An afternoon of driving three super sedans is like giving the entire world the finger, every single person, all at the same time. SUV drivers may hide behind the excuse of children, pets, or the need to move enormous holiday decorations, but there's no justifying one of these hedonistic gasoline gluttons. You flaunt one for the sheer joy of torque and tire smoke. For this very reason, the reign of beasts like these could be counting down. The EPA and CARB will crush the life out of them and force them into hiding like the American musclecars of the '60s.
With this in mind, we decided to hit the canyon roads and enjoy the big V8s to their fullest while we still had the chance. The BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 are the newcomers, while the old guard is represented by the segment's benchmark, the Audi RS4.
One could argue the Audi is the most neutral car of the three. The RS4's age is betrayed by its aesthetics. This isn't a bad thing; the big, muscular flares flexing out the fenders give it a menacing appearance. The lower shoulder line is more elegant and looks less like an armored vehicle than the Benz. The graceful curves and lack of superfluous character lines and strakes make the Audi the staff favorite in terms of looks.
Unfortunately, when pushed to the limit, its age starts to show through the chassis dynamics. With the engine hung way out over the front axle, the sensation is like trying to hustle a 911 down a mountain road, backward. Audi did an amazing job of tuning the suspension to its full potential and it works beautifully, but in the end, it's hard to get around physics. Obviously it likes to understeer in corners. In the canyons you find yourself having to brake late to get the car to rotate. The upside is that it puts down power in ways the other two cars can't. The chassis is completely unflappable in power delivery and the rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system is as good as it's ever been. The front weight bias is an asset for high-speed stability. In long sweepers the car stays planted without wanting to swap ends.
Steering feel is surprisingly good for a modern Audi; most tend to be on the isolated side. There's a nice heft in steering effort that isn't there in an S4. Brake pedal feel is also world-class, the pedal itself always right there at the top of range. The consistent bite and lack of fade gives the driver confidence no matter how hard it's pushed.
The interior is the best of the bunch. Soft surfaces have a depth to them that doesn't feel like a sprayed-on afterthought. The seating position is near ideal, but the seats just don't quite compare to those in the Mercedes. But I'd estimate they're probably half the weight of the Mercedes seats, so maybe that's the trade-off.
Overall, the RS4 is the car that anyone can be fast in. It won't punish you for minor mistakes. It's always comfortable and confidence inspiring. Its look is a perfect balance of muscle and grace, while the interior is comfortable and full of high-quality components. It's not the fastest car of the group, but could be the best all-around package.
Hit*All-wheel grip *high quality materials *bulletproof fit
Miss *Heavy front end *hefty initial cost
The original E30 M3 was a true homologation special. It appealed to a select few enthusiasts who wanted a raw driving experience. Over the years, the M3 has become more grand tourer than DTM racecar, and this newest version takes it to the extreme. The best car in this group technically, it lacks the ragged edge that makes the other two so entertaining.
The M3's dynamic stability control is the biggest let down in terms of handling. It cuts power when things start getting good, and every time it activates it punishes you for the next three seconds. One tester thought it was the most intrusive stability control he'd felt in years.