Last year, we wrote the first in a series of articles putting car marques head-to-head! We started with Rolls Royce vs Bentley. Then, earlier this year, we brought you an electric head-to-head with the help of EV expert Bryan McMorran. This month, we’re focusing on two performance versions of fantastic family cars. Yes, it’s BMW M3 vs Mercedes C63 AMG!
BMW M3 vs Mercedes C63 AMG:
These two performance versions of the family car have been around for a long time. Technically, the first BMW M3s were produced in the 1990s. It was intended as a homologation model for the Touring car and German DTM racing programme. At that time, they were a far more focused performance car, using a 2 door bespoke body that only shared a bonnet and windscreen with any other E30 model. The Mercedes version was the W201 model, 190E 2.5-16, using a regular 4-door saloon body with a motorsport-derived Cosworth-built engine.
Move forward a few years, and the connection to motorsport has diluted. The manufacturers understood customers wanted a regular family car with big performance and ideological links to the motorsport heritage. The BMW M3 became more mainstream with the E36 model, first released in 1992 as a coupe, then a saloon in 1994. Mercedes released the C63 AMG model in AMG (although previous versions were available, such as the C32, C36, etc).
It has to be said both BMW and Mercedes do this type of car very well. The opinions below are entirely subjective!
Character and Look:
Externally, both offerings have always looked good. The M3 and C63 (saloon body) started subtly, usually with a chunky exhaust, a bit of extra trim, and special wheels marking them out from the ‘lesser’ models. As time passed, and the lower spec models became available with M Sport or AMG styling packs, it became even less evident that you were driving the fast ones. I’ve always loved the subtlety. I wouldn’t say I like cars to be too overt.
Internal Fit-Out & Comfort:
Inside, both manufacturers make their cars a lovely place to be. BMW has tended to make its interior quite driver-centric, by which I mean the controls and displays emphasise being there for the driver above and beyond anyone else in the car. Mercedes has tended to be a bit more reserved (until the much later years), not giving much away as to the car’s performance potential.
For me personally, I love the BMW interiors. BMW sports seats are consistently the most comfortable choice to do big miles in (something I’ve done many times).
But Mercedes also makes a great interior that is comfortable for everyone in the car.
Power, Performance & Driveability:
The first Mercedes C63s had something everyone should own at some point – a whopping great big V8 motor. It dominated the car, from turning the key and the engine erupting into life, then putting it in drive and tickling the throttle to find yourself lurching forward on a wave of torque. They’re not at all subtle, but they are fabulous. For a 6.3 litre engine, it picks up revs very quickly and pulls hard to the redline. That engine is nothing short of seismic. It’s spectacular!
However, that is also the downfall. In my opinion, it completely overwhelms the chassis and can very quickly get out of shape. The C63 is a bit of a dragster, with lots of power, noise, and theatre, but a bit of a one-trick pony and can be a handful when you don’t want it to be. Combine that with Mercedes’ intrusive traction and stability control system that cuts power very bluntly, and it can make for a bit of a dramatic ride.
Later vehicles with the 4.0 litre, bi-turbo V8 were slightly less blunt and maintained a great soundtrack despite going to forced induction.
BMW, on the other hand, has always been an incredible drive. They have a delicacy and sense of communication through the steering and pedals unrivalled in the mass-produced car world.
All of the M3 models, from the high revving, sonorous straight six-cylinder engines of the E36 and E46 to the brutal naturally aspirated V8 in the E90 and the later turbocharged straight-cylinder models from the F80 onwards, have such character. They feel precise, measured and tactile in a way Mercedes never has. BMW M cars have always been fast, but they also offer beautiful handling, and if I had to choose, with a winding road ahead of me, the BMW would be the keys I pick up every time.
The M3 and the C63 have kept pace with each other regarding pricing. I think the differences between the two wouldn’t sway you one way or the other based on price alone. Both running costs will be significantly more expensive than the non-M/AMG badged peers. Same for Audi, too. The extra tax on an RS model can make you wince when changing regular serviceable items like brakes or filling with fuel (the V8 Mercedes models have always had an epic thirst). But if you’re worried about that, these aren’t the cars you should consider in the first place…
Given a choice, both Matt and I would choose a BMW M3 over the Mercedes.
I’d go for a late E90 V8 saloon with a manual gearbox because that engine is a work of art. Matt would likely go for the following generation, the F80 saloon, with its more modern technology and slightly easier-to-live-with interior. Both would be sure to brighten up any day or drive!
After reading this article, please find us on social media and tell us your choice!