Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Audi R8
- S-Class' return to splendour
- Stunning high-tech cabin presentation
- Outstanding ride and handling capabilities
- Price of entry prohibitive for most
- 3D instrumentation can make you woozy
- A tad conservative in design
- 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
It's only in the running for the title of world's best luxury car. No biggie here, then.
Like Rolex and Concorde, S-Class has become a byword for ultimate, and deserved or not, the Mercedes-Benz defines its segment despite the best efforts of the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Lexus LS and (sadly now-defunct) Jaguar XJ, as well as pointing the way forward with new technologies that eventually trickle down to more proletarian models.
Replacing the half-million selling W222 unveiled in 2013, the W223 is the latest in a long line since the first W187 Ponton debuted in 1951, and includes the famous ‘Finnies' and Stroke-8 models that followed immediately afterwards, but it is the 1972 W116 that really set the template.
|Engine Type||3.0L 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...
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Mercedes-Benz set out to restore the S-Class' place amongst the greatest sedans in the world.
In the heavily-optioned, near-$250K-plus S450 as well as the extended S450L at $300K as tested (the sweet spot of the range for now), we reckon the Germans have succeeded, pushing safety, comfort and technology boundaries, in a package that is true to the heritage of the series.
Tax-fuelled sky-high prices will certainly keep the S-Class niche in Australia, but the car is more than good enough to dominate its tiny corner of the upper-large luxury car sphere.
The best new car in the world? We reckon it's highly likely. Mission accomplished, Mercedes.
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.
Most Mercedes models have followed the Russian Doll-style cookie-cutter styling theme, and the heavy family look continues with the W223.
Still, the flush door handles do add a touch of Tesla-esque modernity, while the elegant silhouette and clean lines are in keeping with the luxury aspirations. Larger in every dimension compared to the old W222, the S450 is some 71mm-longer in wheelbase (3106mm) than before while the LWB's has stretched out by 51mm (3216mm), benefiting proportions as well as interior packaging.
AMG-branded wheels look sporty but – in the S450 at least – they're perhaps a tad too gangster. A set of flush alloys would give it a more-modern and techier appearance, in our opinion.
Overall, however, the S-Class ‘7' possesses the prerequisite richness of design. It isn't as bold and mould-breaking as models like the W116 were back in their day, but the styling is still a success.
By the way, the latest S-Class is the first Mercedes to employ the MRA2 longitudinal platform, which is rich in lightweight steels (50 per cent aluminium), is correspondingly stronger than before but also 60kg lighter.
With a drag co-efficiency rating as low as 0.22Cd on some overseas grades, the W223 is one of the most aerodynamic production vehicles in history.
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.
For the beginning of our day with the S-Class, we were chauffeured from home to a mansion in Kew, a blue-chip Melbourne suburb. Our heavily-optioned S450L featured most of the aforementioned extras – including the Business Class Package and Rear Entertainment Package – and the experience was predictably, sumptuously memorable.
Reclining individual rear seats with easy-reach tablets, armrests offering access to all multimedia and available climatised and massaging cushions and backrests... we're no longer in our normal ride, Toto.
Yet, all these trinkets and gizmos are mere add-ons, that can turn a stretched Caprice into a flash hen's night carriage if enough money and glitz is thrown at it.
No, the new S-Class must impress in an altogether less tangible and more philosophical manner, involving all the senses, and not just what we see, hear and touch. It must appeal beyond the superficial. Otherwise, it is not a large Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan in the classic manner.
This is a Herculean task for the Stuttgart designers and engineers. By and large, though, the Three-Pointed Star has succeeded in achieving something special.
In its perception of peerless quality and engineering, the W223 is striving to move forward and look back simultaneously to the glory days of the seminal W126 (1980-1991). This is through meshing traditional virtues like solidity and quality materials while dazzling its passengers with technology that is still friendly enough to want to enhance your experience.
You can sink into the soft lounge seats, watch the world pass by silently outside and never be aware of the road underneath or the engine ahead. Double glazing, exquisite and aromatic fabrics and materials and lush tactile surfaces work their magic inside the car, while an airtight and aero body, solid platform, air suspension and a muted yet muscular powertrain all do their thing underneath. The atmosphere is special and rarefied. That's what an S-Class needs to be and that's what is happening in our $299,000 (as tested) S450L.
