate to at­tend the world launches of both ve­hi­cles, coin­ci­den­tally (yeah, right) both held at Por­ti­mao Race Track, Por­tu­gal. Only BMW elected to high­light its “smoky burnout mode”, es­sen­tially ESP off, by tak­ing at­tend­ing jour­nal­ists on a side­ways lap of the track. The driv­ers, mainly BMW test wizards, made it look easy. Guess this high­lights a slight cul­tural dif­fer­ence be­tween the two com­pa­nies, one happy to demon­strate the myr­iad tal­ents of its top sports com­pact of­fer­ing.

On the other hand, Mercedes al­lowed jour­nal­ists to check out the ef­fec­tive­ness of op­tional car­bon ce­ramic brakes on the front straight, whereas BMW didn’t (and CF brakes are not an op­tion).

The right noise

De­spite that, and a mean­ing­lessly small per­for­mance decre­ment, there are a cou­ple of other as­pects in nor­mal day-to-day use that sway the de­ci­sion to­wards the M3, and that’s road noise and ride qual­ity. By the dB me­ter we use, we sim­ply couldn’t sep­a­rate the pair, both with 78-point av­er­ages. And this you’d ex­pect as they use ef­fec­tively the same rub­ber (Miche­lin Pi­lot Su­per Sport). But in the AMG, the road roar on rowdy chipseal sur­faces seems louder be­cause of a dom­i­nant har­monic com­po­nent. It to­tally drowns out the ex­haust noise you’d rather be hear­ing, and can be­come tire­some. In the BMW there’s no such is­sue, and with some en­gine noise piped into the cabin, the blown six ac­tu­ally sounds bet­ter than the bitur­boV8 sim­ply be­cause you can hear more of it. Works for us.

And to ride qual­ity which BMW has nailed, Mercedes not quite so much. In its pur­suit of roll con­trol, the ride at town speeds isn’t quite as ac­com­mo­dat­ing in the C 63. Both are pretty de­cent at open road speeds, it should be said, and you can choose be­tween var­i­ous de­grees of firm­ness. On the ac­com­mo­da­tion front, the slightly larger C 63 has more gen­er­ous rear legroom than the M3. Both are much of a much­ness re­gard­ing lug­gage space, and in each split fold­ing is eas­ily achieved.

Whilst our com­par­i­son favoured the smaller car, we can un­der­stand how oth­ers might opt for the slightly larger ma­chine. But in the end it came down mainly to the BMW be­ing a lick more ag­ile, and of­fer­ing slightly bet­ter com­fort lev­els at reg­u­lar world speeds. Af­ter all, even per­for­mance cars like this are go­ing to be do­ing the daily com­mute five or six times as of­ten as the Sun­day blast. Told you it was close though.


ABOVE - Step the ESP back a notch, and the C 63 rear end takes on a life of its own. Sim­ply turn it in and add a lit­tle gas. Guess 700 Newts will do that. Elec­tron­ics limit slip

even­tu­ally, how­ever.

RIGHT - Se­ri­ously sized stop­pers here, but then they’re needed. Dont fancy clean­ing the AMG wheels. Per­haps that’s why they’re black, hid­ing the brake dust bet­ter. Both cars get lash­ings of car­bon fi­bre.

LEFT - Sig­na­ture quar­tet of ex­haust out­lets for M3. RIGHT - Un­der the hood the M3 fea­tures a boomerang-shaped car­bon fi­bre strut tower brace. FAR RIGHT - Spe­cial quilted up­hol­stery for the AMG C 63 S Edi­tion 1.

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