Audi RS5 VS Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- Tight rear headroom
- Misses V8 growl
- Rear entry/egress
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
This car has some seriously big shoes to fill - think Ian Thorpe size, but bigger. It’s Audi’s new, second-generation RS 5 Coupe, the Bavarian maker’s mid-size performance flagship, sitting above the S5, and on paper it’s a clear step ahead of the model it replaces.
It’s powered by a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 pumping out enough kilowatts to power a small town, and features a new eight-speed Tiptronic auto, sending drive to all four wheels via Audi’s latest generation quattro system.
Sitting on the VW Group’s MLBevo platform, it’s around 60kg lighter, and more fuel-efficient, yet able to blast from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds.
The thing is, the last RS 5 had something this new rocket ship doesn’t; a superbly sonorous, 4.2-litre, naturally aspirated V8 sitting in its nose.
I straight-up loved the out-going RS 5, bonding with it over thousands of kilometres here and overseas. Up and down Europe’s most challenging alpine passes, and in a previous life, knocking over a story where we drove through eight European countries in a single day.
This new RS 5 produces the same number of kilowatts as the old atmo hero, but adds roughly 30 per cent more torque. The question is, can it match or better its older counterpart on that most intangible parameter – charisma?
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Ever since the middle of the 1990s, I've been captivated by the Mercedes-Benz S Class. It used to be known as Sonderklasse - special class - and teenage me certainly thought it was. The one that caught my attention was the W140. A huge, two-tonne beast when that sort of mass was rare, it was loaded with amazingness and owned the road.
Part of its unique appeal was that that it was properly ugly. When it hove into view it was like a battleship entering Sydney Harbour. And it used almost as much fuel, with the V12 on board.
Over the years, genuine style has invaded the S-Class and today I found myself, for the first time, in an unusually pretty pair of S Classes - the S560 and S63 Coupes. And, astonishingly, it's the first time I've ever driven an S-Class. So with all that baggage I've built up over the years, they had a lot to live up to.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
While it may not sound as good as the outgoing model, the new RS 5 is blindingly fast, outstanding dynamically and loaded to the gunwales with standard features and tech.
A step ahead on paper, and in reality. It’s a brilliant, and yes, a brilliantly charismatic package.
Has Audi done enough with the new RS 5 Coupe to out-gun its primo performance coupe competitors? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Both of these vast vehicles are phenomenally comfortable - this is the kind of car that Mercedes does so well, and has done for decades. The S Class is rarely a disappointment but it's difficult to believe that such a big, heavy GT car can also dance the way the S63 does.
The S560 is far more weighted to being a GT - supremely comfortable with that active suspension, a growly, refined V8 and a cabin full of gadgets and comfort. The S63 is altogether more aggressive, to look at and to drive. Lopping the roof off both of them adds weight but, like any cruiser, also puts you out in the sun, the breeze and into your surroundings. Plus, in the case of the S63, you get more exhaust noise.
They're two very different cars and not just because of the engine. After all these years admiring it from afar, the S63 has delivered on my teenage expectations - fast, smooth and utterly mad.
Is the S Class still the car that springs to mind when you think ultimate luxury? Or has another brand taken its place? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
In developing the look of this car, Audi says its design team took inspiration from the ultra-wide-body Audi 90 IMSA GTO racer from the late ‘80s, driven to glory in the USA by the legendary likes of Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Rohrl.
The RS 5’s cool, confident stance is the result, with the blistered guards, the detail vents clustered with the head and tail-lights, as well as other aero pieces echoing that track weapon.
At just over 4.7 metres long, the new RS 5 is 74mm longer (there’s an extra 15mm in the wheelbase), and a single millimetre wider than the previous RS 5, but it’s still a full 15mm broader across the beam than the current A5 Coupe. The new car also wears a flatter, honeycomb version of the brand’s signature ‘Singleframe’ grille, and sits on bold 20-inch rims.
The interior is luxurious, suitably racy, and black. The multi-adjustable RS sports front seats are trimmed in nappa leather with contrast stitching and quilting on the centre panels.
