A gang of rivals wants to teach the new AMG C63 S a thing or two, but does it need the lessons?
MASTER CLASS: AMG C63 S W205 v AUDI RS5 8W6 v ALFA GIULIA Q 952 v BMW M3 PURE F80 v ALPINA B3 S F30
Five differing flavours compete for super-sedan supremacy. Which offers the tastiest recipe? Words by Louis Cordony. Pics Alastair Brook/ Ellen Dewar.
Take a deep breath. Concentrate. You control 510 of Affalterbach’s finest horses with your right foot. The new 2019 Mercedes-AMG C63 S W205 you’re in should handle them. Its electronic brain has been spliced with a new ESP matrix and adjustable traction control that lets you switch between tyre frying lunatic and corner-carving surgeon.
Twin turbos plumb into a 4.0-litre V8 to produce a colossal 700Nm, all aimed at its rear tyres. But then there’s the other side of the story. Although the old seven-speed transmission was known for being brusque, a new nine-speed wet clutch automatic promises to smooth things out.
During development Mercedes-AMG also locked some suspension engineers away until they devised a new, best-of-both-worlds setup. One that promises comfort, precision and traction in equal measure. It also demanded a refreshed interior, the best in class, so a new steering wheel and digital cluster now appear in front of you.
These changes amount to a comprehensive revamp of the C63 S W205 at its mid-life point. And although they hope to unlock class-dominating potential, as we burble down the highway something lurking in our rear-view suggests that won’t be easy. It’s a swollen-looking sedan. As it closes in, its vented bonnet and aggressively cooled bumper come into view.
It’s a Cadillac ATS-V. Gulp. General Motors’ anti-C63 weapon. The ‘LEFT HAND DRIVE’ sticker on its rear window signals it’s an engineering mule, here for GM development work at the hands of Holden, and since we’re around Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs it’s probably destined for Lang Lang.
But it serves as a reminder this AMG faces serious competition before claiming the throne. After all, with a twin-turbo V6, four doors and rear-drive, it’s as if the ATS-V was built in the image of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Q – the Italian we placed on equal footing with the C63 S W205 in 2017. It’s back for round two with a gang of refreshed rivals.
Alfa Romeo has tweaked some things. It’s now a five seater, for starters. But we assume owners might have enjoyed a 375kW/600Nm 2.9-litre engine, adaptive shocks and an electronic locking rear differential too much to ever notice it was missing an extra seatbelt on the rear bench.
Oh, and Alfa Romeo has dropped the ‘Verde’ from the Giulia’s QV suffix to create the Giulia Q. The rear seats are now also heated and drivers sit behind the fancy, and previously optional, Alcantara rimmed racing wheel with carbon-fibre inserts. This inflates its price by $2000 to $145,900. A reasonable ask for the fastest four-door around the Nurburgring Nordschleife and much cheaper than the AMG’s $160,900. But if you’re after a cheap performance car then pop into a BMW sales yard. The M3 Pure F80 was devised to send off the sixth-generation car. It takes a standard Competition variant, ditches the 20-inch wheels, seat heating, leather seat inserts, fancy audio and adaptive headlights to drive its price down to $129,900.
That’s staggering when you consider the performance and it once cost $156,300.
Fitted with Competition-spec software, a 331kW/550Nm twin-turbo six, lowered suspension and 19-inch wheels on fatter tyre sidewalls, it’s quoted to dispatch 100km/h from rest in 4.0 seconds, equalling the AMG and only one tenth off the Alfa Romeo. But we’ll get to that later, because BMW isn’t the only one slashing prices on a 3 Series.
Alpina, the Buchloe-based company that’s hot rodded BMWs with Munich’s blessing since the ’60s, has dropped its B3 S’s price from $157,651 to $117K drive away. But rather than create its own version of an M3, the B3 S approaches the fast, premium, rear-drive sedan in a different way.
