Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Audi R8
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Superb dynamics
- Naturally aspirated V10
- Everyday usability
- Where's the advanced safety tech?
- No central media screen
- Not much in the way of cabin storage
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|
Supercars can sometimes be seen as the divas of the auto world – delicate, over-the-top, not very good with reality. Well that may be the case for some supercars but not Audi's R8. It's affordable by supercar standards, easy to drive and still very, very fast.
Now the updated R8 has arrived, looking fiercer than ever, but remaining one of the smartest supercar buys on the market. But did you know there are two types of R8? Both have very distinct personalities and I lived with them for two days – in the reality of road works and also ideal country roads.
Here's everything you need to know...
|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 Audi R8 V10 RWD and V10 Performance Quattro have their own personalities. I'm a big fan of the lower-powered rear-wheel drive car, but the Performance is the ultimate here with better brakes and that 330km/h top speed. Either way the R8 is a true supercar, but one that doesn't have to be driven gingerly as though something may break off.
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 R8, though, looks exactly how an Audi supercar should look – understated, tough and serious. Have you seen that Audi advert with the R8 on a dyno not wearing any pants? That sounds ridiculous but Google it because it sums up what the R8 is – a real car with a raw race car underneath, that's meant to be driven comfortably on the road and hard on a race track and the styling indicates that intent with little in the way of fanfare.
Well, there is that big window at the back which shows off the engine and the 'side blades' that surround the large vents carved into the side of the car to cool the engine.
The latest update has taken the design from the second-gen car which arrived in 2016 and added a new grille, front bumper, door sills and vents in the rear bumper. It's a more angular, sharper, and busier design with more vents and winglets than ever.
The R8 V10 RWD and R8 V10 Performance are close to identical in their styling. You can pick the Performance by its gloss carbon front spoiler, side sills, mirror caps and rear diffuser. The RWD has gloss black elements instead.
Which looks best: the Coupe or Spyder? That's a personal thing, but I reckon race cars need to have a hardtop roof, so it's the coupe for me, please.
Built using the 'Audi Space Frame' which weighs only 200kg, the R8 is 4426mm long and just 1240mm tall, but at 1940mm across it has a wide, planted stance.
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.
The R8 is a two-seater supercar and practicality isn't high on its 'to do' list with limited cabin storage in the form door pockets almost as small as my jeans pockets, two cupholders hiding under a trapdoor in the centre armrest, a hidey hole in front of the shifter containing a wireless charger and two USB ports and the glove box.
As for the boot – there are two: one in the nose with a 112-litre cargo capacity and another behind the mid-mounted engine with 226 litres.
Room for people, well you and a friend, is excellent. I'm 191cm (6'3") tall with a 2.0m wingspan and found the footwell deep and spacious, while head and shoulder room is also good.
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 entry level R8 RWD Coupe lists for $295,000, while the Spyder version is $316,500. The R8 V10 Performance Coupe is $395,000 and the Spyder is $416,500.
It's in my view the best value supercar on the market. The Lamborghini Huracán Evo shares the same 5.2-litre V10, the transmission and the chassis (like Audi it's part of the Volkswagen family) and starts at $460K.
Let's talk features. Coming standard on the R8 RWD Coupe and Spyder are laser LED headlights (new to the R8 for this update), 20-inch cast aluminum wheels (also new), a full leather interior (new) with heated and power adjustable RS sports seats, 12.3-inch instrument cluster, Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker stereo (new, too), sat nav, digital radio, proximity key and wireless device charging (new).
The R8 V10 Performance Coupe gets all of the features above but swaps the wheels for lighter, milled alloy rims, ditches the steel brakes for ceramic (pricey to replace, though), and adds other mechanical extras over the entry car such as Audi's magnetic dampers, plus a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer front swaybar.
What's missing? A central media screen would be good so your passenger can pick the music or follow the sat nav. Audi calls it a 'driver-focused cabin', but the Huracán has a media screen in the centre console.
I think there's a bit of advanced safety equipment missing, too – but that's in the section down further.
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.
Both obviously have V10 engines, it's a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre petrol unit (so no turbos here), but the RWD makes less power and torque at 397kW and 540Nm, while the Performance produces 449kW and 560Nm.
The V10 is mounted behind the driver's seat but ahead of the rear axle making it mid-engined car. The engine even has its own window and you can see it in there with its face pressed up against the glass.
