Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS BMW M3
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Super-sweet engine
- Steering and suspension fantastic
- Looks mean in the metal
- Key safety stuff missing
- Expensive, and worse when you start ticking options
- Desert-levels sparse in the backseat
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|
If you’ve got a thirst for power that would make Vladimir Putin seem benign, you’ll likely find the BMW M3 a little underwhelming, what with its measly 331kW/550Nm and a propensity to spin the rear tyres into rubber-flinging oblivion with each traction control-free prod of the accelerator.
Happily, there's now a solution. Enter the M3 CS (Competition Sport); a track-ready special edition that ups the performance ante right across the board, with more power, stiffer suspension, better aero and the kind of angry exhaust note that sets tectonic plates a-rumbling.
So, is more M3 never enough? Or is the new CS too angry for its own good?
|Engine Type||3.0L 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.
The biggest, baddest M3 is also the very best of the current breed. It's a specialist tool, sure, but if you're in the market for a track-attack sedan that will paint a smile on your face, even while striking fear into your heart, then look no further.
Jump into a BMW M3 CS or wait until next month for the new Merc-AMG C 63 S? Tell us what you think 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.
Interesting, you say? Well, just look at it. The massively domed bonnet, the flared wheel guards, the blacked-out roof, the quad exhaust tips - this thing looks wild from every angle. BMW tells us you can actually swap the lightweight roof for a traditional version with a sunroof, but why on earth would you?
The dome bonnet is fitted with a massive rear-facing vent that sucks hot air off the engine, while the carbon front splitter emerges from the bottom of the grille as if the CS is forever jutting out its jaw. At the rear, the carbon wing is peaked at each end, again aiding aero efficiency, while four fat and centred exhaust tips complete a pretty angry-looking package.
The design across the board is not what you'd call understated, and it likely won't appeal to everyone, but I think it looks the absolute business.
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.
Every bit as practical as any other M3, really, which is impressive given the outrageous performance.
There are some sacrifices made in pursuit of weight loss, of course. There's no centre-console storage (replaced by a strip of Alcantara and a single, lonely USB charge point), and backseat riders lose air vents, power and just about everything else. The good news, then, is that there's space a-plenty back there, with enough head and legroom behind my own 176cm driving position.
But up front, the M3 CS is a comfortable and spacious place to spend time. There are twin cupholders, too, as well as room in each of the doors for bottles. The navigation and multimedia systems are straight-forward and easy to use, as are the performance-focused functions.
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.
At $179,900, the CS sets a new top-price for the M3 family, well above the $146,529 of the Competition version and miles clear of the entry-level Pure ($129,529). And so you might think you get much more for your money, but you would be wrong. In fact, you get much less.
This is a car designed with the relentless pursuit of performance in mind, so expect few extra luxuries - all of which would add weight. Instead, you get more power (of course), as well as a quad-tipped exhaust tuned to sound like the world is ending around you.
Semi-slick Michelin Cup tyres, lighter alloys, a race-focused bonnet (which, along with the roof, is made from a carbon-fibre/plastic composite, helping shave 10kg off the curb weight), some clever aero tech at the rear and lighter cabin materials also join the the standard features list.
Outside, expect staggered alloys (19-inch front, 20-inch rear), adaptive LED headlights and keyless entry. Inside, you'll find air-conditioning, navigation and a 12-speaker harman/kardon stereo controlled through an 8.8-inch screen.
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 M3’s twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six engine has been tweaked to produce 338kW and a stonking 600Nm of tyre-frying torque. It’s channeled through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and sent to the rear wheels.
That’s enough, BMW says, for a blistering 3.9sec sprint from 0-100km/h, with the CS pushing on to a flying top speed of 280km/h.
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 reckons you'll return 8.5L/100km on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions pegged at 198g/km. But we politely disagree. We drove the CS in the fashion we imagine everyone will - or at least should, and our numbers were a little higher than that. Like three times higher.
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.
The best performance cars straddle a razor-thin line between exhilarating and terrifying, and the M3 CS definitely parks an axle on either side of the divide.
It's not for the faint-hearted, the CS; it can be an angry, twitchy, rear-grip-relinquishing handful. And not just when you're overly aggressive on the exit of a corner (though also definitely then), but even when you plant your foot on a dead-straight, perfectly smooth and bone-dry patch of tarmac.
As a result, your heart is almost always beating just a little bit faster being the wheel, almost from the moment you slip into the driver’s seat and prod the start button, the exhaust barking into life like a whip cracking in your eardrum.
So intimidating at times, sure. But also huge handfuls of fun. The M3 (and the M3 Competition) experience has been fine tuned to near-enough perfection in the CS formula, from the super direct steering to the thunderous flow of power to the booming exhaust.
This is not a car built for suburban exploring, but BMW deserves credit for making its CS feel pretty liveable when it’s not being driven in anger. The suspension tuning especially, while you’d never accuse it of being overly comfortable, does a surprisingly good job of soaking up corrugations and bumps while still feeling ever-connected to the road below.
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.
Another victim of the performance goals here, I'm afraid, with everything that can be removed, removed - hell, even the reversing camera has been punted.
Instead, the safety package consists of front, and front-side airbags and a performance-focused traction and braking package. Parking sensors front and rear, active cruise and speed-limit recognition round out a fairly basic package.
The rest of the BMW range received the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when crash tested in 2012.
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's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty applies here, with a "condition-based servicing" schedule that means you're car will tell you when work is required. You can prepay your servicing costs for the first five years of ownership, spanning $3350 to $8450 depending on your level of coverage.