Interesting read and joins the other M3 vs C63 coupes - past review here, here and here
Our aging beast holds on until the end or at least in Car and Drivers opinion.
2012 BMW M3 Coupe vs. 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe
Final Jeapordy: Our returning champion, The BMW M3, faces its ultimate foe, the Mercedes C63 coupe.
Remember when that pasty software engineer from Utah kept winning on Jeopardy!? His name is Ken Jennings, and he won 74 times in a row before ignominiously losing to a real-estate agent from Ventura, California. Jennings was smug and a bit annoying. But love him or hate him, he was shockingly good and seemingly genetically engineered to answer in question form.
With its five-comparison-test winning streak, the current BMW M3 is our very own Ken Jennings, engineered to dominate our comparos. And, like Jennings, its success annoys some people. Administering beat-downs on some of the world’s best cars will do that. Up against the M3 this time is the 6.2-liter V-8–equipped Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG coupe. Based on the AMG-ified C-class sedan that the M3 previously defeated [December 2007], this C63 now sports two doors, a vastly improved interior, and a seven-speed automatic with a wet starting clutch instead of a torque converter. Engine power is slightly higher than that vanquished C63’s, thanks to the $6050 AMG Development package that takes horsepower up 30 to 481, or 67 ponies more than the M3.
Could those improvements be enough to wipe the grin off the M3’s front fascia? We drove from our editorial HQ in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) to find out if the C63 AMG coupe is the M3’s real-estate agent from Ventura.
A photo finish: A single point, the smallest possible margin of victory, separated what turned out to be two vastly dissimilar cars. Sure, both play in the same segment, both have V-8s, both are rear-drive, and both come from Germany, but their spirits are different.
The C63’s foremost attribute is its 6.2-liter V-8. Hand-built at AMG in Affalterbach, Germany, this V-8 is more than 50 percent larger than the M3’s 4.0-liter. One consequence is 50 percent more torque—443 pound-feet versus the M3’s 295—so the C63 doesn’t need to work hard to scare a passenger or to get the attention of a cop.
On public roads, the Benz’s engine is more insistent and shoves harder than the M3’s. Its vitality is ever-present. The exhaust reports a firestorm of combustion, and it’s seriously loud. Engines this big will have you describing to people in Chevy Camaros the displacement in cubic inches. “It’s got a 379,” you’ll say while picking your teeth. In the M3, the driver needs to work harder, downshift frequently, and spin the BMW V-8 to find its power and voice. The C63 driver just needs to make sure his engine is running.
While it’s not a big car, the C63 is actually a secret fatty. Curb weight came in at 3996 pounds, 444 pounds heavier than the M3. You’d never know it judging by its quarter-mile acceleration—12.1 seconds at 120 mph—where the C63 picked up three points on the M3 in our scoring. Our best time—0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds—came without making use of the “race start” launch-control setting. Use launch control, and you get a very repeatable 0-to-60 time of 3.9 seconds, but we were able to beat that with a gentle foot and less wheelspin. In the launch-free 5-to-60-mph test, the C63 matched the M3’s all-out 0-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds. While driving the M3, we sometimes found ourselves daydreaming about the Benz’s V-8. Torque is a hell of a drug.
But the C63 isn’t one-dimensional. Even though this car leads with its engine, every part of the C63 is commendable; just make sure you never drive an M3 on a racetrack if you shell out for a C63. Like the C63 sedan, the coupe gets wider front and rear tracks that aid handling and a flat-bottom wheel that communicates increases in effort in direct response to cornering loads better than the M3’s wheel does. Unlike the C63 sedan, the coupe feels like it has a soupçon of suspension compliance. But initial turn-in lacks the quickness of the BMW; the Benz’s nose feels heavier, less apt to change direction. Around VIR, the C63 proves remarkably stable up until it touches the limit of adhesion, at which point it breaks away more abruptly than the M3. There’s reassurance short of the edge, an attribute that makes the C63 secure on the road. But on the track, where you want to flirt with the limit, the C63 lets go with less warning. If you never have the opportunity to hop out of the Benz and into the BMW, the C63’s handling will leave you grinning. But we did drive the M3, and it earned its one-point edge.
It’s a dead heat when it comes to transmissions. The Benz’s seven-speed rarely calls attention to itself, upshifting quickly (especially in manual mode) and downshifting exactly when you want it to. But the C63’s gearbox doesn’t match revs on downshifts as effectively as a human could; consequently, the rear end will step out as the Benz slams into a lower gear under braking. Speaking of brakes, the C63 stops from 70 mph in 161 feet. On the track, the brakes resist fading and feel strong, but again, the M3’s brake pedal is more responsive, and its 70-to-0-mph stopping distance is shorter: 153 feet.
It’s a wash if we add up the “Vehicle” categories. The Mercedes scores a point each on ergonomics and interior styling. Benz’s controls are slightly easier to use than BMW’s, and the C-class’s refreshed interior is modern and elegant. The BMW is all business, but it’s starting to look a little old—no surprise there, since an all-new 3-series arrives next year. Rack up four points for features and amenities—the Benz has a lot of them—but strike those points for the Benz’s $80,995 as-tested price. We also deducted a tick from the Benz for looking a bit too much like a Honda Accord coupe. Add it all up, and the C63 is one point short of a tie. Nothing has come closer to unseating the M3. The C63 is an amazing car. Anyone who buys one will certainly love it. Heck, we love it.
There’s a key philosophical difference between the M3 and the C63 that is best illustrated by their roofs. To save weight and lower the center of gravity, the M3 has a carbon-fiber roof panel. Every C63 coupe has a giant glass sunroof that adds weight up high. The M3 is more than 400 pounds lighter and has a 1.5-inch-lower center of gravity—two reasons the BMW enjoys livelier handling than the C63. Directional changes happen faster and more lucidly while the tires give up grip more progressively, making the M3 easier to gather back up. From the manual gearbox to the higher-revving engine, the M3 is the more involving car.
Active participation is necessary to extract all 414 horsepower from the 4.0-liter V-8. Revving an engine to 8300 rpm requires attention, and while it’s a joy to extract that performance, it’s a different, more labor-intensive kind of joy than that which the Benz delivers. We love them both for different reasons, hence the fun-to-drive tie in our scoring.
When you’re not pushing it, the M3 isn’t noisy, nervous, or harsh, but when you are, it wakes up and provides sports-car levels of sensitivity and feedback. It is a car that imparts an astounding sense of control throughout its entire operating range. The M3 didn’t win solely based on our subjective assessment, though. Our Competition-package–equipped M3 also scored major points for its superior skidpad grip, 70-to-0 braking performance, and slalom speed. Those points, along with the subjective handling victory, gave it the tiniest of edges over the Benz. So the M3 remains on top—six wins down, or 68 short of * Jennings.