BMW’s M-Power and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG; these two iconic arms of German automobiles make me think and believe in German engineering. That sentiment goes for a lot of folks, as German cars are renowned for their… well German-ess. Rivalries in the world usually make for great stories: Beowulf and Grendel, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost… the list can go on. All great rivals, and all great stories. The same can be said for AMG and M-Power. Their rivalry has been one of the hottest topics in motoring whether it is or has been focused in DTM Racing, car reviews, or friendly debates between two motorheads.
When I hear the phrase M-Power, my mind immediately thinks of the E30 M3 from back in the day. With its smooth shifts, seamless power delivery, and ability to dance on the road like water, it is no wonder the M badge’d 3 Series BMW is the icon of the M-Power vehicles. It was nimble enough to be used as a scalpel for a track, yet as comfortable as a leather recliner. AMG, on the other hand, reminds me instantly of half-eaten back tires and exhaust notes that resemble of what would probably be dinosaurs fighting with grenades. The noise is glorious; a definite roar. When I see an AMG badge, I know that the car has plenty of power; power to the Nth degree. But what about recently? Are these landmark divisions of these German giants perpetuating their glory by improving upon their past formulas for success?
As with today’s person, cars have gotten larger, heavier, and more advanced. Perhaps the reason why cars have gotten bigger is due to the fact that people have become larger… food for thought! As interesting as that thought may be, I somehow tend to think that cars have become larger due to technological advances, specifically in the safety areas. What does a larger and heavier car spell in terms of performance? This is an issue that I think these performance divisions have to cope with a great deal today. As the golden rule of performance and efficiency, automobiles need to be as light as possible to achieve the best performance. Fat men do not win races on foot; likewise, fat cars do not win races on the track. When you buy a M-Power or AMG vehicle, though they stem from sport-luxury brands, they are performance vehicles for the road. They are to bridge the gap between track and road by providing levels of civility and comfort that you would find in a luxury car with the ferocity and performance of a car that is at home on the track.
The E30 M3, as great as it was, can give some credit to its light-weight for its performance figures. Mix in BMW and M-Power’s excellent chassis development, sublime steering racks from heaven, and a fantastic engine, and we have ourselves a winner. On the other hand, AMG had to deal with more weight as compared to the M-Power vehicles, and because of this, it is quite possible to assume that it is for this reason that they have such brutish engines. Their weight may stem from such larger, robust engines. But today, things have changed. M cars are now becoming larger, fatter, and heavier, which equates to excellent chassis development and fantastic steering becoming a priority, but this weight makes this makes these attributes harder to maintain. BMW and M-Power are not used to this weight, steering, and chassis problem, because historically, their cars have been somewhat on the slimmer side when compared to their rivals. M cars typically always have been renowned for their handling, nimbleness, and agility; not to mention their driving feel. With the upcoming M4, and the new F-Chassis, I fear that the newly added electronically assisted steering rack, which is somewhat in uncharted water for them, will slow down the growing glory for M-Power. This new chassis also seems hefty and less compliant with things that we all associate M cars with, namely agility and performance. Factor in smaller, turbo’d motors and it is possible that the new M4 may be more badge than heart.
AMG, however, seems to be improving still. Yes, the cars are getting bigger here as well. But, their steering is getting better. They have a longer history with electronically assisted steering systems than BMW, so the chances of their steering being better than BMW and the upcoming M4 are high. AMG has typically had the engine power of an active volcano, and this is a mainstay for AMG; their bread-and-butter. They are continuing to improve their engines, their steering, and because of their long rivalry with BMW, they have and are improving their chassis and steering dynamics. Unlike BMW’s M-Power, AMG is not changing their formula for success. Instead, they are improving across the board, particularly in areas where they were the weakest (handling, chassis development, etc…) Because M-Power seems to be changing their game plan, in areas which had been their greatest triumphs (handling and chassis works), for something that they are not used to as well as not good at, the two German performance arms seem to be switching places with AMG taking an edge over BMW in those departments. AMG always had more powerful engines, but now they possibly have better driver feel via the steering and better chassis works than BMW’s M-Power cars.
Driver feel is something very important in a car of this type. It usually stands as a usual gripe from an automotive journalist, but the fact remains that as drivers, we should need to feel more connected to the road. This isn’t just for performance or pleasure reasons, but also safety. I feel safer if I know exactly what my car is doing where it meets the road. My seat and my steering wheel are what connect me the most with the car. M-Power seems to be turning the tables on themselves. AMG, with their herculean engines, are becoming more refined in those areas where they were once weak while retaining every bit, if not more, of the potency of their motors. Either way, the battle between BMW M-Power and Mercedes AMG will continue to roar as the new staple-cars come.
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– JRB, Editor-in-Chief of The Spirited Drive