A typically broad centre console is highlighted by brushed-metal elements with flashes of carbon dialling up the premium look and feel.
The slick, 12.3-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display dominates the view straight ahead, allowing you to switch between screens depending on the mood you’re in and what you want to get up to. While the 8.3-inch hi-res colour ‘MMI touch’ display sits proud of the centre dashtop.
It's a subjective call, but I’m a big fan (no pun intended) of Audi’s approach to the front ventilation outlets, framed within a narrow, chrome-edged band, sweeping confidently across the dash.
The S Class Coupe is obviously related to the sedan but manages a svelte appearance. Slimmer hipped and with a more Coke-bottle shape, the Coupe - if you squint a bit - has a bit of the classic old pagoda about it. Obviously you can't do pillars that slim anymore, but the glass roof takes away some of the visual weight inside and out.
The cabriolet's roof is nicely integrated and looks good when it's up, which isn't always the case.
They all look long, though. It's obvious to see why the cars all run on 20-inch wheels - anything smaller would look hilarious.
The cabin is a fairly sensible re-imagining of the E-Class. The big twin-screen layout of the dash and multimedia system seems a bit more at home here. The chintzy Burmester speakers in the doors let down an otherwise classy cabin, which steers clear of otiose vulgarity in looks and materials.
The RS 5 is a classic 2+2, providing generous space for the driver and front seat passenger, with those consigned to the rear still enjoying comfy accommodation, including adjustable ventilation control (with digital display), but tight headroom courtesy of the tapered coupe roofline.
Getting into the back is a moderate struggle, but once behind the driver’s seat, set for my 185cm frame, there’s surprisingly good legroom and decent space for your feet, but sitting fully upright meant twisting my head to an angle that would have any chiropractor rubbing their hands with glee.
Cabin storage runs to a lidded bin between the front seats (with additional space in front), an average size glove box, front-door pockets able to hold standard water bottles, netted map pockets on the front seatbacks, and oddments trays in the rear.
The cupholder count is strong, with two in the front and four in the back, and connectivity runs to two USB ports, an auxiliary-in socket, dual SD card readers, and two 12V outlets. There’s also a wireless charge bay for Qi-enabled devices if you opt for the ‘Technik package’ (more on that later).
Sensor control means the boot unlocks and opens automatically (if the smart key is detected) with a kicking motion under the rear bumper. Load space with rear seats upright is 465 litres VDA (10L more than the outgoing model), and the rear seat backs split-fold 40/20/40 to enhance flexibility and open up extra space for longer or bulkier loads.
There are four cargo tie down points and a luggage net supplied, plus a first-aid kit in a netted cubby on the passenger side, and another netted storage space (taking advantage of the space behind the rear wheel tub) on the driver’s side. The spare is a space saver.
Well look, if you end up in the back of the S Coupe, it's not a riot of space. Obviously it has back seats (the SL doesn't even squeeze a jump seat into its considerable length) but they're for occasional, if luxurious, use.
The boot is a reasonably decent 400 litres, obviously the cabriolet loses a few litres with the roof folded. Front and rear passengers will both enjoy a pair of cupholders and the whopping long doors will each hold a bottle.
Price and features
Cost of entry to the Audi RS 5 Coupe club is $156,600 (before on-road costs); exactly $900 less than the most recent price for the superseded car.
And what’s more, according to Audi, the vast majority of first-gen RS 5 Coupe buyers hit the options list hard, to the tune of around $24k-worth of extras on average (some people would buy another small car with that cash).
So, to surprise and delight prospective buyers of this new version, a whole lot of extra fruit has been piled onto the car’s standard equipment list… and yes, it’s loaded.
Headline inclusions are three-zone climate control air (with ventilated glove box), ‘Dynamic Ride Control’ (with adaptive damper control), LED headlights (including LED DRLs), the nappa leather trim (door and side panel trim inserts in Alcantara), plus a panoramic sunroof (electrically tilting and opening, with electric sun shade).
