Mercedes – AMG C 43 Coupe vs BMW M2 Competition vs Audi S5 vs Ford Mustang vs Porsche Boxster – A sportscar showdown
Want is one thing, but these sport coupes(and one convertible) prove that you don’t need a crore-plus, full-fat, 600bhp V8 to have a shit-ton of fun
As good as a Cayman? That’s what you all asked, in response to the rabid praise we heaped on the M2 Competition last month. It was a question we had no answer to, not because we have no experience of the Porsche, but because fast cars are moving the game on so rapidly it’s impossible to pass judgement on all-important yet highly subjective matters like steering feel, throttle adjustability and the seat of the pants feedback without driving them back to back. And so that’s what this test is all about, an attempt to find out just how good sport coupes have become, and a celebration of the fact that you can now get a properly fast car for under a crore of rupees.
Of course there is no Cayman here. We couldn’t get hold of it so we got its 718 sibling, the identical (save for the foldable canvas roof) Boxster. At the other end of the spectrum, and at the same price, is the Mustang with a full-fat V8. It defies the very point of this test, to prove you don’t have to go the V8 route to have fun, but if you can get a ’Stang at the same price as a Boxster we had to drive them back to back.
The other three cars are relatively straight-forward. Audi’s S5 is the only four-door with a big(ish) engine. The M2 is a proper sport coupe with a banging turbo-six. And the newest of them all, and rocking the coupe back end, is the Mercedes-Benz C 43 AMG, the turbo-V6 now kicking out more power, more torque, more noise and more entertainment. It’s a good time to be a fan of fast cars!
Show and Go – Mercedes – AMG C 43 Coupe
Do you need your fast car to be practical? Mercedes doesn’t think so and they’ve dropped the
four-door C 43 AMG from their fast-car line-up. Okay, if I’m being practical, this AMG isn’t very practical. I took another couple out for a Sunday lunch and they made a big production of spilling out of the back seat of the blazing red AMG. We Indians have zero experience of entering or exiting two-door cars gracefully; plenty of experience grumbling about things we have no experience of. But can I live with the compromise? Hell, yes!
The recent facelift has done the C-Class range a world of good and, suitably AMG’d with muscular bumpers, LED lights and the twin-louvre grille, the C 43 Coupe looks gorgeous. It really is more than just the old C 43 AMG with its rear doors deleted. Space at the back, once your passengers are done grumbling, is quite acceptable too, with the panoramic sunroof adding lots of light to the cabin. The ride too is quite alright, so is the ground clearance with four on board, though with the space-saver spare wheel strapped into boot; you’re best off packing only a toothbrush. But, who cares?
Stick it in Sport+, depress the Sport Exhaust button, and the C 43 feels far more purposeful than I recall. The twin-turbo V6 gets a 24bhp bump in power to 385bhp, torque is now up to 520Nm, and though the 0-100kmph time remains unchanged at 4.7 seconds, tenths have been shaved off the in-gear acceleration times thanks also to the faster shift times of the 9-speed gearbox. To be honest, the C 43 AMG was always plenty quick, keeping pace with the V8-engined and totally unhinged C 63 until well past triple -digit speeds. This new one, thanks to a throaty exhaust, feels even faster and the first time I floored it I did let out an expletive. This car accelerates with ferocity.
But it isn’t scary, that’s the beauty of the all-wheel drive setup. The 4Matic is of course more rear-biased for that sport-car feel but the sense of safety and security that it delivers is unparalleled. Floor it and it grips and goes, regardless of the road surface. A damp patch? No worries. Some gravel? No need to let off. A smooth bit of windy tarmac? There is so much cornering grip that the g-force meter on the cluster will show some crazy figures even if you do not have the talent to match your ambition. If you didn’t know it was all-wheel drive you’d scratch your head wondering how easily the C 43 puts down its near-400 horses. There is no untoward drama, except in the cabin that is really lovely with the full-fat AMG steering wheel being an absolute highlight.
The C 43 AMG is an all-weather sports car that ticks all the boxes. Except one.
The Lunatic - BMW M2 Competition
If you’re a fly on the wall at the evo India offices you’d think the M2 Competition is the next best thing to sliced bread. We are truly and madly in love it, so much so that when BMW sells this press car we will be the first to bid for it. And it all has to do with the way the back end responds in direct proportion to the travel of the throttle pedal. You steer the M2 Competition as much with the throttle as with the steering wheel — it is that playful, that responsive, that involving, that much of a hoot.
