Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Audi A6
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Clinical personality
- Steering feel
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|
Despite a determined bid for dominance by a growing stream of Q-badged SUVs, with zero-emission Es on the near horizon, Audi’s A-team of mainstream sedans, wagons, coupes, and cabriolets remains vitally important to the company’s product portfolio and bottom line.
But in recent years the Bavarian maker’s mid-size A6 has been hiding in the shadows, unable to lay a glove on its natural enemies, the BMW 5 Series and Merc’s E-Class, in terms of new car sales in Australia.
So, this sizeable piece of fresh metal is designed to push Audi up the leader board. It’s the all-new, fifth generation A6.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The new Audi A6 is a composed, rapid, top-shelf luxury sedan. It’s comprehensively equipped, with safety tech a stand-out, and priced to chip away at BMW and Merc’s segment dominance.
But owners in this part of the market tend to be rusted on loyal to their preferred brand, and it will be interesting to see of this impressive newcomer can shake a few of them loose.
Pick of the bunch? Save 10 or $15K or dial down the repayments and go for the entry-level A6 45 TFSI, with all the safety tech on-board, plenty of performance, and most of the luxury features included in the more premium models.
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.
Revealed in Germany in early 2018, the new-gen A6 brings fresh engines, leading edge safety, upgraded media tech, and an evolution of the brand’s distinctive design language.
Always a subjective call, but to my eyes the A6’s exterior, while crisp and contemporary, is evolutionary rather than a game-changing step ahead.
The signature single frame grille is even bigger than before, to the point where it feels like Audi has entered an arms race with the current oversize grille superpower, BMW.
A strongly curved roofline accentuates the car’s steeply raked C-pillars, giving it a close to fastback style. Broad, sweeping surfaces are combined with harder defining edges and creases, while short overhangs accentuate the carefully sculpted, tightly wrapped look.
The A6 45 TFSI rides on 19-inch ‘5-twin-spoke’ design alloys which fill the wheelarches nicely, while the 45 and 55 S line run on similar design 20s.
The S line exterior package incorporates specific front and rear bumpers with honeycomb inserts, side air inlet grilles in ‘matt titanium black’ with inserts in ‘platinum grey’, rear diffuser in the same black, this time with chrome trim, side sill trims, and illuminated aluminium door sill trims with S logo at the front
The interior is a model of Teutonic restraint, the sleek dash and instrument cluster layout showcasing three digital screens covering instruments, media and other functions as well as heating and ventilation.
Long, horizontal vents are an Audi design favourite, the seats look and feel superb and the entire cabin reeks of quality and attention to detail.
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.
Room for the driver and front passenger is generous, with ample storage provided including dual (covered) cupholders in the centre console (also incorporating a 12-volt outlet and key holder slot), a decent glove box, and door bins allowing easy bottle storage.
The lidded storage box/armrest between the front seats is relatively shallow but includes a wireless Qi (chee) charging mat (for compatible devices), plus SIM and SD ports, as well as a pair of (Type-A) USB sockets.
The wheelbase has stretched 12mm in this new model, but Audi says it has eked out an extra 21mm of interior length, with 17 of those added to the rear section. And I’m able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. Three adults across the rear is definitely do-able for short to medium length trips.
In the rear, a fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders (the latter on S line models only). There are netted pockets here and the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles. There’s also climate control ventilation, USB ports, 12-volt power… the lot!
Boot capacity is around the average for the class at 530 litres, and the A6 swallows our three-piece hard suitcase set with masses of room to spare, as it does the jumbo size CarsGuide pram. In fact, it was able to take the largest case as well as the pram at the same time. Drop the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to liberate even more volume.
There are pop-up tie-down anchors at each corner of the boot floor, a netted storage cavity behind the passenger side wheel tub, a 12-volt outlet on the driver’s side, a handy fold down shopping bag hook, an elasticised net is included on the S lines, and a space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
Towing capacity is the same across the range – 2.0 tonnes for a braked trailer, and 750kg unbraked. The spare is a space saver on all models, too.
Price and features
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.
The A6 launches with three models, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol 45 TFSI at $95,500, before on-road costs, the more premium 45 TFSI S line at $105,200, and the top-shelf 3.0-litre turbo-petrol V6 55 TFSI S line at $116,000.
