Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS BMW M5
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Effortless power
- Dimensions seem to shrink in sports mode
- RWD setting means much fun
- Hefty price hike
- Design, inside and out, could be more adventurous
- Still no phone mirroring
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|
Remember back when people were saying the BMW M5 would lose a little something by shifting from its traditional rear-wheel drive set-up to all-wheel drive?
It would drain a little sparkle, maybe. Or some excitement. It would become more predictable, more placid - hell, even boring.
But hindsight is always 20/20, and we know now that switching to AWD has done nothing but allow BMW to funnel even more power into the tarmac, with the German brand upping power outputs and dropping lap times in one fell swoop.
Consider the M5 Competition, then, BMW’s way of delivering the ultimate 'I told you so'. Because it’s not just the most fun, most potent AWD M5 ever - it’s the best M5 period.
|Engine Type||4.4L 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 term bigger is better doesn't often apply to performance cars, but it fits the M5 Competition perfectly. Big inside, but small outside when it matters, BMW's new performance flagship might be expensive, but there's no shortage of bang for those bucks.
Is the bruising BMW M5 your high-performance sedan from heaven or hell? 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.
Let’s start with the new stuff, shall we? The BMW M5 Competition gets a new colour ('Frozen Dark Silver'), as well as new 20-inch (and lightweight) alloy wheel designs, and the grille, aero-designed wing mirrors and boot lip are finished in high-gloss black. The quad exhaust pipes are a black, too, as is the rear diffuser. Elsewhere outside, though, it’s the more muscular 5 Series of old.
Parked next to the much smaller M2, you quickly realise just how much bulk the M5 is carrying. It stretches 4966mm in length and 1903mm in width, and it looks every centimetre of those dimensions in the metal.
Climb inside, and you’re greeted with the familiar BMW interior design, with a huge centre screen, digital driver’s binnacle and a spaceship-level number of buttons surrounding the shift lever. The M5 Competition also arrives with full leather (seats and dash) trim, with carbon-effect dash inserts and aluminium pedal and foot rest trims.
Is it the most adventurous design treatment, inside or out, that we’ve ever seen? Well, no. But it looks polished and premium outside, and feels plenty comfortable inside.
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.
As far as performance cars go, the M5 Competition is a rolling Swiss Army Knife. For one, it’s bloody massive, which pays considerable dividends for passengers.
Up-front, the seats are far enough apart to ensure you’ll be rubbing shoulders with exactly nobody. The centre console Is super wide (all the better for fitting all those buttons), allowing for a sizeable centre storage bin, joined by two cupholders and a second storage bin in front of the shifter which is also home to your USB, power and 'aux-in' connections.
In the back, there’s business-class levels of leg and headroom, and you can even fit another whole adult in the centre seat if you’re so inclined. The pull-down seat divider is home to two extra cupholders, sitting in front of a thick armrest, and the rear air vents get their own temperature controls. There’s an ISOFIX attachment point in each window seat, too. Pop the capacious boot and you’ll find 530 litres of storage space.
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.
Parking the M5 Competition on your driveway will require a $229,000 investment. That's not chump change, and a considerable jump over the regular M5, which arrived (in launch-edition guise) wearing a $199,529 price tag.
Outside, that money buys you new and lightweight 20-inch alloys, LED headlights with auto-dipping and active cornering, keyless entry and a four-tipped sports exhaust. Inside, expect a 'full leather' interior (seats, dash and door inserts),a nav-equipped screen which pairs with a 16-speaker stereo (but Apple CarPlay is a cost option) and dual-zone climate control.
Performance wise, M-designed variable dampers, a lightweight carbon-composite roof and a M sports exhaust all join the standard features list. Still, $30,000 is fair jump over the standard (and well equipped) M5. But if money is no object, you'll be buying plenty of fun.
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.
Yes, our all-electric future feels inevitable. And yes, there’s much fun and performance to be had from battery-powered EVs. But you can’t help but hope that future is a Star Wars style far, far away when you get acquainted with the BMW M5 Competition’s monstrous twin-turbo V8.
It’s good for a wondrous 460kW (up 19kW on the regular M5) and 750Nm. Both of which are big numbers, which are fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed 'M Steptronic' automatic. Happily, you can, at the push of some buttons, make the M5 a rear-driver again. It’s slower, but damn if it ain’t much more fun.
As a result, the performance numbers need to be seen (or better yet; felt) to be believed. The near-two-tonne M5 Competition will blaze from 0-100km/h in 3.3secs, 0-200km/h in 10.8secs, and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h (or 305km/h, provided you do some BMW driver training).
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.
Well, BMW tells us you’ll return 10.7-10.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle. But we would suggest that’s unlikely, unless you have Miss Daisy lounging in the back seat. Drive it like you definitely will drive it, and you can expect to pay for that privilege at the pump.
Emissions are a claimed 243-246g/km of CO2, and the M5 Competition’s 68-litre tank will demand a premium unleaded petrol.
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.
Things this large simply shouldn’t be this potent. Like John Goodman suddenly toppling Usain Bolt at the Olympics, the BMW M5 Competition is bulk-defyingly good at the fast stuff.
The secret is its ability to hide those sprawling dimensions on a race circuit or twisting road. BMW’s engineers have poured plenty of work into stiffening the chassis of the M5 Competition, from new anti-roll mounts to additional under-bonnet bracing, to make the brand’s biggest performance sedan feel more lithe and responsive when pushed.
And while its size never vanishes completely - and you find yourself praying you don’t encounter oncoming traffic on skinnier roads - engaging the Competition’s sportiest settings unlocks a Copperfield-level vanishing act.
The engine helps too, of course, pushing the M5 along with staggering ease, even when you’re pottering at suburban speeds. But really flatten your foot and the big V8 will force you to reassess your knowledge of physics. It’s really very fast, the Competition, the power flowing uninterrupted to the tyres, the engine still very willing to deliver more oomph long after your courage has jumped ship.
The steering, direct though it is, lacks some natural feel, but you are always left with the impression that the Competition is going to go where you point it.
More fun stuff? Well, you can switch the traction control to a half-off setting, allowing for some smoking, drifting heroics before it drags you back into line. BMW calls it M mode, and it’s designed to make a hero of even the most ham-fisted of pilots, myself included. The braver still can deactivate traction control all together which, combined with rear-wheel-drive mode, turns the M5 Competition into the biggest and possibly most expensive drift car of all time .
Away from the track, though, the Competition version of the M5 is almost as good as transforming into a comfortable everyday commuter as its less hairy siblings. The adaptive suspension can be softened, and the steering lightened, to make toppling traffic a doddle.
The keen-eyed among you might well have noticed we’re yet to touch on any major downsides of the drive experience. And you'd be correct.
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 is yet to confirm full specifications for the M5 Competition, but you can expect the safety offering to largely mirror that of the regular M5. And while the performance variant has not been crash tested, the regular 5 Series was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating.
Expect dual front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee bag for the driver, and a parking camera. You'll also find AEB, active cruise (which allows for brief spells of autonomy), thanks to its lane-keep assist.
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.