Achtung Heroes: To get the very most out of three scorching coupes, we find it necessary to cross the border.
Magical things can happen when crossing borders: What is illegal on one side can suddenly become legal on the other. Cross into Holland, for example, and cough away in a hazy “café” without worrying about posting bail. Head into Germany, and go every bit as fast as you want, legally. Or you can drive on Europe’s most famous racetrack. Just head west out of Frankfurt for a two-hour drive to the village of Nürburg, home to the 12.9-mile long Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit. It’s most often rented by big-time race teams and automakers, but the public is allowed to play on certain days for 23 euros per lap (about $28—plus you get a discount for buying multiple laps).
What’s more, German drivers are for the most part alert, educated, and courteous, and every car has to pass a rigorous roadworthiness inspection to keep rusted-out hulks off the autobahns. In many ways, it feels like the complete opposite of the American driving experience—in Germany, you can go 180 mph without fear of an arrest, but flip someone the bird, and you might end up in jail.
So, to test the latest challengers to our comparison-test champ, the BMW M3, we flew across the Atlantic, from the land of speed traps to the land of unlimited speed.
Facing the M3 for the first time is Audi’s new RS5. Looking to avenge the RS4’s loss to an M3 in a December 2007 comparison test, the RS5 is the latest car to emerge from Audi’s Quattro GmbH skunkworks. Based on the elegantly sleek A5/S5, the RS5 has its fenders punched out and its snout stuffed full with a 450-hp, 4.2-liter V-8. All-wheel drive distributes the power to the 275/30R-20 Pirelli P Zero tires while a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox provides quick shifts and an amusing launch-control function.
Cadillac has never built a car more perfectly suited to the libertarian nature of the German autobahn than the CTS-V. Now available with two doors, everything ahead of the windshield is shared with the sedan, including the 556-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic (a manual is standard). All of the creased sheetmetal from the steeply raked windshield back to the pointy rump and functional spoiler/third brake light is unique to the coupe. Other coupe exclusives—a retuned chassis, a wider rear track (by 0.8 inch), and reworked steering—give the latest CTS-V an extra shot of alertness.
Now in its fourth year of production, the M3 gets BMW’s newly created, M3-specific Competition package ($2500) that adds wider 19-inch wheels (which increases both front and rear tracks by a half-inch), plus revised tuning for the adaptive shocks and a 0.4-inch-lower suspension. Otherwise, the 414-hp M3 is unaltered for its latest smackdown with the Audi and the Cadillac.
It took $2000-plus in premium fuel, more than 1000 miles driven, and a lot of nights spent guzzling pilsners before the mist cleared and we were able to decide whether Cadillac or Deutschland is truly über alles.