Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Audi RS5
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Potent engine
- Supermodel looks
- Premium and polished interior
- Tight rear seat in Coupe
- Gearbox can feel fidgety at speed
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|
Audi's A5 Coupe and Sportback have always been good looking cars. Yes, yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but seriously, just look at one and tell me it's not handsome.
Happily, the just-updated RS5 doesn't just build on the looks of its more sedate sibling, but on the performance, too, adding near-supercar speed to those supermodel looks.
Sounds like a pretty good match, right? Let's find out, shall we?
|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.
Good looking, good to drive, and good to simply sit in, the Audi RS5 range ticks plenty of premium boxes. Whether you can live with the practicality pitfalls of the Coupe is up to you, but if you can't, might I suggest taking a wander over to our RS4 Avant review?
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.
I defy anyone to describe the RS5, and especially the Coupe, as anything but stunning. Seriously, the near perfect proportions and swept-back styling make it look fast even when it's parked.
Up front, there's a new-look black-mesh grille that's been given a 3D effect, like it juts out over the road in front it, while the thing headlights have been carved back into the body work like they're been windswept under hard acceleration.
The 20-inch darkened alloys fill the arches, too, with a sharp body crease that runs from the front headlight all the way back to the bulging shoulder lines above the rear tyres accentuating the curves.
Inside, the RS5 is a sea of black Nappa leather and sporty touches, and we particularly like the chunky, flat-bottomed steering wheel, which both looks - and feels - great.
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.
We only tested the Coupe, and I can tell you that the practicality perks on offer largely depend on where you're sitting.
Up front, you're spoiled for room in the two-door Coupe, with the two spacious seats separated by a sizeable centre console that's also home to two cupholders and a variety of cubbies, with extra bottle storage in each of the front doors.
The back seat, though, is a little, or a lot, tighter, with come acrobatics required to even climb into it, given the Coupe only has two doors. The Sportback offers two more doors, which will surely make the process a little easier.
The Coupe measures 4723mm in length, 1866mm in width and 1372mm in height, and will deliver a decent 410 litres in luggage space in the boot. The Sportback measures in at 4783mm, 1866mm and 1399mm, and boosts your luggage space to 465 litres.
Either vehicle has your tech needs sorted, with an abundance of USB and power outlets serving both front and backseat riders.
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.
It's available as a Coupe or a Sportback, but either way, the RS5 commands a $150,900 asking price. And that's not chump change, but Audi's performance model does come with a lot of bang for those bucks.
We'll get to the engine and safety stuff in a moment, but in terms of fruit, you'll find 20-inch alloys outside, as well sportier RS body styling, sport brakes, Matrix LED headlights, keyless entry and push-button start and heated mirrors, a sunroof and privacy glass. Inside, there's Nappa leather seats (heated in the front), illuminated door sills, stainless steel pedals and ambient interior lighting.
The tech stuff is handled by a new 10.1-inch central touchscreen that gets both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Audi's Virtual Cockpit, which replaces the dials in the driver's binnacle with a digital screen. There's also wireless phone charging, and a killer 19-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system.
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.
Its a terrific engine, this - a twin-turbo 2.9-litre six-cylinder TFSI that will deliver 331kW at 5700rpm and 600Nm at 1900rpm, sending it thundering to all four wheels (because quattro) via an eight-speed tiptronic automatic.
That's enough, says Audi, to deliver a 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.9 seconds in the Coupe and the Sportback. Which is very, very quick.
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.
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.
With our time behind the wheel limited to the RS5 Coupe, we can only really report on how the two-door feels on the road, but given the prodigious power on offer, it's unlikely the addition of two doors is going to make the Sportback any slower.
In short, the RS5 is thunderously fast, collecting speed with utter nonchalance thanks to this thick and endless-feeling supply of power unleashed whenever you plant your right foot.
It makes even the most ham-fisted attempts at cornering feel fast as lightning, with the power flow able to make up for every slow entry and exit by simply piling on pace between bends.
But that's what you expect from an RS model, right? So perhaps more impressive is the RS5's ability to transform back into a relatively sedate urban cruiser when the red mist subsides. The suspension is firm, especially over rough road surfaces, and you do need to be a little careful with the accelerator to avoid that lurching feeling at every green light, but driven calmly, it doubles as a everyday car quite nicely.
Like in the RS4, we did find the gearbox felt a little quick to change at pace, shifting up or down at strange moments on the way into or out of corners, but you can reclaim control via the paddle shifters.
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 safety story begins with six (Coupe) or eight (Sportback), and the usual suite of braking and traction aids, but then climbs into the tech-savvy stuff from there.
You get a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise with stop and go, active lane assist, front and rear parking sensors, AEB with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, an exit warning system, blind-spot monitoring and turn assist, which monitors oncoming traffic when making a turn.
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 vehicles are covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is feeling more than a little underdone when compared to some competitors.
Services are due every 12 months or 15,000kms, and Audi allows you to pre-pay your service costs for the first five years, at a cost of $3,050.