Four-Door Miracles: The State of the Art is on Fire
Do you remember exactly when it was that cars—high-performance sedans in this case—got so dang good? I don’t. The BMW M3, yeah, sure, that has always been special. Other carmakers have taken furtive jabs at the M3, but no one seemed willing to put in the development time necessary to deliver the knockout blow.
Every once in a while a muscular middleweight rose up to challenge the Bavarian champ—Audi‘s exquisitely lunatic B7 RS4 springs to mind—but then BMW‘s boffins would tweak the formula and wind up back on top. Mercedes‘ in-house gang of maniacs (aka AMG) has done admirable work on the previous iterations of the C63. But should you find yourself at a track with the choice of the M3 or last-gen C63, we all know which you’ll choose. Unless all you care about are burnouts. Other cars were loads of fun, but at the end of the day, those obsessed with all aspects of performance voted BMW.
That, however, was yesterday. Today AMG and Cadillac each want a shot at the M3’s title. And one—or both—might have padded their gloves with lead.
We’ll start with our standard performance testing, because one of these three is not like the others. As you might expect, the two Germans are right on top of each other. Any power advantage the AMG has over the M3 is mitigated by lard. The 425-horsepower, 406-lb-ft of torque, 3.0-liter, twin-turbo inline-six BMW weighs only 3,498 pounds, whereas the 503-horse, 516 lb-ft of twist C63 pushes down on the scales with 3,936 pounds. As such, both cars hit 0-60 mph in 4 seconds flat. The AMG manages to just pip the M3 in the quarter mile, 12.2 seconds at 119.5 mph versus 12.3 at 118.1 mph. The Caddy? Well, friends, the 3,788-pound ATS-V with its 464-hp, 445-lb-ft of torque, twin-turbo, 3.6-liter V-6 hits 60 mph in a remarkable 3.7 seconds. That’s as quick as a Corvette Stingray (though the first C7 Z51 we ever tested took 3.9 seconds) and quicker than a Camaro Z/28 (4.0 seconds). The American speed demon wins the quarter-mile battle, too, doing so in 12.1 seconds at 116.2 mph. Note the trap speed, as the Caddy is out of breath at the end of the race. Still: winner!
The ATS-V also stops in a hurry. With nothing but steel rotors, the ATS-V goes from 60 mph to zero in just 99 feet. That’s equal to a Ferrari 458 Italia, though the Corvette Stingray does it in 95 feet. As for the two Germans? The AMG with its $5,450 USD carbon-ceramic front brakes (rears are steel) requires 101 feet from 60 mph, and the M3 with its $8,150 USD full carbon-ceramic brake package needs 104 feet. As you can see, in a straight line, America wins. But when you start turning the wheel … USA still comes out on top. The Cadillac dusted the competition, running around our figure-eight course in 23.7 seconds, whereas the two Germans both required 24.1 seconds. To illustrate just how phenomenally all three cars handle, that Corvette Stingray needs 23.5 seconds to lap the figure eight, while a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S requires 23.9. Ferrari 458 Italia? 23.6 seconds, all of which should give you a clear illustration of how ludicrous the Caddy’s handling prowess is. The conclusion from our test team is that if performance is all you care about, buy the Cadillac. However—and I sound like a broken record here—numbers only tell one part of the story.
Next up (and everyone’s favorite section) was to run all three around our loosely patented Sürfschleife, a 30-odd-mile course that runs through some of the best driving roads in Southern California, dumps out onto Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, and finishes up on good old Los Angeles freeways. Well, that’s our usual route. On the first run I was having such a blood-pumping good time I decided we simply had to turn back up into the canyons. Why waste cars like these going straight on a heavily policed road? Besides, I was the lead car. I began the day leading the pack from behind the chubby steering wheel of the Yas Marina Blue M3. Scott Evans was behind me in the ATS-V. I simply could not shake him. Straight line or corners, the Caddy had no issue whatsoever sitting on the M3’s back bumper. As Evans said about the ATS-V, it’s a “great, great car, so quick, so smooth, so easy to drive fast.” He’s not alone in his assessment. “To me, the ATS-V felt the most like a sports car of the three,” Christian Seabaugh said. “For better or worse, it seems that Cadillac engineered the ATS-V to be sport sedan first and a luxury car second.”