Yes, its 3.0-litre straight six, based on an N55 that spins two sequentially arranged turbochargers, squeezes 324kW and 660Nm through its rear wheels. But it sheathes it all with a silken suit. Instead of the M3’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, it has a smoother eight-speed automatic, a cloud-like ride and lacquered inserts throughout the cabin. Yet, there’s another outcast in our midst. Audi’s new RS5 Sportback drives four wheels, instead of two, and derives its core measurements from the RS4 Avant. Oh, and it’s technically a five-door since its boot hinges off the roof.
It still wields fearsome credentials, like its hot-vee twin-turbo V6 that wrings 331kW/600Nm from 2.9 litres. That’s put through an eight-speed auto and active rear-LSD that can focus 85 per cent of power on a single rear wheel. The claim is it can hit 100km/h from rest in 3.9 seconds, so we’re going to test that at a drag strip. First, though, in the Mercedes-AMG.
Pinch the round dial on the AMG’s right steering spoke, twist it until a flag appears on its mini-LCD and you’re now in Race. The hydraulic engine mounts tense like a weight lifter’s calves. The stability control loosens its hold on yaw rates and revised software primes the powertrain with its most aggressive settings. Deep breath.
Jam your left foot on the brake, the right one on the throttle. The nose lifts as the revs build and the exhaust booms through the cabin. The digital tacho cluster burns red, ready for your cue. Release the brake.
The back axle shudders as 700Nm try and rip apart a pair of Michelins. Traction control cuts in. The onboard stability software deems first gear useless and upshifts early. Revs drop… then unfurl on to the 375kW power peak. More axle shudder. More traction control.
Third gear arrives at just under 100km/h. The engine bellows through third, then fourth, before snicking into fifth just at the finish line. As poor as traction is, though, this is its best run. Despite everything you do to improve it.
We try traction control off, on or half-engaged. Ditto the ESP, and rolling it away from the line. If we knew how to launch the powertrain in second gear, we would. Back in 2017 at Winton Raceway we achieved 4.27sec and 12.20sec at 195.68km/h with the previous C63 S, but we can’t improve on 4.4sec 0-100km/h and 12.3sec at (194.60km/h) 0-400m times.
It’s easy to explain why it’s slower to 100km/h. Max speed in second gear has dropped from 112km/h to 96km/h, forcing an upshift before it reaches triple figures. But the reasons behind its lower trap speed are, ultimately, less obvious. The thing is, while it produces the same power at the flywheel, the nine-speed’s shorter gear ratios increase the force put through the rear wheels. Yet, its rear tyres are still the same width. The result leaves the C63 starving for grip and the Alfa-Romeo is about to prove that’s nothing to do with today’s drag strip surface.
Spin the Giulia’s drive mode selector past Dynamic to Race, disabling ESP in the process, and stomp the gas. It bucks sideways down the launch pad as it breaks traction, the Pirelli P Zero Corsas clearly no match for the Ferrari-derived engine even with the widest rear tyres of this lot. You try a cleaner launch and hold your left foot soft on the brake, the right softly on the throttle. Build revs to 1800rpm, then lift.
Blending one pedal input into the other from the line is key. The short-stroke V6 is extremely energetic and threatens to break traction high in the revs, so plucking the huge shift paddle to snatch second keeps the rear axle gripped up. Watch the revs soar past its indicated redline to 7200rpm. It’s quick. It snags 100km/h in 4.21 seconds and covers the strip in 12.11sec in fifth gear carrying 193.6km/h.
Next is the BMW M3 Pure. Gulp. Its heavily boosted six cylinder engine is known to fry tyres. Will it matter the Pure’s rear boots are 10mm skinnier? Let’s see. Set the shift program to Sport, the transmission map to its highest setting, engine response to Sport Plus and, with a quivering finger, press and hold the DSC button until it’s switched off.
Revs rise on the brake with a hard-edged buzz. Then, release, and nothing. No evil wheelspin, axle tramp or power cut. It just digs in. You can feel the fatter, softer Continental sidewalls pressing into the ground, helping it explode from the line like Ian Thorpe launched off the blocks. More revs? Sure.
At 3500rpm it still grips and goes. Storming to the 7500rpm limiter in each gear and at the horizon with intimidating ease. It reaches 100km/h from rest in 4.15 seconds, only a tenth off its claimed time. It covers the strip’s total distance in 12.14sec at 191.39km/h.
