Last week, Carwow conducted a bit of a comparison test between two classic Germans; the E30 BMW M3 and Audi RS2 Avant. Both of which were the first of their kinds and both of which launched their respective model lines into the forefront of the performance world (sort of, as the RS2 eventually became the RS4). Now, Carwow is back with another BMW M/Audi Sport comparison, this time between the E46 M3 CSL and the B5 Audi RS4 Avant.
Admittedly, this isn’t the fairest of comparisons, as the RS4 Avant is really just designed to be a very fast wagon, something to haul the family in during the week and blast canyons on the weekend. The E46 M3 CSL is a hardcore, stripped-out driver’s car designed as a scalpel sharp precision machine with no mind for the health of its driver’s spine. Still, it’s an interesting test between two classics.
Under the hood of the E46 M3 CSL lies a 3.2 liter naturally-aspirated I6 engine with 365 hp. Powering the B5 RS4 Avant is a 2.7 liter Biturbo V6 with 381 hp. So the Audi is more powerful. It also has the traction advantage of Quattro all-wheel drive. Though, the E46 M3 CSL gets a quick-shifting automated manual and the RS4 makes do with a good ole fashioned six-speed. So which is faster in a drag race?
Off the line, you’d expect the Audi to have an advantage, thanks to its low-down turbocharged torque and all-wheel drive. However, the E46 M3 CSL’s crazy gearbox and launch control fire it off the line as if it were shot out of a cannon. So it destroys the Audi through the quarter-mile with a 13.5-second time, compared to the Audi’s 14.4 seconds.
In a rolling drag race, with both cars moving at 50 mph in third gear, the Audi actually starts to pull away thanks to its extra power. But the fact that the M3 can rev past 8,000 in each gear, it ends up just pulling ahead at the very end. Though, as Watson points out, it wasn’t until crazy illegal speeds that the M3 pulled ahead. So the Audi RS4 is faster in the real world.
What about out on the track? It’s obvious, isn’t it? The E46 M3 CSL is obviously the better track weapon. It’s sharper, lighter, more dynamic, rear-wheel drive and just far more agile. If there’s an issue, it’s with its clunky auto-manual, which is too slow to shift. However, the rest of it is so good that its gearbox can be overlooked.
That being said, the B5 RS4 Avant is much better than expected and Carwow’s Mat Watson is more impressed with it than he thought he would be. It has a great, albeit slightly laggy, engine worked over by Cosworth, a really nice manual gearbox and crazy traction. Plus, it understeers less than you’d imagine, with anything but the hardest of driving being absolutely fine.
Still, it’s not as sharp as the BMW. So Watson chooses the E46 M3 CSL as the car that wins the test but also one of his favorite cars of all time.