Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS BMW 6 Series
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
BMW 6 Series
- Heaps of space
- Feels plush
- Good standard equipment
- Feels big on the road
- A bit of a weird car, really
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 6 Series
What happens when you struggle to sell an odd-bod, not-quite-a-coupe, sort-of-a-hatchback, almost-an-SUV model? Well, sometimes it gets axed, and replaced with a new model that bears a new name.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell for the BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, which was formerly the 5 Series GT. It essentially takes the place of the 6 Series Gran Coupe - an alternative to the regular 5 Series sedan that's more attainable than a 7 Series limousine.
Confused? It's not as difficult as all that sounds - you just need to know that this model, the 2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, is supposed to offer a neat alternative to the go-to family luxury car or SUV.
I spent some time in the entry-level 630i to see if it can deliver on that promise. In fact, I spent more than 24 hours driving the BMW 6 Series GT over the past week, and I don't have a sore back, I haven't been left scratching my head over the intended purpose, I haven't been uncomfortable, and I haven't been left wanting for much.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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 6 Series7.6/10
This isn't a car for everyone's tastes, but if you fit in to the buyer group that just doesn't really know what they want in a luxury car, it could be the perfect fit for your family. The 6 Series GT is a practical large prestige car, albeit one that will likely find very few buyers.
Would you consider a genre-bending car like the BMW 6 Series GT? Let us know in the comments section 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 6 Series7/10
There is no denying the 6 Series GT looks better than the old 5 Series GT. It isn't as frumpy, it looks more sporty, and to me it appears to have grown into its identity with more conviction than its predecessor.
That said, I don't necessarily like the look very much - it's a bit like a BMW X6 that has been rounded off a little and lowered down substantially. But I can appreciate some of the finer design aesthetics that it offers up: the frameless windows are a nice touch, and the swooping roofline looks smoother than a duck's back.
Other things like the active grille shutters and the air breathers ahead of the front doors are nice functional touches, and to my eye it lives up to BMW's hope of it looking "smooth but muscular". You can get the 630i with either the M Sport package, like you see here, or the more sedate Luxury Line, which is, well, more luxurious looking.
The M Sport styling and equipment package you see in the images here - with M aero kit and 19-inch wheels (ours had been upgraded to optional 20s) - help out with the athletic look of this very big vehicle.
It's huge in fact. The length of the 630i is 5091mm long, it measures 1902mm wide and sits at 1538mm tall, with a lengthy 3070mm wheelbase.
All that equates to a lot of room in the cabin, and what a sumptuous and delightful place it is to be - leather, wood and plush finishes abound.
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 6 Series9/10
Now, I said before that this is a bit like an X6, but it has heaps better interior space than that SUV.
As soon as you slide into the driver's seat, you feel like your inside a large car. The cabin space is plentiful, and there's an abundance of storage on offer, too: there's a split-lid armrest between the seats, a pair of cupholders, a phone storage nook with wireless charging, and big door pockets with bottle holsters.
In the back you have access to door pockets, a flip-down armrest with cupholders (that middle part of the seat can fold down completely to allow storage of longer items), and there's excellent room on offer. How many seats in the BMW 6 Series GT? Five - like, five full-size seats.
Because the roofline doesn't rake as sharply as a four-door 'coupe', headroom is excellent for adults (even of the 183cm variety, like myself), and legroom and toe room are equally very good. This is bigger in the back than a 5 Series, but maybe not as plush as a 7 Series… so I guess it makes sense numerically for its nomenclature.
Of course you get climate control in the front (and in the rear if you option it), and the materials are excellent. The media screen is tablet-style, proudly displaying 10.25 inches of high-def real estate that is both touch-capacitive and controllable by way of the central rotary controller with touchpad. And get this - you can even use gestures to control certain elements like volume, swiping and changing tracks… but you have to option that.
The fully digital instrument display is bordered by a set of incomplete dial rings, which is just odd. BMW, back yourself - your buyers can handle just having a digital screen in front of them, particularly when it's as good as this one.
This grandiose hatchback's boot is commodious - with the back seats in place it has a huge 610 litres of cargo capacity, which extends to 1800L with the 40/20/40 seats folded down using the quick release levers in the boot area.
There is no spare wheel (the BMW range is fitted with run-flat tyres) but it does have a secondary hidden storage area under the boot floor for hiding items or stowing wet gear, bathers/swimmers or muddy clothes.
For context, the X6 has 580L seats up, 1525L seats down.
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 6 Series6/10
The BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo range starts off with the model tested here, the 630i. It has a list price of $123,500 before on-road costs - and that's whether you buy the M Sport Line or the Luxury Line.
That's quite a lot of money. And while it has a lot of equipment to help justify the cost, the smarter dollars will probably find their way to a more affordable 5 Series.
Standard gear in this spec includes adaptive air suspension with multiple drive modes, a colour head-up display, semi-autonomous parking, adaptive cruise control with steering assistance, auto high-beam LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, DAB+ digital radio, a 16-speaker harman/kardon sound system, a 12.3-inch driver information screen and a 10.25-inch media display with sat nav, Bluetooth and 'BMW ConnectedDrive' online services.
