By on February 23, 2009

M, RS, V, F, AMG. The alpha alphabet represents five manufacturers’ best efforts to create something unique, exciting and memorable from their more prosaic mainstream motors. The resulting “performance tuned” sports sedans are so powerful, so capable, so versatile, that they’re the ground based equivalent of the all-weather fighter jets that battle for control of the skies. While the shibboleth “there’s no such thing as a bad car” applies here, there are always going to be winners and losers. And it’s our job to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Each car symbolizes the corporate culture that crafted it. Each car possesses a unique personality. And each vehicle has a clear mission profile. BMW’s M3 seeks to defend and extend proven road-going superiority through maximum thrust and maneuverability. Audi’s RS4 sets out to shoot down the BMW. Mercedes’ C63 AMG embarks on a low-level bombing run. Cadillac’s CTS-V simply wants to defend its home airspace. And the Lexus IS-F tries to prove it can create the world’s fastest luxury jet.

I was privileged to drive these cars. Despite the universal G-inspired facial rictus, I walked away liking some of these uber sedans more than others. In the final analysis, my preferences stem as much from my own personality as they do from each car’s aesthetics, ergonomics and driving dynamics. I’m a Type-A aviator that breaks things for a living and abhors mediocrity. Mea culpa. So what follows is Capt. Mike’s ultimate guide to $60K super sedans. Nothing more. Nothing less.

5th Place — Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG

If you think it’s OK to buy a car for its engine, the C63 is a highly defensible choice. The AMG-fettled V8 generates 451 bhp @ 6,800 rpm. Even in this highly-horsed company, that’s an awful lot of thrust. There’s nothing wrong with the way the mighty Mercedes mill propels pistonheads towards perdition. Equally important, the C63’s sonic signature is the best of our fearsome five. It bellows and roars with the best of them. In fact, it IS the best of them, if unbridled aural sex is your thing.

Did I mention the C63’s deeply contoured Recaro seats, or an automatic transmission that snaps off gearshifts like a high-speed Nikon camera changes frames?  Unfortunately, the C63’s interior falls well short of its natural competitors’ cabins. The C63’s plastics are top notch and the switch actions are sublime. But something’s missing. Some sign that the librarian is about to take off her cheap plastic glasses, shake loose her hair and muss yours.

You really lose faith when you steer the car; the C63 AMG doesn’t mask its weight like the others super sedans. The helm precision delivered by every other car in the comparo is notably absent in the C63 AMG. Sure, you can throw this bad boy around. And it’s easy enough to hang the tail out in clouds of tire smoke. But the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG feels a bit like the world’s fastest, best-handling Mustang.

Theme song: “Deuces Wild” by Link Wray

4th Place — Lexus IS-F

The Lexus IS-F lacks a manual transmission, looks odd and offers less badge appeal than a Trans Am. However, focusing on these elements detracts from the IS-F’s amazing accomplishment: straight out of the box, the Japanese luxury brand’s first F is the fastest AND most comfortable sports sedan money can buy.

All the other cars in this comparison seek that hard edge, that extreme sportiness that proclaims them the King of the ’Ring. The Lexus just sits back quietly and invites you to enjoy a surround-sound journey into the world of 416 hp (@ 6,600 rpm).

Around town, the IS-F’s V8 remains hushed and tranquil. Slam down the pedal, crest 3,000 rpm and the exhaust baffles open. All Heaven breaks loose. Although the Lexus IS-F is every bit as capable in the corners as, gulp, the BMW M3, the smooth ride remains.

In this group, the IS-F is the car you’d choose to drive from say, Atlanta to Providence, RI. But it’s not the car that would whisper in your ear, “Before we park up, there’s this nice little twisty road out by the reservoir . . . .”

Theme song: “Don’t Touch my Hat” by Lyle Lovett

3rd Place — Audi RS4

The Audi RS4 is the oldest car here. Not that you’d not know from looking at it. The RS4’s creases, gigantic snout and look-at me-bulges are all of a piece, but it’s increasingly difficult to decide what whole the parts are supposed to form. The RS4’s cabin holds the top slot for fit and finish. Sad to say (and see), the RS4’s omnipresent grays lack the Caddy’s joie de vivre and the BMW’s technologie mach frei.

Fire it up, push the RS4’s “S” button and it’s like you’ve poked a dozing tiger with a pointy stick. It’s ferociously pissed and it’s not even awake yet. When Ingolsdtadt’s 420 hp (@ 7,500 rpmm) V8 rouses from its slumber, you’ve got the proverbial tiger by an unwagging tail. And it’s got you by the balls. There may be a harsher riding sports sedans (cough, GT-R, cough), but it’s not in this group.

Yes, the RS4 has genuine steering feel. Yes, you can drive it like a Porsche C4S: just point and shoot. But there’s no excuse for a $60K German luxury carmaker’s sports sedan to offer so little luxury.

Theme song: “Hurts So Good” by Herr John Cougar Mellencamp

2nd Place — BMW M3

The BMW M3 was pipped to the post by the Cadillac CTS-V for one main reason: too much technology. I’m a man whose world is defined by acronyms, who depends on computers to keep me alive. Yet I got lost in the e-gadgetry foisted upon the Bimmer’s 414 hp (@ 8,300 rpm) V8 chassis. iDrive, MDrive, handling nannies, traction nannies and an ECU smart enough to clone dinosaurs on its own—the Bimmer’s brain created a corner carving concert that made it a the consummate sports sedan. But somewhere along the line it lost some it its character.

