What do Mercedes-AMG, Audi Sport (formerly quattro GmbH), and BMW M have in common? They’re the performance offshoots of our favorite German automakers. For approximately 30 years, these performance-oriented brands (BMW M, a subsidiary of BMW, is actually recognized as its own manufacturer) have effectively duked it out, building counterparts to take on the best of the best from their national rivals.
Each name has its respective strengths, with Mercedes-AMG producing the German equivalent of muscle cars, packing more power and torque than most could ever justify, while BMW M has consistently been focused on on-track performance and capability while retaining a modicum of everyday usability. Audi’s S and RS cars are a bit harder to define, but there have been more than a few remarkable examples through the years, and the quattro all-wheel-drive system has always been standard for exceptional all-weather performance. If you’re reading this article on this website, you probably have a preference for BMW M, but there’s no denying the competitors from Neckarsulm and Affalterbach can still drive a hard bargain.
In a recent video by Carwow, a BMW M440i Gran Coupé and Audi RS5 Sportback are put to the test in a drag race. Both models effectively inhabit the same automotive segment, with four doors each and a sloping roofline with lots cargo room aft of the rear seats. That’s where the similarities largely end though, with the M440i’s B58 turbocharged inline-six developing 382 horsepower from 5,800 to 6,500 rpm and 369 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 compared with the 2.9-liter V6 of the RS5, which makes 444 horsepower at 6,700 rpm and 442 pound-feet of torque at 4,700. The BMW M Performance automobile also starts at $58,000, while the base price of the Audi RS5 is nearly $20,000 higher at $77,245.
With all of those prerequisites in mind, it sounds like this comparison test might be over before it begins, but that’s simply not true. Those of us in the know have long been aware of BMW vehicles punching well above their weight class in terms of performance, and Carwow’s drag race only serves to reinforce the notion. When it comes to directly comparing BMW and Audi’s performance brands, BMW’s M cars have always slotted against Audi’s RS models in terms of price, while BMW’s M Performance models are essentially direct competitors for Audi’s S vehicles. To complicate things a bit further, it also bears mentioning that Audi’s S Line trim is essentially that brand’s version of BMW’s M Sport package. They are not all created equal, however, as the video demonstrates.
Now that we’ve cleared the air, the Audi RS5 Sportback should be able to eat the M440i Gran Coupé’s lunch, right? Wrong: The Audi, which is both lighter and significantly more powerful than the M440i, is only a half-second faster through the quarter mile, covering the distance in 12.1 seconds compared with 12.6 for the BMW. When it comes to a rolling race, the BMW and Audi are neck and neck, with the Audi just barely winning the half-mile sprint. In terms of braking and stopping distance, the story was the same, with the Audi coming to a halt within a matter of feet of the less expensive and heavier BMW.
So, what does it all mean? Although the M440i gets beat by the RS5 in terms of performance metrics like acceleration and braking, it’s not exactly a win to be proud of thanks to such small margins. After all, the M440i isn’t a full M car, but instead a mere M Performance automobile, which means the Audi should have been able to dispense of it with ease. That didn’t happen, however, which means at least some level of the perennial difference between the two performance brands still remains after all these years, and if you’re after all-out performance, a BMW M car, specifically of the latest M xDrive-equipped generation, should be at the top of your list.—Alex Tock
[Photo courtesy BMW AG. Video courtesy Carwow on YouTube.]