Aside from obvious rivalry that exists between the trio you see before you, there is a historical link between their nationalities. It is a macabre one however. Remember those chapters on World War 2 in your high school history textbooks?
Germany and Italy (Japan too); were the Axis Powers with their so-called Pact of Steel – opposed by the Allied Powers – who rightfully sought to quell their aggression. We all know how it ended. But the old concordat lends itself nicely to what this feature is about. Do not think of this as a shootout per se, but rather, a friendly exchanging of ideas between radicals from Mercedes-AMG, BMW Motorsport and the division of Alfa Romeo responsible for the hot variants.
Traditionally, our comparison features yield conclusive winners and losers. We had intended to do the same here. Then misfortune struck. The press demonstrator of the Italian car had been damaged a day before the original shoot (not by us) which meant scurrying to find an alternative. We did. But strict provisos ruled out lap times and other (possibly destructive) exploits.
No matter. We would still glean enough from a spirited driving session on secluded country roads. And besides; the track-based collation has already been done to death by titles abroad, where the anticipated Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde has been available for months already. A Top Gun-esque picture juxtaposition would not hurt either, we thought.
ALFA ROMEO GIULIA QUADRIFOGLIO VERDE
BASIC PRICE: R1 400 000
CLAIMED 0-100 KM/H: 3.9 seconds
This is it, the car burdened with lofty ambitions by its usually beleaguered parent company. Alfa Romeo needs a hit – especially in South Africa – and the Giulia hopes to sway buyers from the mainstream. A tough challenge indeed: but at least the halo effect of the potent Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) model adds credence to the Giulia as a truly sporting sedan.
The acclaim it received from international outlets certainly bodes well. You ask, could that be owed to a rose-tinted outlook, thanks to the innate soft spot most enthusiasts have for the brand? The answer to that is a resounding no: the Giulia QV can justify its existence beyond the nostalgia. Of course, it has a couple of idiosyncrasies – which we will get to.
But the important, oily bits of the car (no reliability aspersions intended) are quite worthy of praise. We begin with the engine: a 2891cc, twin-turbocharged V6 unit. It is essentially the same engine employed in a Ferrari California T, albeit with two cylinders chopped off. But to reduce it to that simplicity would be unfair to the engineers, of course. Anyway, it sounds brilliant: an authentic howler that does not rely on contrived noises for extra effect. Although there are the flatulent punctuations on each upshift, expected from any performance car in 2017. Its eight-speed automatic gearbox is acceptably responsive.
Cohesion was the descriptor that popped into the mind after our driving session. With the most aggressive driving mode engaged (Race); the QV relays a sense of poise, balance and accessibility to its suite of talents. It makes getting into a rapid rhythm of progress easy. Our tester showed inspiring levels of grip under pressure. And its ability to deal with less-than-ideal road surfaces was remarkable too.
Issues? Well, they are perhaps obvious. The interior does not hold a candle to the other two here. Not for quality reasons – because it seemed well-screwed-together. But from a plushness and detail perspective, the Teutonic cars are streets ahead. The Alfa Romeo Giulia QV was the contender we all wanted to sample for a while longer. Infer from that what you will. Indeed, the Italian carmaker has mastered the art of creating machines that tickle the most arcane crevices of the soul.
BMW M3 COMPETITION PACKAGE
BASIC PRICE: R1 335 536
CLAIMED 0-100 KM/H: 4.0 seconds
The coupé version of the M3, the M4, proved its mettle in a comparison test with the Mercedes-AMG equivalent we published in October 2016. As with the model featured here, it too sported the optional Competition Package.
Apart from cosmetic bits, the Competition Package comprises suspension tweaks, aural enhancements and racier interior items. Overall it culminates in a package that is decidedly more focused than a regular iteration of the M3 or M4. It feels better grafted to the bitumen and sharper when the road ahead resembles spaghetti from a Google Maps aerial view.
