Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Chevrolet Camaro
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Looks like a real-life Hot Wheels
- Sounds sensational
- Fun to drive
- Boot opening is small
- Expensive compared to Mustang
- No AEB
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|
Nobody really needs to drink beer and absolutely nobody needs to go skydiving. You don’t need tattoos nor to eat ice cream, nor put art on their walls, and absolutely nobody needs to play Stairway to Heaven, badly, on guitar. Likewise, nobody needs to buy a Chevrolet Camaro.
And there’s your answer if anybody has a go at you for arriving home in this big American muscle car, because if we only did things we needed to do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be having as much fun.
The Chevrolet Camaro has been the Ford Mustang’s recurring nightmare since 1966, and this latest, sixth generation of the Chevy icon is available to continue the fight here in Australia, thanks to some re-engineering from HSV.
The SS badge is also legendary and was emblazoned on our test car, although it’s really a 2SS, and we’ll get to what that means below.
As you’re about to see, there are many good reasons to buy the Camaro SS and a few that might make you reconsider, but think about this – within the next two decades it’s entirely possible a car like the Camaro, with its 6.2-litre V8, may be banned because of emission regulations. Outlawed. You also never know how much longer HSV will continue to sell it in Australia. Maybe that’s reason enough to get one? Before it's too late.
|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 Camaro 2SS is a real-life Hot Wheels car. This beast looks amazing, sounds incredible and is not overpowered, making it usable as a daily driver.
Now about that score. The Camaro 2SS lost big marks for not having AEB, lost more marks for the short warranty and no capped-price servicing and also some for its price, because compared to the Mustang it’s expensive. It’s also impractical (space and storage could be better) and uncomfortable to drive at times, but this is a muscle car, and a great one at that. It's not for everybody, but truly perfect for some.
Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro? Which would you pick? 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.
As was the case with Ford’s Mustang, something seemed to go bizarrely weird in the styling of the Camaro in the early 2000s, but by 2005 the arrival of the fifth generation saw a design that re-imagined the original (and I reckon the best) 1967 Camaro. Now this sixth-generation car is a sharper resolution of that, yet not without causing a bit of controversy.
Along with styling changes, such as redesigned LED headlights and taillights, the front fascia was also given a tweak, which involved repositioning the Chevy ‘bow-tie’ badge from the upper grille to the black-painted cross bar that separates the top and bottom sections. The reaction from fans was enough for Chevrolet to quickly redesign the front and move the badge back.
Our test car was the version with the ‘unpopular’ face, but I reckon it gets away with the look, thanks to the body colour being black, which means your eye isn’t drawn to that cross bar.
Here’s some pub ammo for you – Chevy calls the ‘bow tie’ on this Camaro a ‘Flow Tie’ because its hollow construction means air can pass through it to the radiator.
Big on the outside but small inside, the Camaro’s dimensions show it to be 4784mm long, 1897mm wide (not including mirrors) and 1349mm tall.
Ford’s Mustang is elegant, but Chevy’s Camaro is more macho. Big haunches, long bonnet, flared guards, nostrils. This is one mean-looking monster. Those high sides and ‘chopped’ roof design may also make you assume the cabin is more cockpit than lounge room.
That assumption would be right and in the practicality section further down I’ll tell you just how cozy the interior is, but for now we're just talking about looks.
I’m not sure what David Hasselhoff’s apartment looks like, but at a guess I reckon it would have a hell of a lot in common with the interior design of the Camaro 2SS’s cabin.
Soft, black leather seats with SS badging, giant metal air vents, door handles that look like chrome exhaust tips and a display screen that is oddly tilted towards the floor.
There’s also an ambient LED lighting system that lets you choose from 1980s-neon colour palettes, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ken Done’s outstanding depiction of a Koala family sitting down to a barbecue lunch.
I’m not knocking it, I love it, and even though the guys in the office thought it would be hilarious to set the lighting to hot pink, I kept it that way because it looks awesome.
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.
The Camaro 2SS’s cabin is cozy for me at 191cm tall, but even with a similarly proportioned photographer riding shotgun it wasn’t too cramped. Believe it or not, we were able to carry all his equipment and lights, plus batteries for our night shoot (have you seen the video above – it’s very good). I’ll get to the boot size in a moment.
The Camaro 2SS is a four-seater, but those rear seats are only going to suit small children. I was able to fit my four year old’s car seat into place with a bit of gentle persuasion, and while he could sit behind my wife, there was zero space behind me when I was driving. As for visibility, we’ll get to that in the driving section below, but I can tell you he couldn’t see much from his tiny porthole.
Cargo capacity of the boot is small, as you’d expect, at 257 litres, but the space is deep and long. The problem is not the volume, however, it’s the size of the opening, which means you’ll have to cleverly angle larger items to get them in, like pushing a couch through your front door. You know, houses are big, but their openings aren’t. I know, profound.
Cabin storage is also limited, the door pockets were so thin my wallet couldn’t even slide into it (no, it’s not the wads of cash), but there was just enough room in the centre console storage bin for it. There are two cupholders, which are more like elbow holders, (because this part wasn’t swapped over in the conversion and that’s where your arm lands while driving) and a glove box. Rear-seat passengers have a large tray to fight over in the back.
The 2SS doesn’t have a wireless-charging pad like the ZL1, but it does have one USB port and a 12V outlet.
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.