The same more-or-less applies up front, as the same trim, leather, wood and technology surrounds the driver and passenger. The spectre of the car that is surely The Car of the Last Decade – Tesla's Model S – is evident in the portrait touchscreen and sparse, almost wallflower dashboard design and layout. No big imposing architectures here.
Yet, while the American upstart actually takes stuff away, the S-Class packs the cabin with subtle features that – like when the planes stopped flying last year and the birdsong subsequently returned – only become obvious once the cabin's design simplicity clears all the white noise for you to be in a better frame of mind to enjoy them.
Take the haptic interface, for example, as it is perhaps the best we've experienced; the sense of well-being garnered from the cumulative effects of profound seat comfort (the massaging function was never switched off), cocooning micro climate environmental control, orchestral levels of audio entertainment and the theatre of light and vision performed by the two available screens; it is an automotive experience like no other. And the eye-tracking 3D-effect navigation set within the electronic instrumentation. No need for cinematic glasses to get the effect. The driving position itself, by the way, is also first class.
Room to stretch and grow for sure, and in every direction. But room for improvement? You betcha.
Your tester had a headache after a little while staring at that woozy 3D map. The central vents – four at the front, two in the rear – look and feel cheap, leaving us mentally redesigning them; they are frightfully out of place here; the carryover column-stalk auto lever should have been binned in 2005. And, even though the digital instruments have a number of options, none are elegant enough for the S-Class. That's an especially subjective criticism, clearly, but one that – in the context of classic Mercedes luxury sedan contenders – is justified given how timeless the Bruno Sacco era of Daimler design was. Look him up, kids.
Still, after a couple of hours behind the wheel, with our senses reset to calm, it is obvious that the S-Class cabin is a unique and wonderful place – as it should be at a cool quarter-of-a-million dollars.
PS At 550 litres (20L more than before), the boot is massive and luxurious enough to sleep in.
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
Right now, only two S-Class models are available – the S450 from $240,700 plus on-road costs and the 110mm extended-wheelbase S450L (LWB) for another $24,900 on top. Most buyers overwhelmingly opt for the latter.
Despite what the numbers may suggest, both are powered by a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo petrol engine, delivering 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed torque-converter automatic. Greater choices are coming later, including an all-electric version known as the EQS.
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
On the equipment front there is the latest iteration of Mercedes' MBUX multimedia system with (another) world-first 3D display, complementing an OLED central display, powered closing doors, leather upholstery, air suspension, leather upholstery, velour floor mats, a multi-beam LED headlight system with adaptive high beams, heated and folding exterior mirrors, heat and noise-insulating acoustic glass for front side windows, dark privacy glass for rear windows, sunroof, roller sunblinds for rear windows, metallic paint and 20-inch AMG alloy wheels on runflat tyres.
Want cutting-edge multimedia? There's MBUX II's augmented reality for navigation and fingerprint scanner, as well as a more natural-speech Mercedes-Me Connect voice activation with global search.
Plus, predictive navigation with live traffic, parked vehicle locator, vehicle tracking, emergency call, maintenance management and tele-diagnostics, digital radio, Burmester 3D surround-sound system with 15 speakers and 710W amplifier, remote door locking/unlocking, geofencing, speed-fencing, valet parking, head-up display, Smart Phone integration with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless charging, ambient lighting, two-zone climate control, poplar wood trim, electric adjustment for front seats, steering column with memory function, climatised front seats, keyless entry/go with flush-fitting door handles offering hands-free access (including for the electric boot),
Besides the ‘forward facing' airbag for the rear-seat occupants, the S450L also scores electrically adjustable rear seats with memory and automatic rear climate control.
Key options – and the list is massive – include an $8700 Rear Entertainment Package, that brings rear-multimedia access, rear tablets with wireless headsets and rear-seat wireless smart phone charging, an AMG Line pack with a body kit, different alloys and larger front brakes ($6500), Business Class Package that includes aircraft-style reclining rear seating and tray tables ($14,500), Nappa leather ($5000), augmented-reality HUD ($2900), 21-inch wheels ($2000) and four-wheel steering ($2700). There's also a $14,500 Energising Package with contoured seating, heated-everything and massaging seats.
Please keep in mind our test cars featured many such extras. Tick all the boxes and you can add nearly $100,000 to the price of your S-Class.
So, is the S450 good value? Given some of the breakthrough safety and luxury features it offers, it is unique. Too bad the Federal Government's Luxury Car Tax makes them so much more expensive than they need to be.
