In the world of business class high-performance coupes, this trio rules the roost. Audi has the newest car and Benz the oldest (but most powerful) and BMW has added a Competition Pack to bolster the M4’s credentials. Which is best? We find out, on road and track.
|Audi RS5 Coupe||BMW M4 Competition Pack||Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe|
|Price||R1 285 500||R1 448 636||R1 519 246|
|Power/Torque||331 kW/600 Nm||331 kW/550 Nm||375 kW/700 Nm|
|0-100 kph||3.9 sec||4.0 sec||3.9 sec|
|Fuel consumption||8.7 L/100 km||8.3 L/100 km||8.9 L/100 km|
|Weight (claimed)||1 655 kg||1 585 kg||1 725 kg|
With each generation of these coupes, their engines develop more power, their suspensions become more adaptable and the electronics that allow these performance machines to corner at ever-loftier limits evolve further. The only thing that seems to go backwards is steering feel. Oh, how we miss a simple rack-and-pinion steering setup with hydraulic – as opposed to electronic – assistance.
Nevertheless, what we’re left with are 3 cars capable of dispatching 0-100 kph sprints in 4.0 seconds or less, achieving top speeds limited to 250 kph (or 280 kph, in the BMW’s case) and endowed with an endless array of settings and buttons so that their drivers can dial in the perfect driving experience for every circumstance.
We start with the Audi. Why? Well, because A is the first letter of the alphabet. The RS5 is brand new, having been launched in South Africa at the end of 2017. It’s underlying chassis, from the A4, has improved its handling prowess and reduced some of that notorious understeer that front- and all-wheel-drive Audis seem to be perennially saddled with. Under the bonnet is a Porsche-developed 2.9-litre V6 twin-turbopetrol with peak outputs of 331 kW and 600 Nm of torque, and thanks to its quattro drivetrain, the RS5 is claimed to get from standstill to 100 kph in 3.9 seconds (which matches the Benz's stated time). Now with its smaller engine (previously it was a V8), the Audi is 60 kg lighter than before (most of the heft has been reduced at the front end), which should make it a little more pointy and agile on turn-in.
Each with over 300 kW and nothing slower than 4.0 sec to 100 kph.
Audi has also selected an 8-speed torque converter transmission for the RS5; no dual-clutch gearbox here (as fitted to smaller RS cars)... just a good old-fashioned auto. Torque converters have come a long way in terms of 'shift responsiveness' and, besides, they deal with higher loads of torque better than dual-clutch ‘boxes.
Next up is the BMW. The Competition Pack adds R135 000 to the standard M4 Coupe in order to tailor its handling and performance characteristics for track use. Power is increased from 317 kW to 331 kW and torque remains unchanged at 550 Nm. 0-100 kph is clocked in approximately 4.0 sec and the top speed's upped to 280 kph. The Competition Pack includes firmer suspension, thicker anti-roll bars, adaptive damping, a front splitter tuned for downforce and a rather grumpy performance exhaust.
The M4 Competition Pack uses a 7-speed M-DCT gearbox, which is a dual-clutch unit equipped with launch control and 3 selectable settings: for the speed at which the gearbox selects the next gear (up or down), throttle response/engine performance and suspension firmness.
The Benz's coupe lines and shouty exhaust attract the most attention, whereas the Audi goes about its business in a subtle way.
Finally the Mercedes-AMG. The C-Class chassis isn’t holding up in its old age (at least as well as we had hoped), but in true Mercedes-AMG fashion, the Affalterbach-based firm has lopped in a thumping 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, which is the most powerful unit in this comparison. Lofy outputs of 375 kW and 700 Nm are directed to the C63 S' mechanical limited-slip rear differential and, conditions permitting, the Benz will do its utmost to catapult from 0 to 100 kph in 3.9 seconds, going on to a limited top speed of 250 kph. It’s the heaviest car here (by around 75 kg), so that may drown out its power advantage somewhat.
Doing the shifting is a 7-speed dual-clutch box with a race start mode and a traction control deactivation button that should only be pressed by either foolishly brave... or especially talented/experienced drivers.
The drag strip
Drag Race 2
Judging by the claimed numbers and previous history of our drag races, we expected the Audi to walk it and the BMW and Mercedes-AMG to be relatively close with possibly the Benz’s stronger engine helping it towards the end of the strip.
