AMG Driving Event vs BMW\’s Ultimate Drive

As BMW enthusiasts, we tend to have a well-refined idea of what makes a good sports sedan.Balance, handling, power, and refinement are typical expected characteristics of a good car.This you may believe to be self-evident and consistent among the same well heeled demographic for whom a $56,000 sticker isn’t out of reach.You would be wrong.

I recently attended an “AMG Performance Tour,” an event not too dissimilar from BMW’s Ultimate Drive.BMW has been a long time partner with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, where for the past 12 years BMW has conducted driving tours of the country whereby BMW has raised over $12 million for research.These Ultimate Drives provide participants the opportunity to drive a broad array of BMW’s model line; one must simply register at BMWUSA.com and arrive at the appropriate time and place.

The BMW drives are well run events where the registered and their guests are permitted to take unchaperoned drives in the neighborhoods in which they’re held.Historically there have been air-conditioned hospitality tents with lounge areas and concessions.These tents also contain a fair bit of marketing material and displays similar to that found at your local auto-show.In sum the events provide an opportunity for the driver to experience many of the models on offer, in my recent experience I’ve driven a 650i, a Z4si, a 328i, and a 550i.BMW in turn raises some money for a good cause and enhances its brand.

The AMG Performance Tour was similar in execution even if it departed in some significant ways.There was no charitable association to balance the presentation from something other than a cold marketing opportunity.The hospitality tent and marketing materials were very similar departing only by requiring attendees endure a short marketing presentation from a Mercedes representative.We arrived in the morning so we enjoyed some coffee and pastry while listening to propaganda designed to ensure that AMG brand values were aligned with mine.

Once the presentation concluded we were permitted to leave stage right where outside a C63 was mounted on a rolling-road.This was to permit the driver to feel full-throttle acceleration and “compete” for 0-60 times.Quite how this is of any relevance given the C63’s auto-box is beyond me.But it seemed popular, the sound of the 6.2 liter AMG motor running to redline was pervasive and in the end quite irritating.

A further departure from the BMW event was the corral the punters were expected to endure.Mercedes brought representatives from nearly the complete “63” AMG range for review; two C63’s, an ML63, CL63, E63, and a SL63.The cars were positioned at the end of roped aisles beneath placards that indicated which car you were in line for.One simply waited standing in line until your turn arrived.Not bad in theory until you realize you’re fifth in line and the average drive is ten minutes.

BMW’s approach is quite different, and substantially better.You sign up for a slot with a BMW representative and wait in the hospitality tent until your turn is called.This allows you to interact with the displays and relax, providing ample opportunity for you to learn more about the brand rather than remain in line under the hot summer sun.Despite having arrived at open, I and my companion drove only two cars each due to the cueing procedure.We certainly would have stayed and enjoyed the entire range if AMG had employed BMW’s approach.

The AMG model I came to experience in particular was the C63.Having some good wheel time in a M3 sedan I was interested in experiencing Mercedes take.Unfortunately, rather than providing a route and dispatching drivers to enjoy themselves, as BMW does, Mercedes employed chaperones to ride shotgun and police your behavior.So there was no disabling traction control or futzing with the adjustable suspension, severely limiting your ability to truly gauge the cars performance.And the minders were firm in their disapproval of opening the throttle too much.Perhaps the rolling-road wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

With everything set to comfort it’s difficult to comprehensively compare the C63 to the M3, but I’ll try.Say what you will of the aesthetics, I think it’s a bit overdone and with a whiff of a gold-chained hairy-chest wig.There are too many aggressive vents and lines and the chrome feels tedious.However, the engine is fantastic with good power and seemingly miles of torque.It really highlights the only niggling criticism of the M3’s powerplant, that it needs to be stoked to really come alive. The M3 feels a bit humble when you’re not spinning at 8000 rpm, but is a bonkers engine really what you want day to day?I believe it’d wear a bit.Definitively it can be said, the C63, without the chassis to back up the motor, is no M3.The balance and control just isn’t there.The C63 is simply too shouty without enough substance.

At the end of the day, I’d say the AMG event was a relatively well conceived event, if missing the mark on execution.It was clearly designed to highlight the history and pedigree of the AMG brand.But the actual experience provided left much to be desired.Moreover, the morning marketing presentation and the cars themselves spoke volumes for what Mercedes believes is its target audience.I have to say, this BMW enthusiast saw little to sway me from my current loyalties.

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  • Gragop

    I think nowadays people who buy M’s are less likely to move to an AMG just as people who buy S/RS models are less likely to move to M cars or AMG’s. Most buyers know the pro’s and cons of these vehicles and aren’t likely to move between companies much as they seem content with what their car says about them. Case-in-point is the sport sedan failure that is the Lexus IS-F. The only one I’ve seen on the road is parked in front of a high-end shopping center for promotional purposes by the local Lexus dealer. I doubt you’ll see many people turning in M3’s or RS4’s for that car.

  • cBraunDesign

    Gragop, I agree completely, except for the part about the IS-F. Maybe it’s where I live (Dayton, Ohio), but I see two IS-Fs on my way to and from work almost every day. I have yet to see an e9X M3, other than the one at the dealer and the one at the Ultimate Drive.

    And I’ll say right now, the IS-F is just as ugly in the flesh.

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  • Gragop

    I was stuck at a traffic light next to an E90 M3 coming off of the interstate. We had to pass under the overpass so I rolled my window down to enjoy the V8…it sounded amazing! I’ve seen a few E92 M3’s cruising around as well.

    I think in a year or so the IS-F will be considered more or less a poser car. Everything I’ve seen in a review of it says it’s subpar to an M3, RS4 or C63 AMG. Just like Formula One, Toyota continues to lag behind Mercedes and BMW.

    Toyota needs to make a new Supra and then convert that to a Lexus-spec car…then at least their attempts at performance would have some sort of valuable street cred. As an aside – the IS-F’s tailpipe design and hard-slashing designing cues make me want to crash my E46 into it to give it some style.

  • Joe

    I own an E60 M5 and love the BMW brand. I am not one of those brand loyalists I expect high results of BMW. I think too many people that drive Mercedes are just a little too concerned with the three star in front of them versus the actual vehicle. I also don’t think AMG is a true performance oriented line. Yes I know they put crazy engines in the cars and add a bunch of visual modifications but they are still trying to be TOO Mercedes even in an AMG. If you even look how they price out the AMG line its almost as if the AMG package is an ADDON versus a completely different car. This just shows you that BMW and Mercedes approach this performance line differently and cater to a different crowd. I don’t know many AMG drivers taking their cars to tracks or even modifying them to perform better. The M brand, like the RS brand, will always be more unique in nature than an AMG car and rightful so will attract a different crowd.

    Cheers Boys

    Joe

  • Gragop

    @ Joe

    Those are good points. In my mind performance goes: M, RS, then AMG with Lexus still left at the starting line.

    I remember a lot of the early 2000’s AMGs had brakes that weren’t suited for performance with engines that could easily overheat the brakes. I like the crazy nature of AMG engines like the C63 but I just couldn’t live with it personally nor could I feel comfortable tracking it like I would an M or RS model.

    I do have to hand it to Merc though – I’d kill to have a CLK Black Series. The car is gorgeous and a hell of a performer. The Black Series gives us cars more comparable to an M3 CSL or whatnot though and at a much higher price point.

  • Barry

    Those AMG motors are straight up naaasty. 🙂 Nice write up. I too have done the BMW cancer event. I love that fact that you drive with yourself or whomever you came with.