Hey, you even get a panoramic sunroof as standard! Plus there are things like an active rear spoiler, two USB ports and four 12-volt outlets, leather trim, heated front electric seats, electric steering wheel adjustment, keyless entry, push-button start, and an automatic boot.
It also comes loaded with active safety assistance functions - we'll get to that in the safety section below.
Things it's missing at this price point? Well, heated seats are an option, but bundled nicely into the 'Comfort Package' ($3000) which was fitted to our car. The pack includes heated seats front and rear, quad-zone climate control, electric sunblinds for the rear side windows, and electric seat back adjustment. Oh, and BMW continues to gouge consumers $623 for Apple CarPlay (which seemingly didn't work in our car).
The only other 6 Series GT model available is the 640i xDrive, which is again available with the choice of M Sport or Luxury body styling. It's also pretty exxy, with a list price of $148,900, but gets a more performance-focused drivetrain, as well as extra equipment: essentially the Comfort package, plus vented front seats, interior fragrance (eight options), memory settings for the front seats, 20-inch wheels and metallic paint.
Plus the 640i has Sport+ settings - it's probably the wrong car for those - and 'Integral Active Steering' to couple with the all-wheel drive 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.
BMW 6 Series8/10
Under the bonnet of the 630i is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which produces 190kW of power (at 6500rpm) and 400Nm of torque (from 1550-4400rpm). It uses an eight-speed automatic transmission, and is rear-wheel drive.
That may not seem a lot considering the size of this machine, but consider that some of the steamiest four-cylinder hot hatches have nearly the same outputs, and you realise this engine offers up a far-from slouched approach to propulsion.
The 640i xDrive has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged engine with 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque. It gets the same eight-speed auto, but as the xDrive naming indicates, it's all-wheel drive.
But this is the one you'd prefer if you want to hit highway speed in a hurry - the 0-100km/h claim is 5.3 seconds, where the 630i takes a full second longer (6.3sec) according to the company.
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 6 Series7/10
BMW claims fuel use of 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, and you'll need to use 95RON premium unleaded when you fill up.
On my trip with the car, I saw about 9.0L/100km across mostly high-speed driving - some freeway, some highway, some country back road touring, and quite a bit of corners and city stuff thrown in as well. I think that's pretty respectable.
What wasn't so great was the lack of premium fuel in some of the 'away from civilisation' places on my route home. Keep that in mind if planning your own GT long-distance cruise.
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 6 Series7/10
But if you're in BMW's target market - that being older executive buyers who want space and luxury as a priority over thrills at the wheel, you could do a lot worse.
That's because the 6 Series GT lopes along the highway without fuss - the engine easily coping with the demands of overtaking moves, the adjustable drive modes allowing a light steering and wafting suspension feel to wile away the kilometres.
There are 'Comfort' and 'Comfort Plus' modes, but the latter is a bit too spongy and can be boaty feeling. The Comfort setting is made for the highway.
If you decide to deviate from the straight sections, you'll be able to explore a little bit of dynamic range, especially when you dial up the 'Sport' mode, which changes the damper settings, steering weight, throttle and transmission response, and even the digital dials in front of the driver to a more aggressive look.
Our car had the 'Integral Active Steering' setting, which is a variable ratio steering system that includes rear steering - that essentially helps make is more turnable in corners at highway speed, and easier to park at lower speeds. It's difficult to say whether the assistance is excellent or not short of driving a car without the tech, but to this tester it was hard to hide the size and weight (1835kg kerb weight) of the vehicle.
That isn't to say it's clumsy or lumbering - it is actually pretty agile for its dimensions, though it makes a lot more sense on long drives and coastal cruises than it does in the narrow and twisty alpine roads of the Snowy Mountains Highway that I tested it on.
There's good grip from the tyres, and strong response from the powertrain - but if it were my money, and I had to have a 6 Series for whatever reason, I'd be looking towards the 640i model, which has a thumping six-cylinder with 250kW/450Nm - certainly an engine that would be more at home in this car. Plus that model comes with AWD.
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 6 Series9/10
The BMW 6 Series GT range has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test score based on 2017 testing, but it hasn't been scored by ANCAP.
There's the usual array of airbags - dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee airbags are included, plus parking sensors all around, and heaps of safety tech including the 'Driving Assistant Plus' package with lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, auto emergency braking (AEB) front and rear, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go.
That's all great stuff, and so is the 360-degree camera system with adaptive display - so, if you're reversing and you turn the wheel to one side, the image on screen will move, too. It'll also go between a birds-eye view and a backing-up perspective, and that can take some getting used to.
What was less convincing in terms of the user experience was the rear auto braking, which seemed to be scared of the car's own shadow. On multiple occasions the car jammed on the brakes when reversing out of driveways on to empty streets - be it in the normal height, or the raised height setting.
The 6 Series GT has dual ISOFIX anchor points and three top-tether points are there and ready for baby seats or child seats.
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 6 Series8/10
BMW runs a condition-based servicing plan, which means the car will tell you when it needs servicing. But you can rest assured it won't (theoretically) cost you much, with the brand's 'Service Inclusive' pack. It covers you for basic maintenance as and when required for five years/80,000km. According to BMW, that includes "annual vehicle checks, oil changes, all filters, spark plugs and labour costs for the duration of the package".
BMW offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, and you get the same cover for roadside assistance.