When it comes to buying a performance sedan, there is an unreasonably large number of choices on the Australian market.
Most are also backed up by a coupe variant that, despite having fewer doors – and fewer complications – tend to cost more. So, if you have about $150,000 to spend on a four-door luxury performance sedan, what would you buy?
There are, of course, the local heroes from the HSV range and, while they serve their purpose in the greater market, our focus here is on the more upscale offerings from Germany and Japan.
The two default choices are the Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan ($155,900 plus on-road costs) and the BMW M3 ($144,615).
We desperately tried to get an Audi RS4 wagon into this comparison, but since they are no longer on sale or in production – and Curt recently drove the very last one in the country – we looked for an alternative.
In that search, we found the Lexus GS F ($148,800 plus on-roads). A car that is a class size bigger, yet is comparable in price to the two Germans here. If Lexus still had an IS F, it would have been the more logical choice, but we figured that getting you a larger sedan for similar coin made the GS F worth including.
For this test we had the latest version of the BMW M3, the M3 competition pack in a gorgeous Yas Marina blue accompanied by the C63 S sedan and the Lexus GS F.
Our drivers included yours truly, along with our resident performance car expert, Curt Dupriez, and former Subaru World Rally Championship driver and all around Aussie legend, Chris Atkinson.
The two Germans have, of course, ditched naturally aspirated engines of the past and gone for turbochargers, while ironically, the Japanese car here is powered by a naturally aspirated Yamaha-sourced 5.0-litre V8 that consequently lacked the torque of the other two.
The M3 makes do with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder unit with 331kW of power (up from 317kW of the regular M3) and 550Nm of torque.
Moving to the C63 S introduces you to a notably more powerful 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, delivering an impressive 375kW of power and an enormous 700Nm of torque.
The GS F’s 5.0-litre quad-cam V8, the only ‘atmo’ contender in the trio, manages 351kW of power and 530Nm and torque.
While the C63 S seems to have the measure of its competitors in terms of sheer output, weight comes in to play with the Lexus, unsurprisingly tipping the scales as the heaviest here at 1865kg.
The Lexus is followed down the scale by the C63 S at 1730kg, while the leanest of the trio is the positively svelte 1560kg BMW M3.
Lexus says the GS F will do 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds, but the C63 and M3 both claim 4.0 seconds flat, which gives you an idea of how 700Nm and 550Nm compares when there is a 170kg weight difference.
We started the test with a city loop to do a basic fuel economy run. All cars were filled to the absolute top (two clicks), all settings reset, and all set to eco mode.
We set out for a drive loop that took in Brisbane CBD, out on the highway then back through the city on the way to Mounts Glorious and Nebo.
The fuel economy results were surprising. The C63 was the thriftiest, followed by the M3 using an extra 23 per cent fuel, and the GS F using an additional 84 per cent fuel (over the Mercedes).
Official fuel economy figures are 8.6L/100km for the C63, 8.8L/100km for the M3 and 11.3L/100km for the Lexus, though realistically, you’re not going to get anywhere near that for any of them if you intend to drive them as they should be driven.
From the outside, all three cars possess a sense of aggressive design that sets them out from the crowd.
The Lexus is the most daring, with its bold angular front end, which suffers from having one of the most expensive body parts at the absolute front of the car – the carbon-fibre lip.
On our car, it had previously been damaged by Queensland Police Service during a test, and cost more than $20,000 for a replacement!
It would be easy to take a cheap shot at QPS for the damage, but, in reality, having the absolute first point of contact of a car’s nose also be its most expensive, is not very well thought-out and something worth considering as part of the ownership experience.
The rest of the Lexus tends to work depending on your design tastes. We felt that its 19-inch wheels were too small for the profile of the car, and being forced to have orange brake calipers seems a bit odd.
The interior of the Lexus is gorgeous, there’s no other way of putting it. The red leather seats feel amazing to touch and the cabin is well thought-out with a massive 12.3-inch screen and good ergonomics.
The rear seats are spacious and can easily take two large adults. We struggled with trying to fit an ISOFIX child seat in the back, though, as the anchor points are buried deeply into the leather.
The biggest gripe with the GS F’s interior, is pretty much the same as every other Lexus: the world’s most frustrating infotainment system.
