Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS BMW 5 Series
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
BMW 5 Series
- Engaging dynamics
- Top-notch interiors
- Clever technology across the range
- Price hikes on almost every model
- Six-cylinder engine reserved for most expensive models
- Apple CarPlay a cost option
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|
BMW 5 Series
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new BMW 5 Series 520d, 530i, 530d and 540i sedans with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Victoria.
When we're all living under the cruel rule of our robot overlords, the few remaining human historians will track the genesis of our downfall to the technology explosion that occurred in 2017's new-car market.
Never before have car companies focused so hard on producing cars that can't just be driven, but that can drive themselves, negotiating corners, unexpected obstacles and changing traffic conditions without ever needing to consult the human actually sitting behind the steering wheel.
And BMW's all-new 5 Series sedan takes yet another a step forward, eliminating the need for said human to even be sitting in the car. Owners can instead move their 5 Series in and out of tight parking spaces simply by pressing a button on their key.
The Active Key function is admittedly a $1,600 cost option, but it proves the techno-focus applied to the seventh-generation of BMW's executive express, which will land in Australian dealerships this month. Every car is also fitted with what the German brand calls its personal co-pilot; a series of nifty cameras and radars that allow the car to be driven completely autonomously for spells of 30 seconds.
But the question is, has all this new technology come at the cost of regular, old-school driver enjoyment?
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
BMW 5 Series7.9/10
Sleek and attractive in the city, engaging on a country back road and with plenty of clever technology, the 5 Series sedan ticks all the right boxes as an executive express. If you can stomach the price hike, the six-cylinder 540i is our pick of the bunch.
Would a new 5 Series tempt you away from an E-Class or A6? 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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
Hardly a revolution, the 5 Series has instead undergone a few nips and tucks. But if it ain't broke and all that. It might not be the most head-turning offering, but the 5 Series sedan remains sleek, powerful and understated, and it is undeniably handsome on the road.
Its 8mm wider, 28mm longer and 2mm taller than the car it replaces, but it's also around 95kg lighter, thanks to its aluminium doors and boot and a clever magnesium frame for the instrument panel that saved another two kilograms. There's some other clever design elements, too. The kidney grille has active air flaps that open when extra cooling is required, closing when it isn't, reducing drag and helping accleration.
Inside, the 5 Series offers a beautifully crafted yet joyously understated cabin, with quality materials joining modern technology in a seamless way.
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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
This is a full-size sedan, and every seat feels spacious and airy. The sloping, slightly coupe-style roofline does cut into headroom in the back, but human-sized people will have little trouble, even sitting behind a tall driver.
Each trim offers two cupholders in the front, with another two housed in a pull-down divider that seperates the rear seat. And there's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
The 5 Series' boot opens to rival a surprisingly sizeable storage space, offering 530 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seats in place.
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.
BMW 5 Series7/10
BMW's venerable 5 Series is now 45 years old, and this all-new model arrives in four distinct flavours, with a fifth - an incoming M5 performance sedan - still some way off.
For now, though, the range kicks off with the 520d, before stepping up what BMW hopes to be the big seller of the range, the 530i (replacing the outgoing 528i). Next up is biggest diesel, the 530d (replacing the the 535d), before the current range tops out with the petrol-powered 540i (replacing the old 535i).
Be warned though, there's been some pretty serious price increases right across the line up, ranging from $9,145 to a whopping $19,245. In fact, only the 530d has seen its price come down, now $3,755 cheaper than the outgoing 535d. BMW justifies the hikes by pointing to an increase in standard inclusions across the range.
The 520d kicks off from $93,900, and arrives predictably well equipped for your money. Expect 18-inch alloys, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and a 12-speaker stereo. You'll also get a technology overhaul, with a bigger and upgraded Head Up display (it can now read street signs and beam that info onto the screen), a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a wireless (insert link to chi charger story) charging pad.
Step up to the 530i ($108,900) or 530d ($119,900) and you'll add 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers with dynamic mode (that reads both driver input and navigation data and tweak suspension, gear and steering settings automatically) a 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and a crystal-clear 12.3 high-resolution digital display in the driver's binnacle. You'll also find heated front seats, a powered boot and sports seats in the front.
Finally, spring for the 540i ($136,900) and you'll get 20-inch alloys, a sunroof and electric blinds for the rear windows. You'll also find better Nappa leather on the seats, which now also offer a cooling function. Under the skin, you'll get an active anti-roll bar at each axle designed to keep the car from rolling side-to-side on the twisty stuff.
One quirk, however, is the fact that BMW's very cool wireless Apple CarPlay is a cost option on every trim level, and one that will set you back $479.
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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
The hunt for efficiency sees all but the most expensive 5 Series models equipped with four-cylinder engines, including the entry-level 520d, which is fitted with a 2.0-litre diesel unit that will produce 140kW at 4,000rpm and 400Nm from 1,750rpm. That's enough to push the cheapest 5 Series to 100km/h in a not particularly inspiring 7.5 seconds, topping out at 235km/h.
The cheapest petrol, the 530i, arrives with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 185kW at 5,200rpm and 350Nm from 1,450rpm. That will see you clip 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.
The 530d introduces the first six-cylinder engine, a 3.0-litre unit that will produce 195kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 620Nm from 2,000rpm. That's enough to knock off the sprint in in 5.7 seconds and offers a top speed limited to 250km/h.
Finally, the top-spec petrol, the 540i, will produce 250kW at 5,500rpm and 450Nm from 1,380rpm from its 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine. Those are healthy numbers, and enough to welcome 100km/h in a sprightly 5.1 seconds before topping out a limited 250km/h.
Every model is paired with an eight-speed torque converter 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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW quotes a combined 4.3 litres per hundred kilometres from the 520d, which will also spit out 114g per kilometre of C02. The 530d lifts that number to 4.7 litres per hundred kilometres (which seems a small price to pay for all that extra torque), with C02 pegged at 124g per kilometre. Both diesels get a slightly smaller tank, at 66 litres.
The 530i will sip a claimed/combined 5.8 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 emissions a claimed 132g per kilometre, while the big 540i requires 6.7 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 pegged at 154g per kilometre. Both petrol models get a 68-litre tank and require 95RON fuel.
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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW's pre-drive briefing was so technology focused we half expected the black turtle neck and dad jean-wearing ghost of Steve Jobs to emerge from behind a curtain clutching an iPad. Only a minuscule portion was dedicated to the cars' drivetrains, with BMW instead hammering home autonomy functions, technology upgrades and the fact that its car was a preview to "the future".
But once we'd slipped behind the wheel of the all-new 5 Series, it all started to make more sense. Having briefly sampled three models (the 530i, 530d and 540i), we can safely report there's nothing particularly revolutionary about their on-road behaviour. That's not necessarily a bad thing - they do everything you could ask of a car in this bracket. They're mostly smooth and always quiet, the new chassis has done nothing to dampen engagement when you start to ask a little more of it, and it's generally a luxurious experience. But then so was the old car.
But what's new is the technology poured into the 5 Series. Every car gets what BMW is calling its personal co-pilot, for example, which is a set of tricky systems (there's six cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors scattered around the car) that work with the active cruise control and allow the car to be driven completely autonomous for 30-second intervals. Now, it's not quite as advanced as some of its competitor's systems - it can't change lanes for example - but if you're out on a country road or on a highway, it will stay within its lane, turn around corners and keep up with the traffic, even if they stop in front of you.
While the cheapest diesel model has historically been the best seller, BMW is hoping the new 530i will prove the most popular this time around. And while you couldn't describe it as fast, the power from its four-cylinder engine is ample for all that will likely be asked of it, and it feels sorted and composed on more challenging roads. It's a smooth and comfortable ride, too, even with the optional 20-inch alloys fitted, though that's undoubtedly thanks to the adaptive dampers and ever-changing dynamic ride function, both of which are fitted as standard. In fact, we're yet to drive a car without those options fitted, so we're forced to reserve judgement on the as-standard ride quality of the cheaper models.
Be warned though, none in the 5 Series range offer the disconnected and perfectly smooth conveyance you might find in some true luxury offerings, and you'll still know when you're diving into deep pockmarks in the road. But the trade off is a an engaging ride and steering set up that always feels planted, with enough feedback to ensure you feel connected to what's happening beneath the tyres. And that's a trade we're more than willing to make.
Step up to the 540i and things take a much sportier turn. The turbocharged six-cylinder feels right at home in a car this size, with acceleration effortless and freeway overtaking manoeuvres an absolute breeze. And while we didn't find roads quite brutal enough to really test the active anti-roll bars housed at each axle, there's a wonderful and stable flatness to the way the biggest petrol handles corners.
It's not cheap, but thanks to the bigger engine and sorted dynamics, the 540i feels most like a 5 Series probably should.
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.
BMW 5 Series9/10
Expect plenty of clever safety gear, with every 5 Series sedan arriving with six airbags (dual front and full-length side airbags, along with head protection bags for front passengers). You'll also find a surround-view reversing camera and parking sensors.
But the high-tech stuff arrives courtesy of active cruise control, cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist and cross-road alerts.
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.
BMW 5 Series7/10
The BMW 5 Series is covered by a three year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires condition-based servicing (rather than a pre-defined service interval).
You can also prepay your maintenance costs for five years/80,000kms, with prices ranging from $1,640 for the basic package, and climbing to $4,600 for the all-inclusive option.