Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Lamborghini Aventador
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Styling, so much styling
- That V12 engine, the pure speed rush of it
- The noise, absolutely bonkers
- Not being able to see anything behind you or beside you
- The price. You could have five great cars for this much
- The sheer mass, width and weight of it
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.
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Too fast, too loud, too crazy, too dangerous, too big. All of these are phrases a supercar lover would never think to utter when considering the sanity-defying existence of the new Lamborghini Aventador S, and yet exactly the kind of things any reasonable person might say after driving one, or even witnessing it in motion.
Too much, clearly, is never enough in La La Lambo world, and it's certainly true that if you desire a car that will puncture your eardrums while rupturing your spleen and bruising your heart, this is the perfect vehicle for you.
Five years after its launch, the Aventador has been updated and upgraded - with new rear-wheel steering, an allegedly improved gearbox, tweaked styling and a button that says EGO - and uprated, with even more power that it clearly wasn't crying out for.
We went to Phillip Island to drive it around a high-speed track covered in rain, mist and suicidal geese.
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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 Lamborghini Aventador S is a hugely unnecessary car that probably wouldn't exist at all in any sane universe. Fortunately it's from Italy instead.
While it definitely has its flaws - it's simply too big, and too fast, to drive on public roads, and it's too heavy, and mental, to be a purist's track car - there is still something strangely charming about it.
It's the ridiculous design, those super-cool doors, the outrageous and deafening noises it makes, and what it does to your internal organs when you accelerate in it.
There are better, sharper and more affordable supercars than the Aventador S, but there are none that are anything like it.
Is the Aventador S your dream supercar, or would you prefer an F12 Berlinetta? 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.
The lovely and loquacious Italians from Lamborghini showed us a revealing little sketch at the car's launch, which looked a little bit like a bad tattoo but said a lot about their design ethos. It featured mean-looking sharks and menacing cobras morphing with an outline of the Aventador, and was meant to represent the approach to further man-ing up the looks of this S version.
The shark fins are clearly evident in the new and even bigger front splitter, the cobra must be hiding under the engine cover somewhere, while the new rear exhaust shape is apparently modelled on the Space Shuttle.
There are a few touches of the classic Countach, apparently, and plenty of "aerospace" design, which means they've tried to make it look like a fighter jet.
The overall effect is about as over the top as Lady Gaga marrying Ivanka Trump, and yet because its a Lamborghini, you find yourself loving it anyway. Absurdity is their reality. And how could you not fall for any car with those doors?
The interior is not as classy feeling as a Ferrari, but it has a certain brash, flash-cash opulence to it that makes you smile as well.
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.
Yes, the Aventador S is a car, and it will take you from Point A to Point B, although you might leave some of your life expectancy behind on every trip, but other than that, practicality is not a selling point.
It is 4.8m long, just over 2m wide and a mere 1.14m high, the giant Lambo is as thick across the hips as a Toyota LandCruiser, and as pleasant to climb in and out of as an iron lung.
It also burns slightly more fuel than a Space Shuttle launch and is virtually impossible to see out of, but owners won't care because every other car will be behind them somewhere, and they'll only be looking out for plate-glass windows to admire themselves in anyway.
There are no cupholders (although apparently you can option them) and there's virtually no room to store anything at all. None of this matters, of course, because if the people who buy an Aventador S want practicality they'll simply choose one of the other 20 cars in their personal fleet.
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.
On the one hand, the $788,914 price for this new S version of the Aventador (the S stands for "Something that is better" according to the Italians) is problematic, and slightly ridiculous, because it seems a lot to pay for a car that would have you shot on sight on suspicion of speeding by the Victorian Police and is about as well suited to Australian conditions as an igloo.
On the other hand, which is covered in thick gold rings with a fat Rolex attached to its wrist, it makes perfect sense, because its vast and silly size perfectly complements the very nature of the car, which is perhaps the biggest 'look at me, I'm rich' statement short of sky writing your bank balance.
The sort of person who buys a car like this, rather than the cheaper, far more sensible and, frankly, enjoyable Lamborghini Huracan, actually wants to pay a lot of money, because it's part of the fun.
Sure, that price only gets you two seats but they're very sexy ones, and truly grippy to sit in, which they need to be in a g-force monster like this.
There's only one spec for an S buyer, and it includes little treats like Apple CarPlay, but if you want the telemetry system, to record your lap times, it's an optional extra, at $3400.