Then, the RS sport front seats are a story in themselves. Electric adjustment (with memory for the driver) is a given, but they’re also heated, feature pneumatic side bolster adjustment, electric lumbar support, a massage function, and manual extendable thigh support.
But wait, there’s (a lot) more. The base price also includes an extended upholstery package, with the lower part of the centre console, door armrests and door pull handles trimmed in ‘man-made leather’, adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’ (including traffic-jam assistant and distance indicator), keyless entry and start, heated, folding and auto dimming exterior mirrors (with memory), plus LED tail-lights with dynamic (scrolling) indicators.
There’s also privacy glass (dark tinted rear and rear side windows), a headlight washer system, an RS sport exhaust (with gloss black oval tailpipes), an anti-theft alarm (with interior monitoring, tow-away protection and tilt sensor), interior ambient lighting (with 30 selectable colours and five colour profiles), a frameless, auto-dimming interior mirror, plus door-sill trims with aluminium inlays and illuminated RS emblems.
Okay, deep breath. Also included are ‘Park assist’ (helps steer the vehicle into parallel or perpendicular spaces), 360-degree cameras (four wide-angle cameras covering the area immediately around the vehicle for easier manoeuvring), auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, the ‘Virtual Cockpit’ (digital configurable colour instrument cluster), stainless-steel-finished pedals, and a flat-bottom, multifunction RS sport leather steering wheel.
And now we get to the multimedia, including ‘Audi connect’ (Wi-Fi hotspot and Google services), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a Bang & Olufsen ‘3D Sound System’, with no less than 19 speakers, and 755 watts delivered via a 16-channel amplifier.
It also features DAB+ digital radio, ‘MMI navigation plus’, including an 8.3-inch high-res colour display, 10 GB flash memory, and integrated voice control.
That’s a motherload of stuff, and doesn’t even consider the laundry list of standard active and passive safety tech covered in the safety section below.
If all that isn’t enough, there are a series of individual options on offer, like a carbon-fibre roof ($4900), ceramic brakes ($11,900), and milled-finish 20-inch alloys ($1600). Or feature bundles, including the ‘Technik package’ (colour head-up display, ‘Matrix LED’ headlights, and more), and ‘RS Design package’ (‘Audi phone box light’ wireless charging for Qi devices, an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, extra leather, lots of red stitching, and multiple RS logos).
One thing hasn't changed in nearly 20 years - the S isn't cheap. Available in coupe and cabriolet, the S560 starts at $314,900 for the former and $336,900 for the latter. Step up to the S63 pair and you'll pay from $370,500 for the coupe and $399,900 for the cab. If you're super keen for something spectacular, the twin-turbo V12-powered S65 is available for between $508,900 and $520,500, and features Swarovski crystals in the headlights, for some reason.
As you can imagine, there's quite a bit to cover, so for both cars I'll stick to the edited highlights. The S560s roll on 20-inch alloys, has a 590-watt 13 speaker sound system, digital TV, auto parking, active cruise control, panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, active seats and power-closing doors.
It also comes standard with a heating pack that not only heats the seats but the steering wheel and centre console. In the cabriolet you also get the 'Airscarf' neck heater.
Both cars also feature's Mercedes' Magic Body Control with curve function. More of that wacky feature later.
The S63 AMG is a step up in power, price and spec. One notable change from the S560 is the loss of 'Magic Body Control', which is replaced with mere air suspension. The 20-inch alloys are 10-spoke forged units, the brakes higher performance composites with red calipers, while an AMG sports exhaust brings the noise.
Naturally, both are swathed in high-quality leather and feature dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric seats that adjust in every direction, deep carpets, keyless entry and start, fully digital dashboards and just about every gadget to which you can point your imagination.
Entertainment and sat nav are via Mercedes' 'Comand' system, which is displayed on a massive 12.3-inch slab of glass at the top of the dashboard. The 13-speaker Burmester-branded system is predictably impressive and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you only have to use the basic software for the radio or various car controls.
Engine & trans
The RS 5 Coupe’s 2.9-litre V6 is based on the S4’s 3.0-litre unit, featuring a shorter stroke, and two turbos rather than a single, twin-scroll unit.
