Johannesburg - Forget Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Apple versus Samsung ... meh. Even Jacob and Julius have nothing on this clash.
BMW was the first to throw its cards on the table when it introduced its all-new M3 around this time last year. Munich’s skunkworks had ditched the previous version’s naturally-aspirated V8 in favour of a 3-litre straight six, but to make up the two cylinder deficit it affixed a pair of turbos to boost power by a moderate 8kW and a hefty 150Nm.
The M3’s new total of 317kW and 550Nm, along with other hop-ups like carbon propshafts, lighter aluminium suspension components, and continuously variable electronic differentials were enough to elevate performance levels, not only in a straight line but also at the track, beyond any of the four versions that came before it. Just ask Beemer’s DTM drivers Bruno Spengler and Timo Glock, who were among the car’s final development team.
It looked as though the M3’s full house would be a tough hand to beat, but it would need to wait a year for its four-door super-saloon nemesis, Merc’s C63 AMG, to reveal just just how many aces it held in new from the ground up guise. On face value alone, the latest C63 trumps the BMW. Eight cylinders and two turbos give this Stuttgart-built car the upper hand in each of its two power specifications – 350kW and 650Nm in normal trim, and 375kW/700Nm in more muscular C63 S form.
The new C63 also doesn’t disappoint in the trick bits department, where it too gets clever diffs, and carbon and aluminium in all the right places.
SO WHICH IS FASTEST?
The answer should be easy, given black-and-white results spewed from our unbiased Vbox datalogging equipment. Well, that’s what we thought anyway. As for which of the two we’d choose to take home... that’s an altogether different question.
Getting into the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S to do the thing they do best – accelerate like their pants are on fire – isn’t the straightforward task it might seem.
Oh, they always accelerate. Robustly, and with much vigour. Even in their laziest of electronic performance settings, the M3 and C63 will easily out-dice most cars that aren’t wearing a prancing horse or raging bull badge – and even some that do.
But when you’re in a shootout and vital tenths of a second stand between declaring a winner or loser, it’s important to get that perfect pulloff, and when we took them for high-altitude performance testing in Gauteng we repeated the acceleration runs again and again until we were satisfied we could go no quicker.
Finding enough traction proved to be the biggest hurdle in launching these fire-breathing German sedans off the line on the concrete surface of Gerotek’s 1km straight track, and even with their launch control systems engaged we struggled to get their considerable power down without some time-sapping wheelspin.
The times we clocked varied, and there were some runs where the Beemer was quicker and others where the Benz had the upper hand as the gods of power, traction and electronics waged their science and sorcery.
In the end the Merc’s quickest acceleration time beat the Beemer’s best time, as seen in the accompanying performance table. The M3 trails by an impressively small margin given its power and torque deficits, and this can be accounted for by its kerb weight being 135kg lighter.
The Merc’s 4.2 second 0-100km/h time is just 0.2 seconds quicker than the M3’s, with a similar gap in 60-120km/h overtaking acceleration.
It’s not a difference that can be subjectively felt from behind the wheel, and when you mash the throttle one car feels as powerful as the other.
YET THEY DO DIFFER IN CHARACTER
Besides traction enhancing electrickeries and other computer controlled voodoos, the BMW’s six cylinders need to work harder to achieve similar goals. Where the AMG’s 4-litre lays its effortless assault from the more relaxed end of its rev counter, the M3’s 3-litre screams in comparison. The C63 also seems to spool its turbos with more gradual boost, unlike the Beemer’s more instantaneous response.
Turbochargers tend to mute engine noise but both the M3 and C63 do a fine job of flexing their audible muscles. From the outside the Merc’s deeper V8 holler causes more acoustic drama than the BMW’s straight-six, but the M3 considerately pipes-in the engine sound through the speakers, making for a great noise to those sitting inside. The Benz baritone becomes louder to passengers at the press of an (optional) button which opens an exhaust flap.
THROUGH THE TWISTIES
As for the important task of changing direction, there was a time when a Beemer would have out-diced a Merc through a twisty road any time, but no more. AMG Benzes have done a lot of dynamic catching up in the last few years, and a mountain-pass shootout between the Stuttgart savage and the Munich monster will come down to who’s the better (or braver) driver.
With their stability-control systems engaged, both cars offer safe passage through corners by preventing unintended powerslides. These electronic nannies can be set to partial intervention (allowing some slip before a computer bails you out of trouble), or swtiched off (where you need Lewis Hamilton reflexes to catch the slide).
The M3 seems to carve a corner where the C63 smears its way around it. With apex targets locked, the M3 holds its line using its fancy differential and smart torque vectoring systems to keep all four wheels in check on the way to the destination and then beyond it.
The Mercedes has no problem finding a corner’s sweet spot, and it too has a rear-axle-locking differential, but it does so with more of a tail-sliding tendency – requiring fine throttle inputs to steer from the rear.
Both cars ride on 19” low-profile footwear and sports suspension but it’s the M3 that has the slightly better ride quality. Surprisingly so, as our BMW lacked the Merc’s ability to vary damper stiffness at the press of a button.
In Comfort mode, the C63’s suspension felt more firm and fidgety over bumps than the Beemer’s.
Mercedes claims a town/freeway average of 8.4 litres/100km for the C 63 S while the M3’s factory-quoted figure is 8.3 litres.
In practice the Benz is quite a bit thirstier and our independent tests had it pegged at 11.8 litres compared to the BMW’s 9.5 litres.
Both cars get nice, recessed seating positions but we felt like we could nestle down in the M3’s cabin more. The Merc’s seats are just as buckety, and probably better looking with quilted stitch patterns and satin aluminium accents, but we felt lower to the ground and more attached to the road in the BMW.
The C63 has somewhat more interior glamour, especially the Edition 1 derivative we tested which comes spiced-up with plenty of carbonfibre and brushed metal.
The M3’s slightly more conservative interior does come with appealing jewellery of its own however, including an M logo in the front-seat backrests which lights up at night.
In the end it’s a close call and we were split on which car was our favourite.
I’d choose the M3 if a life-dependent lap time counted on it. But I’d choose the Merc for the drive home from the track.
Because of its slightly comfier ride and lower thirst the M3 is my choice as it’s devastatingly fast but a better car to live with day to day.
MERCEDES-AMG C63 S
R1 016 118
R1 171 495
3.0 straight six turbo
4.0 V8 turbo
Power & torque:
Tests conducted at Gerotek test centre, Pretoria using Racelogic Vbox.