Wednesday, November 13

Are Carbon-Ceramic Brakes Worth It?


DETROIT, Mich.–BMW introduced carbon-ceramic brakes with the M6 in 2012. The brakes, by Brembo, have been offered as options on a handful of premium and luxury vehicles like Mercedes, Porsche, Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, and Pagani. The take rate is skimpy.

After the M6, BMW added the option to the M5, M3 and M4.

Based on several reviews, and my own driving of some of these cars, the braking power is no different from iron brakes, though the experts say the advantage of the ceramic brakes is that they do not overheat like iron. That makes the braking distance shorter on the track. But that is a very specific niche of the market–people who drive their fast cars on tracks.

BMWblog.com recently reported that their tests of both ceramic and iron brakes showed no appreciable brake fade with the iron brakes on a few track experiences. “Yet, ceramics still fare better in preventing the brake fluid, pads and discs from blazing and that’s why BMW equips all its cars at the US Performance Centers with them (if they are available as an option).”

Ceramics save weight too, but at a hefty price. Ceramics are 19.4 kg lighter on the BMW M6 than iron brakes, and 12.4 kgs lighter on the M3 and M4. No brake dust either with the ceramics. But the ceramics on the M4 are $8,150., plus an additional $1,200 for special rims. Ceramics on the M5? $10,550.

Alfa-Romeo has gotten into the act too, but the take rate appears small. Car and Driver recently tested a Giulia QF and noted that the iron brakes had “stunning” stopping power and that they saw no need to opt in for the $8,000 ceramics.

Confusing the issue was a recent statement by a Porsche technical advisor who said that its ceramic brakes were not necessarily good for track use as has been touted.

Speaking with Which Car during the recent launch of the 992-generation Porsche 911, Porsche Australia veteran technical representative Paul Watson says the automaker recommends iron discs for those that like track days.

“Yes, ceramic discs can degrade if you’re hard on the brakes. Heat build-up will degrade the carbon fibers in the disc, so if you’re doing club days we’d always recommend iron discs,” Watson said.

And so the controversy continues. One thing is for sure. People who buy luxury track cars often have enough money that another $10,000-$12,000 isn’t really going to phase them anyway. And for many, ceramics are just another vanity feature that will make them feel better, even if they don’t perform better.

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David Kiley is Chief of Content for The BRAKE Report. Kiley is an award-winning business journalist and author, having covered the auto industry for USA Today, Businessweek, AOL/Huffington Post, as well as written articles for Automobile and Popular Mechanics.