Audi R8 VS Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- Howling V10
- Amazing traction
- Looks more aggro now
- No high-tech safety
- Interior short on flexibility
- Didn't get to drive it on 'real' roads
- Great drive
- No spare tyre
- Fiddly steering wheel controls
- Tight rear headroom (with roof up)
There is typically no need for introductions when it comes to the Audi R8. But the 2019 Audi R8 isn’t the one you’ve come to know - its been sharpened up in terms of both its appearance, and its performance.
This heavily facelifted version of the second-generation Audi R8 keeps its high-revving V10 engine, and turbochargers have been kept at bay, too. It can’t hold off the march of progress for much longer, though - it’s almost certain this will be the last V10-engined R8… thankfully it has only just launched, so it should be on sale for a few years yet.
I got a chance to drive the new Audi R8 V10 Performance model in Spain at the model’s international launch drive this week - but only on Circuito Ascari race track.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
People that know what they’re doing have a habit of making whatever it is they do look easy. Jack Nicholson, Usain Bolt, J.K. Rowling – how hard can it be to act, run and write like a champion?
And you might think making a convertible car is easy. In fact, why even bother the designers? Just break out the gas axe, lop the roof off, perch a canvas top over the hole you’ve created; job done.
Yet despite the seemingly simple premise, it’s all too easy to get it wrong.
Happily, Australia wasn’t on the receiving end of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, a text book case study in getting it horribly wrong. Although we did cop the answer to a convertible question few people were asking, in the shape of the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabriolet. And more recently there have been mutterings about the aesthetic success, or otherwise, of the Range Rover Evoque Convertible. Not to mention the necessity of its existence.
Which brings us to the sleek, subtle, and effortless charm of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet. A masterclass in getting a convertible design exactly right.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
This iteration could well be the final Audi R8 with a V10 engine, and what a note to go out on. Emissions laws and the ever-present push towards electrification are almost certain to see the next-generation R8 take a very different tack to this model. Lucky, then, that this is the best R8 yet.
I know the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect that - but that’s because it falls short on ‘regular’ car things. Even so, it’s an epic machine.
Would you have an Audi R8 over one of its rivals? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet fulfils its intended brief, with classic design, exceptional comfort, luxurious specification, flawless quality, and a sporting edge lurking just below the surface. The ‘entry-level’ E 300 is the pick, boasting a big chunk of the E 400’s equipment and performance for significantly fewer dollars. That’s how you get a convertible design right.
Does Merc's new E Class Cabriolet sit at the top of the mainstream luxury convertible tree? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Wow, it was possible to make the Audi R8 even more attractive - the brand’s designers have gone and done it with this facelift, which sees a number of changes to the exterior styling that combine for a more aggressive, sharper look.
The ‘Singleframe’ grille now looks even more menacing, having been widened and flattened, and any trace of chrome has been removed. As the chief designer told us, a supercar is no place from chrome. There are three small slats above the grille, which hark back to the iconic Audi Sport quattro model of the 1980s.
Further, the front splitter is wider, the rear diffuser has been made even more prominent, and there are new oval exhaust pipe outlets - previously reserved for Audi RS models only.
My only ‘errr’ moment with the design is the mesh cooling section at the rear bumper, which appears a touch unfinished in combination with some colours, and it’s also very rectangular, meaning the new exhaust tips are at odds with it. But it all has a purpose, and applies to the regular R8 and the LMS racer.
There are three new exterior packages available, which change elements such as the front splitter, door sill trims (side skirts) and diffuser. On the base car, there’s a high-gloss black look; on the V10 Performance there’s a matte titanium look to these bits. Optionally, there’s a high-gloss carbon package.
Further, customers can get the badges and Audi rings painted in gloss black, while body paint colours now include 'Kemora grey' and 'Ascari blue'. There’ll be 19-inch and 20-inch wheels offered, depending on the model.
Inside, there’s been a bit less of a noticeable change. Check out the interior photos to see for yourself.
At over 4.8m long, nudging towards 1.9m wide, and around 1.4m high, the new cabrio is substantially larger than the model it replaces. And the increase in exterior dimensions is underpinned by a longer wheelbase and wider track.
Joining the existing E-Class sedan, coupe and ‘All-Terrain’ wagon line-up, sitting on a suspension 15mm lower than the sedan’s, and rolling on fat 20-inch AMG rims, the cabrio shares the two-door coupe’s muscular but refined look.