We could write a whole separate article on why it’s so bad and how it can so easily be made better, but ultimately it’s the worst of the three here by a long shot.
In fact, volume-selling models from companies like Hyundai have better technology offerings.
Moving on to the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, the sedan lacks the charisma of its predecessor when it comes to design.
Where the new C63 Coupe looks the business, the sedan is far more conservative and not nearly as aggressive. This may be a good thing, depending on your taste, although we personally feel it could do with some more flair and bling.
On the inside, the C-Class cabin is our favourite. It’s a good mixture of simplicity and style.
The use of the right materials in the right place are well considered and, while it has some rough edges, it’s the sort of cabin you’ll happily jump into day in, day out.
The front and rear seats are comfortable and spacious, and it’s definitely not lacking practicality or space for four adults.
Mercedes-Benz COMAND in the C63 is not the latest version and it misses out onApple CarPlay, which is now available on the significantly cheaper A-Class models – an omission we hope the German brand addresses soon.
The most aggressive-looking of the three is the BMW M3. Those 20-inch competition pack wheels look awful at first, then look beautiful with about a 30-minute appraisal.
Given a full week with the car, we fell in love with them.
They are huge at the rear (285mm) and ideal at the front (265mm). One inch bigger than the other two cars here and noticeably wider (265/245mm on the AMG; 275/255mm for GS F).
What we love about the M3 is that BMW hasn’t demoted its aggressive styling in favour of the M4. There is no mistaking the M car on the road, thanks to its flared guards and prominent quad exhausts. It looks the business from every angle.
On the inside, the leather seats and M badging do a great job of helping to justify the pricey purchase, yet its actual instrument cluster and switchgear is really starting to age. BMW hasn’t changed its interior design for so long and it feels as though the game has moved on.
Thankfully, BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is the best in the business and, in this comparison, puts the other two in the shade.
Front seats are very plush and supportive, particularly when going fast around bends, but the second row can feel a little tight. Even though it’s still capable of taking two adults, you’d be pushing your luck for a third if comfort is a requirement.
Once the boring stuff was out of the way, we visited the BP at the tip of Mt Nebo for a refill and set-off up the mountain to find out which one of these three is the most fun and/or dynamically capable.
During our city loop we noted that the C63 S was by far the best of the three when it came to basic comfort and everyday driving.
In comfort mode, the high-tech V8 is smooth and delivers its power in such a manner that makes driving it chore-free and simple, which is further aided by the car’s supple suspension and general practicality.
The Lexus was undoubtedly also a great cruiser, however all three testers found the seats to be rather uncomfortable after an extended period of time. Likewise, the suspension proved to be nowhere near as compliant (no adjustability) over Brisbane’s terrible roads.
The BMW M3 with its new competition pack felt the most nimble and willing to pounce, even at slow speeds.
It’s undeniably the sportiest car here, but while we love that about it, it also means that – as a daily driver – its singular personality can make it a little tiresome.
Of course, one could make an argument to go for the regular M3 over the competition pack for softer suspension, but, given the price difference of just $5000 for more performance and better wheels, it would seem something of a missed opportunity.
If constant daily usage is your absolute criteria, then, overall, the C63 S is the winner here. However, we suspect if that was the biggest requirement, a standard Mercedes-Benz C250 would just as easily do the job.
These cars are more than that.
Around the tight twisty stuff, the Lexus immediately showed its flaws and weaknesses. Because of its weight and larger proportions, the GS F does not lend itself to the requirements of tighter corners. And, while it doesn’t exactly roll or push into corners, it just lacks the sheer pace of its two German rivals.
It also lacks the torque, which means coming out of a corner can really leave you wanting more at times.
Atko reckoned that the Lexus feels heavy and somewhat lazy, with little feedback through the steering wheel.
He also noted that while the GS F is the stiffest of the three, it’s not helping the car’s performance. In his view, the stiffer suspension seems to do little more than make the car uncomfortable, rather than aid in its driveability.
It was as the road opened up on the way out to Mt Glorious that the Lexus felt more at home, but, even still, you can feel its weight at all times.