Ambient temperature was around 20ºC and, as usual, the Killarney surface was slippery around the start area of the quarter mile run. Yet more of a headstart for the Audi and its quattro system, right?
When lining up the Audi against the BMW, in a theoretical fastest vs slowest match-up on a slippery surface, which, in theory, should favour the all-wheel-drive coupe from Neckarsulm, things became confusing. The BMW has a very specific launch control system that’s extremely finicky, but if you get it right, you can adjust the rpm at which it launches with the cruise control switch. This wasn’t working, so we had to launch the Bimmer at a crazy 4 000 rpm.
In a drag race, we suspected the Audi would win followed by a tough duel between the M4 and the C63 S.
Go! The BMW immediately fights for traction, laying down rubber from its 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. It squirrels its way down the strip hunting for grip before firing off a gear change that only upsets the balance, further loosening the rear end and introducing some sideways momentum. The Audi, despite cleanly launching off the line and not having to fight for traction, is only a half a car length ahead... This could be a close one. Finally, the BMW gains full traction midway through second gear and the fight is on for the finish line. Whatever BMW uses to measure the power on this M4 Competition Pack, it’s inaccurate and it should probably be tossed in the bin. The M4 mercilessly reels in the Audi as if the latter's a family hatchback, and dispenses with it by over a car length by the time the 400 metres is done.
It’s no fluke either, the BMW consistently beats the Audi and then decimates the Mercedes-AMG in the same fashion. The more rubber that goes down, the bigger the gap at the end of the quarter mile!
The V8 lurking under the bonnet of the C63 S. Still abides by the 1 man 1 engine rule at AMG.
The C63 S, by comparison, is a pain to launch off the line. Despite launch control, you still have to fiddle with the traction control settings to find out which setting is best for the current conditions. With traction control fully off and launch control engaged, the AMG performed the perfect burnout – it didn't move for 5 or 6 seconds as the competition made a break for it. The Benz is wild, untamed and an utter handful. When it eventually made a decent launch, the C63 S ran the RS5 close right up to the finish line; it clawed its way back to draw level with its rival, before ultimately passing it with a few metres to spare.
A proper upset for the books: The BMW romped to an easy win, with the Benz second and the Audi last. We were beginning to think someone had sent us a dud RS5.
To the track
With the drag race results upsetting the order of things, the track results seemed a foregone conclusion. The BMW was sure to use its Competition Pack’s handling benefits to extend its margin over its countrymen.
With the temperature starting to creep up to the high 20s, the Audi was first to set its lap. The lightened front end of the RS5 has definitely improved turn in and front end responsiveness; the Audi feels quick to head into an apex and there’s even a hint of lift-off oversteer as you feather the brakes into an apex. Once into the apex, the RS5 is typically controllable. It’s all about spotting the exit and nailing the throttle; there's no need to worry about traction – the quattro system keeps the 600 Nm in line.
The RS5 is surprisingly agile on track with a nimble front end. There's a lot of body roll however when you throw some lateral G its way.
The RS5 does have a substantial amount of body roll as it tips into a corner, you can see this from the sidelines or as you follow it around a bend, the gap between the wheel and the arch is huge, it’s almost comical how much the RS5 leans, but it manages the yaw well. This is one of Audi’s most dynamic-feeling cars in a long time.
BMW’s M4 Competition Pack barks to life by virtue of its louder and tinnier exhaust pipes. Set traction control all the way off, gearbox ferocity to maximum, engine into sport plus mode, along with the suspension and steering in comfort. Any more than comfort on the steering and it just feels too darn heavy and artificial.
Competition Package of the M4 turns the wick up on the engine. It ups power from 317 kW to 331 kW - the equal of the Audi.
On anything but sticky new rubber the Competition Pack M4 is difficult to keep under control... it constantly wants to break away at the hint of a sharp throttle application. You sit much lower in the M4 than the other 2, the weight of the car is also lower, so it’s easier to feel what’s going on and it rolls less in the bends because of that. The lower centre of gravity makes it steady under hard braking and turn-in is precise and balanced. When exiting bends, things get tricky. You have to introduce the throttle carefully, cleanly and with small flexes of your big toe. You’re under constant threat that the rear is going to swing out and ruin a clean, precise lap. If you just want to have a wild time and slide the M4 about then it’s easy to hold a slide. What's more, excellent chassis feedback allows you to control long, drifty slides with the throttle.
