Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS BMW M4
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Adaptive suspension
- Ripping dual-clutch auto
- No AEB
- Awkward access to tight rear seats
- So-so warranty
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 it comes to cars, the letters B, M, and W carry huge credibility. But the extra letters and numbers that follow make all the difference.
A second M for example, means the hot rodders in the Munich maker's performance and racing skunkworks have played with everything from the drivetrain, aero and suspension, to the rims, rubber and interior design.
The number sitting next to it then determines whether you're looking at a compact firecracker (M2), fast-lane monster (M5), or bruising family truckster (X6 M). But every now and then some additional letters find their way onto even a BMW M car's bootlid.
In this case, a C and an S are significant additions to the already impressive M4 badge. They stand for Coupe Sport and were famously applied to BMW's achingly beautiful (E9) coupes of the late 1960s and early '70s.
So, with the howling echo of that all-time classic's in-line six ringing in its ears, the new M4 CS stands up as a proper high-performance coupe, pitched against the likes of Audi's recently reborn RS 5, the Lexus RC F, and Merc-AMG's soon-to-arrive C 63 S Coupe.
Does the CS legend live? Read on to find out.
|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 BMW M4 CS is every bit as fast and engaging as you'd expect it to be. But be prepared for the day-to-day compromises that go with its pared back interior layout. It's beautifully engineered and dynamically excellent, but will have its hands full when Merc-AMG's similarly sized and priced (updated) C 63 S Coupe arrives shortly to rattle its cage.
Is the BMW M4 CS your kind of four-seat sledgehammer? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW offers the 'Service Inclusive' program, a one-off advance payment to cover scheduled costs at the 'Basic' or 'Plus' level.
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.
The M4 in either entry-level Pure, or next-step-up Competition spec already looks like John Cena in a 10-year-old's t-shirt, with muscular bumps, curves and cuts extending aggressively in all directions. From its bulbous 'power dome' bonnet, to the pumped-up guards and gaping vents, the M4 screams 'don't argue'.
But this CS version borrows heavily from the track-focused M4 GTS (phased out earlier this year) and dials the aggro up a few notches.
A Matterhorn-sized bulge in the centre of the lightweight CFRP (Carbon-Fibre Reinforced Plastic) bonnet descends towards a broad air extraction vent that could double as a stormwater drain in bad weather.
The front, exposed carbon splitter is a slightly less accentuated version of the GTS's race-ready set-up, and the signature kidney grille is finished in menacing gloss black.
That black finish, part of the standard BMW Individual 'Shadow Line' package, also extends to the side-window trim, window recess covers, and vents on the front wings.
CFRP (unpainted this time) reappears on the roof, and an exposed carbon Gurney flap-style spoiler adds a touch of flash and aero efficiency to the bootlid. A nice match for the carbon diffuser below.
Suitably wide black alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) further enhance the intimidating look, with twin LED headlights and an 'Organic rear lighting system', the latter another lift from the GTS, delivering an impressively vivid display.
The interior is familiar BMW territory, but it does feel like you've had a nasty break-up and your significant other has filled the moving van with all the luxury bits.
The leather and Alcantara trimmed sports seats are classy and racy enough, but the door cards are made from a natural-fibre composite BMW calls 'Nawaro'. There are no storage pockets, and you get a webbing strap to help pull the door closed.
Super lo-fi, and bafflingly, the 'armrest' slopes downward at an angle that, despite an Alcantara-trimmed pad, makes it just about impossible to actually rest your arm on it. Perhaps it adds some wheel-twirling elbow room, but for the other 99 per cent of the time it's just annoying.
Although trimmed in contrast-stitched Alcantara, the centre console is also a rudimentary affair, with no storage box between the front seats or adjustable air vents for rear-seat passengers. It might be good for weight saving, but it's not so great in terms of day-to-day practicality (which we'll get to shortly).
There's more Alcantara on the M Sport steering wheel (a leather wheel is a no-cost option) and dash-panel insert, with the CS designation neatly called out in mosaic-style lettering near the centre stack.
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.
When it comes to cars, practicality is a subjective area. The M4 CS offers plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, with room for two more in the back, as well as a decent boot. Practical, right?
But day-to-day details make all the difference and the drive to simplify the CS's cabin and reduce the car's overall weight has seen many common interior-storage options deleted.
The price CS owners pay for racy minimalism is a complete absence of door bins, no lidded box between the front seats, and no oddments tray in the middle of the centre console. Just a pair of cupholders ahead of the gearshift, and a shallow tray beyond that.
If you and a friend get into the car each carrying a standard load of personal junk like a phone, keys, wallet, and a beverage of some description, capacity is immediately exceeded.