That said, the model has the potential to be an unforgiving machine. It is raucous and thrilling – an exuberant performer that manages to delight and evoke fear in equal amounts. We praised the acoustics of the Alfa Romeo for its authenticity. The BMW is more… assertive and maybe a little contrived with its assortment of noises. From hearty belches to menacing crackles; the car panders to hooliganism. Expect complaints if you live in a townhouse estate with noise pollution warnings.
And if the actual sound of that heavily-fettled 2979cc, six-cylinder engine is not loud enough, then there are other ways to make a statement. Opt for the striking Sakhir Orange paintjob and everyone will see you coming.
With the Comfort setting initiated, the M3 settles into relative docility and makes a (fairly) decent companion. Although one senses that the car is exercising heaps of restraint – trying to adopt a meekness that is just not in its nature. Invariably, you end up flicking into one of the more strident driving modes and succumb to the whims of your inner delinquent. The seven-speed M-DCT gearbox causes some head-banging, but you can adjust the intensity of shifts via a button.
This brash persona could be part of the appeal, however. One observes the M3 and M4 demographic in places like 4th Avenue in Parkhurst on a Saturday afternoon. There are plenty to be seen; in varying degrees of modification. The cars are usually driven by hard-edged types with bulging muscles and interesting choices of headwear. It is the go-to car for the bad boys and girls out there, who want a performance machine that makes all the right sounds and delivers lively sensations.
MERCEDES-AMG C63 S
BASIC PRICE: R1 351 700
CLAIMED 0-100 KM/H: 4.0 seconds
If the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV is a polished tenor and the BMW M3 a death-metal growler, the C63 must have the vocal talents of Barry White. All rich, warm and indulgent as it massages the ears of its occupants. The mechanical baritone gets even deeper under heavy acceleration, as it reaches a glorious, booming crescendo. It barks too, a bit like how rotund rapper Rick Ross does between verses in most of his songs.
The image wielded by a C63 S sedan in shiny black paint is downright gangster. But for all its swaggering, the menacing Mercedes-AMG will hustle over tar at a fearsome pace. Beneath that imposing prow sits an absolute nuke of an engine: a 3982cc V8 garnished with a pair of turbochargers. It seems that every inch of pedal depression yields more pace – that 120km/h is marked so low on the speedometer is a good indication of how quickly high velocities are attained.
No Mercedes-AMG evaluation would be complete without some enthusiasm about its ability to shimmy. Provoking some oscillation from the rear takes little doing with this brawler. While the outright pace and unique sound of the C63 S make for an enchanting experience, it is also remarkable how the car behaves in regular conditions. With all the performance elements dialed down, the Mercedes-AMG becomes as manageable as a standard C-Class.
It cruises with impressive quietness and little sense that it wants to run off the leash, unlike the edgier, frantic BMW M3. And that was our conclusion the last time we staged a duel between the two-door iterations of the BMW Motorsport and Mercedes-AMG contenders. The latter is a performance machine with an amenable day-to-day persona, while the former will show it a clean pair of heels on a track day. This should not be construed as carping: the beastly C63 is just a different expression of the genre. An expression that resonates with many shoppers, as evidenced by its popularity on South African roads.
Chances are, you would have already made up your mind as to which of the three would earn your money. It might be an irresolute conclusion. But we will give them all golden rosettes. These cars are undoubtedly special – each has their own talents, merits, nuances and idiosyncrasies. And the motoring landscape is all the better for their presence. – Brenwin Naidu (Pics: Waldo Swiegers)
*Sunday Times Motoring was hosted by MCC Aviation at Lanseria International Airport, featuring one of their new Airbus H125 helicopters in this photoshoot. MCC Aviation boasts the largest privately-owned fleet of helicopters in South Africa as well as a large fleet of fixed-wing aircraft available for all charter and contract requirements. From the ultimate arrival at your wedding to international jet travel, save time and money, charter your next flight with MCC Aviation. Visit www.flymcc.co.za or contact 011-701-2332.
*A special thanks to New Vaal South for availing their Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde.