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      09-13-2007, 05:41 PM   #1
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30 August 2007

M3 vs RS4 – I’ve made up my mind…
By Mike Fourie

I’ve just returned from the local launch of the new BMW M3 and I’m going to answer the question that lingers on so many people's minds: Does the M3 exceed the benchmark set by its perceived arch-rival, Audi's RS4? Having driven both cars on racetracks and public roads, I’ve made up my mind on which one is best… here’s what swung it for me.

Before I blog anything else, let me say that the introduction of the M3 increases the likelihood of a full-blown comparative test between the sophisticated Munich express and the well-established Ingolstadt bruiser. Should CAR Magazine do a comparative test between the two contenders, the outcome may be different from my assessment.

Instead of punching out a news report extolling the virtues of the E92 M3, during which I would probably run out of unused adjectives half way through, I’m going to stick my neck out. I wouldn’t ordinarily compare a sports saloon with a coupé (Audi hasn’t yet wedged its 309 kW 4,2-litre V8 into the A5 and the R8 will be a lot more expensive than the M3). The current RS4 (based on the soon-to-be-replaced A4) is on its way out, but, despite all those concessions, the battle lines have been drawn!

The new M3 strikes a very elegant pose - the only clues to its huge power reserves are a bulging bonnet, trick aero wing mirrors and the obligatory touring car-like spoilers. The RS4 is understated in its own right, but looks like a pimped A4 (essentially what it is), by comparison. And let’s compare interiors… the RS4’s alcantara and leather combination, body-hugging Recaro sports seats and aging A4 dashboard layout finishes a distant second to the clean horizontal planes of the E92’s facia and its plush full-leather cabin trim. The latter’s seats are equally supportive, but more comfortable on longer trips. Thus the M3 beats the RS4 in terms of interior/exterior styling, virtually because A4 pre-dates 3 Series Coupé.

Surprisingly, there’s not much in it in terms of power and torque… The new M3 produces 309 kW and peak torque of 400 N.m at 3 900 r/min, of which 85 per cent is available throughout an engine speed range of 6 500. In other words, between 2 000 and 8 500 r/min this M Division engine never produces less than 340 N.m. The RS4, by comparison, spins to 8 250 r/min. It’s peak power output is also 309 kW, but produces 30 N.m more torque than the M3. Ninety per cent of the RS4’s peak torque (387 N.m to be precise) is available from 2 250 to 7 600 r/min. Zero to 100 km/h? BMW claims 4,8 seconds, we got 4,62 from the RS4 when CAR Magazine tested it. I had to test the pretender to the throne on the track to see whether it suffered for its small deficit in torque, or whether it would obliterate its disadvantage with superior handling prowess…

The second half of the M3 launch consisted of eight single laps (from pitlane to pitlane) around the Killarney circuit in Cape Town in Munich’s latest and greatest. Last year, I drove the RS4 at Port Elizabeth’s Aldo Scribante circuit. Both cars have incredibly tractable, powerful engines, and if you’ve missed a gear in your feverish attempts to get your braking points and turns in perfect, both cars will accelerate as if they handn’t noticed your mistake. Miss two gears, and the M3 will probably take a bit longer to get back into its stride than the RS4.

Apart from that however, the M3 is notably more direct and precise in its responses than the RS4. The Quattro will bolt out of a corner with the ferocity of a blow from Thor’s hammer, but whereas the Ingolstadt masterpiece is ultimately a very forgiving piece of machinery – especially when entering a bend (a relief to all my fellow late brakers), the M3 rewards precision driving with sublime poise and devastating pace… It makes you want to push the limit and make the DSC light flicker as the Munich beast’s electronics kick in to avert oversteer. There is virtually no body roll (leave the electronic damping control on its Normal setting to the smooth out the old track’s bigger bumps) and expect the seat of your pants to convey the active M differential laying down as much of the M3’s power - that the laws of physics will permit - on the exit. Heavenly!

To conclude, the M3’s biggest feat was that it had me neck and crop before its virtuoso on-track performance… After all, it is on public roads where the overwhelming majority of the public must get their motoring kicks. The new M3’s biggest single advantage over the RS4, in my opinion, is its nicely weighted and reasonably communicative steering – there’s nothing wrong with the RS4’s steering, apart from the fact that it lacks feel. Both contenders have slick six-speed manual ‘boxes and clutches that are easy on the left knee, but I do think that the M3’s ride is more dynamic – it just seems to soak up irregularities in the road with more grace than the RS4. That’s why I’d pick the grown-up M3 as my ideal gentleman’s express with everyday practicality,

The RS4 isn’t my favourite Audi, but the M3 is certainly my favourite BMW. Suffice to say that the RS4 is a bit more hardcore and brutal than the slick, but rapid, M3. Let’s wait until a “RS5” breaks cover, and if Ingolstadt raises its game with the newcomer (of course they will!), we might have a real fight on our hands. For now, the M3 rules!
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      09-13-2007, 05:49 PM   #2
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Bravo! nice write up!!!
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      09-13-2007, 06:01 PM   #3
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Nice review. Good to hear about the steering feel and how it takes corners. I think the exhaust link at the bottom isn't the best for the M3. They need some outside audio like for the RS4.
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      09-13-2007, 06:15 PM   #4
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First they say how direct and more precise the M3 is over its rival and then they say the RS4 is a bit more brutal and hardcore!

No doubt he prefers the M3, I'm just curious why he feels the RS4 is more brutal and hardcore- it's obviously not the RS4 steering as he says it lacks feel..........
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      09-13-2007, 08:10 PM   #5
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he mentions the M3's torque deficit, but he neglects the large amount of parasitic drivetrain loss the RS4's quattro induces. the dyno's that we've seen of the RS4 and the M3 place them both at 270 lb-ft of torque at the wheel. further he also uses bmw's stated 0-100 km/h time to compare to the RS4's tested time.

... a couple of glaring oversights in an otherwise positive review.

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      09-13-2007, 09:13 PM   #6
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Yet another review that doesn't complain about steering even though the nay-sayers want to wish differently

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'08 E92 M3 6MT Jerez/CSAT <-- departing soon
'18 F80 M3 6MT SO/CSAT <-- arriving soon
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