Maths says no, but does a plug-in hybrid system change the equation?
For decades, there's been a war raging. BMW vs. Mercedes is a tale seemingly as old as time, and since the days of the E30 M3 and 190E, gearheads the world over have picked a side. The latest installment of that war is now upon us, as Mercedes-AMG has revealed the latest performance iteration of the C-Class Sedan with one hell of a twist; in place of the thunderous V8 we all wanted under the hood, there's now a 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
How can the AMG C63 expect to face off against the BMW M3's inline six with a mere four cylinders? Well, it's not a mere four cylinders, because it's augmented with the power of electricity. Can this supplementation overcome the odds? Can a plug-in hybrid system bend the rules of arithmetic; can a four-cylinder be greater than a six-cylinder? And most importantly, can the new AMG C63 win over the hearts and minds of scorned AMG fans?
The tides have swung with each generation of this battle, as visually, each competing brand has delivered a fundamentally different design. But this time around, we believe that AMG has fired the opening salvo in this department. A base C-Class may be somewhat ambiguous, but the AMG C63 has hit the gym in a big way. 3.3 inches longer than a regular C and three inches wider at the front end, the C63 is buff.
Vertical slats for the Panamericana grille lead the eye to a signature styling element on the hood - twin power domes to hint at the hulking engine beneath the hood. Or at least they used to. The bulges are still there but are now accentuated by a narrow air outlet between them to help evacuate heat from the engine bay. New front and rear bumper designs with winglets and aggressive styling enhance the sense of muscularity, along with AMG-specific side skirts, a prominent rear decklid spoiler, black fender vents, four trapezoidal tailpipes, and standard 19-inch alloy wheels with staggered-fitment tires.
The final details include red-accented badging, including "Turbo" and "E Performance" badges on the fenders, and for the first time, a black AMG emblem in place of the Mercedes one on the hood.
While AMG gives us an athletic-looking sculpture of a sedan, BMW M gives us a great big schnozz that's tough to look past. Those great big coffins on the nose where design gets laid to rest lead to creases and crooks on the hood and a matching double-bubble style roof design. It's aggressive but lacks finesse - at least in the opinion of this writer. The fenders are wider than the stock 3 Series but don't look bulbous by any stretch.
Beyond the front end, the BMW's details are more subtle, like traditional M-style mirrors and subtle black fender vents. The rear is arguably its best view, thanks to a shapely trunk lid spoiler (on Competition models only) and a quartet of round tailpipes.
Staggered 18/19-inch wheels on the standard M3 may seem a bit small, but the Competition's 19/20-inch items give it the aggression it deserves.
Whereas the M car needs dark colors to make its design look cohesive, the AMG looks better right off the bat. It's not a revolutionary design by any stretch, and it's a familiar AMG recipe, but Mercedes has approached the sedan with restraint rather than shock value, and it's better off for it.
AMG is going to upset a lot of fans. The brand that was characterized by monstrous V8s for the better part of two decades in this segment has, in one move, downsized not to a six-cylinder but a four. Sacrilege? Heresy? Stupidity? Time will tell.
Under its hood is a 2.0-liter four-banger with an electrically assisted turbo, mitigating lag before the exhaust gasses are flowing at an optimal rate. On its own, you're looking at 469 horsepower and 402 lb-ft of torque, making it the world's most powerful series-production four-cylinder. A base M3 only makes an extra 4 hp and 4 lb-ft from a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six.
So they're even, right? Wrong. AMG no longer sells a 'base' C63; the car is now known as the C 63 S E Performance, with the latter appendage indicating plug-in hybrid electric assistance, with an extra 201 hp available from an electric motor for up to 10 seconds at a time (94 hp continuous output), fed by a 6.1 kWh battery above the rear axle.
Combined, the system generates 671 hp, completely trouncing the M3 Competition's mere 503. But more impressive than the power is the torque, as the AMG boasts a combined 752 lb-ft of the stuff, a full 273 lb-ft - or as much torque as the Toyota GR Corolla makes - more than the M3 Competition.
Those monumental outputs are directed to an AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system via a nine-speed automatic transmission, but there's a catch. The electric motor has its own two-speed transmission on the rear axle with a limited-slip differential. Conversely, BMW lets you buy an M3 in RWD form, while the M3 Competition gets the option of mechanical all-wheel drive.
