AUDI RS5 vs BMW M4 vs MERCEDES-AMG C63 S
Establishing a new order in German super-coupes
UDI can’t build a sports car. Everybody knows that. Everyone apart from the engineers who built the revolutionary ur-quattro, the borderline genius B7 RS4, the disruptive R8 coupe and the astonishing R10 TDI racer – a diesel that dominated at Le Mans even when Ingolstadt voluntarily used the same engines in the 24-hour race as it used in practice and qualifying. So it ought to be obvious that there’s a pool of hugely talented chassis and powertrain people at Audi. What’s truly frustrating is that this rich vein of dynamic know-how has all too often been neutered by the might of marketing and design, the power of the brand going rogue and often bringing us some strangely compromised road cars.
The premise of this test, therefore, is to discover whether the latest RS5 comes from the ‘good Audi’ that brought us those aforementioned gems or the other bunch, the crew who gave us the 2010 RS5 V8, a true collector’s piece for the connoisseur of ploughon understeer. Even if it’s from the former camp, it’ll have its work cut out against the BMW M4 Pure and the Mercedes-amg C63 S Coupe. The M4 doesn’t brook too many surprises, the M3 Coupe/m4 bloodline representing a durable class benchmark. The Pure trim is an Australia-only model that strips out big-ticket items like adaptive LED lights, leather and premium audio system. Mechanically, it only differs from the M4 Competition by switching from 20- to 19-inch alloys. The Pure shares the Competition’s 331kw/550nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo six and has an identical suspension tune, though our test car featured the 20s optioned back in (for $2500 more). With a $139,000 base price, the M4 Pure is comfortably the most affordable car here.
The AMG has clearly been on the juice, now sporting muscular wheelarch bulges, fat rubber and an aggression that’s entirely absent from its comparatively snake-hipped C43 sibling. The pugnacious stance works well, this remedial work fixing the standard coupe’s rather apologetic rear end. The only V8 of the trio, the 375kw/700nm 4.0-litre Merc fronts up with the most grunt and the heftiest sticker price of $163,612. Add $9900 to that to get the car as tested here, complete with AMG ceramic front stoppers.
Slotting neatly between these two bookends comes the 331kw/600nm 2.9-litre V6 Audi RS5 which has been sensibly pitched at $156,600. The eye-catching Sonoma green paintwork, an extended carbon package (including the roof and engine cover) and a Technik package, which includes colour head-up display, Matrix LED lights and a Qi wireless charger, bumps that up to $179,346 as-tested.
On a gnarly cross-country route, the others wouldn’t see which way the RS5 had gone
FIRING UP more than 1000kw of aggro at 6am is going to make you unpopular, even in a town as octane-addled as Bathurst. The Merc’s bent-eight emits exactly the correct frequency to turn motel windows into giant drum skins, bleary-eyed curtain twitchers unable to figure out at which miscreant to direct their stink eye. It’s a fat, meaty wub-wub with an old-school appeal that sounds anything but turbo-neutered. The M4 is the midrange, with the RS5 adding some tinnitus treble to really round out the sonic barrage.
Received wisdom has it that the C63 S is going to be cast as the hooligan here, the point-and-squirt hot rod that’s long on drama but light on subtlety. It plays up to that casting, initially at any rate, with a wilful determination to bend the coding of its traction control software to breaking point and inflicting a ride quality around town that’s marginally better than setting off down the Dipper after zipping yourself into a hard-shell Samsonite roller. Race mode has your foot bouncing on the throttle pedal like a Tullamarine taxi driver with St Vitus’s dance.
By contrast, the M4 feels as if Munich has commissioned Tempur for the damper tune. By most normal measures it’s still firm, but there is a degree of suppleness that’s missing from the Benz. The bandwidth between the M4’s Comfort and Sport+ settings isn’t huge, certainly less than the C63’s arc between acceptable and vertebra-clacking, while the Audi effectively has two damper settings. Comfort is where you’ll stay almost all the time, giving the RS5 a genuinely plush GT car ride, with Sport being reserved for smoothly surfaced twisties. On typically scabby country roads the latter will have your head coming into contact with the roof lining a little too often for comfort. Kiss goodbye to your sunnies if you occasionally prop them atop your noggin.
Snapper Wielecki has identified a suitably scenic corner for us to play on (33°33’18.22”S, 150° 8’36.31”E, if you’re interested), which requires a fair degree of commitment to make the cars look lively for his Canon. It’s here that the Mercedes shines, with just enough reassuring bodyroll and a beautiful, buttery transition into power oversteer. Even with the ESC switched on, you can feel the electronic limited-slip diff smearing in and out, allowing just a spritz of rear end movement. In ESP Sport, it’s a whole lot more lenient, responding well to a gentle roll of the wrists. The weight of the engine makes itself felt if you’re lazy with your braking or ambitious with corner entry speeds but greater negative camber, stiffer bushings and a model-specific rear-axle carrier combine to give the C63 S a sweetly textural, benign feel at the limits of grip, belying its somewhat one-dimensional image.
Rolling from throttle to brake reveals a slightly clunky pedal positioning, Mercedes – like many manufacturers – retaining a higher brake pedal than accelerator; a legacy of manual car heel-and-toe requirements. Out of the corner, the Mercedes feels the strongest, with a comical slab of torque arriving at 3000rpm and persisting with no let up to 5000rpm. The Amg-speedshift 7 lets you hold a gear if the requisite button is engaged, but despite its surfeit of cubic centimetres, the AMG engine operates best in that 2000rpm band and the gearbox software has a better feel for this than you or I. The optional ceramic front stoppers help shrug off the car’s 1725kg heft and, unusually for carbon picks, are easy to modulate, representing a key point of difference between Affalterbach and Munich.
The M4’s four-piston front brakes are the weakest aspect of its dynamic palette. It’s a perennial M-car complaint but BMW doesn’t seem to be listening, deeming them sufficient for fast road driving. That’s also open to question, the pedal going long after a
There’s real bite and character to the M4. It’s the only one you could grow to love