The exterior manages to combine gentle, rounded transitions between major surfaces with more sharply angled and aggressive elements like the ‘powerdomes’ running the length of the bonnet, a hard character line defining the lower third of the car’s flanks, and a neatly integrated lip spoiler on the boot’s trailing edge.
Lowering the roof does nothing to upset the car’s balanced proportions and athletic stance.
Inside, a cool combination of top-shelf leather and ‘black ash open-pore’ wood trim, is contrasted by brushed alloy and chrome accents on everything from the sports steering wheel and distinctive circular air vents (claimed to be “inspired by turbo engines”), to the door handles and ‘Comand’ multimedia controller.
Dominating the dash is a pair of 12.3-inch hi-res displays, presented in a single widescreen panel, the first housing a configurable ‘virtual’ instrument cluster, and the second, more central screen running a full suite of multimedia functions.
A row of more conventional rocker switches at the top of the centre console controls the air-conditioning and various driver-assistance systems, with digital read-outs underneath.
The overall interior look and feel is luxurious form matched by fuss-free function.
Okay, so Audi claims “the driver sits in the new R8 like in a race car”.
Having been a passenger in the Audi R8 GT3 car the brand had on show, I can tell you that’s not entirely true - because while you do sit about 12 centimetres higher than that ground-hugging beast, the regulation R8 model is superbly comfortable.
What the brand is getting at, though, is that the focus of all the interior design is to serve the driver. As such, there’s no central media screen - instead, there’s a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (Audi ‘virtual cockpit’) which is where the driver takes charge using steering wheel controls.
The system is crisp to look at, but it can be a little hard to get used to the controls, especially for sat nav inputs and so on. And that’s even with the central MMI rotary dial with touch pad.
But the other controls are great - I love the air-conditioning knobs, the gear selector and the switchgear, which all has a technical and beautiful finish to it. The steering wheel is a delight to hold, and the push-button starter is a real eye-catcher in red.
The seats in the cars we tested were superbly supportive and very comfortable, but the lack of adjustment of the fixed buckets means you might find yourself a bit too upright (if you get to spend more time in the car than we did).
And even though it’s a supercar, the R8 offers a level of practicality. Sure, the door pockets are virtually useless and there are no properly usable cupholders, but that gives you an idea to the intent of the car. There are, however, storage spots behind both of the seats, and there’s a centre storage area in front of the shifter and in the armrest.
And while the R8 has a mid-mounted engine, there’s still a boot: the R8 coupe’s rear cargo bay offers enough room for a suitcase or two soft smaller bags for a weekend away, with 226 litres of cargo capacity - according to Audi, that’s enough for a golf bag. There’s a secondary storage area under the bonnet, which adds an extra 112L of space. Don’t buy the Spyder if practicality is important to you, as it has even less storage space.
Extra length, and more specifically, a longer wheelbase usually means more interior space, and the new E-Class Cabriolet is no exception.
Seating is for four, and those in the front are provided with ample space as well as helpful touches like a feeder arm that automatically extends the seat belt out to the driver and front passenger (with override control via a button on the centre console).
There are also two cupholders, a decent glovebox, a lidded bin between the seats, and door pockets big enough for bottles.
Access to the rear, even with the roof up, is a civilised process, thanks to front electric seats that not only slide but rise and tip forward at the touch of a single release handle on the backrest.
Merc claims, on a like-for-like measurement, that rear legroom has increased no less than 13 percent (+102mm) and sitting behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm frame, there’s plenty of space. It’s also worth noting that sensors in the front seats’ adjustment system stop them from hitting a rear passenger’s knees. Clever, and polite.
With roof up, the solar panel otherwise known as my bare pate was just brushing the soft fabric lining, although headroom improved markedly with the roof down.
Backseaters are well catered for with a pair of cupholders between the seats, adjustable air vents, map pockets, and some oddments space near the outside armrests.
Boot capacity is a handy 385 litres, with a redesigned rear seat splitting 50/50 to offer through-loading space. An electrically controlled, retractable separator defines the space filled by the roof when folded (which still leaves 310 litres). Impressive.
In case you’re keen on towing with your new convertible, forget it, the new E-Class Cabriolet is a no-tow zone, and you won't find a spare wheel of any description because the tyres are run-flats.