No question: that spark of genius remains buried deep within the M3’s box of tricks; the spirit of the original E30 M3 struggles to get out. When I stopped fiddling with all the gadgets, set everything to automatic and let loose the dogs of war, I could just about recapture those glory days, glory days, glory days.

Which is a bit like complaining that watching “Battlestar Gallactica” is never as good as it was the first time. The BMW M3 was, is, and most likely will be the most feelsome sports sedan in the world. Those who prefer finesse to raw thrills are free to transpose my top two choices without any debate. Well, from me.

Theme song: I take Beethoven’s fifth.

1st Place — Cadillac CTS-V (Manual)

The other mad machines in this comparo made the sheetmetal leap from mainstream to insanestream via louvers, brake ducts, spoilers, exhaust pipes and more exhaust pipes. The Cadillac CTS-V simply adds some chrome to the aggressive original (v. 2) design and meshes around with the front end. Inside, the Caddy proves once and for all (unfortunately) that General Motors can make a class-leading interior. Taken as a whole, the Cadillac CTS-V comes across as the brash American, fitness-trained by Hollywood’s best, wearing a perfectly tailored who’s-the-[Hugo]-boss suit.

When the pinks are on the line, the ultimate Caddy delivers the goods. At our 60 large price point, the Cadillac CTS-V has 100 bhp worth of extra Bimmer-bashing oomph under the bonnet. The 556 hp (@ 6,100 rpm) rip out of the back wheels, while the engine snarls with enough ferocity to send the Germans to the local tuning shop for some fortifying kaffe und kuchen.

But it doesn’t stop there and neither do you. The CTS-V’s gearbox (automatic or manual), suspension and brakes may lack the M3’s delicacy of touch, but they work with equal harmony and precision. This is one of those rare cars that creates confidence even as it unleashes accelerative and lateral mayhem.

Theme song: anything by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

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82 Comments on “Comparo: BMW M3 vs. Audi RS4 vs. Cadillac CTS-V vs. Lexus IS-F vs. Mercedes C63 AMG...”


  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    CTS-V number 1!

    Too little, too late. And even if it’s not too late, the wrong lesson is sure to be learned by GM management.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Absolutely no doubt in my mind that GM will screw this up, like they did with the Cobalt SS sedan.  They’ll probably cancel it and stick the engine in an Escalade V.  This company won’t even be in business in 2020 anyway.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    CTS-V and SRV…

    This cannot possibly get any better!

  • avatar
    BEAT

    As I said before when GM killed their last EV in California they killed their own future.

    We warned them but it is too late.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Could GM be killing the CTS-V because it can steal sales from the Corvette? Even the first iteration of the car is a hoot to drive, with only 400 horses. Besides, with 4 good seats and a big trunk, who needs SUVs…

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    I agree Mike…great review.

    The M3 has lost some of its original mojo in this V8 edition. The Caddy may be bigger in every dimension (more a 5 series competitor) but at this price point, it beats the M3 at it’s own game.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    Isn’t the RS4 out of production at this point?

    I agree, for 60k it’s hard to overlook the fact that A) the CTS-V has 556bhp, and a rather nice interior, and a well-tuned chassis… and 556bhp…

  • avatar
    Axel

    I’ll take a 2010 CTS-V.

    (In 2015, when it’s time to replace a car, and I can get one of these bad boys in my driveway for 15 large. Or 8 large if GM no longer exists.)

  • avatar

    SRV?

    “Steering feel” only comes up when discussing the Audi. Why is it so rare in even this class of sedan?

    Of this bunch, I’ve driven only the M3 so far. The steering in that car is far too light. The 335i feels more gutsy at lower rpm. Unlike other reviewers, I fail to see the point of the car for 90+ percent of real-world driving.

    It’s good to see the Cadillac faring so well in reviews. But it’s nearly 50 percent heavier than my ideal sedan.

    On the reliability front, TrueDelta has results for these cars in their mainstream forms. The 2007 and 2008 A4 have actually been better than average–Audi might have turned a corner. The E90 3-Series and 2008 C-Class have been average. With the Lexus, only a partial result for the 2006 so far. It seems to be about average. Compared to the others, the 2008 CTS has had a moderately high repair rate. Common problems might be fixed with the 2009.

    http://www.truedelta.com/car-reliability.php

  • avatar

    red60r: GM isn’t killing the CTS-V. And the Corvette sits much lower and weighs over half a ton less than the CTS-V. The driving experiences are not commensurable.

    Anyone who thinks ANY sedan drives like a sports car doesn’t know what a proper sports car feels like.

  • avatar

    I went straight to the bottom of the list expecting the CTS-V to win it all.

    I’m SO waiting for the CTS-V Coupe to come out. I really have money in the bank WAITING/collecting interest until that time.

    I’m buying a loaded CTS-V Coupe with after market Lamborghini door hinges. Its gonna be my next personal project car.

    This is gonna be AWESOME.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Michael:
    Just remembering what was rumored in earlier GM reportage.
    Those with families sometimes have to make a compromise between true hoonage and carrying capacity.

  • avatar

    Michael Karesh

    Elaborate…what is a sports car suppossed to drive like?

    How about a Chrysler 300C? How does that rank on the scale of 1-5?

    1 being econobox and 5 being sports car.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    As a group, I don’t get these cars. Last time I checked, the speed limits in the US (at least in the NE corridor) vary between 55 and 65 mph. There are simply cheaper cars that are as fun or more fun to drive at the limit or at least reasonably close to it.

