Audi S6 VS Mercedes-Benz S-Class
- Executive style
- Improved value
- Boy-racer performance
- Not SUV practical
- A touch thirsty
- Substandard warranty
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
Most buyers don’t care for sedans these days, but those in the premium market are still spoilt for choice, with new model after new model being launched.
The latest on offer is the new Audi S6, which once again attempts to mix executive style with boy-racer performance.
With its predecessor’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 succeeded by an engine that is 1.1 litres and two cylinders short, does it still serve up enough bang for your back?
Of course, the only way to find out is to put the new S6 sedan to test, so that’s exactly what we did. Read on.
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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|
We adore the new S6 sedan. It looks great, feels comfortable and goes like stink all at the same time. What’s not to like?
It also helps that it is relatively good value, safe and practical by large-sedan standards, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
But will buyers be quick to dismiss the new S6 sedan because it’s not a more practical SUV? Time will tell, but we hope not.
Does the new Audi S6 sedan represent the best mix of executive style and boy-racer performance? 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.
To these eyes, the new S6 sedan is very attractive, albeit not outlandish, in keeping with its executive focus.
Up front, the subtly aggressive S body kit immediately comes into frame, with the bumper sporting sinister-looking side air intakes.
And, of course, there’s Audi’s signature Singleframe, which is not only large and in charge, but also finished in gloss-black, like many of the S6 sedan’s exterior design elements.
Below the heavily creased bonnet, the HD Matrix LED headlights look both angry and sophisticated, with their integrated LED daytime running lights (DRLs) providing a crisp signature.
Around the side, the S6 sedan goes about its business quietly, but its blistered wheelarches do add some bulk and help to accentuate its strong shoulder line.
Speaking of which, the rear end is arguably the S6 sedan’s best angle thanks to its wicked LED tail-lights, which have a segmented signature.
The chunky bumper below incorporates a diffuser element that houses the quad exhaust tailpipes, while a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bootlid spoiler rounds out the look.
Inside, the S6 sedan is a technological tour de force, with 10.1- and 8.6-inch touchscreens dominating its centre stack. The former is responsible for most of Audi’s latest multimedia system’s functions, while the latter takes care of the climate controls.
This set-up works pretty well, although a few too many taps are required for certain functions, and then there’s the issue of the glass display coverings, which are absolute fingerprint magnets alongside the gloss-black accents used throughout.
That said, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and windshield-projected head-up display on hand are brilliant. In fact, they set the standard for the entire industry thanks to their design and breadth of functionality.
The S6 sedan does, of course, feel a little bit more special than the regular A6 inside, with the obvious additions being the front sports seats, which are covered in supple Valcona leather alongside the armrests. They even have diamond-stitched inserts.
Then there’s the obligatory flat-bottom steering wheel (with paddle-shifters), which is trimmed in Nappa leather alongside the gear selector, upper dashboard, door shoulders and knee rests. Indeed, hard plastics are hard to find here.
Meanwhile, a black headliner adds to the sportiness alongside the black Alcantara door inserts, but the cabin is otherwise a familiar (read: classy) affair.
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.
Measuring 4954mm long, 1886mm wide and 1446mm tall, the new S6 sedan is a large sedan in every sense of the term, which is mostly good news when it comes to practicality.
Cargo capacity is decent, at 520L, but can be increased to an undisclosed amount with the 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench stowed.
Speaking of the boot, there are four tie-down points and a cargo net to help secure loose loads, while a bag hook and a side storage net are also on hand, alongside a 12V power outlet. Bulkier items will, however, be confronted by a decent load lip.
In-cabin storage options are numerous, but not all are effective. The glovebox is well-sized, while the driver-side cubby is surprisingly large, but the central bin is shallow, mostly taken up by the wireless smartphone charger, two USB-A ports and the SD and SIM card readers.
A pair of cupholders is located in the centre console, with a 12V power outlet found in between, while the front door bins can accommodate one regular bottle each, just like their rear counterparts.
In the second row, there’s a fold-down armrest with two more cupholders as well as a shallow storage tray, while cargo nets are affixed to the front seat backrests.
The rear bench is pretty comfortable, with four inches of legroom available behind my 184cm driving position alongside decent toe-room. Headroom is also good, with about two inches on offer.
That said, three adults sitting abreast won’t enjoy the experience, due to the large transmission tunnel, which makes for limited footwell space. At least they’ll have access to a couple of USB-A ports and a 12V power outlet, below the central air vents.
For reference, child seats can be fitted to the outboard seats via top-tether and ISOFIX anchorage points.
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
The new S6 large sedan is priced from $149,900 plus on-road costs and is far better value than before, even if it does command a $33,900 premium over the regular A6's flagship variant.
Compared to its predecessor, the new S6 sedan is $21,480 cheaper, while Audi Australia claims it has also added $20,000 worth of kit.
Standard equipment not already mentioned includes metallic paintwork (our test vehicle was finished in Tango Red), dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, soft-close doors, auto-folding side mirrors with heating, rear privacy glass and a hands-free power-operated bootlid.
