Comparo: BMW M3 Vs. Audi RS4 Vs. Cadillac CTS-V Vs. Lexus IS-F Vs. Mercedes C63 AMG

Mike Solowiow
by Mike Solowiow
comparo bmw m3 vs audi rs4 vs cadillac cts v vs lexus is f vs mercedes c63 amg

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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  • Justin.82 Justin.82 on Aug 13, 2009

    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!

  • Energetik9 Energetik9 on Sep 25, 2009

    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.

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?
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