    In particular, the CTS-V fails for me on two fronts. GM needs a high volume hit, not another low volume niche player like the Vette. Second, the value of a car like the V would be in re-branding Cadillac to stand for something. Perhaps something like an upscale Zoom, Zoom. Instead, the V reminds us that GM can build world class vehicles, but chooses not to.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ll take the M156 engine along with whatever wide-tire car Daimler wrapped around it. So, C63 AMG it is then.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I’l grant that the CTS-V is competitive, dynamically, and for the money. Not sure if it would finish 1st if it were my comparo. I can’t get comfortable in the Cad’s front seats.
    Also, shouldn’t a “world class” engineering company be able to come up with an automatic that can handle massive hp and torque?

  • avatar

    Mike: How were able to put this fantastic comparo together? I assume these were not all driven back-to-back, as even the top tier buff books would have a hard time lining up this display of iron (or aluminum, if you will). Dealer butt kissing?

  • avatar
    GS650G

    So GM’s Corvette division is allowing another model to offer brash performance? Isn’t this what killed the Grand National back in the 80’s?

    Caddy is listed as one of the defensive linemen in GMs lineup, they need to be a leader in something and the luxury car market offers a lot of profit potential to ignore. Note Hyundai is also shooting for the market as well. I think the Genesis coupe would be a good car to compare against this as well.

  • avatar

    @ Brett,

    Confidence is key when it comes to dealers. And they were all driven back to back (minus the RS4, which was driven earlier) over one glorious weekend in Dallas. Me and Justin Crenshaw spent two days driving nothing with less than 400bhp. When you jump from car, to car, to car, you really discover the differences and how each one has a special character trait that appeals to different people.

    @ willbodine,

    The Caddy comes with a manual, or an automatic, with no difference in power

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    I’ve added rpm data to the story and added hp ratings that were missing for a couple of cars.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Epic review Mike – no argument about 5th, 4th and 3rd but I will take you up on the option to swap 1st and 2nd.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    Sounds like the IS-F would be perfect for Farago.

  • avatar
    Saracen

    Haven’t driven the CTS-V (would like to) or the IS-F (don’t care to), but I agree with your assessments of the other three.

    The M3 may have lost edge as you say, but with all the performance settings set to their most aggressive mode, it still feels pretty hardcore. When you want to take things a bit easier, it is smooth and comfortable and quiet on the highway.

    I’ll be ordering my M3 soon. European Delivery (ED pricing is so cheap the car is almost a bargain.)

  • avatar

    Michael Karesh – the M3 isn’t for real world driving. Its for motorsports competition. Hence the M.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    With the exception of the Corvette, you could put an interesting equation together here for analysis. Namely, the more TTAC likes a GM car is inverse to the chances GM will kill the model, probably to something like the fourth power.

    Examples:

    TTAC dogs the Cobalt, but kind of likes the Cobalt SS; the junker instantly becomes a Pontiac and they kill the SS group entirely.

    TTAC likes the G8, GM goes overboard in response and axes the whole RWD platform along with the brand itself.

    TTAC reviews the Caddy CTS-V, likes it well enough to rate it highly against some obviously well-regarded competitors from some of the finest marques on friggin Planet Earth…GM preemptively axes the V-group a week before said reviews.

    My hypothesis:
    TTAC can save GM through reverse psychology.

    TTAC should run a comparo of tiny cars…Fit, Yaris, Rio, Focus, etc. GM’s entry is the Aveo. Hold your nose, close your eyes, give the Aveo five stars. GM will finally kill that thing.

  • avatar
    e36

    Really an awesome read. Your word play makes my hate for cliche’ wording worthwhile. “All Heaven Brakes loss”. Great. Thank you.

  • avatar
    ellomdian

    @willbodine:

    Also, shouldn’t a “world class” engineering company be able to come up with an automatic that can handle massive hp and torque?

    They have a very nice stable of automatics. Why would you pollute the experience of this car with one?

  • avatar
    thebeastofrock

    “There may be a harsher riding sports sedans (cough, GT-R, cough)”

    The GT-R is not a sedan.

  • avatar
    MX5bob

    I’ve driven the IS F [note, there\'s no hyphen in the name], M3, RS4 Cab [what a pig], C63 non-AMG and the CTS.

    The IS is an entertaining car, but insular. The M3 lacks some of the taut feeling of the previous models. The RS4 Cab is so bloated that you’ll doubt it has the same engine as the R8; thank god the sedan is lighter and cheaper. The non-AMG C-whatever it is distinctly un-sporty, but the previous AMG C class cars were decent on the track. The CTS, even without the V’s big motor is quite well-done. My only quarrel is the brakes could be better from high-speed stops, ie, above 80 mph.

  • avatar

    @ thebeastofrock,

    Technically it is, same as the two-door M3 is classified as a sedan. The coupe moniker is just a subset of the overall sedan category. Strange to consider the Camry Solara and the GT-R are in the same family… at least where the government is concerned….

  • avatar

    Flashpoint:

    A sports car should feel more agile and close to the road than any sedan can hope to.

    A Chrysler 300C drives NOTHING like a sports car. It drives like a large sedan with a high driving position, because that’s what it is.

    I’ve only driven one car that had a rear seat I could fit into, and that felt like a sports car, and that’s the Mazda RX-8.

  • avatar

    cretinx:

    The M3 undoubtedly feels much better on a track that it does on all but the most challenging roads. But why track such a car as opposed to a sports car?

    The only M3 that strikes me as truly engineered for motorsports is the first one, the legendary E30.