Included on the A6 45 TFSI are 19-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights with LED DRLs, dynamic cornering lights, automatic-dynamic headlight range control and rear dynamic indicators (the Matrix beam detects and blanks out oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front, but continues to fully illuminate other areas), keyless entry and start including a sensor controlled (leg swish) boot release, electric heated sports seats for the driver and front passenger (including memories for the driver), ‘leather appointed’ seat upholstery, three-zone climate control air, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, ‘aluminium fragment’ interior inlays, ambient lighting, and aluminium front door sill trims.
Plus, ‘Audi Drive Select’ allows the selection of various driving modes, there’s Audi’s smartphone interface providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, ’Qi’ wireless charging, 10-speaker/180-watt audio driven by a six-channel amp and featuring digital radio, the 12.3-inch configurable ‘Audi Virtual Cockpit’ digital instrument cluster, 10.1-inch high-res colour media touchscreen, ‘Navigation Plus’ (with 3D map display including places of interest and city models), and a third 8.6-inch colour display for the climate control system (with handwriting recognition and a favourites list).
The recently introduced ‘myAudi’ app also allows you to connect to the car and access real-time info on everything from how much fuel’s in the tank, to maintenance milestones, and service warnings. You can remotely lock and unlock the car, plan journeys (at home) and send destinations and routes directly to the car.
Then the 45 and 55 TFSI S Line models add ‘Valcona’ leather trim (seat centre panels, seat side bolsters, head restraints and centre armrest, and door trim inserts in Alcantara faux suede), a flat-bottom leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, a head-up display (colour, with speed, nav and assistance info), illuminated front door sill trims, 20-inch alloy wheels, and electronically controlled adaption of the dampers.
Engine & trans
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 45 TFSI is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four, and the 55 TFSI by a 3.0-litre turbo V6, both featuring a mild-hybrid system recovering braking energy to enable coasting at higher speeds and in the latter case power the stop-start system.
The VW Group (EA888) engine used in the A6 45 TFSI is an iron block/alloy head single turbo unit featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces peak power of 180kW from 5000-6000rpm, and maximum torque of 370Nm from 1600-4500rpm.
The (EA839) engine used in the A6 55 TFSI is a 90-degree 3.0-litre, all-alloy, single (twin-scroll) turbo V6 featuring direct-injection, variable camshaft adjustment (intake and exhaust side) and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces 250kW from 5000-6400rpm, and 500Nm between 1370rpm and 4500rpm.
The 55’s 48-volt mild hybrid electrical system recovers regenerative braking energy to power the stop/start system and enable coasting (for up to 40 seconds) between 55-160km/h. It consists of a 10 Ah lithium-ion battery under the boot floor, a water-cooled belt alternator starter (BAS) mounted to the engine’s front end, with a V-belt connecting it to the crankshaft.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands this one has its single, twin-scroll turbo located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side for better throttle response (as in, minimal turbo lag).
Drive goes to all four wheels via the latest gen version of Audi’s quattro system and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle hovers all the way from 7.2L/100km for the 45 TFSI, to 7.3L/100km for the 45 TFSI S line, and back to 7.2L/100km for the 55 TFSI S line.
CO2 emissions sit in a similarly narrow band, the 45 TFSI producing 165g/km, the 45 TFSI S line 166g/km, and the 55 TFSI S line 164g/km.
Stop/start is standard on all models, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 73 litres of it to fill the tank (on all models).
The local A6 launch drive program ran to the south of Adelaide in South Australia, with some freeway running followed by the twisting rural B-roads running through the McLaren Vale wine growing area. Spending most time in the 45 TFSI S line (because we’d previously driven the 55 TFSI S line) we saw a real-world average of 9.1L/100km, courtesy of the on-board computer.
In our previous review of the 55 TFSI, over five days of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure of 8.8L/100km. Both numbers impressive for a close to 1.8-tonne luxury sedan.
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.
Audi claims the 45 will sprint from 0-100km/h in six seconds, and the 55 in just over five. So, quick, and very quick.
