The term ‘performance car’ should be banned from all good car websites. It is loathsome, ambiguous tosh whose biggest offence is to lead us to deny the richness and variety that exists in a widening market for driver’s cars.
By lumping together everything designed and engineered to go fast, the term encourages the people who make, judge and own these cars to think in common terms about models as different as 600bhp grand tourers, 200bhp hot hatchbacks, four-wheel-drive sledgehammer estates and £200,000 super-sports cars. And it does so when the key to making those cars great actually lies in understanding those differences.
Let’s take the super-saloon as an example, given that we’re about to devote our attention to three prime examples of the breed. With super-saloons, power and pace are important. Not all-important, granted, but they matter. A lot.
In sports cars, as with hot hatches, fast coupés and elsewhere, seldom will the fastest and most powerful car in the competitor set also be our class champion. With super-saloons, however, there’s a decent chance that it will.
The legendary fast four-doors you’d put in an all-time top five spring to mind in no small part because of their engines: E60 BMW M5, Lotus Carlton and Mercedes-Benz 300E AMG ‘Hammer’.
All were crushingly effective motorway cars. And needless to say, if you’re buying a super-saloon now, you’ll probably want it with enough grunt to seize total command of the fast lane.
Mercedes-AMG has always understood that, and by bringing its new C63 S saloon to the market with no less than 503bhp, it has provided a fine head start for the car. But the new AMG C-Class won’t enjoy the numerical top-dog status its maker believes it deserves, due to competition from an exotic Antipodean thunder-domer imported to our shores via the decidedly unexotic location of Luton.
So as well as measuring up against the 425bhp BMW M3 – the cheek-by-jowl rival without which it would be impossible to conduct this test – the C63 S will also have to out-drag the 577bhp Vauxhall VXR8 GTS, a car that appears to offer 15% more grunt than the AMG for 20% less outlay.
Mechanical convention reigns supreme in this sector, so we need waste little time in the set-up. Our Aussie bruiser is the largest and heaviest car of the trio, being a refugee from the next saloon class up. But there’s still less than 200kg between it and the M3, which is the lightest car here – if manufacturer kerb weights are to be believed.
All three cars honour the classic super-saloon template of a longways engine driving the rear wheels. All are made predominantly of steel, with independent suspension via coil springs and adaptive dampers.
The engines themselves range from the VXR8’s deliciously anachronistic 6.2-litre Chevrolet small-block V8 with rocker-arm induction and a supercharger, tothe M3’s ultra-modern, 140bhp-per-litre 3.0-litre straight six, with its pair of parallel twin-scroll turbochargers.
The C63’s new 4.0-litre lump splits the difference between the other two expertly, offering V8 mechanical allure coupled with a downsized capacity and twin turbos. The blowers are arranged in what AMG calls a ‘hot inside vee’, which makes for short induction tracts, consequently sharper throttle response, tight mechanical packaging and intelligent thermal management. I love it when they talk oily.
Suffice to say, all three promise to deliver exactly what you want from cars like this: extraordinary performance in what is otherwise a relatively ordinary family car. But if bang for your buck is your main motivator, the C63 S and the VXR8 promise bigger than the M3.