  • avatar
    cc-rider

    There is one thing everyone seems to miss in these high power comparos. The caddy/vettte pushrod motor has a lot more Torque than the competition. I am not saying to forget the horsepower numbers but the torque makes a huge difference in pushing around all the lbs. in these heavy cars.

  • avatar

    The current M3 is woefully underbraked for track duty, in typical BMW fashion. In fact, of the five cars, the only one which really has almost enough caliper is the fifth-place C63 AMG.

    In reality, from a trackday perspective, these are “four-lappers” on most big tracks.

    As an example, my S5 can just hit 141 on the back straight of VIR’s Full Course.

    Lap 1: the brakes work as you expect
    Lap 2: they work a little better, because they’re hot
    Lap 3: Pedal travel increases as fluid boils
    Lap 4: Pedal travel is close to the stop

    On lap five, the pads start to chunk and misbehave, which means that you have a hard pedal combined with a long stop… It’s okay at VIR because there’s extra brake zone on the back straight if you have to run it off, but other places it’s hairy.

    The M3 is slightly faster at the back straight than the S5 but it stops worse so you put even MORE heat into the calipers.

    And this is why if you take a 986S to the track you’ll always end up passing the M3s; they can’t stay in the kitchen for a full session.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    Nice review. I’m sure the Cadillac is a capable car, but I would still chose #2-5 before the Cadillac. That being said, Cadillac has been trying hard for years to lose their old man image, but as far as I’m concerned they still haven’t made it. Whenever I see one of these on the road, the person behind the wheel is usually 45 plus years old. Is it just me or does there seem to be a pattern here. GM builds decent cars and then improves them year to year. So now, 5 years later, they finally have a good car. Why don’t they just build a good capable car to start with?

  • avatar
    Mike S

    My wife drives a Saturn Aura (a very good car), I have driven the C6 ‘Vette and the new Malibu (both excellent) and reviews of the CTS-V are universally stellar.

    Why oh why couldn’t GM have got their act together like this 10 years ago? Things could have been soooo different.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    In my mind, sedans have four doors and coupes have two. That is, the M3 is a coupe, not a sedan. So is a 1979 Mercury Cougar.

  • avatar
    stuki

    With proper track use tire selection, the brakes on these cars really, truly suck. Which makes the geek age predicament of marketing street cars based on supposed track times even more silly.

    Where these cars shine is on the street; specifically on lightly policed, fast secondaries. LA to SF ‘down the middle’ (between the 5 & 101), or LA to Vegas via 29 Palms or Death Valley (weekdays off season), for those in SoCal. With freeways at congestion levels turning even the most patient suicidal, cars that allows reasonable A to B times while avoiding them, can be well worth it. And here the M3 stomps all over the 335, despite having no real advantages in town or on freeways.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I think the M3 comes in sedan and coupe, or it least it used to.

    As for what GM NEEDS, it needs profitable cars, all of them it can get. I suppose if the V is profitable, they will figure out a way to keep making it, even if they don’t update it.

  • avatar

    @ Geotpf

    Just so there is no confusion, here is the official definition of a sedan:

    A sedan car (American English) or saloon car (British English) is a passenger car with two rows of seats and adequate passenger space in the rear compartment for adult passengers.

    They come in three styles: Four-door, two-door, and fastback.

    So the M3 comes in four, and two door sedan configurations. Or sedan and coupe… which is a sedan….

    I just love the intricacies of English!

  • avatar
    bumpy

    “As a group, I don’t get these cars. Last time I checked, the speed limits in the US (at least in the NE corridor) vary between 55 and 65 mph.”

    People who actually procure these cars have the idea that one day in the far-off future, they can aim the tiller, smash the go pedal, and hurtle through space-time into some mystical realm of glass-smooth, laser-leveled, fenced, patrolled, immaculately maintained superhighways. (People who buy muscle cars think the same thing, except they’re at Talladega.)

    In the real world, these cars are about as fearsome and virile as an Avalon.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    SRV?

    Stevie Ray Vaughan.

  • avatar
    iganpo

    A sedan car (American English) or saloon car (British English) is a passenger car with two rows of seats and adequate passenger space in the rear compartment for adult passengers.

    I learn something new everyday…

  • avatar
    chuckR

    bumpy

    I haven’t driven a one of these cars. However, I have driven a Carrera 4 for 12 years and a Cayman S for 1/2 year. I’ve never come close to top speed of either. What I like is they go where you point them, get there right quick, and stop so well that you need to look at whomever is behind you and see if they are paying attention. I like the noises too. All these features are available at all speeds. Not everyone agrees that its worth it.

  • avatar
    WhatTheHel

    Hey, how come the RL wasn’t in this comparo???
    Acura’s Tier 1, aren’t they???

    Sorry, just kidding. That was a bad joke.
    I for one hope Takanobu Ito can bring the thunder.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    ccd1

    Last time I checked, the speed limits in the US (at least in the NE corridor) vary between 55 and 65 mph

    only if The Man spots you.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Yes, unfortunately, BMWs are underbraked, especially on track. But BMW ///M3 also has three body styles to choose from: Sedan (Saloon), Coupe and a Cabrio (Convertible).

    And, please, don’t forget that BMW ///M3 has to do with only 4.0-liter engine, where ‘fancy Toyota’ has to have 1-liter larger motor to extract same amount of horsepower. And soon to be extinct V-series Caddy has a 6.2-liter with a blower bolted onto it! Although this 4-liter ///M motor has not won ‘Engine of the Year Award’ (that has been won by another BMW engine) it finished in the top 5 engines. Incidentally, the fifth spot was occupied by the motor it’s based on 5-liter ///M (from ///M5 and ///M6) that won top honors two years in a row in 2005 and 2006. I’m sorry, but I did not notice any of reviewed competitors engines even as a top seven.