Launch control in the Alpina B3 S is similar to the M3. Whack its gear lever across into Sport mode, disable stability control and stall the eight-speed ZF automatic at 2000rpm. But that’s where the similarities end. Lift the brake and nothing happens for a second. Then the turbos wake up. All of a sudden you’re on opposite lock, wrestling the 660Nm that’s arrived. Launching on a grippier section helps tame this sudden rush of boost. It squats and rocks about as you roar away, shifting at 6300rpm as the stability systems delicately balances between grip and slip. Persistence pays off, though.
Times tumble as heat builds in the B3 S’s tyres and turbochargers. Without changing anything, its 400m time falls from 12.7sec on the first run to 12.6 in the second, then 12.5 for the third, then eventually to 12.44sec. Each 0-100km/h time drops as well, ending with 4.37sec, or a tenth off the claimed time. But it’s the Audi that’s about to prove quoted figures can be beaten. Smashed, in fact.
Rolling to the start line with almost more than double the driven footprint than anything else here is a decent advantage. But it doesn’t prepare you for the RS5’s savageness. When you set its systems to attack, then drop the stalled revs at 3150rpm, it lunges forward so fast you have to brace your head against the seat to avoid whiplash.
From rest, triple figures arrive in 3.7sec and 400m passes in 11.9sec. However, with the lowest power-to-weight ratio, it also is the slowest across the finish line at 185.46km/h. And while its ferocious grip and speed define it in a straight line, it’s memorable on snaking roads for other reasons.
Through long, constant radius corners its nose responds slowly and is horribly indirect. We’ve criticised Dynamic Steering in the past, perhaps explaining why it’s optional, but it can lock the steering ratio in Dynamic mode (at 13.5:1 versus 15.9:1). This added accuracy would improve the connection with its front-end dramatically, rather than feel like you’re just holding on. Because that’s what you will need to do.
Charge at a tight bend, stomp on the brakes, lean into the wall of grip and get on the power. Hard. It claws into the surface with its huge paws, growling with an enjoyable but slightly artificial tone, then leaps at the next corner. Watch others in the rear-view shrink.
It’s so grippy it’s hard to imagine it ever letting go. But it will. Trail some brake, throw it at an apex and it’ll wriggle into oversteer. This happens with a slight delay, so there’s time to get back on the power and overspeed the outside rear wheel into a smidge of oversteer. It’s a fast, but blunt, instrument.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the grip spectrum is the B3 S. As much as it looks like a tarted-up 3 Series, it has unique caster and toe alignments, and a ride that feels like it’s air suspended – even on 20-inch wheels. And, ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with its setup since it’s bred for touring long stretches of smooth, German highways.
But on gnarled Australian mountain roads hard acceleration exposes boat-ish body control. Coupled with some frontend push into a corner, the experience reminds you of an FG Falcon. We would tick the box for an optional limited slip differential to give the stability control light a break, and a set of slotted discs would give its brakes some needed bite. However, there’s at least a charming honesty to the way it handles that is lost on our next contender.
There’s no doubting the Giulia is a ground-bound jet. But punching out of corners leaves you wondering if it really has the grip, or did the ESP secretly cut power and guide you out? Either way, you won’t care for an answer since it blends handling and ride so well.
Its turbochargers, tucked low under a 90-degree block, suck hard as it pushes down on its rear axle. Surging forward between corners it breathes with road surfaces, using the compliance to unleash its fearsome power. Oh, and upshifts relieve a wicked crack from the exhaust.
At least the steering is clear about what it’s doing. It’s frontend is devastatingly sharp and will always keeps your intended line. It’s lovely on long bends as you progressively load its front tyres. On tighter corners, though, it lacks weight and can feel a little too darty. That’s not just the steering either, the brakes suffer as well.
They’re its Achilles’ heel. Like a set of carbon ceramics that never reach temperature, they’re so dull you can’t fine tune weight transfer. And that’s the rub with the Giulia. Some days it’s a fluid, back-road devouring beast. Other days it feels much less than cohesive.
