The brakes never faded, but the pedal didn't feel as good as the other cars. Travel was too long and didn't give the same level of confidence. While you can get the car to move around in turns, it wasn't as entertaining as the Mercedes or as easy to drive as the Audi. That said, in the canyon the other two couldn't match its cornering speeds.

The BMW V8 seems to rev forever. It pulls reasonably well, but given the extra displacement, it doesn't feel more urgent than the previous-gen, six-cylinder E46. But as with previous generations, you really have to keep it on cam to get the most out of the engine. On a track it's fine, but in the canyon the car always seems to be in-between gears. Below 6500 rpm it feels like a regular, naturally aspirated 3 Series. We're not sure that all that displacement is really justified when the car is so wanting for more low-end torque. One staffer's first observation about the drive was, "It just doesn't feel fast enough to be an M3, certainly not a V8 M3."

When the car was delivered we found it parked right next to the RS4. The size of the M3 becomes readily apparent. It just looks more massive than the Audi. Unfortunately, it doesn't look so muscular and athletic, more bloated and overweight. In particular, the swollen hood and awkward rear valence. While the 335i is a fantastic looking car, the styling is not as effective on the M3.

Many owners will never use it for anything more than verbal racing at the martini bar. Some may use it on the track as intended, but it could be more likely the dedicated track junkie will elect to go with a 335i or 135i instead.

The car is fast, handles well, and delivers an elegant driving experience. All the things we've come to expect from the M5. The new M3 is closer to that, but without the big back seat.

Hit*Razor-sharp steering *superior overall balance
Miss *Antiseptic driving experience *rear valence like a hiked-up skirt

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
In terms of character, the Mercedes is the real standout. While horsepower numbers among the three look similar on paper, this thing is an absolute musclecar compared to the other two. Fifty percent more displacement and more than 100 lb-ft of extra torque put the AMG engine in a different league. Mash the loud pedal and you sink back into the seats with a force the other two don't touch. And that acceleration is there anytime, at any rpm.

Cornering is a constant controlled drift. As hard as you try, you can't get the car to be completely neutral. Turn in too abruptly and you get punishing understeer. Get it right and the back end swings around in a wider, faster arc than the front. With the three-stage stability control set on full, it's controlled and not as dangerous as it sounds. Hit the button once, and more daring tail-out action is possible with the computer curtailing your fun only when you're way out of shape.

With ESP completely defeated, the C63 could hold its own in D1 competition. Plant your right foot and the rear tires don't stand a chance. The wheels spin, the engine bellows, and you add opposite lock like a rally driver. The slide will continue as long as you want; you could even keep it sideways down the short straights between corners if you wanted.

These sideways antics illustrate the car's biggest flaw. It is quite simply under-tired. Wider tires would make this thing much faster around a track and also shave some precious tenths off its acceleration times. They might, however, dilute some of the fun.

By Michael Febbo
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