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    If GM were to flood the German market with tens of thousands of CTS-V’s, over say…two or three model cycles…and they still performed on par w/their BMW & Audi rivals, I’d be drinking the Kool-Aid.

    But face it: These cars are engineered to be driven by a small number of Americans, on a crappy highway system and at no where near their supposed limits. GM simply does not have the pedigree for this sort of high-performance sedan and I have no confidence…NONE…to drive say an 8-year old CTS at 275Kph on the A6. The steering, the brakes, hell…the basic nuts & bolts…weren’t engineered for that punishment. They were engineered so some guy could maybe take it up to 160Kph on a lonely stretch of shitty asphalt covered with pothole patches and tar snakes, once in a blue moon. It’s about the false-chrome badges, not the long-term, time-tested performance pedigree.

    So, that said, what in the hell was GM thinking? Was it really worth dumping hundreds of millions of dollars, in the midst of a failing industry, into such an odd-ball automobile? I mean, is the little bit of automotive press and notoriety that the CTS-V receives going to save GM? Or, like the Pontiac G8, is this just a last hurrah whose blueprints were drawn up by some idiots who didn’t see the world falling apart around them?

    PS: Don’t think I’m a Eurotrash fan; I too got a “Lee Greenwood Boner” when the pansies on Top Gear gave the CTS-V glowing reviews. In fact, I was even happier by the Corvette praise…if only the Europeans could get past their continued impression of it as a pimp-mobile for Amitrash.

    • 0 avatar
      2ronnies1cup

      True.

      Two years later, and not breaking triple-digit sales outside the US market.

      Hey, Detroit, Markets are global nowadays. Are you hearing this? Japanese manufacturers are selling their cars like crazy in your backyard – how many of your overpowered plastic-chrome blingmobiles are cruising the streets of Tokyo?

      (Or Stuttgart, or Paris, Or Milan, Or Beijing, or London, or Moscow, or Seoul…)

  • avatar
    meefer

    Only had some time in the F and the Audi.

    Really the only thing I would say is that they’re excellent cars all around and that the absolute gap between 1st and 5th is pretty small.

    The choice would be based only on personality I would think.

    Given the depreciation on AMG-V-RS-M cars (F has yet to be tested but I doubt it will be an outlier) I’ll gladly take one with light miles in 3-4 years. New not so much.

    I’d love to have an F, but I can’t justify it since I own an IS – so it’d be C63/CTS-V for me. If that exhaust note is as good as it was in Top Gear, I definitely need to drive the CTS-V first to avoid just plunking down the cash.

    Great capsule reviews/comparo. Must have been a hell of a weekend.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    Sammy Hagar : I highly doubt this car cost GM hundreds of millions. The engine is the most expensive part of the car and it came from the ZR1

    Bimmer : It’s been stated time and time again that hp/L is meaningless. Nothing more needs to be said about hp/L, please

  • avatar
    Power6

    The current M3 is woefully underbraked for track duty, in typical BMW fashion. In fact, of the five cars, the only one which really has almost enough caliper is the fifth-place C63 AMG.

    I am not sure why, but I am really surprised at this. Not that I would expect the average driver of any of these cars will put them on a track ever, but yet if they did they might burn up the brakes. Not just standard duty stuff either, fancy multiple piston and probably slotted or drilled rotors, but yet not enough heat capacity and cooling to run sustainably on a track.

    My SRT-4 has an absolutely pedestrian stock set of cast iron sliding calipers all the way around. Just a little heavier duty than the average Neon. The only trick is phenolic pistons. Granted I am only pushing 260hp and 3000#, but I can and have easily run indefinitely at various track days in the northeast. I can hit 120 on the front straight at Watkins Glen, and I have run overlapping sessions there in 90+ summer heat…had to come in for fuel though, otherwise I coulda stayed out for a few more laps.

    I suppose if ever I am in the market for an M3 though I will probably be in a different state of mind, probably won’t care about track days. I guess it still seems odd, but no more so than buying an SUV without any real off-road capability.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Epic review Mike – no argument about 5th, 4th and 3rd but I will take you up on the option to swap 1st and 2nd.

    My thoughts exactly.

    The C63, like all regular AMG cars, is just a regular Merc with that 6.2 V8 ‘crate engine’ installed and some plastic bits attached for which you pay way too much cash. Although the engine makes an awesome ‘noise’ it’s not exactly the pinnacle of techinical engineering either. Compared to the others they just haven’t done nearly enough to make it contender. The AMG Black editions are better but way, way, way overpriced and are really what the regular AMGs should have been in the first place.

    The Lexus is a little bit too clinical for my taste, but then at the same time they went and attached rediculously fake exhaust tips to it, which isn’t a problem per se, but doesn’t fit to the cars character at all. Also dynamically it’s alledgedly less engaging as the others, save the Merc.

    RS4 is a great car, but not the M3 it tries to be, maybe next time they’ll manage it, but I doubt it.

    The CTS-V is awesome, but mainly because of the sheer power and value. I think it looks good too though. But ultimately, the M3 and probably also the RS4 and IS-F are more refined

    So, I would put the M3 on #1 I just like the appeal of technical superiority that the M3 has and eventhough I don’t like all the options of suspension/engine/gearbox settings in the end you just use the 1, 2, maybe 3 settings you like and it’s still the best of the bunch.