But despite the AMG C 63 S E Performance's massive power and torque, a 3.3-second 0-60 mph sprint is surprisingly not much better than the AWD M3's 3.4-second dash. At the other end of the spectrum, both rivals top out at 155 mph as standard, but while the AMG will let you raise that to 174 mph, BMW gives you the option of 180.
We suspect the weight of the C63 might have a role in its unimpressive acceleration figures, but Mercedes hasn't yet disclosed its mass. However, where the AMG is likely to trounce the M3 is in rolling acceleration, where that wave of torque will pay dividends.
Other elements of the two cars' performance will be in the handling department, where AMG has gifted the C63 adaptive damping and steel springs, and rear-axle steering with up to 2.5 degrees of lock. Its braking system comprises six-piston fixed calipers up front and single-piston floating calipers at the rear. The M3 also has adaptive dampers and matches the C63 for its six- and single-piston front/rear braking system.
Because of its plug-in hybrid nature, the C63 can be driven on electricity alone, although how far has not yet been ascertained for the US market. It can also utilize one-pedal driving with up to four stages of energy recuperation via braking from none at all to full one-pedal functionality.
How does the M3 counter this? Well, it doesn't, but its six-cylinder engine at full song sounds much better than the four-cylinder in the AMG, and in a performance car, sound matters more than the electric driving range for many buyers. Something tells us Mercedes-AMG knows this, which is why it has external loudspeakers that play an 'enriched' version of the sound picked up from the exhaust, which is also played internally through the infotainment system.
Numbers matter but so does the experience, and until we get behind the wheel, we can't say whether AMG has compensated enough to make buyers forget about the number of cylinders.
Compact luxury sedans, even sporty ones, need to be jacks of all trades, prioritizing comfort and habitability in equal proportion to outright performance. Both cars seat five occupants, but the rear-seat passengers will merely hang on for dear life when things get exciting. When that does happen, those up front are catered to best, with sport bucket seats for all.
In the AMG, these are optionally new items evolved from the previous generation AMG Performance Seats. Perforated leather, strong side bolsters, and an integrated headrest with the AMG crest embossed are classy details, and from past experience, these seats will be both comfortable and supportive.
An AMG-specific steering wheel with five spokes and touch-sensitive haptic controls looks cluttered, but Alcantara thumb grips will be tactile elements. Rotary controllers with digital displays make up the AMG Drive Unit for changing drive settings on the fly, with graphics that correlate to the 12.3-inch digital instrumentation screen and the 11.9-inch portrait-layout MBUX touchscreen on the center console. New hybrid-specific displays are incorporated in these and the head-up display.
The BMW has its own option for M performance seats with mega bolstering and carbon fiber backing, but their styling won't be to everyone's liking. The stock items are ample, however.
Where BMW pulls one back is in the latest iDrive 8 infotainment interface and a more cohesive screen setup. The screen sizes are larger, or at least the central landscape screen is at 14.9 inches, and we feel the design integrates with the dashboard better. We also feel the BMW's simpler steering wheel design is less cluttered and more user-friendly in performance driving scenarios, with clear physical controls for drive modes rather than finicky digital items.
We have to make the disclaimer that without having driven the new C 63 S E Performance yet, a final judgment cannot be issued. But there are some areas in which it takes a clear win over the M3, like the style department, for one. On paper, its powertrain is an engineering marvel, too, and the outputs and the ability to switch between full guns blazing and ultra-efficient electric-only mode is a duality of character we can't help but admire.
However, these are sports cars. And a sports car has to have a soul. The engine, the noise it makes, how it feels and delivers its power, and how the car handles are all integral aspects of that persona.
There's something disingenuous about relying on speakers to give your AMG a voice, especially when AMGs of the past had thunderous engines that announced their arrival from several miles away.
The C63 could blow us away when we get behind the wheel, but from where we're sitting at present, it seems like a perfect example of well-executed German precision, a mechanical masterclass of perfection that may well be lacking one important trait - a soul.
The new M3 is by no means perfect - just look at it - but it has a character that feels genuine. Mercedes-AMG has the looks and the on-paper clout, but the reality may be very different. For now, the M3 remains our benchmark, but its reign as king could be over very soon.