There are two body styles as well – the Coupe and Spyder (convertible, roadster, just another word for a retractable soft roof). We'll get to the prices in the next section, but let's talk about the more interesting numbers such as top speeds.
The V10 RWD in coupe form can reach 324km/h and the Spyder can hit 322km/h while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder are both a smidge quicker at 330km/h.
Those are all go-straight-to-jail speeds in Australia, so if you're tempted to fact check my numbers then do it on a racetrack. Audi holds excellent track days – I've done them and you'll not only get to drive the R8 as fast as you can, the instructors will help you improve your advanced driving skills, too. Do it, it could save your life.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h is rapid – 3.7 seconds and 3.8 seconds for the V10 RWD Coupe and Spyder respectively, while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder can nail it in 3.2 seconds and 3.3 seconds.
The V10 engine has a cylinder-on-demand feature which can shut down five of the cylinders while cruising on a motorway, say at 110km/h. It's a fuel-saving system, but keep in mind this V10 loves petrol and lots of it – I've hidden that all the way down the bottom of this review.
Shifting gears in all R8s is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic 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.
That's like asking how many calories are in this pavlova that I'm about to push into my mouth? Seriously if you're asking then you shouldn't be eating it – or driving the R8.
But just for the record, according to Audi the RWD R8 uses 12.0L/100km in Coupe form and 12.2L/100km in Spyder guise after a combination of urban and open roads, while the AWD R8 of course will use more at 13.4L/100km for both Coupe and Spyder.
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.
A race circuit is the best place to test the performance of an Audi R8. I've been lucky enough to have done this in the past, but for this update of the R8 the Australian launch was held on public roads and included a convoy of RS models such as the RS 6 Avant, RS 7, RS Q3 and TT RS.
Even then I think I was 'stitched up' because I began the day in the R8 V10 Performance Coupe but spent almost the entirety of my allocated time in roadworks at 40km/h before swapping to an RS Q3.
So, while I can't honesty comment about the dynamics on this updated R8 V10 Performance Coupe I can tell you that having driven every iteration of the R8 since 2012 that it's a weapon, with helicopter-like visibility out of that large front window.
If, like me, you think turbos are 'cheating' (superchargers are fine), then you'll love the linear power delivery of the R8's naturally aspirated V10, and while I love front-engined sportscars, nothing beats a mid-engined car for the feeling of balance and lightness in the nose while having the sound of thousands of explosions going off just behind your back.
Having AWD is not just great for acceleration and perfect traction from Audi's quattro system, I think it's a good safety feature in a supercar, and while only your judgements can stop things going pear shaped, the system will be there to help on slippery roads.
The following day was different. I was in the R8 V10 RWD, the country roads were superb and while it wasn't a racetrack it was enough to get a hint of the capabilities of the RWD R8.
While the R8 V10 RWD feels the same to sit in with the same great view, it feels different to drive than its faster sibling, in a good way. First there's the noticeable power difference – more than 50kW and 20Nm less – but also the lack of AWD makes the front end feel more pointable, and the car feel more like a traditional sportscar that pushes from behind rather than pulling from the front. Less power, but more fun.
The RS cars in our test convoy were all awesome machines, but stepping out of even the RS6 Avant and slipping down into the R8 cockpit was like getting into a UFO – it's so far ahead dynamically of any other Audi that all I could do was laugh like an idiot. Corners which were making an RS 7 really struggle, were handled effortlessly by the R8. And in a straight line it's a bullet in a barrel.
The Performance has the better brakes: 380mm ceramic discs with six piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers at the rear. The RWD has steel discs – 365mm with eight piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers in the rear.
Keep in mind if you are planning on track days, you'll find the ceramic discs costly to replace, and beside the stopping power of the steel ones is excellent.
And yet, on pot holed course bitumen the ride is a lot more comfortable than you might think and having driven the Performance in traffic it's a much nicer place to sit than the claustrophobic cabin of a McLaren 570S. You could honestly use the R8 daily.
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.
ANCAP has not tested the Audi R8 so there's no star rating available. What we can tell you is that the R8 has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB, no adaptive cruise control, no rear cross traffic alert, nor blind spot warning, nor lane keeping assistance. That's the reason why the score is so low here.
The R8 does have electronic stability control and ABS, and active roll over protection, plus six airbags, although the Spyder doesn't have curtain airbags.
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.
The R8 is covered by Audi's three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km but unlike other Audi models there isn't a three-year or five-year plan available.