Oh, that’s not to say the M2 cannot put down all of its 404 turbo-charged horses. With brand new tyres there is a lot of grip to be had, unlike last month when we tested this very same car with shagged rear tyres and scared ourselves silly into oversteer heaven. Up our favourite twisties, the M2 kept pace with the C 43, the chassis generating massive amount of grip, though the frisky tail did demand a more alert driver and did leave the M2’s passenger with a sweaty bottom. The thing is, despite sticky 265-section 18-inch rubber, there’s an inherent playfulness to the car that is impossible to hide; impossible not to enjoy. Forget switching off traction control completely, just stick it in DSC Sport and you can slide the back end just enough to make small slides without the ESP calling halt to proceedings. And with the front end unencumbered by having to transmit power to the front wheels, the steering feels so much better — lighter, quicker, more responsive, more urgent. Turn, gas it to bring the tail out and finish the turn, a slight dab of oppo, and you’ll be left in no doubt the M2 Competition is the best M car you can buy today (and that’s saying something). Turn everything off and there’s so much power that big slides are easy to have, allied to the limited-slip rear differential, and a taut and small chassis. I’ll mince no words. The M2 Competition is just right. It is, in fact, perfect — immensely responsive; immensely fun; makes you wonder at the absurdity of adding more cylinders, more power, more driven wheels, more of everything.
Of course we’re hooligans. We like our cars to be demanding. And we’ve never, ever paid for tyres. Not everybody is like that, and the M2 Competition is not everyone’s cup of tea. The M2 is even more of a pain to get into the back seats, the boot is even more tiny, the ride is properly hard and the cabin quite dark and cramped. It is also not as flash. But it brings out the eight-year-old in all of us, and we love it for that.
The four door – Audi S5
None of the cars here do fast and comfortable as the Audi does. None. You don’t have to contort yourself to get into the back because it has rear doors. The boot is big. The space inside is huge. And the ride quality is almost like a diesel A4. It does look the most understated of the lot but then again that’s why its performance is all the more unexpected.
Audi’s turbo-V6 is a fair bit shy of the M and AMG on the horsepower front but on sheer acceleration, thanks to Quattro traction, it does a game job of keeping the other two in check when the taps are opened up. And it’s not like you cannot have fun with the Audi. Last year we drove all the fast Audis at the race track and the S5 proved to be the most fun. The narrowest tyres meant it was the easiest to break traction and pull gorgeous four-wheel drifts. Of course you’d be mad (or very talented) to do that on a public road, but you can access its adjustability by lifting off aggressively before the corner, letting the weight transfer to the front and then getting back on the gas to induce a yaw moment while getting the torque vectoring to work for you. Sure it isn’t as dramatic as the M2, nor as playful as the C 43, nor as loud or flamboyant as any of the cars here, but it doesn’t rattle your brain either.
Comfort isn’t sexy but, no matter how hardcore the enthusiast, everybody secretly wants comfort. And the S5 is just that. Comfortably fast.
Opposite ends – Ford Mustang and Porsche Boxster
Here’s something I did not know. This is the fourth straight year that the Mustang has topped worldwide sports coupe sales charts. It is also the best-selling sports car in the US, though that is less of a surprise to be honest. 55 years since it was launched, the Mustang has become such an icon that it even has its own holiday, April 15, National Mustang Day. And with this sixth generation ’Stang sporting both right-hand drive and independent rear suspension (for the first time!) it has now spread into 146 markets clocking 500,000 sales since it was launched in 2015.
The reason it sells so well is because it is affordable. And it is cool, really cool. For the price of a turbo-four you get a hulking great V8 while the fastback shape is so iconic everybody rubbernecks it. It is also a pretty cool driving experience, the rumble of the V8, the low-rev gurgle, the relaxed cruise, the slush ’box, the seats that are as soft and cushy as a Camry. This is a car that you can also enjoy while driving slowly. Step on it and the Mustang does move, make no mistake, but unlike the others, the Mustang also doubles up as a boulevard cruiser. Forget the thirst and the Mustang is actually a great long-distance cruiser, rumbling down the expressway, chewing up the miles, the long bonnet with its pronounced power bulge making for quite the sight. It’s a flashy car. It gets line-lock to do big smoky burnouts. It is the template for the American muscle car — big, loud and brash. It is all the things that the M2 is not.
