BMW M4 vs Cadillac ATS-V vs Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe

 

Model Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
BMW M4 Inline 6cyl, M TwinPower Turbo, 2979cc 425bhp @ 5500-7300rpm 550Nm (406lb ft) @ 1850-5500rpm 4.1secs 250kph 1825kg (233bhp/ton) $118,400
Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe V8, biturbo, 3982cc 503bhp @ 5500-6250rpm 700Nm (516lb ft) @ 1750-4500rpm 3.9secs 250kph 1725kg (292bhp/ton) $105,900
Cadillac ATS-V V6, twin-turbo, 3564cc 458bhp @ 5850rpm 603Nm (445lb ft) @ 3500rpm 3.9secs 309kph 1725kg (266bhp/ton) $72,150
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Without doubt the AMG engine is the star of the show today, though admittedly the manner in which the coupe handles catches me completely off-guard too. Last year, I lamented that the C 63 saloon felt less ‘AMG’ and more ‘Mercedes’, the anger and fire of those three important numbers I felt considerably lacking in the performance saloon. A model that, in previous generations at least, had always felt like a psychopath in-waiting, ready to strike when you least expected, It was fantastically exciting. Less so the slightly more ‘subtle’ C63 S saloon.

Thanks to a new rear axle, changes to the front suspension and wider front and rear tracks, all designed to make the coupe more lairy, the madness has returned, the C63’s rear axle flicking into the most gloriously wide arcs of oversteer with very little provocation. The snap of sideways momentum is just sharp enough to feel untamed but just controllable enough to avoid spinning off into the scenery. It’s an extraordinary balance, and superb amounts of fun to provoke.

“The Mercedes’ V8’s anger just continues to build. Nobody seems to have told this engine that it’s hauling around 1725kg”

Granted, in terms of pure front-end grip and feedback, the Mercedes simply cannot hang with the BMW. Thanks to both the V8 oomph and some amazing traction out of the corners, the C63 S is never more than a car length behind the M4 on the snaking climb up the hill. But while the Beemer feels glued to each apex and instils confidence with every turn of the wheel, the Mercedes feels just a little bit softer by comparison. The weighted steering of the AMG is precise and accurate, but can’t quite dial in the same amount of feedback from the front wheels as its long-time German rival, and while balancing the AMG via my right foot is enormously satisfying, a degree more certainty from the front end would not go amiss. Ditto the seven-speed gearbox, a considerable improvement on the previous generation’s more nannying setup, but once again, not quite as crisp or ratchet-like as the M4’s.

Be under no mistake though, the C63 S Coupe is an astonishingly fun car to throw at a winding road, building the drama into each corner in ways the M4 can only really match when it’s approaching the ragged edge. It’s only once I’ve stepped out of the Mercedes and into the Cadillac that I realise just how high a benchmark I’ve set for today’s relative underdog. Still, if you’re going to aim for the crown…

Admittedly, stepping out of the V8-powered C63 S atomic bomb and into the ATS-V, there’s not quite the same rush of endorphins as the stop-start button is pushed and the Cadillac’s twin-turbo V6 rumbles into life. Similarly the initial pick-up is more measured, and less volcanic than that of the AMG, and thus, less dramatic to begin with. This being the first V-Series Cadillac to not be powered a V8, that’s understandable. But make no mistake, the Cadillac ATS-V is an astonishingly quick car.

“At $72,150, the Cadillac costs more than $30K less than either the BMW or Mercedes-AMG”

As the revs climb out of the lower reaches and into the mid-card, courtesy of torque to spare low down, there’s no lag whatsoever as a meaningful 458bhp is fired at the rear wheels, the turbochargers spinning up quickly and consistently. Almost immediately the ATS-V is hauling, running out of steam much further into the triple figures than either of the German rivals can muster. It’s a momentum that’s built via rapid-fire changes through the eight-speed automatic gearbox. Admittedly the system can become a little too fussy when at a cruise courtesy of a desire to leap into the highest gears possible and stay there. On a charge though, the shifts feel dual-clutch quick, and while the C63 S plucks at the heartstrings, the Cadillac’s performance on the straight is nothing short of remarkable.

