The BMW M3 has long held the top spot on the affordable luxury sport coupe hierarchy, and for good reason. The latest M3, though not much like its predecessors, continues that heritage with tremendous performance and sharp handling. But it's no longer as solidly perched; rivals like the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG Coupe are rapidly climbing.

In fact, the 2012 C 63 very nearly knocks the M3 from its spot, falling short only in a few small areas of performance--and surpassing it in others. Though it doesn't adopt the new twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 found in much of AMG's newest vehicles, the proven 6.2-liter normally aspirated V-8 rises to the occasion, providing up to 487 horsepower with the AMG Development Package.

That's 73 more horsepower than the M3, and the C 63 AMG Coupe weighs just 100 pounds more than the M3. The AMG's on-track performance reflects these stats; it's lively, capable, and easy to place.

Even the lack of a manual transmission or a true dual-clutch doesn't really hinder the C 63. Its seven-speed MCT clutched automatic does an admirable job of simulating a dual clutch, if a bit slowly, in manual paddle-shifted mode. In fully automatic mode, however, the computer does an admirable job of keeping pace even on a busy, tight circuit.

As with any car, there are compromises that must be made, and in this class, those compromises typically come at the expense of the interior, with performance models making do with dolled-up versions of their lower-tier base models (in this case, the C-Class). That's not all bad; it saves money and offers some halo-effect to the standard cars. On the other hand, it can mean you're getting a $40,000 car's interior in a $60,000 vehicle. Here, AMG does its best to put the best of the C-Class at the forefront, polishing what it can, and arguably does a better job than the M3 does of hiding its 3-Series roots.

But really, given the impressive performance and relatively low prices, who can't forgive any of the top contenders in this segment a few cut corners? We surely can, and we do. For its balance of luxury, style, performance, and comfort, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG is a nominee for Motor Authority's 2012 Best Car To Buy award.