Price and features
It’s expected Audi Australia will again offer the R8 in two different specs when it launches in Australia around the fourth quarter of 2019.
That means a base model (if you can call it that) V10 variant, and a higher-grade V10 Performance grade with more power and torque. The latter is expected to be the bulk seller - the current V10 Plus model accounts for some 90 per cent of R8 sales. Maybe they’ll drop the base car - time will tell.
It’s too early to have a stab at pricing and specifications, because nothing has been confirmed as yet and we’d be on Audi keeping prices relatively stable or maybe bumping them up - hey, you’re getting more power for your money, after all!
But you can bank on goodies like LED headlights, auto high-beam lights, leather seat trim, DAB+ digital radio, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 13-speaker sound system, auto headlights and wipers, push-button start and keyless entry and a fair bit more.
The V10 Performance model we drove had 20x8.5-inch front wheels and 20x11-inch rear wheels, with super grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.
For a guide, the current start price for the V10 is $366,340 plus on-road costs, while the V10 Plus (which will be renamed V10 Performance) currently lists at $402,430 before on-roads. Those prices are for the coupe - the Spyder convertible adds roughly $20,000 on both grades.
Considering some of the competitors, it is a little pricey - although it’s the cheapest way into V10 supercar ownership.
So, what are its rivals? Lamborghini has the Huracan (essentially an R8 twin - priced from $378,900 in RWD, or $428,000 for the AWD model), or you could take a look at a McLaren 570S ($395,000), Mercedes-AMG has the GT (from $261,130) and there are about 20 versions of the Porsche 911 you might consider (from $220,500). If the Spyder is more your go, I’d take a look at the Ferrari Portofino ($398,888), too.
There are two E-Class Cabriolet models on offer; the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder E 300 ($123,500), and 3.0-litre, V6 E 400 ($157,500), each boasting a standard equipment list longer than Donald Trump’s register of alternative facts.
Highlights for the E 300 include ambient interior lighting (with 64 different colours!), leather upholstery (with horizontal quilting), AMG sports pedals (brushed stainless steel with black rubber studs), ‘Comand’ multimedia (with touchpad, 3D nav, and smartphone integration via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay), ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating (in front), DAB+ digital radio, scrolling (directional) indicators, electrically adjustable and heated sports front seats (with three memories for seat and exterior mirror position), illuminated door sill panels (with Mercedes-Benz lettering), sports steering wheel (with flat bottom section), ‘Thermatic’ dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, the 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, ‘Aircap’ automatic draught-stop, ‘Agility Select’ (with five driving programs), keyless entry and start, ‘Multibeam’ LED headlights (with 84 individually controllable LEDs), ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus’, and ‘Parking Pilot’ with ‘Active Parking Assist’. Phew…
Then, the E 400 adds Burmeister surround-sound audio (13 speakers, nine-channel DSP amplifier, and 590W output), head-up display (with virtual-image windscreen projection), and metallic paint.
Yes, the cost of entry is reassuringly high, but that’s a large basket of standard fruit.
Engine & trans
The new R8 retains the same 5.2-litre V10 (FSI) naturally-aspirated engine, but Audi’s engineers have wrung its neck to squeeze more power and torque out of it.
There are two tunes available - the regular version, which has 419kW of power (up from 397kW), and 560Nm of torque (up from 540Nm). It only comes with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic transmission, and comes with quattro all-wheel drive.
The claimed 0-100km/h time is just 3.4 seconds for the coupe and 3.5sec for the Spyder convertible. It tops out at 324km/h, or 322/km/h in the convertible.
The higher-grade version is by far the most potent R8 yet, with 456kW of power (up from 449kW) and 580Nm of torque (was 560Nm). Again, S tronic and quattro, and this time around with a 0-100km/h acceleration claim of 3.1sec for the coupe (3.2sec convertible). Top speed is 331km/h or 329km/h, depending on body type.
The E 300 is powered by a 2.0-litre direct-injection, turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine, producing 180kW/370Nm, and driving the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission (with steering wheel shift paddles).
Step up to the E 400 and a 3.0-litre direct-injection, twin-turbo-petrol V6 sits under the bonnet, pumping out 245kW/480Nm, and driving all four wheels through the same nine-speed auto and Merc’s ‘4Matic’ all-wheel-drive system.
