Twisties

Straightline performance is awesome, with both cars hitting 60mph in 4.5sec and seeming to stay on terms well into triple digits. However, the story was very different in the snow and rain we encountered on the second day. Under these conditions, the quattro inevitably demolished the M3 from a standstill, making it the choice for drivers who regularly experience poor weather conditions or aren't confident with RWD.

That said, the M3 is an incredibly stable chassis in most conditions, finding grip through its multi-stage traction control that permits progressively more rear-wheel slip as your confidence grows. With an experienced driver, it could keep pace with the quattro in all but the heaviest downpours and, as it turns out, in snow on summer tires!

In the dry, on smooth, flowing mountain passes, the M3 is the more entertaining drive. With 300 lb less weight, it feels more dynamic. The numbers suggest there's nothing between them, and the RS5 compensates for its bulk with a bigger engine, more power, and bigger brakes.

But it's not all about numbers. The M3 simply feels more agile, more involving. There's a purity to its driving characteristics that allow you to brake later, turn-in sharper, accelerate harder. There's more feedback from the steering and tires. It invites you to find the edge of the envelope and rewards with a satisfying drive. It's better in transition and more exciting on exiting a turn. The DCT responds more like a manual and its brakes are dazzling.

Again, there will be drivers who prefer the RS5's slightly slower responses. It feels surefooted and solid. It would probably be a more forgiving track car for a novice, but the M3 is similar, stable and reassuring. Neither car understeers to any extent and both can be prompted into oversteer. Each possesses huge levels of grip and performance.

On the other hand, both cars lack torque and need to be revved hard to find the sweet spot. Fortunately, both V8s love to spin the tacho and the transmissions assist in the process. But get caught in the wrong gear and there's a pronounced lag while the gears shuffle down.

In all honesty, in every category these cars are separated by percentage points, with the M3 being 100% and the RS5 at 96%.

Cost

However, we can't get away from the bottom line. It's a major factor, especially when the cars are separated by such a tiny margin. In this area, the M3 wins hands down with a starting price of $62295 against the RS5's $69795. Both cars have similar four-year/50,000 miles Maintenance Programs providing free servicing.

One of BMW's aims was to get people into the M3 with a cheap starting price. Our test car was a good example, since it came with a cloth/leather interior and traditional radio rather than nav, etc. The price was bumped by the inclusion of the $2500 Competition Package that includes wider wheels, reprogrammed suspension and DTC among other upgrades. However, you could drive away in the BMW far cheaper than the Audi.

It's worth pointing out that the RS5 comes with a high level of standard equipment, including the dual-clutch trans, AWD, sports diff, Audi connect, 19" wheels, power seats, sat radio, iPod connectivity, etc. The only additions to our test car were the MMI Package as described previously, a $2500 Titanium Package that included the gorgeous 20" wheels, black trim and painted mirrors, plus a $1000 Sports exhaust with black tailpipes.

More importantly, to equip an M3 to a similar specification as the RS5, it would cost about $69K, which puts it on par with the Audi's starting price. The Audi also escapes the gas guzzler tax by virtue of its better fuel economy.

Let's not pretend these cars are economical, though. If they were, we wouldn't have been coasting down the mountain to reach a gas station.

During our test, the M3 returned an average of 17mpg, with the Audi at 19mpg, which the combined EPA figures suggest. Of course, we were at full throttle whenever possible, yet these are realistic figures. Our year with an M3 returned an average of 18mpg, so prepare to pay at the pump.

As we said, many of the differences are a question of preference and there are no losers here. Neither car disappoints in any area. It's a question of priorities and taste, with our preference being for the nimbler, purer M3 by a very small margin.

The Audi is like an "M3+". It's taken the same formula and built on it with a bigger engine, more power, bigger brakes, an electric rear spoiler, 20" wheels, etc. The result is an attractive car we thought would make the M3 look dated and awkward. However, the BMW's sucked-in flanks and sculpted lines looked more purposeful and athletic in comparison.

From any angle except the front, the RS5 looks a little chubby. It could do with a diet to pull in the flanks and emphasize the flared fenders. Despite that, in its bright red paint with huge front grille, the RS5 attracted more attention.