Inside, satellite navigation with live traffic, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay support, digital radio, a 705W Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 16 speakers, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, power-adjustable front seats with heating, a power-adjustable steering column, four-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and LED ambient lighting feature.
Of note, buyers can opt for the $7700 Dynamic Package that bundles in speed-sensitive electric power steering, a rear limited-slip differential and all-wheel steering. It was not fitted to our test vehicle.
In terms of rivals, the BMW M550i sedan is identically priced, while the Mercedes-AMG E53 sedan is much more expensive, at $173,800. The S6 sedan arguably has the former beat on value but loses the performance battle due to its 390kW/750Nm 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8.
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
Compared to its aforementioned predecessor, power is unchanged, while torque has increased by 50Nm.
This unit is mated to a 48V mild-hybrid system that includes a trick Electric-Powered Compressor (EPC), which helps to reduce its turbo lag.
A reliable eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is responsible for swapping gears, while drive is sent to all four wheels via Audi’s rear-biased quattro system.
This combination helps it sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in an impressive 4.5 seconds, while its top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.
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.
The new S6 sedan’s fuel consumption on the combined-cycle test (ADR 81/02) is 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres, while claimed carbon dioxide emissions are 197 grams per kilometre. Both figures are pretty keen given the level of performance on offer.
Audi says the aforementioned 48V mild-hybrid system reduces fuel consumption by 0.4L/100km thanks to its coasting ability, which sees the engine turn off for up to 40 seconds between 55km/h and 160km/h. It also engages idle-stop from 22km/h.
In our real-world testing, we averaged 14.4L/100km over 100km of driving skewed towards country roads over city traffic, with limited highway time. It’s worth noting that my spirited driving inflated this result. That said, while its fuel consumption is not as bad as it appears, this is still a thirsty sedan.
For reference, the S6 sedan’s 73L fuel tank takes 98RON petrol at minimum.
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.
The S6 sedan has no right being this good in a straight line and around corners…
Much of its success is owed to the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, which is now one of my favourite engines being built today. Simply put, it absolutely hammers.
Punch the accelerator from a standing start and it doesn’t take long for 600Nm to be on tap all the way through, and just a little bit beyond, the mid-range.
Occupants are firmly pressed into their seats as the S6 sedan sprints towards the horizon with vigour. Soon enough, 331kW arrives and hangs around until just prior to the redline.
Needless to say, this acceleration is addictive, and the EPC deserves some of the credit, as it effectively mitigates any dreaded turbo lag and ensures the engine is always seemingly on boost.
But we also need to acknowledge the eight-speed torque-converter automatic, which is a real beauty. Gear changes are nice and smooth, which is great, but what’s even better is their relative quickness – dual-clutch transmissions be damned!
Of course, extra performance can be extracted by switching between the engine and transmissions’ settings but, rest assured, they both stand up, no matter what.
However, we’d suggest spending time in the former’s most aggressive setting, as it unleashes the sports exhaust system, which sounds unreal.
Upshift with intent and you’re met with a booming ‘brap’. Downshifts and the overrun will even gift you a series of pops. In fact, the S6 sedan soundtrack sounds strangely similar to that of the five-cylinder RS3, and we have absolutely no problem with that.
Better yet, the S6 sedan has an appetite for corners, with its neutral handling a standout, partly thanks to its hard-working rear-biased quattro all-wheel-drive system, which works in tandem with all the other electronics to ensure there is plenty of grip at any given time.
This controlled driving pleasure is enhanced by the electric power steering on hand, which has a variable ratio. At low speed, it’s nice and light, but those after more heft can always switch to another one of its settings, which become progressively heavier… arguably too heavy.
Feedback through the wheel is also good, while the steering itself is pretty direct, lending itself to sporty driving, which, of course, is half of the S6 sedan’s mantra.
Coming into corners, braking performance is solid, thanks to the massive 400mm front and 350mm rear discs with red callipers, so the driver is brimming with confidence at every turn, even though there’s an unladen weight (with 75kg driver and luggage) of 1985kg to manage.
But let’s not forget the S6 is an executive sedan, so it has to ride like one. Thankfully, it does. The independent five-link suspension has air springs and adaptive dampers, which serve up comfort in spades, especially at high speed.
Its firm tune does come into frame when travelling on unsealed or uneven roads, with this exacerbated by the large 21-inch alloy wheels, which have a penchant for catching sharp edges.
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.
Advanced driver-assist systems extend to autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep and steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, high-beam assist, driver attention alert, hill-start assist, tyre pressure monitoring, surround-view cameras and front and rear parking sensors. Yep, buyers aren’t left wanting here.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-skid brakes (ABS), brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, among others.
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.
The S6 sedan comes with Audi Australia’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which falls short of the premium market’s relatively new five-year standard that was set by Genesis and followed by Mercedes-Benz.
Three years of roadside assistance is also bundled in, although this term can be extended up to nine years if the vehicle is serviced at an authorised dealership, which is great.
Speaking of which, service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing plans are available, costing $2350 for three years/45,000km or $4110 for five years/75,000km. They’re pricey, but you weren’t expecting the opposite.
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.