Don’t expect to see the official claimed fuel consumption figure on a regular basis. The number is 12.3 litres per 100 kilometres for the most potent coupe version, while the lower-power version uses a claimed 11.4L/100km.
The engine has cylinder deactivation for less intense situations, and there’s engine stop-start, too.
It uses 98RON premium unleaded fuel, and has an 83 litre fuel tank capacity.
Claimed fuel economy for the E 300 on the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.4L/100km, with C02 emissions sitting at 170g/km.
Not surprisingly the faster, more powerful E 400 is thirstier, ranked at 8.7L/100km, and 195g/km.
On a launch drive program covering around 300km of city, B-road and freeway running, we saw dash-indicated figures of 8.3L/100km for the E 300, and 9.2L/100km for the E 400. Not bad.
A switchable stop-start function is standard, and you’ll need 66 litres of 95 RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
I can’t say what it’s like on public roads, but my stint on a shortened track at Circuito Ascari near Ronda in Spain left me grinning ear to ear.
And so it should, with the immense performance of the V10 engine - tested on track in the higher output R8 Performance spec with the full 456kW and 580Nm complement of grunt numbers.
Driving the R8 reminded me of that one time in under 11s rugby league when a much smaller defender managed to lift me up and dump be on the ground - an impressive effort, because I was heavy enough to be running around in under 15s. At that time, it took a second for me to realise what had happened, and was enough to leave me a bit short of breath.
The same sensation came to mind as I loaded up the throttle and threw myself at the horizon from the pit exit. Under a heavy right foot, the world around me started to blur and the first corner of the track suddenly approached after the crest. I had to try and remember what the lead car had shown me in the sighting laps prior, where to turn, how hard to get on the gas.
But I was distracted by the mind-bending physics I was experiencing, not to mention the theatre of the R8. The sound really is hard to beat - the howl of a high-revving V10, unmuffled by turbochargers, is something to behold when it’s enveloping you, and the fact the noise emanates from behind your ears almost makes you want to push it even harder.
1 – 6 – 5 – 10 – 2 – 7 – 3 – 8 – 4 – 9. That’s the firing sequence of the V10. Just thought you might like to know.
The gearshifts cut through the noise with prodigious sharpness, and when I chose the 'Performance' drive mode (which firmed everything up, enabled even more manic acceleration and disabled traction control) the shifts were brutal, often resulting in a shockwave through the car. It was some seriously good feedback for me as the driver, though it may not bode well for longevity…
There was tremendous traction from the quattro all-wheel drive system from a standstill, and across a long, banked corner on the track I felt super confident, pushing harder than I know I would have dared in a rear-drive car.
I managed to get a steer in both an R8 with the regular steering system and a model with the brand’s ‘dynamic’ steering set-up. Both have been retuned to be “more direct and precise throughout the entire speed range”.
I preferred the dynamic steering set-up which can vary the steering ratio based on the speed, and is “very direct” according to Audi - and even more so when Performance mode is engaged.
I found it to be super predictable at lower cornering speeds, and therefore more manageable to an amateur like me. One of Audi’s test drivers told me that he prefers the normal steering set-up, because at ‘really big speed’ it’s easier to predict.
The highest speed I saw was just a tickle over 200km/h, and I understood his take on it. Maybe normal steering for high-speed tracks, then? Or I just need to learn to drive faster…? Hey, no-one wants to be the guy who bins the $400k supercar on the very first rotation of about thirty over a two-week run of international journalists visiting to sample the newest, bestest and most expensivest Audi has to offer.
The models we drove were all fitted with the optional carbon ceramic braking package, which allowed the stoppers to resist fade for a lot longer - ideal for extended track time sessions, and they certainly stood up to my reliance on them on my few short stints on the track. They came in especially handy during a (very cool) night session where we were expected to remember the track layout about seven hours after our first outing.
It would have been great to drive it on real roads, because apparently that’s where the dynamic steering is most impressive.
The word that most accurately describes the E-Class Cabriolet drive experience is polished. From the supple ride to the flexible drivetrain (in both models) and smart design, this soft-top Merc is a beautifully resolved package.