    On the small brake-callipers; TopGear drove the RS4, M3 and C63 back-to-back on a racetrack and not only was the M3 the fastest by a mile, by the end of it, the C63’s tires were showing threads, completely gone, the M3’s and RS4’s were (upon sight) fine. So maybe the C63 has bigger brake callipers but it won’t do you much good if the tires are gone after just a couple of laps. At the end of the day though, these are made for the streets and if you really want to go to a track and race hard every weekend you need to get some other brakes and tires (and a rollcage) and loose some weight either which way you choose.

    After you do so, on a decent track with a decent amount of corners and technical bits, the M3 will be the fastest of these 5, because its chassis dynamics are inherently the best.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    Brakes aren’t really that big of an issue here. It’s relatively painless to mod these brake systems for track use.

    First of all, dump the brake fluid and replace it with some high-temp stuff. Replace the pads with something like Hawk Blacks or even Blues that can take the track days better. Remove the dust shield from the front rotors.

    The reason that cars like the M3 don’t come with such an aggressive setup to begin with is that the above-mentioned track day setup is noisier, has a shorter pad life, is harder on rotors, and is more prone to leaving a lot of dust on the wheels. You also have to bleed the high temp brake fluid more frequently so maintenance costs go up.

    Also, probably the most problem-prone car here is the M3. Remember the grenading motors from the last M3? Never mind issues with power windows, a/c systems, various other electrical systems, etc. The Cadi will actually be more reliable to own than this bimmer.

  • avatar
    ToddL

    Mike, any comment as to why your rankings of the M3 and RS4 changed from your review on May 14, 2008 to this review?

  • avatar
    Lee

    Isn’t the CTS-V More E Class territory?

  • avatar
    SeattleBum

    Love the reviews though I have to admit I’m disappointed the C63 didn’t do better. Oh well, still makes for a great daily driver!

    I was an owner of a 2005 CTS-V that I modified with suspension and engine parts (coilovers, supercharger, headers, exhaust and much more). It was such a sleeper on the track. I easily lapped 911 C4S on the track (or at least I lapped the drivers). One thing I did not upgrade were the brakes. I never experienced brake fade in any of the 30-40 min lapping sessions (135mph front straights). I can only imagine how great the ’09 CTS-V is on the track and seriously doubt brake fade would be an issue.

    To energetik9, I was 32 when I bought my CTS-V. Most of the CTS-V (last gen) friends I made on the Caddy sites were <35 years old with a great many in their 20’s. I think your comment above was based more on your perception of what Cadillac stands for than on actual facts.

  • avatar

    @ ToddL,

    The ratings still haven’t changed. The M3 is definitely the better car over the RS4, but I would still buy the RS4 over the M3, despite the inferiority, I like it better for some arcane reason that I like Audis… I have one from 1978, and an original Quattro. I’ve owned 6 of them, but I’m not going to let my bias influence my review. That would be Car and Driver. Hence, M3 is better than the RS4.

  • avatar

    @ccd1:

    I had seen 70mph speed limits in Central California, but then, crossing West Texas on I-10, the wondrous sight of 80mph speed limit signs graced my eyes.

    Too bad their is nary a curve for 200 miles around here.

  • avatar
    8rings

    I don’t get these cars. Last time I checked, the speed limits in the US (at least in the NE corridor) vary between 55 and 65 mph.

    Oh give me a break, somewhere on this site is a Camry review you can read.

  • avatar
    SeattleBum

    ccd1 :
    February 23rd, 2009 at 1:23 pm
    As a group, I don’t get these cars. Last time I checked, the speed limits in the US (at least in the NE corridor) vary between 55 and 65 mph. There are simply cheaper cars that are as fun or more fun to drive at the limit or at least reasonably close to it.
    ———————
    I understand what you’re saying about purchasing a fun car for thousands less. Heck, the Cobalt SS has won so many comparos its really a wonder why they aren’t more popular. But how can you make a statement about speed limits and then in the very next sentence say you can buy a cheaper car to explore the ‘limit’? Sounds like you’re speeding in either scenario so why not do so in a badass luxury sports car?

  • avatar
    holmesmd

    I agree with your 5-3. I would swap 2 &1. Whoever says that M’s are under-braked is exaggerating at least. I have driven M’s for 10 yrs. I currently own an E63M6, E39 M5, E90 M3. I drive my cars hard and believe they are some of the finest production cars in the world…hands down. The guy who drives the bloated wobbly Audi S5 really needs to get a grip. I will be happy to lap with him in any of my M’s and I promise that “I will be able to stay in the kitchen” ;) Most folks that track their cars mod them slightly anyway so if all my M3 would need is a brake up grade & some Pilot Cups then big deal?! As a matter of fact, my manual M3 would easily finish first among the cars being discussed in most track settings. Car & Driver nor any of the other car mags have been critical of M3’s brakes. Please review the results of the most recent Lightening Lap at VIR. The M3 is a super car for the street just like the CZ07. The Audi S5 is underpowered and has all wheel drive! Anyone who knows anything about tracking a car would never choose the S5. I trust that’s why you are trashing the M3’s brakes…because you don’t know what you are talking about. Trust me when I tell you, the new M3 is like the GT-R M3 was years ago. A V8 monster that dominates all but the most advanced and expensive super cars. The CTS-V is a great car but I agree it is too little and too late. They also don’t have the pedigree or reliability for me to trust them with my money for an extended period of time. It sounds like a lot of you guys have serious misconceptions about the new M3. I did as well, until I drove one and bought it 5 minutes after I got out of the seat!;) All are very good cars but I believe time will show as always that there is only one M.