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.
Explore the virtual Audi R8
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
Where are the V8s?
Right now, the only W223 you can buy is powered by an all-new 2999cc 3.0-litre in-line direct-injection six-cylinder turbo petrol engine dubbed the M256, complete with double overhead cams, an electric compressor intercooler and assistance from a 48-volt mild hybrid system and integrated starter-generator, adding 16kW and 250Nm to the 270kW of power at 6100rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1600-4500rpm.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, while the 0-100km/h sprint-time takes just 5.1 seconds in both models. Impressive for a two-tonne-plus luxury limo.
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.
With the aid of the mild-hybrid system, the S450 returned a combined average of an impressive 8.2 litres per 100km, which translates to 187 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre. 95 RON premium unleaded (or higher) is recommended. In the urban run it consumes 11.3L/100km (11.5 for S450L), and just 6.4L/100km (6.5 for S450L) in the extra-urban result.
At 76 litres, the fuel tank will allow a combined average range of about 927km between refills.
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.
In former times, as the Germans say, a ‘450' on the boot indicated V8 power. In the W116 S-Class era it was one of the world's most evocative badges when ‘SEL' was also attached.
As mentioned earlier, though, it's the M256 3.0-litre turbo-petrol with a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid' electrical system that's doing the driving, to all four wheels. The real V8 W223 will probably surface later this year or in early 2022 with the S580L flagship. Bring it on.
This is not to say that S450 isn't good enough. With that electrified assistance, the blown straight six is smooth and swift off the line and rapid as the auto seamlessly steps up through all nine gears. Because it's so hushed and refined, it doesn't feel 5.1s to 100 clicks quick, but watching the speedo says otherwise – acceleration is assertive and strong right up way past the legal speed limit.
All that's missing is the burbling soundtrack of a classic Benz bent-eight. Oh well. Outstanding economy is a price we're literally willing to pay in lieu.
Even more impressive is the S450's ability to hustle along mountain roads like an overgrown sports sedan.
Now, for Australia, all S-Classes are fitted standard with an adaptive ‘Airmatic' air-suspension set-up, including air springs and self-levelling tech. In Comfort up to 60km/h, the ride height can be raised by 30mm, or lowered by 10mm under the standard 130mm baseline in Sport at any velocity, while in Sport+ it falls another 17mm.
With that in mind, yes, the standard air suspension performs a magnificent job smothering out most surface imperfections around town. Yet its real other party trick is to tighten up the chassis when corners get interesting and Sport mode is selected. Aided by progressively weighted and reassuringly responsive steering, the Mercedes tips into turns with precision and poise, slicing through with virtually no discernible body lean or understeer.
Now, we're not talking a leisurely drive on rural highways here, but Healesville's famous Chum Creek Road, where even a Porsche Cayman would feel like it's had a strenuous dynamic workout. The S-Class can be hurried along with confidence and finesse, displaying outstanding handling and roadholding for a 5.2-metre long limo. And the fact that the ride quality only suffers marginally when the red horns are out is all the more remarkable.
Back in the cut-and-thrust of inner-city peak-hour traffic, the Benz in Comfort mode continued to reveal its driver-orientated yet passenger-focused twin-personalities, zipping in and out of gaps while remaining comfy and composed inside.
Only when parking in tight spots are you truly aware that the W223 is longer than a Mazda CX-9. The optional four-wheel-steering system is claimed to slash the turning circle to A-Class hatchback levels. 10.9 metres is the claim.
The 2021 S-Class never ceases to amaze and delight.
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 W223 S-Class has not been crash-tested yet by ANCAP or European affiliate EuroNCAP, so does not have a star rating. However, Mercedes-Benz claims it has striven to create one of the safety vehicles on the planet. Who are we to argue?
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians, at speeds from 7km/h to over 200km/h), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
The Active Lane Keeping Assist works in a speed range of between 60km/h and 250km/h while Active Steer Assist helps the driver follow the lane at speeds of up to 210km/h.
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.
Unlike many luxury brands that persist with a sub-par three-year warranty, Mercedes-Benz offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Intervals are every year or 25,000km, with a capped price service plan starting at $800 for the first year, $1200 for the second year and $1400 for the third year, totalling $3400. Alternatively, there is a Service Plan starting at $2700 for the first three years (saving $700 from the normal capped-price service plan), $3600 for four years and $5400 for five years.
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.