There’s nowhere to hide among this company. The AMG is verging on dynamic greatness, if only for a few things. Some float creeped into its suspension tune when engineers tried to unlock more compliance. An extra 25kg around its hips only makes things worse. Stab the brakes, point the steering at a corner and its mass needs a moment to settle.
Luckily, while the new wheel might be a little fat in your hands, the steering is excellent. It’s sharp off centre, points true, and weights up with a genuine sense of feedback. It’s a handy tool when the Michelin Pilot Super Sports are cold. But the flashing ESP light in Race Mode, that you need to disable if you want to adjust the nine-stage traction control, means you’ll need to be confident before trying to tame this beast on your own. After all, its powertrain is relentless.
It’ll shake passing trees with its thunderous growl, and fire an artillery-like crack on overrun at those trailing behind. That nine-speed automatic also handles the V8’s road-devouring grunt with ease, snicking through gears with a smooth mechanical action. This powertrain delivers instant smiles, even if the chassis lacks that extreme level of feedback a racecar driver might crave. They’d be satisfied in the M3 Pure, though. Things just happen so much faster. The brakes, if you haven’t cooked them, bite hard with feel. That front-end, despite a lifeless and vague steering rack, rotates the chassis so quickly, you’ll lock on a corner’s exit before the AMG or Giulia have released their brakes. It’s potent.
Confidence builds through the next corners. And while you may have used to dread squeezing the throttle in an M3, the Pure hooks up like never before. Tighten the steering, sink the throttle, and wait for the engine’s vicious mid-range to unglue the rear. And rather than bless the MDM mode’s safety net, you start to curse it, because you’re ready with a good dab of opposite lock when it lets go.
Its Continental boots are to thank for this welcome progressiveness. Their softer sidewalls, that are also taller than the optional 20-inch Michelin’s, cushion the Pure’s firm, lowered suspension. We’d bet they’d do better in the rain, as well. But, at the end of the day, is this the one car we’d stow in our garage?Well, it’s not our last pick. That is the Alpina.
Sure, the B3 S is impressive. It’s found an absorbent ride with a long-travel feel on 20-inch wheels. Also that N55-based engine, howling through an Akrapovic exhaust, is rortier than the M3’s coarse sounding S55. And its new drive-away price, at $117K, is outrageously cheap considering it’s attached to something that can reel off 12.4sec quarter miles. No wonder there’s a crankshaft on the brand’s emblem, these people can build an engine.
But the B3 S’s interior is literally a generation old. And it was never going to look the part for its original $157K price without the M3’s aggressive, swollen sheet metal. Those wheels are gorgeous, and its sticker kit nods to the firm’s history, but it feels more like a heavily tuned 340i than something re-engineered to a higher level.
However, if comfort sits high on your priority list then the Audi and Alfa Romeo are both equally good options as each other. The Audi differentiates itself from a frenetic Giulia Q or brash C63 S as a grand tourer on steroids. Climbing into it is like entering a leather-lined Zen den. It also rides wonderfully on its hydraulically linked dampers in Comfort, even if it needs more travel, and always has enough grip for explosive straight-line acceleration.
It’s problem, though, is a philosophical one. While it’s ferociously fast in the right environment, part of us thinks something with an RS badge, that stands for RennSport (‘motor racing’ in German), should deliver more handling precision, chassis responsiveness and an aggro noise. And if we had to define this car on its character, it feels closer to what an S5 Sportback Performance would be rather than a racetrack mauler in a leather suit.
The Giulia Q, meanwhile, finds the precision that’s missing in the Audi. In fact, its ride and handling mix is world-class. That engine, too, is effortless and the force behind the car’s staggering speed. But it’s all tarnished by a weird feeling brake system and an addictive exhaust note hidden away in Race mode that disables ESP.
Then there’s its interior. The Alcantara steering wheel and long paddles are striking, and wonderfully tactile, while the interior is beautifully designed, but it’s all compromised by some questionable fit-and-finish. The gearshift lever’s dim back-lighting is unacceptable at this price point.