The silver Caddy impressed yours truly, too. From the stellar chassis, to the sublime steering, to the indefatigable brakes, the ATS-V got most of the important stuff right. Or even better than right. But—and there is a but—the powertrain is not quite as wondrous as it should be and not as finely honed as the German competitors’. The engine is actually deceptively potent, as the straight-line numbers bear out. But the V-6’s redline is only 6,500 rpm, whereas the AMG V-8’s is 7,000 rpm and the M3’s straight-six spins freely all the way to 7,500 rpm. This matters because it’s simply no fun running into fuel cutoff when you’re dashing down the road. Aside from the none too pleasant engine note and the muffled turbo exhaust gasps, if they could simply raise the redline by even 500 rpm, there would be little to complain about, engine-wise. The new eight-speed transmission is another matter. “It still upshifts a little too early for my taste,” Evans said. “And it isn’t always in the lowest gear at corner exit.” For this test, the seven-speed dual-clutch in the M3 is much preferable.
As for the BMW, still got it! Said Evans: “Serious machine. It flows like the Cadillac but with the hammer-to-the-face personality of the AMG.” While I couldn’t shake Evans and the ATS-V, he also couldn’t gain a yard on me and the M3. Evans continued: “It’s constantly begging you to drive harder and harder, but the M3 makes you sweat, too. It’s a full-attention experience.” From Seabaugh: “Color me impressed. It’s more of a machete these days than a scalpel, but it’s so easy to just strap in and go fast. It’s really rewarding to do so, too.” From the driver’s seat, the M3 feels wicked quick, and the beefy six just pulls and pulls and pulls. That said, there’s so much torque at virtually every rpm, switching the DCT (dual-clutch tranny) into manual mode means you get to pick between third and fourth gear. You don’t need the others. Furthermore, the carbon-ceramic brakes are fabulous (for $8K they’d better be), and the brake pedal feel is better still. To pile on, Evans said the brakes feel as if they could “stop a bullet train on a dime.”
However, no car is perfect. The M3’s overactive stability control system troubled us. I found it very disconcerting to see the little yellow light start flashing at 80 mph. But flash it did, constantly. Seabaugh noted that the system would “cut power (and fun) at inopportune times.” Evans had much more to say: “Seems like the light is blinking from the moment you go to throttle at corner exit, no matter how smoothly or lightly. Sometimes it’s a light interruption like the Cadillac, other times it’s a brick, and sometimes it can’t make up its mind and keeps hammering on and off, giving you huge driveline lash. M Dynamic mode helps a little, but it’s far from a cure.” Yes, InternetToughGuySenna73, turning everything off is a solution. But aside from safety concerns on two-way public roads, our thinking is that most owners will just hit Sport and then they’re off. Or maybe not even do that much. Also, there was a twitchiness to the M3’s chassis that wasn’t present in the other two. Lastly, we all noted that the M3 was the most clinical of the trio, the most sterile.
I think Evans is a better driver than I am. Quicker up in the canyons at any rate, and I have five years’ worth of anecdotal evidence to base my conclusion on. I mention this because when Evans was driving the M3, I simply walked away from him in the C63. I lost him four different times in my rearview mirror. To quote Evans, “I still can’t believe Jonny ran away from me in the M3 with this car.” Especially because as we saw from the testing numbers, the AMG and the BMW are essentially identical. So what gives? Well, to quote our colleague and 24 Hours of Daytona winner Randy Pobst, “confidence.” Meaning I was so confident in the C63 that I was able to throw caution to the wind and lose Evans (never mind Seabaugh) in my wake. Evans was not nearly as confident in the M3 and just couldn’t keep up.
Part of the secret to the C63’s sauce is Race mode. Seabaugh set up the problem: “The C63—along with the M3—gives me Goldilocks Syndrome. There are many, many ways to adjust the car, but I couldn’t find one that I loved, although I did discover Race mode after the fact.” New for newer AMGs, Race mode heats everything—throttle, steering, transmission, suspension, exhaust—up to near boiling. To put it in the very simplest of terms, Race mode works. Contrast this with the M3, where even if everything is flipped over to the most aggressive setting, it somehow doesn’t quite work. With the C63, Race mode turns the car from a big man in a fancy suit into a pissed-off pugilist with brass knuckles on each fist. Race mode just kind of solves everything.
We collectively love the AMG’s V-8. Forget about power. The sound alone is worth the price stretch. The ATS-V’s engine and exhaust notes are forgettable. The M3’s is synthesized and, while snarling, somehow off the mark. I don’t know how AMG gets its twin-turbo V-8s to sound so aggressive, but I’m happy to report that the new M178 with the snails in the V sounds angry and grumbly, just like a proper N/A V-8. I wish I had more room to tell you all how much better the AMG’s interior is than the other two. Let me just say that the lack of carbon-fiber trim is refreshing.