Both are super responsive in the mid-range with peak torque available from just 1600rpm in the 45 and less than 1400 in the 55.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands the 55 TFSI’s single, twin-scroll turbo is located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side.
The aim is to sharpen throttle response and deliver power in a smooth, linear flow. And with maximum torque available from so low down in the rev range, that’s exactly the way it feels.
Select Sport mode, squeeze the right-hand pedal, and the 55’s V6 delivers a firm, consistent shove in the back. The 45 is less urgent in terms of acceleration, but more than adequate for easy highway cruising and confident overtaking.
Both are quietly quick, thanks in part to low-noise acoustic glass and comprehensive use of sound absorption materials around the cabin, remaining composed and relatively subdued as speed rises.
The seven-speed dual-clutch delivers ultra-smooth shifts at around-town speeds and crisp, positive changes in manual mode.
In normal, suburban-style conditions the quattro system decouples the rear axle and sticks with front-wheel drive economy. If all-wheel drive is required, a tricky clutch instantly activates it, in certain situations predicatively.
On top of that, in aggressive cornering torque vectoring by braking (Audi calls it ‘Wheel-Selective Torque Control’) retards the near-side wheels before they slip.
Suspension is a five-link set-up front and rear, with much of the hardware made from aluminium to fine tune response and reduce unsprung weight.
Electronically controlled adaptive dampers are standard on the S line models, with the switch between dynamic and comfort settings swift and pronounced.
Rims are 19-inch on the 45 and 20s on the 45 S line and 55 S line, but all variants are comfortable. Never floaty or unwieldy, just refined and well damped.
The electromechanically assisted steering points accurately but the assistance is overdone and road feel isn’t one of the A6’s strongest suits.
Brakes are 375mm ventilated discs at the front, clamped by six-piston alloy calipers, with 350mm rotors at the rear. They inspire confidence, with progressive feel and more than enough to confidently arrest the 1.8-tonne A6's progress.
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.
Safety is literally five star, the A6 scoring ANCAP’s maximum rating when the car was tested in 2018, and active and passive tech is amazing.
The usual active safety suspects are all present and accounted for, namely ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and ‘Brake Assist’.
But from there the list of standard tech reads like a who’s who of recent innovations, including ‘Adaptive Drive Assist’ (adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’, distance indicator, traffic jam assist and lane guidance assist), AEB (5.0km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians and cyclists, and up to 250 km/h for vehicles), ‘Collision Avoidance Assist’ (additional steering torque in critical evasive situations), rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning.
The 360-degree camera set-up includes a kerb view function, with four wide-angle cameras covering the entire area immediately around the vehicle for improved visibility during low speed maneuveres.
There’s also an exit warning system (detects vehicles and cyclists when opening doors, triggering a warning light and delaying door opening), ‘Attention Assist’, tyre pressure monitoring, ‘Audi Parking System Plus’ (front and rear with visual display), and ‘Intersection Crossing Assist’.
That last one operates at speeds up to 30km/h, monitoring the area in front and at the side of the car, detecting “oncoming objects” at junctions and exit roads. If the situation is critical the system triggers a visual and acoustic warning as well as a quick jolt on the brakes (at speeds up to 10km/h).
But it’s not over yet, with auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and ‘Turn Assist’ included. Turn Assist monitors oncoming traffic when you’re turning right at speeds up to 10km/h and applies the brakes if necessary.
If all those measures aren’t enough to avoid an impact passive safety leads off with front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front and rear side passengers, plus curtain airbags covering both rows.
Also included is ‘Audi Pre-Sense Rear’ (tensioning of front seat belts, closing of windows and sunroof and flashing hazards on detection of an impending rear collision), the standard active bonnet helps to minimise pedestrian impact injuries and there’s a first-aid kit as well as a warning triangle and high-vis vests in the boot.
No surprise the new A6 scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the assessment done in 2018 and the score applicable from August 2019 onwards.
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.
Audi covers the A6 with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is in line with BMW and Merc, but lags the mainstream market where five years/unlimited km is the norm, with Kia and SsangYong at seven years.
That said, body cover runs to three years for paint defects and 12 years for corrosion (perforation).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, and ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plans’ offer capped price servicing options over three and five years.