Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Audi S5
- Great drive
- No spare tyre
- Fiddly steering wheel controls
- Tight rear headroom (with roof up)
- Plenty of power
- Grip galore
- A safety and tech fest inside and out
- Ride could be too firm for the city
- Limited headroom in the back
- Fixed four-seat setup means you can't squeeze a third in the back
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|
It's inevitable that Audi's S5 will spend the bulk of its time pouncing between traffic lights in Australia's clogged and cramped CBDs, but it's hard to imagine a better place to enjoy the hard-charging antics of this stunning Coupe than the sublime twists and turns of Tasmania's perfect blacktop.
Based on the also-very-pretty A5 Coupe, the S-stamped version adds a powerful 3.0-litre V6 engine, a quick-shifting eight-speed gearbox and some suspension trickery that glues the sleek Audi to the road surface below.
It's the fastest, most powerful and lightest S5 to date, and it's cheaper than the car it replaces to boot. And better still, we had an entire island neatly wrapped in perfect ribbons of tarmac to put it to the test.
The second-generation version of the S5 Sportback is set to appear in May, while the new S5 Cabriolet will follow later this year. For now, the two-door Coupe will lead the charge.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The kind of car that pushes back the autonomous argument, the S5 Coupe is a fun and frantic blast from the behind the wheel. Addictively powerful, sharp to steer and with the kind of endless grip that turns a twisting road into your own personal amusement park, the S5 injects a ton of fun into back-country blasts. It might be a touch uncomfortable in the city, but that's a price we're willing to pay.
Does a V6 turbo Audi S5 trump the previous V8 version? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Undoubtedly one of the better looking cars on the road today, the Audi S5 Coupe looks sleek and stunning from every angle.
Viewed front-on, the newly designed single-frame grill (it's now wider and flatter) looks slick and powerful, while a raised bulge in the bonnet (Audi calls it a power dome) hints at the performance lurking beneath it.
Side on, a body crease (so sharp it's like it's been cut with a laser) runs the length of the body, while the 19-inch wheels are perched at the furthest corners. Four burbling exhausts emerging from beneath the boot complete this perfectly painted picture of intent.
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.
Well, the hint is right there in the name. This might be a touch over 4.6m long, but that swooping coupe roofline eats away at your practicality, especially for rear seat passengers.
Up front, though, it's spacious and comfortable and built for purpose, with terrifically bolstered sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that's among the best in the business.
Shift to the back, and you'll find two seats (the middle one has been replaced by a weird plastic table), but there is plenty of legroom. Headroom, on the other hand, is a less positive story, with anyone who is 183cm (six-foot) or taller are sure to become well accustomed with the S5's roof lining.
There's a cupholder in each of the rear doors, matching the two for front seat passengers, and two ISOFIX attachment points in the back row. Backseat riders also get their own air-con controls, and a power outlet.
Boot space is what Audi claims is a class-leading 465 litres (up 10 on the outgoing car) and the rear seat is split 40/20/40.
Price and features
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.
Audi's new S5 Coupe arrives with a sticker price of $105,800, which is a touch over its most obvious competitor - the marginally slower BMW 440i Coupe.
The good news, though, is that you'll want for little, and can easily avoid Audi's infamous options list. Expect 19-inch alloy wheels that display the bright red brake calipers, illuminated door sill trims, nappa leather sports seats that are heated in the front, and offer pneumatic bolster and lumbar support, plus carbon detailing in the interior.
In-cabin technology is taken care of via Audi's awesome 'Virtual Cockpit' (a huge digital screen that replaces the traditional dials in the driver's binnacle - the Google Earth-overlayed navigation is particularly outstanding) along with a second, centred screen that feeds a 10-speaker stereo.
Engine & trans
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.
The S5 Coupe's engine is an absolute peach, with a thick and steady flow of power that can make you forget a V8 version ever existed.
The turbocharged, 3.0-litre V6 is good for 260kW at 5400rpm and 500Nm from 1370rpm, channelled through a sensational eight-speed automatic gearbox and on to all four wheels. It's enough for a 4.7sec zero to 100km/h time and a limited top speed of 250km/h. But the sprint is only half the story, with the engine's mid-gear acceleration offering an insanely addictive rush of power when overtaking.
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.
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.
Addictive. The power delivery from that S5's V6 is rich and constant, and there's useable urge lurking all over the rev range. The sprint from 0-100km/h is enticing enough, but it's the way the car climbs from 90km/h, 100km/h or 110km/h when you plant your foot, a surging wave of power kicking you in the base of the spine as the S5 Coupe blasts you into the future.
The steering tune is bespoke to the S5, and it's the only model in the A5 range that arrives with adaptive dampers as standard fit, allowing you to dial firmness into the suspension, as well as tightening up the steering, gearing and throttle response.
As a result, it is an absolute joy to pilot through bends, sitting low and flat throughout before making use of its all-wheel drive to hurtle out the other side. It's the stuff involuntary smiles are made of, and you're unlikely to ever tire of it.
For day-to-day use, however, it sits just on the firm side of comfortable, which might grate on pockmarked city road surfaces, but the engine, exhaust and steering weight are all muted enough to ensure it can double as a quiet and composed commuter.
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.
Audi has thrown just about everything it's got at the S5 Coupe, and the safety list is extensive. Expect six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), which join a reversing camera, parking sensors, forward collision warning with AEB and pedestrian detection, a rear-impact sensor, cross-path assist and a driver fatigue detection system.
The entire A5 range was awarded the maximum five star ANCAP safety rating.
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.