There’s one final hunk of data I’d like to toss at you. We happily let Pobst run all three cars around Willow Springs International Raceway’s 2.42-mile circuit (the big track, aka Big Willow), and here are the results, in descending order: BMW M3 1:32.51, C63 1:31.52, Caddy ATS-V 1:31.43. The ATS-V and the C63 are both a second quicker than the M3, and the Cadillac beats the Mercedes by nine hundredths of a second. Also note that whatever advantage the Cadillac had over the C63 in our normal testing was nearly neutralized on the track. Likewise, where the BMW and Mercedes were virtually tied at the drag-strip, on the racetrack the C63 is measurably better. Pobst liked the BMW the least (snappy at the limit) and felt like he was 5 seconds per lap faster in the Mercedes than in the ATS-V. He was shocked to learn he was quicker in the Caddy. But we’re talking less than a tenth.
The end of the story is that all four of us ranked the BMW in last place. The M3 is a fabulous sporting machine, but if you walk around a rifle range for years with a big target on your back, you eventually will get shot. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and all that. Seabaugh thought that because of its athleticism and sporty focus, the ATS-V deserved the nod. However, Evans and I felt that despite the price premium and the Cadillac’s stellar performance numbers, the macho sport sedan you’d be happiest owning is the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. It’s the complete package. Since, as Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” the winner of this comparison test is the bad mother you-know-what from AMG.
3rd Place: BMW M3
It’s cliché to say, but this is the best third-place finisher in Motor Trend history. C’est la vie.
2nd Place: Cadillac ATS-V
This stud athlete is let down by its lack of powertrain refinement and sonic thrills. Cadillac has very little tweaking to do to get things right.
1st Place: Mercedes-Benz C63 S AMG
An iron fist in a velvet glove. Race mode transforms the beast into an iron fist in an iron glove.
|2015 BMW M3||2016 Cadillac ATS-V Sedan||2015 Mercedes-AMG C63 S|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo I-6 alum block/head||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6 alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||181.8 cu in/2,979 cc||217.5 cu in/3,564 cc||243.0 cu in/3,982 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||425 hp @ 5,500 rpm||464 hp @ 5,850 rpm*||503 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||406 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm||445 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm*||516 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm|
|REDLINE||7,500 rpm||6,500 rpm||7,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||8.2 lb/hp||8.2 lb/hp||7.8 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.||8-speed automatic||7-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||15.8-in vented carbon-ceramic disc; 15.0-in, vented carbon-ceramic disc, ABS||14.5-in vented disc; 13.3-in vented disc, ABS||15.8-in vented, drilled carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled carbon-ceramic disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||9.0 x 19-in; 10.0 x 19, forged aluminum||9.0 x 18-in; 9.5 x 18-in, forged aluminum||8.5 x 19-in; 9.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||255/35ZR19 92Y; 275/35ZR19 100Y Michelin Pilot Super Sport||255/35ZR18 94Y; 275/35ZR18 99Y Michelin Pilot Super Sport||245/35ZR19 93Y; 265/35ZR19 98Y Michelin Pilot Super Sport|
|WHEELBASE||110.7 in||109.3 in||111.8 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.2/63.1 in||60.5/60.4 in||63.3/60.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.5 x 73.9 x 56.1 in||184.0 x 71.3 x 55.7 in||187.2 x 72.4 x 56.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.0 ft||38.4 ft||37.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,498 lb||3,788 lb||3,936 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||50/50 %||52/48 %||54/46 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.3/37.7 in||37.6/35.1 in||37.1/37.1 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.0/35.1 in||42.3/33.5 in||41.7/35.2 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.1/55.1 in||54.1/51.1 in||54.0/50.3 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||12.0 cu ft||10.4 cu ft||12.6 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.8 sec||1.5 sec||1.8 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.7||1.7||1.6|
|QUARTER MILE||12.3 sec @ 118.1 mph||12.1 sec @ 116.2 mph||12.2 sec @ 119.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||104 ft||99 ft||101 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.01 g (avg)||1.03 g (avg)||1.01 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.1 sec @ 0.86 g (avg)||23.7 sec @ 0.88 g (avg)||24.1 sec @ 0.86 g (avg)|
|2.41-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||92.51 sec||91.43 sec||91.52 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,750 rpm||1,450 rpm||1,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$84,370||$73,570||$89,035|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, front pelvic, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||6 yrs/70,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited||6 yrs/70,000 miles||Unlimited|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.8 gal||16.0 gal||17.4 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||17/24/19 mpg||16/24/19 mpg||18/25/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles||211/140 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.99 lb/mile||1.03 lb/mile||0.94 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||Not available||17.6/24.2/20.1 mpg||17.6/22.8/19.6 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|