Although peak power (180kW) arrives at a lofty 5500rpm, the E 300’s maximum torque (370Nm) is available from a more useful 4000rpm, and despite a 100kg weight penalty relative to its coupe equivalent, mid-range response is healthy. A standard sports exhaust (not fitted to the E 400) produces an agreeably spicy note, and you can expect 0-100km/h acceleration in the mid-six second bracket.
It may have more power (245kW) peaking at the same revs as its four-cylinder sibling, but it’s the E 400’s extra spread of torque (480Nm from 1500-4000rpm) that stands the top-spec cabrio apart. With all that pulling power available across such a broad plateau, the E 400 is genuinely rapid, with 0-100km/h achieved in the mid-fives.
The smooth nine-speed auto helps keep both engines in their performance sweet spots (manual shifts via the wheel paddles are sharp), while the ‘Air Body Control’ suspension, working in concert with an electronically controlled adaptive damping system (adjusting each wheel individually), delivers exceptional compliance, even on ordinary backroad surfaces.
A multi-layer, acoustic soft top keeps noise levels down, and can be raised or lowered in 20 seconds, at speeds up to 50km/h. And Merc is determined you should be able to enjoy roofless motoring year-round with a swag of gizmos on board to keep the elements under control.
The ‘Aircap’ wind deflector integrated into the top of the windscreen frame works in parallel with an electric draught stop behind the rear seats to minimise turbulence in the cabin, especially for rear seat occupants.
Raise the side windows and even at highway speeds top-down conversation is relaxed. In cool weather, the ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating system in the front seats works seamlessly, the seat heating comes into its own, and even the climate-control system recognises when the roof’s down, adjusting its settings accordingly.
‘Agility Select’ offers five modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual) adjusting transmission shift points, steering ratio and weight, throttle response, and suspension tune.
We found the ideal open road ‘Individual’ combination (in both cabrio models) was suspension in Comfort, with the throttle, steering and transmission in Sport. Grip from the 20-inch Goodyear Eagle (run-flat) rubber (245/35 front - 275/30 rear) is tenacious, braking is progressive and powerful, and the ‘Direct-Steer’ speed-sensitive steering delivers good road feel. Eating up the corners and kays in the E-Class Cabrio is a pleasure.
One niggle. While points are awarded for the attempt to simplify steering-wheel functions, the ‘finger swipe touch controls’ for on-board computer, and other systems are frustratingly fiddly.
The Audi R8 hasn’t been crash-tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but Audi claims the car’s spaceframe chassis offers “high crash safety”.
You get a reversing camera and parking sensors (optional in Europe, expected to be standard in Australia) plus the R8 comes with six airbags, including dual front, front side and curtain coverage. Spyder models miss out on curtain airbags.
Top spec models are expected to get the excellent laser headlights (auto high-beam light up to 600 metres throw distance), and all models come with LED headlights.
In terms of active safety the new E-Class Cabriolet showcases an imposing array of technology including ‘Adaptive Brake with Hold’ (plus brake drying and priming, with Hill Start Assist), ESP, ABS, ASR, ‘Brake Assist System’ (BAS), ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Driving Assistance package Plus’ (‘Drive Pilot’ - ‘Active Brake Assist’ with cross-traffic function, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Active Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Active Lane Keeping Assist’ and ‘Pre-Safe Plus’), 360-degree camera (with dynamic guidelines), and a brake pad wear indicator.
Then, if all of the above can’t help you avoid a crash, passive-safety features include, roll-over protection (developed specifically for the cabriolet design), nine airbags (front, combined pelvic/thorax bags for the driver and front passenger, sidebags for rear occupants, headbags in the doors and a kneebag for the driver), an active bonnet (to minimise pedestrian impact injury), automatic-locking doors with emergency opening, central locking with interior switch and crash sensor, crash responsive emergency lighting, and a first-aid kit.
Both rear seats feature child restraint top tether points and ISOFIX anchorages, and all E-Class variants score a maximum five ANCAP stars.
There is no capped price service plan for the R8, and no pre-purchase plan like you can get on the rest of the ‘regular’ Audi range.
Mercedes-Benz Australia’s warranty covers you for three years/unlimited kilometres, and the recommended service interval for the E Class Cabriolet is 12 months/25,000km.
Capped price servicing for the E 300 & E 400 Cabriolet runs to $456 for the first service, then $912 for the second and third, for a total of $2280 over three years.