Another thing we didn’t like about the Lexus was the engine note. You see, it has this button to the right of the wheel that allows you turn on audio boosting inside the cabin. Sorry, but if you can’t make a naturally aspirated V8 engine sound good on its own, you’re doing it wrong.
It also suffers from that conservative Japanese nature, as the exhaust system feels muted to passers-by, when compared to its turbo muffled competitors here.
The C63 S has the best engine here. In fact, the engine is so bloody good that other manufacturers use it as a reference for what can be done in the turbo era, in terms of sound, power and its delivery. The folks at AMG have utterly nailed this, and it seems as if that engine has a lot more to give.
In the C sedan, that V8 works a treat. The torque delivery around tight corners is superb and its twin-turbo setup means there’s almost no turbo lag. Having kept Akto in the dark about the cars’ technical details, he initially thought the Mercedes was supercharged, considering it was lagless.
He also noted that it had the best steering feel of the three, as well as the best feedback.
What we loved most about the C63 was its tendency to oversteer at any point, but in a beautifully predictable manner. The back wants to step out in Sport+ or Race modes and, once you get the hang of it, you can’t help but to predict and countersteer into it immediately.
It’s heavy, though, compared to the BMW M3 – and it doesn’t feel as tight or as agile. Yet, its nature and characteristics make up for those few extra kilos.
On the tighter roads, the Merc is still fast, but certainly not up to Bavarian standard – not aided by its seven-speed MCT which is worlds apart from the Lexus unit, but not on M levels.
When the road opens up, though, the extra torque really makes a difference and if it had just slightly wider tyres (which the Coupe does), it would make a noticeable difference.
The car that wins this comparison dynamically is the BMW M3. Given its lightweight nature and super aggressive gearing, the M is the sort of car you don’t want to be stuck in traffic with. Yet, give it a windy road, tight or open, and it will shine brightly in all respects.
It sounds good, though it’s a harsher mechanical sound rather than the brutal V8 sound of its two rivals. The combination of its engine and dual-clutch transmission really work in unison, though, to make the best BMW sedan what it is.
It doesn’t really want to oversteer, nor does it tend to understeer. It’s neutral in the best sense and, as such, you can rely on it to go hard and fast into a bend – and come out the other side – without missing a beat.
Atko noted the steering is not consistent and that it feels as though the power assist goes one step further after the wheel has already been turned, turning the car in further than intended.
Even so, he gave it top marks for its suspension setup across its multiple modes, and rated it the best performance car for twisty and open roads. He did note, though, that if it were entirely up to him, he would pick the C63 for its comfort factor around town.
In fact, that is why picking between these cars is so difficult.
The Lexus offers a bigger car for the same money, and if a feature-packed naturally aspirated super-luxury V8 sedan is what you’re after, it is a viable candidate. However its weight and conservative nature (in terms of performance) can be its undoing.
In reality, the battle here is between the two Germans.
The C63 S AMG Coupe is a very different car to its sedan sibling, and if the two-door had been here against the M4 instead of the M3, we suspect it would have won outright for both its performance and its comfort factor.
Yet, the sedan is a different beast, outdone by the BMW M3 when it comes to going fast – not to mention it costs $11,285 more (or $16,285 compared to standard M3).
Considering what these cars are made for, then, it would make sense to give the win to the M3 for its performance capability and better value, but it really comes down to personal preference and requirements.
If you intend to occasionally track or drive your family-friendly sedan around some twisty roads, go for the M3. If you want something more comfort-focused with better stealth technology and engine note, you can’t go wrong with an AMG.
Really, though, having either German in the garage would have you come out smiling.
BMW M3 – MRLP without options added* $ 144,615 plus on-roads.
Options fitted to this vehicle:
- Roller sunblind for rear windows, electric – $600
- Metallic paintwork – $1840
- Parking Assistant – $675
Total MRLP* – $ 147,730
Lexus GS F – MRLP without options added – $148,800
Options fitted to this vehicle:
- Carbon fibre interior ornamentation – $2500
Total MRLP* – $ 151,016
Mercedes-AMG C63 S AMG – MRLP without options added – $155,990
Options fitted to this vehicle:
- 19” AMG Cross-Spoke Alloy – $990
Total MRLP* – $156,890