You know how people talk about cars not always being a rational purchase? This is the type of vehicle they’re talking about. The Camaro 2SS lists at $86,990 and the total tested price of our car was $89,190, because it was fitted with the optional 10-speed auto for $2200.
In comparison, the V8 Ford Mustang GT with the 10-speed auto is about $66K. Why the big price difference? Well, unlike the Mustang, which is built as a right-hand-drive car in the factory for places such as Australia and the UK, the Camaro is only built as a left-hand drive. HSV puts about 100 hours into converting the Camaro from left to right-hand drive. That’s a big job and involves gutting the interior, taking out the engine, swapping the steering rack and putting it all back together again.
If you still think $89K is a lot to spend on a Camaro, then think again because the top-of-the-range hardcore race-car-for-the-road ZL1 Camaro lists for about $160K.
Those are only the two grades of Camaro in Australia – the ZL1 and 2SS. The 2SS is a higher-specified version of the 1SS sold in the US.
Standard features in the 2SS include an eight-inch screen, which uses Chevrolet’s Infotainment 3 system, a nine-speaker Bose stereo, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, head-up display, rear-view camera and rear camera mirror, dual-zone climate control, leather seats (heated and ventilated, plus power adjustable in the front), remote start, proximity key and 20-inch alloys.
That’s a decent amount of kit and I’m particularly impressed by the head-up display, which you don’t get in the Mustang, and also with the rear-vision-mirror camera, which turns the entire mirror into an image of what’s behind the car.
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.
Sure, the 2SS doesn’t produce the mammoth 477kW of the ZL1, but I’m not complaining about the 339kW and 617Nm it does make from its 6.2-litre V8. Besides, 455 horsepower from the 2SS’s naturally aspirated LT1 small block is plenty of fun and the sound on start-up through the bi-modal exhaust is apocalyptic - and that’s good.
Our car was fitted with the optional 10-speed auto ($2200), with paddle shifters. The automatic transmission was developed as a joint venture between General Motors and Ford and a version of this 10-speed is also found in the Mustang.
This traditional torque-converter automatic isn’t the quickest shifting thing, but it suits the big, powerful and slightly lethargic personality of the Camaro 2SS.
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.
Okay, brace yourself. During my fuel test I traveled 358.5km and used 60.44L of premium unleaded, which comes out to be 16.9L/100km. That sounds awfully high, but actually it's not as bad as it looks, considering the Camaro 2SS has a 6.2-litre V8 and I wasn't driving it in a way that would conserve fuel, if you get my drift. Half of those kilometres were on motorways at 110km/h, the other half would have been in bumper-to-bumper city traffic, which would have driven up the fuel usage, too.
The official fuel consumption after a combination of open and urban roads is 13L/100km.
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.
Exactly how an American muscle car should be – loud, a bit uncomfortable, not all that easy, but a hell of a lot of fun. Those first three attributes may sound like negatives, but take it from somebody who owns and loves hot rods - it’s part of the appeal. If an SUV is not easy to drive or comfortable there's a problem, but in a muscle car it can enhance the engagement and connection factors.
That said, there will be many who think the ride is too firm, the steering heavy and that it feels like you’re staring out a letterbox slot through the windscreen. It’s all true, and there are other performance cars out there which make as much horsepower, handle better and are so easy to drive they can almost (and some do) pilot themselves, but they all lack the feeling of connection the Camaro offers.
Wide and low-profile Goodyear Eagles (245/40 ZR20 at the front and 275/35 ZR20 at the rear) provide good grip, but also feel every blemish in the road, while four-piston Brembo brakes all round pull the Camaro 2SS up well.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h isn’t disclosed by HSV or Chevrolet, but the official line is that it’ll nail it in under five seconds. Ford reckons its Mustang GT can do the same in 4.3 seconds.
If you were wondering if you could live with the Camaro daily, the answer is yes but, much like wearing leather pants, you’ll have to suffer a bit to look this rock and roll. I put 650km on the clock of our 2SS during my week with it, using it daily in peak-hour traffic into the city, in supermarket car parks, and for daycare drop offs, with country road and motorway drives on the weekend.
The seats can get uncomfortable over long distances and those low-profile ‘run-flat’ tyres and firm dampers don’t make life any comfier. You’ll also find that wherever you go people will want to race you. But don’t get sucked in; you’re slower than you look - another muscle-car trait.
Sure, it’s not the quickest performance car I’ve steered and on winding roads its handling capability is not up there with many sports cars, but that V8 is responsive and angry in Sport mode and smooth in its delivery of grunt. The exhaust note is sensational and the steering, while heavy, offers great feel and feedback. The sound isn’t electronically enhanced but it uses bi-modal valves, which open and close at different engine and exhaust loads to produce its addictive bark.
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 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS doesn’t have an ANCAP rating, but it’s certain that it wouldn’t achieve the maximum five stars because it doesn’t have AEB. There is forward-collision alert which warns you of an impending impact, there’s also blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and eight airbags.
For child seats (and I did put my own four-year-old in the back) there are two top-tether points and two ISOFIX mounts in the second row.
There's no spare wheel here, so you’ll have to hope you’re within 80km of home or a repair shop, because that’s how far the Goodyear ‘run-flat’ tyres will get you.
The low (ish) score is for the lack of AEB. If the Mustang can be fitted with autonomous emergency braking, then the Camaro should be, too.
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.