It’s an all-alloy design, featuring direct injection, variable inlet valve adjustment, continuous camshaft adjustment, and drive-by-wire throttle control.
With the turbos sitting inside the engine’s 90-degree V, the distances from the exhaust side to the turbos and then from the turbos to the inlet side are short, so they spool up quickly and boost power rapidly.
Maximum torque of 600Nm (+170Nm) is available from just 1900rpm all the way to 5000rpm, with maximum power of 331kW taking over from 5700 to 6700rpm (the latter number being the rev ceiling).
The transmission is an eight-speed auto, taking over from the first-gen RS 5’s seven-speed dual-clutch because of the new car’s additional torque.
It feeds power to all four wheels via the latest iteration of Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, with drive normally distributed 40/60 front to rear, but able to go as much as 85 per cent rear and 70 per cent front, with torque vectoring via the ESC system, and drive managed by a self-locking centre diff, and an electro-mechanical sport diff at the rear.
All four coupes and cabriolets ship with Daimler's formidable 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The S560 scores 345kW/700Nm to drive the rear wheels through Benz's own nine-speed automatic. With all of that available, the S560 will crack the ton in 4.6 seconds and make a wonderful racket on the way.
Moving on to the S63, the same engine delivers a massive 450kW/900Nm. The run from 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.5 seconds and if I thought the S560 made a good noise, the S63 with its standard sports exhaust makes a better one. Again, Mercedes' nine-speeder is along for the ride.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.8L/100km, the RS 5 emitting 199g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over 500km of twisting, central Tasmanian roads on the launch drive program, we averaged a dash-indicated 12.4L/100km, which represents some intense periods of ‘spirited’ driving, with a best of 11.9L/100km recorded on one slightly more sedate 120km city and outer-urban section.
You’ll need 58 litres of 98RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
The lower-powered 560 drinks 98RON at the rate of 8.5L/100km for the coupe and 9.9L/100km for the heavier cabriolet.
The S63 ups the ante with 9.9L/100km for the coupe and an identical 9.9L/100km for the cab.
Our launch program contained some...er...spirited driving, which would explain the mid to high-teens fuel figures.
First impressions are dominated by the V6 twin-turbo engine’s mountainous torque. In fact, it’s less a peak and more of an imposing plateau, with 600Nm available across a broad spread from 1900rpm to 5000rpm.
Maximum power takes over from 5700 to 6700rpm, so from go to whoa there’s monumental thrust lurking under your right foot. Audi claims 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, which is six tenths faster than the previous V8, with the RS 5 able to surge on to an electronically controlled top speed of 250km/h (280km/h with the limiter optionally removed). This car is a rocket.
The eight-speed auto is smooth yet quick and positive. And in terms of the speed and definition of shifts, you’re not really losing anything relative to the seven-speed dual-clutch in the old RS 5.
Suspension is a five-link design front and rear, the first-gen RS 5 using a trapezoidal link set-up at the back. This car’s lighter engine (a hefty 31kg down) improves balance with less weight on the front axle improving steering response and agility. Even at 1.7 tonnes, the car feels agile, planted, and puts its power down with reassuring authority. Damping is outstanding.
Rubber is high-end Hankook Ventus S1 evo2s, and despite their 20-inch size, they are surprisingly compliant and quiet. And speaking of noise, the previous car’s atmo V8 was raucous music to any performance enthusiast’s ears, and somehow Audi’s managed to tune in its characteristic, guttural growl for this V6, mainly using flaps in the exhaust. Not quite as free and angry as the V8 it replaces, but satisfyingly gruff all the same.
The engine and exhaust noise won’t be an issue if you’ve never heard the old one. This car sounds great, and the mid-range is so beautifully meaty, that on a twisting B-road a smile naturally appears on your face.
‘Drive Select’ allows tuning of the engine and gearbox, suspension, sport diff and exhaust. But beware the ‘Dynamic’ suspension mode, if you have fillings they’re likely to rattle free. Best left for track days.
The (electro-mechanical) steering feels great, with linear response, and road feel is also good. Overall, the RS5 Coupe delivers a truly involving drive experience.