  • avatar
    holmesmd

    forgot to discuss the author’s disdain for gadgetry. The M3 has a great blend of technology. If I hear 1 more person bitch about iDrive?! What none of the band wagon critics ever mention is that 99% of the functions of the entire car are set ONCE. I push 1-3 buttons ever to have the care perform and do exactly what I say. If you are really lazy or dense, you can just use voice commands. What’s wrong with having an integrated iphone/ipod, nav, & satellite radio in an uber performing sedan?! I just don’t get it? If you want a Flintstone mobile, build a kit car or drive an Ariel Atom!:) When I was driving down a straight at Road America listening to One from Metallica going 190, it pretty much is the best feeling in the world. Technology is only a problem if the DRIVER lets it interfere with the performance & capabilities of the car!:)

  • avatar
    Mazdarati

    No doubt these are all ultra high performance cars but are not well suited for everyday use, the harsh ride, high noise levels and expense make them impractical. In each case the “lesser” versions like the IS 350, S4, 335i, CTS and C350 all provide plenty of performance for the road in a less expensive, easier to use, more comfortable, more luxurious package. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ll stick with my Audi A8, not nearly as fast, but a lot more comfortable and I doubt you can beat me from Atlanta to New York by much unless you really throw caution to the wind.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    Mazdarati has a point. On public road at speeds that would not get you locked up immediately, all of these cars are overkill. The less powerful versions of these cars or a completely diffrent (and less costly) set of cars are far more enjoyable. At legal speeds, I am a big fan of light cars such as the Mini or anything Lotus makes. Light cars tend not to need to be driven at excessive speeds to be enjoyed.

  • avatar
    holmesmd

    I am sorry guys but I just do not agree! I have driven my M5 for 88,000 miles and every one of them was a joy! That is what is so unique about M! They can be very reasonable daily drivers while at the same time, outrageous performers. No one in any of my cars has complained about a stiff ride or uncomfortable experience as a passenger in my cars! The new ones are completely configurable! Is the 335 a great car and more than enough for 99% of drivers on the road? Hell yes! I agree that the base line models are fine. The performance models are better and even more versatile and enjoyable! It’s like having 2 cars. One you can take your kids to school in and 1 you can take to the track to hot lap. What’s wrong with that for those of us who chose to afford ourselves this option? Maz., do you really think a 335 stock is MORE fun than an M3? My friend I have driven both and though I have all the respect in the world for the 335, the answer is definitively..NO!! M cars are more versatile, exclusive, and fun! These cars are only impractical if you can’t or choose not to afford them. I don’t agree with the harsh ride or high noise level description. If these things are important, you should drive a Camry or Lexus ES 350! Drivers considering these cars do not care about these things as much but even still, recognize that they are very comfortable performers. My M3 is every bit as comfortable as the 335 I drove for 2 weeks as a loaner. It uses more fuel but the joy of the drive is more than worth it:)

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Where these cars shine is on the street; specifically on lightly policed, fast secondaries. LA to SF ‘down the middle’ (between the 5 & 101), or LA to Vegas via 29 Palms or Death Valley (weekdays off season), for those in SoCal. With freeways at congestion levels turning even the most patient suicidal, cars that allows reasonable A to B times while avoiding them, can be well worth it. And here the M3 stomps all over the 335, despite having no real advantages in town or on freeways.

    Uh, these types of cars can reach and often sustain triple digit speeds easily on those types of roads, which is why they’re not really usable in the real world. A real sports car would be far more engaging at a realistic speed.

    There’s also a predicament these cars get into where they’re too hard for the street but too soft for track.

  • avatar
    holmesmd

    Too hard for the street & too soft for the track?!! That has never been my experience. I tracked the shit out of my E39 M5 and it did great! I wasn’t passing CZ06’s or anything but I was close enough to have fun and demolished many other “faster” cars because of my patience and skill. That’s what it’s about for me anyway:)

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    my Audi A8, not nearly as fast, but a lot more comfortable and I doubt you can beat me from Atlanta to New York by much unless you really throw caution to the wind.
    BMW 335d will easily beat you by quite some time… by making less stops for fuel and you don’t even need to throw caution in the wind. Also, I doubt that it would be that much less comfortable then A8.

  • avatar

    @holmesmd:

    “I will be happy to lap with him in any of my M’s and I promise that “I will be able to stay in the kitchen” ;)”

    This sounds like the kind of promise that some people like to back with a friendly wager.

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    “With proper track use tire selection, the brakes on these cars really, truly suck. Which makes the geek age predicament of marketing street cars based on supposed track times even more silly.”

    stuki,

    I think someone who has a set of track tires will have a set of track pads as well to dramatically improve the brake performance of these cars.

  • avatar
    holmesmd

    Sure Jack. Anytime, anywhere as my busy schedule permits of course. Just please do not assert that you are going to best me in an Audi S5. The car is bloated and significantly underpowered compared to even a stock M3. You will have to be a substantially better driver than me to overcome that handicap. If your car is modded, I can certainly break out my M6 which has dyno’d at about 560hp:) Let me know man. Always good times! I am certainly used to chatter from the Audi boys but you are way off on this one man. S5 & M3 with equal drivers…..M3 hands down!