What the Mustang isn’t is a corner carver. Drive it hard at a race track and the engine will go into limp mode as the engine is starved of oil from all the g forces. The steering is vague and imprecise and that’s the best I can say for it. And even though it finally gets independent rear suspension, the handling is just about acceptable. It is just too big and heavy to slice up our mountain roads; roads that are the natural hunting ground for the Boxster.
Now the Boxster is here because we could not get hold of the Cayman, the better-looking and more desirable of the 718 twins in my opinion. They drive, more or less, the same and they’re identically specced so whatever I say about the Boxster applies to the Cayman. And if I had to use just one word to describe the cars, it would be awesome.
Of course the Boxster had to be awesome, it is mid-engined for crying out loud. It is the best layout for handling, period. The layout is even better than the rear-engined 911 — given the same power the Boxster would out-do the 911. The layout endows the 718 with incredible balance, the front end darting into corners with the desperate urgency of a politician at election time while the rear remains as unshakeable as a bureaucrat sitting on a file. There’s no faster car in this test on a twisty road and that’s despite the Boxster only getting the 2-litre turbo-four in India with power rated at just under 300bhp. This Boxster, it makes up in handling whatever it loses on power. With a limited-slip differential and 45/55 front/rear weight distribution, the traction is just incredible, allowing you to deploy more of the power more of the time. And though the turbo engine doesn’t make enough power for big slides, you can use the torque to make the rear slide ever so slightly, inducing a yaw action on the throttle.
While the Boxster is just incredibly good to drive it isn’t particularly good to listen to. The turbo-four just makes noise, amplified by a resonator and electric actuator that pumps it into the cabin. It is better than playing fake engine sounds through the speakers, but it isn’t the most tuneful. You do get a bit of exhaust waste gate chuntering which is a cool thing but if you’ve experienced the flat-sixes of the past this will frustrate you. Another thing that could frustrate you, if practicality is your thing, are the lack of rear seats. That’s where the engine is! You do get biggish compartments in the front and back for your overnighters and, if this interests you, the Porsche is the most fuel efficient of the lot. The Porsche is also the best riding of the sports cars, the pliancy over bumps being key in the speed with which it can go round corners.
Make no mistake, the Boxster / Cayman is a serious piece of engineering for the serious enthusiast. It is a driver’s car. With more power and a greater ability to overwhelm grip at the rear, the M2 Competition might deliver more laughs, but the Boxster is ultimately the faster car, the more capable car, the better steering and better handling car.
There can be no winners, no losers; each of these cars have a USP. If you want a V8 — and who is going to grudge you that? — there’s only the Mustang at under a crore of rupees. Sure, it is as loose and wobbly as a Big Mac soaked in gravy, but it also rocks a fantastically cool and iconic shape, a real head turner, and a car from which you can unleash immense horsepower at ridiculously low prices with a whole range of aftermarket kits. Plus you can do burnouts! How cool is that!
The S5 — now that’s a car in which you get the practicality of four doors (don’t underestimate that), the comfort of a regular luxury car, and a rabid turn of pace. Not that you cannot use the other cars in this test as daily drivers but all have caveats, all have ifs and buts. With the S5, there are zero everyday compromises. You can be chauffeured in the mornings and you can let off steam from behind the ’wheel in the evening. And once you get a hang of how the quattro drivetrain works, you can also pull off four-wheel drifts without the fear of falling off the mountain.
As for the Merc it has style, beautiful interiors, big horsepower, the safety net of all-wheel drive; everything in fact. The C 43 AMG is the benchmark sports coupe, and the one that I’d safely recommend to the vast majority.
For those who don’t like to play safe, who enjoy challenging themselves, and living life on the ragged edge — please buy the M2 and send us a thank you note. By the end of the year we will probably join the owner’s club and become a platinum Michelin customer too. Fast cars should make you feel alive and nothing does it like the M2 Competition.
And to the Boxster that I headed back down from the hills with after this test, chased by our technical editor Byram in the M2, both of us equally committed behind the wheel, ESP off on both cars. In the Boxster I’d pull ahead in the curves, in the M2 he’d close up on the straights. And so we went on, neither able to shake off the other, until half way down Byram backed off. The M2’s brakes started to get hot. And the demands on his concentration became too much. The Boxster though… no overheating, no brake fade, no wayward back end, no fried grey cells. A mid-engined car can do things with a 2-litre four-cylinder engine that a six-in-the-nose just cannot respond to. The turn-in, the steering immediacy, the traction, the brakes; it’s a revelation, the 718. It is still the best of the breed.