This leaves the M3 Pure and C63 S. If both cars fit your budget, despite the yawning $31,900 price gap (before the AMG’s options), then the M3 would be mighty tempting. Its performance has only been enhanced by age. Munich worked hard to fix its spikey power delivery and spooky rear-end over its life cycle and the Pure distils that learning into a very attractive deal.
But as the faster car it’s also the firmer one. It bobs a touch more over humps and drones a bit more inside over the coarse chip stuff. Its pedals are also crude looking and the shift paddles, while they work with a crisp click, are undersized and look nasty. You never really fall in love with its engine, either. On balance it comes close, but falls short of a cigar.
Mercedes-AMG obviously slaved away at the C63 S and it’s paid off. It brings the luxury of the Audi, the smoothness of the Alpina, the front-end accuracy of the Alfa Romeo and then mixes it all with the pedigree of the M3. But it’s also a V8 lunatic with enough power to overthrow a government.
Ride comfort is good. Meanwhile, the interior’s taken strides forward in technology, as have the car’s stability systems, and while it’d be easy to pick any of the others for your own reasons, anyone would be very happy to take its keys at the end of the day. Now, where’s that pesky Cadillac ATS-V?
MAIN All five cars use twin-turbocharged engines and, except the AMG, just six cylinders
ONE The N55 engine lives! Alpina continued to use the block after BMW upgraded to the B58 in the 40i models TWO The B3 S was the only car on test missing an LSD, a fairly big oversight with 660Nm
THREE Brand founder Burkard Bovensiepen chose to build fast BMWs over a legacy in his family’s successful typewriter business
BELOW The C63 S can’t convert its superior power-to-weight ratio into an advantage over the M3 at the strip, or on a winding road.
ONE M177 V8 is closely related with the AMG GT’s M178, but relies on a regular oiling system as opposed to a drysump setup
TWO Optional carbon ceramics might be costly ($7200) but slash about10kg from the front-end and have a natural feel
THREE AMG Performance seats are brilliant, even if some might find them firm, but have been made a $3700 option for the 2019 C63 S.
ONE The M3 Pure F80 and Giulia use carbonfibre roofs to lower their centre of gravity and have a more planted feel
TWO Water intercooled S55 is seriously eager and works well with the seven-speed dual-clutch
THREE The interior has everything you need, however, it lacks the tech and functionality of the AMG’s new cabin
THE B3 S F30 IS OUTRAGEOUSLY CHEAP CONSIDERING IT CAN REEL OFF 12.4SEC QUARTERS
THE AMG SHAKES PASSING TREES WITH ITS GROWL AND FIRES AN ARTILLERYLIKE CRACK ON OVERRUN
THE M3 GRIPS AND GOES, STORMING TO ITS LIMITER, AND THE HORIZON, WITH INTIMIDATING EASE
ABOVE Hydraulically linked dampers in the RS5 lack travel and are extremely stiff on rebound in Dynamic
ONE Standard 20-inchers are just one of many things we get as standard over and above international markets
TWO Speccy cabin features Nappa leather seats and optional carbon inlays ($1000)
THE RS5 WIELDS FEARSOME CREDENTIALS, THE CLAIM IS IT CAN HIT 100KM/H IN 3.9 SECONDS
ONE Steering wheel and paddles are highlights, but the interior is let down by cheap-looking features like the shift lever
TWO You won’t see the Alpina on the Giulia’s tail for any other reason than photography. Trust us
THREE Lovely 2891cc V6 shares same cylinder displacement with Califoria T’s 3855cc twin-turbo V8.
BELOW Giulia’s fancy active aero and diffuser ain’t much use here in Oz. But looks cool.
THE GIULIA Q’S $ 145,900 IS A REASONABLE ASK FOR THE FASTEST-FOUR DOOR AROUND THE ’RING
OTHER POINTS OF VIEW
DAMIEN PELLETIER, MOTOR ART DIRECTOR
My pick: C63 S. All of these muscle-bound Europeans can annihilate a given set of corners with poise and comfort, but if I were faced with the unlikely predicament of which to choose, three stand out. The M3’s flared haunches exude menace and it carves apexes with laser accuracy. The Giulia steers and rides beautifully and those Italian curves are oh-so enticing. But I’d pinch the keys to the C63 S W205 every day of the week for one reason – that twin-turbo V8 beast lurking under the hood. The ride can still be a touch busy and you feel the extra heft after the BMW, but the way it snorts and bellows whilst delivering a 700Nm kick to the spine never, ever gets old.