  • avatar

    @holmesmd:

    Pick your favorite 2009 date from the list:

    http://www.trackdaze.com/

    Bring your E39 M5 (you did say any of ‘em), stock or OEM replacement pads, 140-treadwear tires or higher, and I’ll bring my S5 the way they sold it to me.

    Ten laps from a rolling start, cumulative time. Bring a crisp one-dollar bill so we can do this “Trading Places” style.

    Just so you know where you’ll need to be, I run VIR’s Full Course at 2:31 in my Phaeton, and the S5 is, shall we say, a little faster.

  • avatar
    JJ

    S5 & M3 with equal drivers…..M3 hands down!

    Hell…S5 and 335i –> 335i hands down (well, on a track with corners).

    335 vs S5/why BMWs are great

  • avatar
    holmesmd

    Thanks for the invite Jack. I would rather do Autobahn’s course here in Joliet, IL. I’m not really willing to head out to VIR for $1;) As I had mentioned my E39 M5 was destroyed while it was parked here in Chicago by 2 racing idiot cab drivers!!:( I would have been more than happy to dispatch you in the old gal but I am afraid she is no more! She was also a DINAN S2 car. That is why I bought my new M3 as a replacement. Your times are quite good given the car you are running but we did begin this discussion in the context of the M3 comparo. You must admit that with equal driver’s, the S5 is not at all at home on a track! The VIR Lightening Lap time of your S5 was > 10 secs behind the M3’s. The M3 was also driven as an AUTOMATIC!! I bet they could have shaved an additional 2-4 seconds off that time with a good driver in a 6 speed manual like mine. Here is my email:

    holmesmd1@gmail.com
    If you ever find yourself out this way. We could drive together at Autobahn. It’s a blast! I will start calling you Randolph Duke!! :) Great Movie!!:))

  • avatar
    ccd1

    SeattleBum:

    I do speed at times, but not excessively, certainly never over 90 on public roads. These cars are designed to be stable at triple digit speeds. Cars like these are simply expensive overkills for travelling on public roads, at least in my neck of the woods.

    I would assert that the 335i is a much better car than the M3 if you don’t go to the track (I would argue the 335i is the best overall car BMW makes). For travel on public roads, the M3 just doesn’t offer any advantages over its lower priced relative. The same could be said of the CTS versus the V or the S4 versus the RS4. Mostly what you lose with the less costly variants is exclusivity.

  • avatar

    @holmesmd:

    Over the course of one lap, I agree with you: the M3 is just too quick. In fact, my fellow tester over at Speed:Sport:Life, Michael Mills, just ran one around MSR Houston .8 seconds faster than an R8!

    I continue to believe that it simply doesn’t have enough brake, and that over the course of ten laps at the proverbial “full chat”, that would become very apparent. You have mail. :)

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Too hard for the street & too soft for the track?!! That has never been my experience. I tracked the shit out of my E39 M5 and it did great! I wasn’t passing CZ06’s or anything but I was close enough to have fun and demolished many other “faster” cars because of my patience and skill. That’s what it’s about for me anyway:)

    I guess personal preference plays a role, but on the relatively safe and open and clean expanse of a track, a light twitchy edgy car is more challenging which translates to fun. That same kind of car is just not fit for regular driving.

    There is the appeal of driving the daily car fast, it’s just in the long run it’s not as rewarding I think. For example often after a few track blasts in a normal car, I find I’d prefer to spend that time karting since it’s a more pure driving experience.

  • avatar
    tbsaunders

    i want to agree with those who say the cts-v is in the wrong grouping here – pricewise, it fits with the smaller 3, c, is, and a4 cars. size-wise however, it is a 5, e, gs, and a6 car. i agree with the comparison on price, but this almost doesn’t give the cts-v the respect it deserves. it has soundly trounced the e60 m5 at that new monticello track in NY that all the car mags are ga-ga over, and i think it needs to be given the respect that it deserves – where’s the m5/rs6/e63/cst-v review? it should win that one on a price-point conversation alone. the fact that it can even compete with those cars that cost $30k more is amazing!

    now if the stupid birmingham stealerships would just get one or two on their lots…

  • avatar
    tauronmaikar

    Look, a cadillac over an M3? At first I thought the reviewer needed to have his head examined. But when I read the review it was obvious yet another car journalist was suffering from BMW-related technophobia. I don’t see a problem at all. You drive the M3. After a while you settle on the steering, throttle, shifting, etc setting you like and that is it. Think of it as a step better than having to get out of your car and manually turn those dials on the suspension settings. Is doing it manually any better? I don’t think so.

    As for the cadillac: I couldn’t care less for the interior or the amount of HP the engine generates. At the end of the day it is a freaking cadillac and it just has the wrong DNA. I am a pretty open minded driver and I would never seriously consider buying the caddy.

  • avatar
    justin.82

    The CTS-V blows! I smoked one the other day in my 09 M3 Sedan! It’s the driver that wins and the engineering of an automobile. Cadillac is made by GM – Need I say more! That comoany hasn’t had there shit together for 10 years running. I used to be a GM enthusiast to and it’s a damn shame! The CTS-V has awesome performance but it’ll break down in a few years because GM likes to cut corners. The others will still be running strong! Hell my buddy has a 1990 M3 still running strong! Any 1990 Cadillacs still around besides that shitty Allante! Good luck Cadillac! The CTS-V should have been in 5th place!

  • avatar
    energetik9

    Not really sure how a Cadillac can edge out a M3. I would probably place the Cadillac 3rd or 4th in this comparo. Every single one of these car is loaded with technology and to ding the M3 for that is prejudiced.


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