Which would we take home? The Audi might be the more relaxing daily driver but the M3 is simply more entertaining, more of a racecar for the road. It carries its motorsport heritage more obviously than the Audi. In fact, it feels different from any other BMW, where the RS5 feels like a faster, noisier S5.

So, with clenched teeth and fingers crossed, we'd take the M3. It suits our sporting ambitions better. We'd live with its edgier performance and dynamic qualities, and welcome its cheaper purchase price and manual option.

Both these cars were a privilege to drive. After two days we stopped pointing out faults and started defending each. They'd been our travel companions, shelter, office, dining room and entertainment. They'd got us into and out of tight spots and kept us grinning for days.

You can keep your Porsches and Ferraris; in my opinion, these might be the best cars in the world. Both take you to a place few can match, with a practicality and convenience to make them genuine daily drivers. They're cars you fall in love with, rather than a means of transport. They deserve enthusiast owners who can exploit their enormous potential and neither is the wrong decision; simply one is more right than the other.

2013 Audi RS5

Layout Front-mounted, longitudinal engine, AWD

Engine 4163cc V8 DOHC FSI direct injection, Audi valvelift system

Transmission seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch with AWD

Suspension five-link front, Sports diff, electro-mechanical steering, speed-sensitive

Brakes eight-piston calipers, 14.4" wave rotors f, four-piston, 12.8" r

Wheels & Tires 19x9", 265/35 R19 Pirelli summer tires, optional 20" wheels, 275/30 R20 summer tires fitted here

MSRP $69795 (inc destination), $77320 as tested

Performance

Power 450hp at 8250rpm

Torque 317 lb-ft at 4000rpm

0-60mph 4.5sec

Top Speed 174mph

Weight 4009 lb

Economy 16/23/18 cty/hwy/comb (est)

Motor Trend Performance Figures

0-60mph 4.0sec

Quarter-Mile 12.5sec at 110.7mph

60-0mph Braking 101ft

Lateral Accel 0.96g

2013 BMW M3

Layout Front-mounted, longitudinal engine, RWD

Engine 3999cc V8 DOHC S65B40 with direct injection, double Vanos

Transmission seven-speed M DCT dual-clutch, six-speed manual option

Suspension five-link rear axle, M diff lock, Servotronic steering, speed-sensitive

Brakes single-piston calipers, 14.2" rotors f, 13.8" r

Wheels & Tires 19x9" f, 19x10" r, 245/35 R19 f, 265/35 R19 r Continental summer tires

MSRP $62295 (inc destination & gas guzzler), $69045 as test

Performance

Power 414hp at 8300rpm

Torque 295 lb-ft at 3900rpm

0-60mph 4.5sec (M DCT)

Top Speed 155mph (limited)

Weight 3704 lb

Economy 14/20/16 city/hwy/combined

Motor Trend Performance Figures

0-60mph 4.1sec

Quarter-Mile 12.6sec at 113.2mph

60-0mph Braking 104ft

Lateral Accel 0.94g

Giant Forest

The Sequoia National Park in California is the second oldest in the country after Yellowstone. Its giant forest is home to General Sherman, the largest tree on earth, whose trunk weighs an estimated 1385 tons and counting. It stands 275ft tall and the circumference of its base is 103ft. It shelters in a Sequoia grove that was once protected from loggers by the US Cavalry.

These magnificent trees have shallow roots that cause them to topple, yet the strongest can grow for up to 3200 years and reach around 310ft. The Giant Californian Redwood is the tallest tree at almost 370ft but their mass is considerably less, with thinner trunks and shorter lives at around 2000 years.

The Sequoia park neighbors the Kings Canyon Park and is only a 4.5 hours drive from Los Angeles. It's easily reached from LA or San Francisco, but all the park roads are single-lane so expect delays in the summer.

In addition to the trees, there are caves, waterfalls, hiking trails as well as black bears to steal your picnic, plus plenty of other wildlife. The 328000 park is a National Monument and the General Grant tree is a National Shrine, dedicated by President Eisenhower to fallen servicemen. The same tree is also the Nation's Christmas Tree.

Information about the park, its features, campgrounds, etc can be found at nps.gov/seki There is limited lodging inside the park but plenty outside and lots of campgrounds. We recommend you visit this natural wonder; we were genuinely awestruck.

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