Testing BMW\’s Competitors at Autobahn Country Club

Recently the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL, invited BimmerFile to experience a few of the ways that the public can enjoy a little of what the club has to offer. Possibly the best way to do this is through their Autobahn Performance Fleet, a program whereby manufacturers lend a few of their performance oriented models for club members ‘ and the public ‘s use. And of course for us in particular it was a great way to keep tabs on the latest products that aren ‘t BMWs.

An impressive array of machines are available for autocross, lead-follow, and touring laps of the Autobahn ‘s facilities.The cars vary from year to year, but the selection is always impressive.This season the following cars will be available:

  • Audi – S5, S6, R8 V-10 Plus
  • BMW – M3, M5, M6
  • Cadillac – CTS-V Coupe, Sedan, Wagon, ATS
  • Ferrari – California
  • Lexus – IS-F, GS-350 with F-Sport, RX-350 w/F-Sport
  • Mercedes-Benz – CLS, C63, E63
  • Porsche – Boxster, Cayman, Cayenne

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing the neither the Audis nor BMWs had arrived. So, we made due with the latest Porsche Boxster, C63 AMG, and Ferrari California.

First up was the lead-follow on the north course track; the instructor in a Lexus GS-350 with F-sport setting a healthy pace and me in a new Boxster. Not a blistering pace, but certainly quick enough to whet your appetite. A far cry from the walking pace typical of these events. That said, it was a dawdle to keep up in the Boxster, the chassis plenty responsive and steering not nearly as muted as anticipated given the critique its received in the press. And in this reviewer ‘s opinion, miles better than the system employed in current BMWs. The Porsche completely met expectations as a balanced mid-engined sports car. After a few laps it was time to swap seats, the C63 AMG Coupe was up next.

The M3's biggest rival?

The M3 ‘s biggest rival?

The C63 AMG is Mercedes-Benz ‘s nearest competitor to BMW ‘s M3. The naturally aspirated 451hp 6.3L V8 is a beast if a motor, and mated to their excellent 7-speed MCT automatic, the MB is a hooligan. But, ultimately its light steering and poor body control that lets the side down. In fact the motor seems poorly matched to the car. Prodigious horsepower means the tail is happy to come round at a moment ‘s notice. Easily caught through the light steering wheel, but one ends up very busy behind the wheel keeping the car on line. It reminded me of driving the old BimmerFile E28 in the wet, with its old Bakelite-like tires it was constantly entertaining, if ultimately very slow. The C63 AMG ‘s motor is a party piece that dominates the experience. Ultimately the C63 isn ‘t the cohesive unit that BimmerFile readers would expect from a mid-size sports coupe a la the M3.

Autobahn set up an autocross course for us to try our hand at with the C63. An odd choice when considering the Cayman and Boxster were available, but nevertheless all drivers had the same machinery to work with. A quick sub-30 second course of cones was setup on the Autbahn ‘s parking lot and the assembled media quickly set about knocking them over. A couple esses and a few full-throttle blasts and it was over. A fun way to experience the limits of a car ‘s handling in a safe and controlled environment. In this way the hooligan C63 entertained again.

The Porsche twins. Here are two reasons why the Z4 doesn't sell in big numbers.

The Porsche twins. Here are two reasons why the Z4 doesn ‘t sell in big numbers.

Which brings us to the sublime Ferrari California and the touring laps of the south course, top down on a beautiful sunny spring morning cruising at a comfortably brisk pace. Again, not a patronizing walking pace, but enough to keep you entertained, while out of the Armco. I have little to say about the Ferrari other than it was fantastic. Communicative and direct steering, responsive chassis, fantastic leather, it ‘s a very special place to be. I can understand the appeal. All that said I could probably find other ways to spend $200k, which we ‘ll come to in another article. Not that I ‘ll legitimately get the chance either way.

So the point of this morning ‘s activities? Autobahn offers to members and the paying public the opportunity to enjoy a half-day just as we media did. Either as corporate entertainment, or as a birthday or father ‘s/mother ‘s day gift, for $579, you get the opportunity to experience the complete Performance Fleet in a safe and leisurely environment without the hassle of a salesperson or the prescribed inner-city test drive route typical of a dealership experience.

For those of you in the mid-west (Chicago and Indianapolis aren ‘t far away) it represents a fantastic value and a great way to entertain clients and the like.

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  • BimmerFile_Michael

    I love these sort of things- to me it is always money well spent and a good way to experience a track in a car you otherwise might not ever have the chance to drive…. it may sound expensive but going to a race for the day or a baseball game in NY is not much cheaper!