Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Audi TT
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- 294kW five-cylinder engine
- Great dynamics
- Decent boot for the segment
- No AEB
- Four star 2015 ANCAP rating
- No central media screen
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|
When the Audi TT first arrived in 1998 it looked cute… seriously cute, like a car-version-of-a-koala cute. Then over the next couple of decades it grew out of that cuteness into something more menacing looking and the RS versions were well, Google 'drop bear' and you're pretty much on the money.
Now the new TT RS is here looking more grown up and angrier than ever, but does it have the mechanical mumbo to match the aggro appearance? Does it have back seats? Or even a boot? Could you drive one every day without buying your chiropractor a new Porsche? Actually, why wouldn't you just by a Porsche yourself, I mean a 718 Cayman S costs about the same?
Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.5L 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 Audi TT RS is iconic for its design and should be heaped with praise for its dynamic ability, it's also more practical than many of its rivals offering back seats and a good-sized boot for the class. But despite this latest update the TT RS has fallen behind in advanced safety technology and cabin equipment such as the lack of a media screen.
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.
Let's start with the looks, seeing as I went on about them so much in the introduction.
This update has seen changes in all the places you'd expect a facelift to cover. There's a new front-end design with a new mesh grille, even larger supercar-like air intakes, a redesigned front splitter and sleeker headlights.
There are also new side skirts, while the rear of the car has more contoured styling and a beefier diffuser.
The tough styling is part of what sets an RS model apart from its more domesticated siblings in the range. There are also the wheels - regular TTs come standard with 18- or 19-inch alloys, the TT RS has 20-inch rims with red RS brake calipers. If you're still uncertain if you're looking at a TT RS then you can be sure you are if it has a fixed rear wing.
Then there's RS engineering which we'll get to in the engine and driving sections. But let's dive into the cabin which has also been updated with a new RS steering wheel, there's the leather RS seats, with the door and console trimmed in leather and aluminum with carbon twill inlays.
The lack of a central media screen means all media, phone and nav menus and displays can only be viewed on the digital instrument cluster. Audi calls this a driver-focused cockpit, I call it marketing spin. I mean a Porsche 911 has a central media screen and you don't get much more of a driver-focused car than that.
I do like the air vents which have the climate control modes within them. I also like that there are back seats – but more on the practicality later.
The TT RS looks bigger in photos than it really is. End-to-end it's only 4191mm long and just 1344mm tall but at 1832mm 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 TT RS is a four-seater coupe with a hatch tailgate.
I'm 191cm (6'3") tall and there is no way I can sit behind my driving position, but my size is irrelevant here - there's almost zero legroom back there and not even small children are going to have enough space.
Yes, the TT RS isn't a family car, but at CarsGuide we rate all cars for practicality and spaciousness as well as what they're like to drive. That said the TT RS is more practical and spacious than a Porsche Cayman and the BMW Z4 which don't have rear seats at all.
The cargo capacity of the TT RS's boot is 305 litres, which isn't bad at all.
Cabin storage isn't good. The door pockets are small, the centre console bin is only big enough for a wallet but the hidey hole under the dash is useful.
That hidey hole also has a 12V outlet, a USB port and a wireless charger.
This is an obvious point, but the TT RS is low to the ground. The good news is the doors are large and the bubble-like roofline means I never hit my head on the A-pillar as I have with many sports cars.
That roofline also means headroom is good for the driver and co-pilot, although, again, your friends in the rear seat are going to have another reason not to invite you over any more.
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 TT RS lists for $134,900. While that makes it the most expensive TT, when it comes to horsepower, bang for your buck is excellent compared to Porsche's 718 Cayman S which lists for $140,590 and has 257kW.
The 718 Cayman GTS matches the TT RS's 294kW but costs $172K. That said, the BMW Z4 has 285kW and lists for $127,900 and while Mercedes-AMG doesn't really have a TT RS rival it does have the A45 S with 310kW and a list price of $93,600. Also, in that price range is the Z4's Toyota twin – the Supra with 250kW for $94,536. Don't scoff – it's a superb driver's car.