Yes, you can shove all that 'stuff' into the (medium-sized) glove box, and that's probably the safer option anyway. But it's not as convenient as slipping things into strategically placed bins and boxes.
In terms of charging/connectivity there's a 12-volt outlet between the cupholders, and a single USB port oddly placed towards the rear of the centre console.
And while there are two seats in the back, getting to them requires the flexibility of a side-show contortionist, and the patience of a Tesla Model 3 reservation holder (the electric system that slides the front seat forward is glacially slow).
Even once you've managed to thread the needle through to the back, headroom is tight, so it's fine for kids and an occasional-only option for grown-ups. There are no cupholders or even a fold-down centre armrest back there, but there is a small, open oddments tray between the seats.
A cargo net is standard, there are four tie-down anchors, a small netted storage section behind the passenger side wheel tub, a cubby on the opposite side, shopping-bag hooks and conveniently placed handles, which release the 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs to liberate more room.
Don't bother looking for a spare wheel of any description. A repair/inflator kit is your only option.
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.
In a classic less-is-more (money) scenario, the $189,529 BMW M4 CS cops a decent serving of standard features, but misses out on some of the luxury trimmings included on the next-rung-down M4 Competition ($156,710).
Standard inclusions run to adaptive LED headlights (including 'BMW Selective Beam' anti-dazzle tech), adaptive M suspension, combination 'Merino' leather/Alcantara seat trim, Alcantara-wrapped 'M' sports steering wheel (with blue/red stitching), a configurable head-up display, a 'BMW Individual' Anthracite roofliner, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry and start), plus the 'iDrive6' multimedia system (managed via controller, touch or voice) running through an 8.8-inch, high-definition screen.
There are also big 10-spoke forged alloy rims, front-seat heating, sat nav, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park distance control, 'Surround View' parking assist, and the 'BMW ConnectedDrive' suite ('BMW Connected+' smartphone app, real-time traffic info, concierge services, and more).
That's a heavyweight equipment list for a car that's all about lightness. Inside, besides the basic door and centre console arrangement, the other significant concessions to kilo stripping are a 'specially adapted' 12-speaker version of Harman/Kardon's 'Surround Sound' audio system with DAB+ digital radio (16-speaker in the Competition), and a simplified, single-zone climate control set-up (dual-zone in the Competition).
Kind of like the CEO wearing a Swatch watch; they're wealthy and powerful, but 'all about performance', so they wear a functional, conspicuously un-flashy timepiece. They still live in a $10m penthouse apartment, though.
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.
Like its E9 coupe forbear, the M4 CS is powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine, but things have moved on over the last 50 years, and the current (S55) engine offers a mechanical case study in the marriage of high-performance and efficiency.
The all-alloy unit features direct injection and twin turbos, the key drivers behind a stonking 600Nm of maximum torque (50kW up on the M4 Competition), available from 4000-5380rpm, and peak power of 338kW (+7kW), arriving at 6250 rpm.
It also features a 'charge air' (air-to-air) intercooler, 'Double Vanos' variable cam timing, and 'Valvetronic' variable valve lift (inlet and exhaust side).
The sleeveless cylinders use 'Electric Arc Wire Spray' technology to form a thin coating of iron on the cylinder walls, to save weight (no cast-iron liners) and reduce manufacturing complexity. And the engine's closed-deck design increases the block's torsional rigidity, enabling a substantial 10.2:1 compression ratio and use of a lightweight, forged crankshaft.
Transmission is a seven-speed 'M Double-Clutch' (M DCT) dual-clutch auto, complete with dedicated oil cooler, and drive is distributed across the rear axle via an electronically controlled, multi-plate 'Active M Differential'.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.3L/100km, the twin-turbo six emitting 194g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway driving (much of it 'enthusiastic') we recorded 10.9L/100km (at the bowser) An impressive number for such a strongly performance-focused machine.
Minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 60 litres of it to fill the tank.
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.
Let's get it out of the way. The M4 CS is fast. Anything running 0-100km/h in less than four seconds gains admission to a seriously rapid club, and BMW claims 3.9sec for this car (an exact match for the soon-to-arrive Merc-AMG C63 S Coupe).
We might have given the standard launch-control system a go, and may be able to confirm straight-line acceleration from step-off will compress your chest like an over-zealous lifesaver at CPR practice.
But just as impressive is the in-gear thrust, with 80km/h to licence loss (120km/h) covered in only 3.4sec. Which plays to the twin-turbo six's strength, with maximum torque arriving at a relatively high 4000rpm, and remaining on tap until 5380rpm.