To judge the ATS-V by power alone though would be a mistake. For starters, at $72,150, it costs more than $30K less than either the BMW or Mercedes-AMG. Moreover, unlike the flashier, more sledgehammer-esque CTS-V sitting above it on Cadillac’s range, the ATS-V has been designed to be more agile, offering performance through the corners that’s considerably more approachable than the brand has managed hitherto. As well as a rear differential borrowed from the Corvette Stingray, suspension and damper settings have been tuned by Cadillac’s factory GT team, and the chassis is 25 percent stiffer than that of its ATS base model. Handling, and not just outright speed, remained top of Cadillac’s to-do list during development, as I find out through the first corner.

The tyres bite into the asphalt with almost ravenous hunger, while the steering is both quick and precise, if perhaps lacking a little in feedback compared with the M4 though it certainly surpasses the Mercedes in terms of accuracy and clarity. This potential deal-breaker though is quickly put to one side thanks to the agility of the chassis. The ATS-V is surprisingly settled through the fast sweepers and switchbacks, understeer rarely proving an issue. Indeed, against the harder edge of the C63 S, the ATS-V remains very easy to keep balanced under significant cornering loads. The back end meanwhile continues to tease a breakaway, yet stops short of snapping. When the rear axle does break away, it’s not with arm flailing anger either, but with more measured steps that are both easy to predict and catch, but which can still produce the most glorious smoke-generating drifts. One can’t help but wonder how the Cadillac would manage with the AMG’s fiery V8 belted down over the front axle, though I have a sneaky suspicion the chassis could handle it comfortably.

“I’ve lamented the C63 S saloon’s lack of AMG anger, and had secretly assumed that the coupe would prove just as subtle. How wrong I was”

What really impresses though is the combination of mid-corner performance and highway comfort the ATS-V manages to produce. The magneto-rheological dampers for instance are 50 percent stiffer than the standard ATS’ suspension, and the road-holding is beyond incredible. And yet, as the same time, these same dampers produce a ride that is both comfortable and well-controlled, the ATS-V gliding over rutted surfaces in less prosaic fashion than either the Germans. Impressive stuff.  

Is all this enough to give the Cadillac ATS-V the nod over its more established rivals though? Not quite. Yes, the ride comfort is frankly extraordinary, the handling and balance is seriously impressive, and it’ got probably the most well-structured cabin design here today, give or take a few missing inches of headroom.

Ultimately though, despite a phenomenal showing and a massive gulf in price to its rivals, the ATS-V hasn’t quite won me over. The handling is crisp and precise, sure, but not quite up there with the M4. Similarly the engine is vibrant and gutsy, but just can’t quite match the drama of the C63 S Coupe. It’s an impressive building block for the second generation, but the ATS-V doesn’t take the sceptre today.

So, BMW or Mercedes? The old crusade. On the one hand the Beemer has the handling down pat, builds the confidence you need to really take the M4 to the edge and feel what that engine is capable of. Admittedly the rather dated cabin is starting to let the BMW down but in terms of quality and ergonomic design, the M4 is still right up there.

But sorry, I can’t quite pull the trigger. For months now I’ve lamented the C63 S saloon’s lack of AMG anger, and had secretly assumed, pre-test, that the coupe would prove just as subtle. How wrong I was. Yes, the handling cannot quite match the BMW, but unlike AMGs of old, the C63 S Coupe feels like a genuine sports car. The admittedly excellent cabin has its flaws, and being ‘on the ragged edge’ from the opening couple of revs might prove exhausting for some. But for me, the anger, the lairiness, the slightly unhinged nature of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe and that extraordinary bi-turbo V8 is unmatched in terms of sheer drama. Sorry BMW, your time at the top is done. The king is dead. Long live the king.

  • Technical specifications available on page 3

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