Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Audi S5
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- 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
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|
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|
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.