Power doesn't reach its peak until 6250rpm, with the rev ceiling sitting at 7600rpm; impressively high for a twin-turbo engine.
Everything from the DSC, ABS, and active suspension to the active diff, electrically assisted steering and seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission has been tuned specifically for the M4 CS.
The 'M DCT' auto is agreeably civilised at parking speeds, yet shifts positively and rapidly, especially in manual mode, under pressure at higher pace.
An M Sport exhaust system features electronically controlled flaps sitting directly in front of the rear mufflers, and varies the intensity of the accompanying soundtrack according to drive mode and level of aggression. It sounds suitably angry, but those hoping for the soaring purity of say the (S54) naturally aspirated in-line six found under the bonnet of the E46 M3 will be left hankering for the good old days.
Front suspension is a modified MacPherson strut design, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and data from wheel-acceleration sensors on each corner is used to recalibrate each damper's setting every 2.5 milliseconds.
The drivetrain, suspension and steering can each be dialled into 'Comfort', 'Sport' or 'Sport+' modes, and the CS's ride changes markedly in the switch from Comfort to Sport; the former proving compliant and smooth rolling over rough city surfaces, and the latter keeping things reassuringly buttoned down on a B-road blast.
Although BMW says that, unlike the M4 GTS, it has deliberately steered the M4 CS away from a focus on the circuit (no roll cage, no adjustable splitters or spoilers) we'd suggest it's best to keep the Sport+ suspension setting for track days unless you're already planning on replacing some of your older fillings.
Speaking of track days, BMW says the M4 CS's dynamics were “honed on the Nurburgring Nordschleife” where it's recorded a best lap time of 7:38, which is as fast as a Ferrari 458 Italia and Lexus LFA. That's very, very impressive.
At 1580kg the M4 CS is 35kg lighter than the M4 Competition (1615kg), and just five kegs under the Pure (1585kg), so despite all the light-weighting hype it's worth remembering we're still looking at a car tipping the scales at just under 1.6 tonnes.
The electromechanical steering can also be tuned through the three performance modes, and Sport delivers the best combination of quick turn-in, agreeably linear assistance and decent road feel.
But putting the CS's power down out of even moderately quick, tight corners is less convincing. The big forged-alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) are shod with ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (265/35 front – 285/30 rear).
Squeezing the power in smoothly but quickly, the semi-slick tyres feel like they need more heat in them. Without going anywhere near the DSC's more taily 'M Dynamic' modes, and despite the active diff, the rear of the car will squirm when fed full throttle acceleration on corner exit, unsettling overall balance. Less edgy Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres are a no-cost option.
The standard M sport front seats look the part (the M4 logos in the backrest illuminate!) and grip firmly without any discomfort for this 183cm tester.
And when it comes to slowing everything down, the standard brakes run to big ventilated discs front and rear, clamped by four-piston calipers at the front, and two-piston at the rear.
Our test example was optioned with the $15,000 'M carbon ceramic' package featuring humungous carbon rotors, thumping six-piston calipers up front, and four-piston rear. For that money you'd expect Le Mans-style braking performance, and while we didn't exactly put them to a 24-hour high-speed test, firm application of the left-hand pedal will consistently stand the car on its nose.
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.
The BMW 4 Series (and by extension the M4 CS) hasn't been assessed for crash safety by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but boasts a solid array of active and passive safety tech, with several notable omissions.
To help you avoid a crash the M4 CS features ABS, brake assist, EBA, EBD, 'Cornering Brake Control' (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and dry braking, 'Emergency stop signal', lane-departure warning and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
M4 owners also receive a complimentary BMW Intensive Driving Experience course (one person per vehicle purchase), which is arguably the best crash prevention measure of all.
But significantly, there's no AEB (Auto Emergency Braking) or other, more recent safety bits and pieces (found on other current BMW models) like blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, fatigue detection, reverse collision avoidance, or speed-sign recognition and warning.
If all else fails and a collision is unavoidable passive safety tech runs to head and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as curtain airbags covering front and rear. But again, things like an active bonnet and active front head restraints, fitted elsewhere in the BMW world, are MIA.
There are ISOFIX child-restraint anchors with top tether points in each of the rear seat positions.
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.
Warranty cover is three years/unlimited km, with 24/7 roadside assistance included for three years, and additional support from BMW 'Servicemobiles' (07:00 – 23:00 every day) staffed by trained techs and stocked with key service parts.
Maintenance on all BMW 4 Series models is controlled by a 'Condition Based Servicing' system which piles real-time data (mileage, time since last service, fuel consumption, and how the car has been driven) into a specific algorithm to determine whether an annual vehicle inspection or (oil) service is due.