DANIEL WONG, MOTOR DIGITAL PRODUCER
My pick: Giulia Q. It isn’t as perfect as the Mercedes-AMG C63 S W205, cohesive as the BMW M3 Pure F80, or capable as the Audi RS5 Sportback F5, and I doubt I would get over its numb brake pedal and interior bits that might not outlast the warranty. However, then again, I don’t think I could resist its charms either. It strikes the heartstrings with steering and a chassis that has a lithe and effervescent quality that you won’t find amongst this company. It snubs the cold objectivity of the “ownership experience” and eggs us on to savour each moment and live a little, come what may. For that I applaud its bravado and pocket its keys.
SCOTT NEWMAN, MOTOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR
My pick: M3 Pure. Objectively, it’s the C63. It’s expensive, but the ride has been transformed, the tech is cutting-edge and the thunderous engine makes you forgive the gearbox’s low-speed jerks and thumps. Subjectively, each car makes a strong case. The RS5 Sportback has the fast family thing sown up (though we’d prefer an RS4 Avant), the Giulia rides beautifully, loves to play and goes like a rocket and at its sharp run-out price the Alpina is an intriguing, road-focused halfway house between M3 and 340i for those who value exclusivity. Remarkably, though, I’d take the M3. I wish its steering wasn’t so numb and that the engine sounded better, but as a cohesive driving machine it’s the best here and at $129,000 it’s the bargain of the century.
Small numbers, big speed
ALFA ROMEO GIULIA Q 952
0-400m 12.11sec @ 193.6km/h
SPEED IN GEARS
1st 57km/h @ 7200rpm
2nd 90km/h @ 7200rpm
3rd 134km/h @ 7200rpm
4th 167km/h @ 7200rpm
5th 218km/h @ 7200rpm
6th 287km/h @ 7200rpm*
7th 307km/h @ 6325rpm*
8th 307km/h @ 4925rpm*
ALPINA B3 S F30
0-400m 12.44sec @ 187.64km/h
SPEED IN GEARS
1st 66km/h @ 7000rpm
2nd 100km/h @ 7000rpm
3rd 148km/h @ 7000rpm
4th 188km/h @ 7000rpm
5th 243km/h @ 7000rpm
6th 306km/h @ 6580rpm*
7th 306km/h @ 5750rpm*
8th 306km/h @ 4580rpm*
AUDI RS5 SPORTBACK
0-400m [email protected]/h
SPEED IN GEARS
1st 51km/h @ 6500rpm
2nd 80km/h @ 6500rpm
3rd 120km/h @ 6500rpm
4th 150km/h @ 6500rpm
5th 196km/h @ 6500rpm
6th 250km/h @ 6325rpm*
7th 250km/h @ 5200rpm*
8th 250km/h @ 4040rpm*
0-400m [email protected]/h
SPEED IN GEARS
1st 57km/h @ 7500rpm
2nd 106km/h @ 7500rpm
3rd 162km/h @ 7500rpm
4th 216km/h @ 7500rpm
5th 250km/h @ 6800rpm*
6th 250km/h @ 5750rpm*
7th 250km/h @ 4560rpm*
MERCEDES-AMG C63 S W205
0-400m 12.30sec @ 194.6km/h
SPEED IN GEARS
1st 58km/h @ 7000rpm
2nd 96km/h @ 7000rpm
3rd 138km/h @ 7000rpm
4th 191km/h @ 7000rpm
5th 256km/h @ 7000rpm
6th 290km/h @ 6500rpm*
7th 290km/h @ 5650rpm*
8th 290km/h @ 4675rpm*
9th 290km/h @ 3690rpm*
Heathcote Raceway, 20°C, dry. Driver: Louis Cordony *Manufacturer’s claim. Official timing Partner www.vboxaustralia.com.au