As expected, the M4 Competition Pack dominated on the track. It has a twitchy rear but with a bit of throttle finesse, you can get a stellar lap out of it.
The AMG is the final car to complete a hot lap of Killarney. The engine needs to be given sufficient time to cool down as Mercedes-AMGs do tend to get hot and bothered on balmy track days, when they're prone to default into limp mode midway through a lap.
If ever there was a car that resembled a blunt weapon, it’s the Benz. It’s a sledgehammer in a straight line, but point it towards a corner and it has all the finesse of a burly front-row prop trying his hand at dancing in Swan Lake for the very first time! The centre of gravity is higher than in the BMW and you feel that when applying the power; the C63 S rocks from side to side as it scrabbles for grip and requires constant corrections through the wheel. Traction is hard to come by even when feathering the throttle in higher gears. This experience feels very old-school AMG and, unfortunately, galaxies removed from piloting that precision track tool that is the AMG GT-R. The C63 S was made to eat tyres, bellow white smoke and shout as loudly as possible. Do not apply within if you’re looking for a precise driving machine.
The brakes on the Merc were extremely good, considering it had to stop the most weight.
It’s no wonder that the BMW beats the Audi by nearly 2 seconds and the Benz by 2.1 seconds. Both the M4 CP and C63 S use their raw speed advantage down the straights to pull away from the Audi, which makes time up at the exit of corners because it’s able to get its power down easier than the rear-wheel-drive, tail-happy duo.
Back to the road
Track driving shows up every car’s limitations; it highlights aspects that everyday driving never would, but, then again, probably 99% of driving is done on the road at legal speeds and within a car’s limits. It’s here where the Audi is a class above the others: its suspension is more adaptable to a wider range of conditions, making the RS5 more comfortable for everyday use and, for quick spurts out of corners, there’s plenty of speed. Where it lacks a little, is in terms of the other 2's aural drama.
The BMW M4 in Competition Pack spec, with its firmer suspension and lower ride height, is much harsher during everyday use. It struggles on abrasive tarmac and when it traverses cat eyes at speed, it can feel like a wheel has fallen off. It’s not unbearable, but a long drive would test your patience in terms of road noise and bumpiness.
The Audi and Merc are more comfortable in an everyday road situation.
Meanwhile, the Benz's chassis is starting to feel a little dated. We praised the C-Class when it first arrived for its adaptable ride and classy cabin, but the game has moved on so much that neither its relatively pliant damping nor luxurious interior can be considered class-leading anymore. The interior creaks as you push and prod the panels and now feels a trifle plasticky compared to what's on offer in the Audi. The ride is firm – admittedly not as much as the M4's, but doesn’t quite match the RS5 for ultimate adaptability. The C63 S does have the most presence out on the road, it gets the most looks and its soundtrack, thanks to that sonorous V8, is most provocative.
Judging by what you’ve read above, it would be easy to say the BMW is the winner. After all, it won the drag race and annihilated the others on track. It can be used every day, but there are some notable drawbacks, such as excessive road noise and discomfort on bumpy roads. The Mercedes-AMG is crazy; it seems it was let out of the looney bin so that it can bludgeon its way from 'light to 'light in a blaze of smoke, thunder and crackles from the exhaust pipe. It’s not a track car and it lacks the refinement for everyday use that the Audi has, but if it's entertainment you’re after, it’s certainly the one to have, just make sure you have a tyre sponsor signed up.
Each car has something different to offer, but the BMW remains the driving enthusiast's weapon of choice.
The track enthusiast’s choice is obviously the BMW, but where does that leave the Audi? It’s hardly slow, but it is solidly beaten by the Mercedes-AMG and BMW in a straight line. It’s not an awful handler on track, in fact, by virtue of a pointy front end and plenty of traction, it put in a track time that matched that of the Mercedes.
Ultimately, the Audi is the car you want to drive every day. It’s comfortable on long drives, in traffic and even when things get bumpy. Compared with ordinary business class cars, it's stupendously fast, yet doesn’t sacrifice everyday driving comfort... In fact, it feels like a grand tourer more than a performance coupe. Even if it lacks the visual and aural appeal of the other 2, it brushes them aside on build quality and interior appeal. If you can live without having the fastest track car, the Audi's the winner.