Let's get back to the TT RS. What comes standard? Features include 20-inch seven-spoke 'matt titanium-look' alloy wheels with red RS brake calipers, RS sport suspension with magnetically adjustable dampers, there's the RS sports exhaust system, privacy glass, leather upholstery, a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker sound system, wireless charging and 12.3-inch instrument cluster.
The standard RS seats are Nappa leather, the front ones are heated and power adjustable, there's the leather RS steering wheel, proximity key, front and rear parking sensors, Matrix LED headlights and dual-zone climate control.
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 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the TT RS is one of my favoruite Audi powerplants and calls the RS 3 and RS Q3 home, too. It's loud, energetic and churns out a whopping 294kW of power and 480Nm of torque. That's enough to get the TT RS from 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds.
Is the engine in the front or the back? Not such a silly question when you look at the design of the car and you're new to TTs, but the engine is in the front.
It's not the most powerful engine in the RS model line-up, but I can tell you having driven the TT RS back-to-back with Audi's R8 super car it's one of the most fun powerplants.
You can mash the accelerator pedal on a straight bit of road and not fear that the TT RS will snap and bite you – it's not too much power in that it's controllable with superb all-wheel drive traction.
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.
Well you already know I love that five-cylinder engine – seriously you could put it in a loaf of bread, and it'd probably be awesome to drive.
Yes, sure the front end in the TT RS felt a bit heavier than I remembered and the nose didn't have that light pick-up-and-point feeling many sports cars have, but on the hill climb section of the test route especially, this coupe was seriously adept through the switchbacks.
Our convoy of test cars included everything from the Audi R8 and new RS Q3 to the RS 7 and RS 6 Avant motherships. And while nothing nails a great road like the R8, the TT RS was eating up the twists while the RS 7 and RS 6 freight trains were struggling with the physics of mass, size, and velocity in those tight corners.
The TT RS felt tight, stable, but agile as it scampered and weaved its way up hills. I'd like the steering to have more feel. Still there's enough feedback through the cabin and the seat to give the driver a good connection with the road.
Is it comfortable to drive? No. I found the standard RS seats too snug for me (to be fair I'm not race-car driver petite), and the ride over the typical Aussie course bitumen and pot-holed country roads made the cabin shake and rattle, along with my bones.
The ride comfort though is what you can expect out of a sports car like this and it's another reason why the TT RS is more than just a sporty coupe with red brake calipers. There's the RS sports suspension with magnetic adjustable dampers, the RS sports exhaust system and big brakes – 370mm discs on the front with eight piston calipers and 310mm discs at the rear which slow things down super quickly.
If you are after something less 'hardcore' there's the TT S or consider the RS Q3 small SUV which has the same five-cylinder engine and can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.5 seconds, but has softer suspension for a comfier ride, while being dynamically impressive in the corners. Oh, and you'll have way more room inside, too. Let's talk about that.
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 gave the Audi TT a rating of four stars out of a maximum of five when it was tested in 2015. The level of child occupant protection was insufficient for a five-star rating and according to the ANCAP report this was mainly due to the limited space in the rear seat.
There are two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor mounts for child seats in the second row.
Compared with most new cars the TT RS has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB or adaptive cruise control, nor is there rear cross traffic alert, but there is blind spot warning and lane keeping assistance.
The TT RS has electronic stability control and ABS, and emergency brake assist (this isn't AEB). The safety features in that sentence haven't been mentioned in one of my reviews in years, and that's because there's not much else for me to list, apart from airbags which only cover the front passengers.
This lack of safety equipment especially for a car which lists for $135K is the reason why the TT RS has scored poorly in this section.
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 TT RS 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 with a three-year plan ($2320) or five-year plan ($3420) available.