The brakes are pretty much professional grade, with big six-piston calipers up front and two-piston floating calipers at the rear. Rotors are ventilated and perforated all around (375mm front / 330mm rear).
If you’ve got a lazy 12 grand burning a hole in your pocket you can add the carbon-ceramic package, but the standard brakes are fantastic, and you’d have to be a dedicated track-day fanger to need them.
Let's start with the S560. That smooth V8 rumble is all you'll ever hear if you just slot into drive and go for a leisurely spin. The nine-speed automatic continues to be a revelation to me - in the GLC63 it's good and here, once again, it's excellent, finding the right gear for the occasion and riding the fat torque curve. Other nine-speed autos are not very good at all.
The test route for the S560 played to the strengths of the car. It had some lovely winding roads, which brought the trick suspension into focus - the Magic Body Control with curve function is hilarious. While the active suspension works hard at all times to ensure the ride is smooth and drama free, the Curve mode (no, really) actually leans the car into corners.
Those of you who remember the video game Wipeout 2097 will be big fans of Curve mode. As you approach a corner, you turn the wheel and then the car leans into the bend. This isn't active damping reading the road, it's the outside suspension lifting the car and the inside lowering it, so the car feels like it's gliding, like a hovercar. It's wild but oddly calming. Mercedes reckons it's great for those who get car sick. As I didn't have my wife on hand to test this theory - she chucks at the first sign of a corner - I couldn't verify this claim. That will have to wait.
The S63 AMG is a completely different proposition. The air suspension is more than up to the job of helping smother the effects of the car's considerable weight, meaning that no matter what you're up to, the car feels reasonably light on its feet. It never feels small, though, commanding the respect of the driver and plenty of space from other road users.
And boy, do you need some space if you kick the S63 into Sport mode. In true AMG style, the electronic reins relax and the big luxury coupe cheerfully kicks off. The tail will wriggle under an unsympathetic right foot, that signature V8 roar, crackle and hiss filling your ears. The S63 is always the harder-feeling car, but it delivers with a more sporting drive than the S560.
Being the generous soul I am, I volunteered to return the S63 to its home for the evening rather than consign it to the back of a truck. On the back roads I took to reach the highway, it was rock solid - fast, predictable and a lot of fun. Once I found the boring straight bits, it turned into a supremely comfortable cruiser, ticking along in ninth at the legal limit (and being Melbourne, it was very much the legal limit), dispatching overtaking with barely a flex of a toe.
The active cruise took the stress of keeping away from the State Revenue Office's clutches while being quiet and utterly pleasant.
The RS 5 Coupe doesn’t leave much on the table when it comes to active and passive safety.
Attention assist, ‘Audi pre-sense city’ (with AEB and pedestrian detection), ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and Brake Assist are all standard.
There’s also a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, adaptive cruise control (including a distance indicator and speed limiter), active lane assist, ‘Audi parking system plus’ (front and rear with visual display), ‘Audi pre-sense front’ (provides collision mitigation up to 250km/h), blind-spot warning, collision-avoidance assist, rear cross traffic assist, turn assist (monitors oncoming traffic when turning right at low speeds), an exit warning system (detects cars and cyclists when opening doors), and auto high beam.
And if all that’s not enough to help you avoid a crash, there are six airbags on board (front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front passengers, and head-level curtain airbags for front and rear).
The S-Class coupe comes loaded with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward and reverse AEB with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, crosswind assist (I know, right?), traffic-sign recognition and reverse cross traffic alert.
The S-Class Coupe does not have an ANCAP or EuroNCAP rating.
Audi provides a three year/unlimited warranty, with three years paint cover, and a 12-year rust perforation guarantee. ‘AudiCare’ 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
The recommended service interval is 15,000km/12 months, and the ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plan’ is available to cover scheduled servicing for three years/45,000km (whichever comes first).
Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration.
The company also offers both service plans (where you pay up-front as part of the vehicle purchase) and capped-price servicing on the coupes. Servicing over three years is in the order $2500.