Which is the greatest super saloon of all?
Each one of these cars is a saloon. But they’re not just any old saloons. The cheapest is £60k, for starters. They all have two turbos, and big engines producing at least 450hp. The Alfa Romeo’s V6 engine is basically a Ferrari V8 with two cylinders chopped off. The Mercedes-AMG C63 shares an engine design with the GT supercar. BMW’s straight-six is pure, classic, evocative M.
To say this is a surfeit of saloon car performance is putting it mildly. This is a triple test of three super saloons at the top of their game. But each plays a different game to one another… question is, which is the winner?
BMW M3 Competition Package
Price: £60,355 (As tested £76,295)
Engine: 3.0-litre, straight six, twin-turbo
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
CO2 emissions: 194g/km
We haven’t given this generation of M3 (and M4 Coupe) the easiest of rides since their launch back in 2014. The fact a twin-turbo straight-six was replacing a pure, normally aspirated V8 didn’t help, nor did the fact its sound and power delivery were so different. Suspension that combined spiky handling with sometimes-ineffective damping was another grumble.
Enter the Competition Package to at least cure the handling ills, and serve up 444bhp to add a bit of excitement. Fussy wheels apart, it looks awesome and, on the track, immediately has a harder edge than the other two cars. Handling is pin-sharp, the engine responds crisply and it has a real willingness to rev hard. This car breeds confidence and is so well resolved on track, it’s a car back to its best, one that sets a very high bar for the others indeed.
Mercedes-AMG C63 S
Price: £67,450 (As tested £77,565)
Engine: 4.0-litre, V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: AMG Speedshift MCT seven-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 34.5mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 192g/km
It may be the biggest and heaviest car here, and the most expensive, but it also has a 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo engine, which counts for a lot. It’s like a thunderstorm when you press the starter button and, in terms of heart-on-sleeve allure, the AMG is a draw straight out the box.
As with the BMW, there are a range of driving modes, but the difference between them isn’t as extreme. While good, handling’s not what this car is about, anyway. The engine is – and what a motor. It dominates the experience with its enormous drive, its delectable sound, the way it can smoke tyres seemingly at will. On a track, the only thing stopping you from spinning up the rear wheels will be the need to replace the rubber before it wears down to the canvass. That’s how much of a sheer, delightful hooligan this car is.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Price: £61,300 (As tested £73,805)
Engine: 2.9-litre, V6 twin-turbo
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 190mph
Economy: 34.4mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 189g/km
And so to the Alfa Romeo, the upstart of the group. The one with a formidable job ahead of it, to take on these two established performance saloons. Beautiful styling is an immediate win, as is an interior with substance and the most wonderful (optional) set of Sparco seats that set up the perfect driving position (not always the case in an Italian car).
On the move, it’s soon clear this is a much more aggressive machine than the other two. It feels almost modern Ferrari-like in how quick and pointy its steering is, the way it’s so ever-willing to accelerate, hard. Pleasingly, it’s also Ferrari-like in the quality of its mechanical components and the sophisticated sensations they serve up.
The engine almost combines the best of the other two – it’s as muscular as the AMG V8 and as free-revving as the BMW turbo. We were having an absolute blast. But then the orange ‘check engine’ light flashed up, the car went into safety mode, and our fun was over. With Alfa, it seems some things never change.
Triple test verdict
A reliability grumble from an Alfa? We’d like to say we didn’t see it coming – but it’s an Alfa. Here’s hoping it’s a one-off rather than a hugely disappointing anti-climax to what was turning out to be a very impressive performance.
The Alfa certainly had the measure of the Mercedes-AMG, which felt a bit of a lump on track, engine apart. The huge charisma of that marvellous V8 counts for a lot, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to better the sheer all-round brilliance of the BMW. The M3 is fast, handles wonderfully, and was our car of the day by a clear margin. Could the Alfa have challenged it? Who knows. The fact that it broke means we may never know.