The one feature every owner will want to show off, though - aside from the obvious ones like the scissor doors and 'Bombs-away!' starter - is the EGO button. This is basically a fourth setting to add to the car's existing Strada (Street in Italian), Sport and Corsa (Race) options, but confusingly, because it is entirely personalisable, it actually offers another 24 settings when you press it.
Sure, it's slightly pointless, but at least it's honest, because EGO is what this car is all about.
Each of those settings also changes the Aventador S's lush and wondrous Kombi dash screens (the Lamborghini-styled version of owner Audi's Virtual Cockpit), offering race-car like giant tachometers and even a graphic that shows you which way your wheels are pointing. Not that you'll have time to look at it when exploring your car's 350km/h top speed.
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.
Let's start with the bad news, which is that the all-new seven-speed ISR (Independent Shifting Rods) gearbox that was supposed to fix the old-tech lurchiness of the Aventador's driveline is still so far off the pace of modern, dual-clutch transmissions that it's mildly embarrassing.
Change gear at speed in this vicious V12 and you're in for a kind of stop-motion, Wallace and Gromit experience. There's no doubt you can feel the aggression of the shifts, but they do remind you of a long-past time when upshifts meant a short break between rushes of acceleration, rather than the seamless shove you now get from a Ferrari (or even a Golf GTI).
Your gear changes can be so violent that they knock the breath out of you, but it could be argued that this merely suits the personality of the car, which in turn reflects the absurdity of its manic engine.
Power has, somehow, been raised by 30kW to an astronomical 544kW at a deafening and ballistic 8400rpm. Lamborghini says the new tune gives even more torque at higher revs, but its maximum figure of 690Nm is actually less than Ferrari's V8-powered 488, which has 760Nm.
The difference is turbochargers, of course, a limp-wristed affectation of a technology that Lamborghini still eschews.
They will tell you it's all about the way the car performs and accelerates, and with a 0-100km/h time of 2.9 seconds (not even a whisker faster than the standard Aventador, which shows you how difficult those times are to improve on), a 0-200km/h dash of just 8.8 seconds, and 0-300 in 24.2, it does do these things well.
What it's really about, though, is the operatic purity and visceral violence of the way the engine sounds, and with its all-new muffler and exhaust system, the S really does take big, shouty showiness to new levels.
Indeed, I would venture this is the loudest road car my ears have ever been assaulted by (a Porsche 918 is louder, but it's really a race car with a rego sticker). Under acceleration it is as eyebrow-liltingly loud as the front row of an AC/DC concert back in the 1990s, but it is the series of explosions you get on the overrun when fear pushes your foot off the throttle that are truly astounding. It sounds like someone throwing steel rubbish bins full of grenades into a cement mixer.
Crazy? Yes. Unnecessary? Yes, but it is wonderful.
It's possible that, as some of my colleagues claimed they could notice, the S is more instantly ballistic when you press the accelerator than the normal Aventador, but frankly that's like comparing being shot with different guns. Let's just say it's a hugely violent, chest-beating engine. And I love it.
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.
Yes, it sure does consume fuel. Quite a lot, with claimed figures of 26.2L/100km on the urban cycle, and a combined urban/highway figure of 16.9L/100km. Frankly, you'd be lucky if you kept it under 30.0L/100km. It's thirsty work to drive.
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.
Piloting an Aventador around city streets is a challenge, partly because it's like trying to hold a four-metre high, 400kg Rottweiler on a leash, but mainly because it's stupidly wide and you can't see anything from the driver's seat.
Lamborghini has tried to improve the experience of driving it at low speeds with a new rear-wheel steering system, that turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speeds, effectively shortening the wheelbase and making it almost liveable in car parks, but then turns them in the same direction as the fronts at higher speeds, for better turn-in and handling.
This was the first time I've ever been fortunate, or perhaps mad, enough to drive an Aventador on a race track, and a fast one at that in Phillip Island, which was covered in a fairly typical Arctic storm front, with enough standing water to attract large, suicidal geese to several corner apexes, including the one at the top of the straight, where the big Lambo was hitting 230km/h before we'd even passed the pits (it had dried out a bit, briefly, for that lap).
With open spaces in front of you, this car delivers the kind of acceleration that forces all the air out of your body, or perhaps you just forget to breathe because your brain is too busy freaking out. It's an invigorating sensation, but not without fear, a bit like jumping out of a plane, and equally addictive.
All that rocket thrust really is its party trick, though, because as mentioned the gear shifts are a bit of a shambles, and the sheer size, and 1575kg weight, of the thing makes it feel like a handful around tight corners.
It's very good around a track for what it is, but what it is is too heavy and too big for circuit driving. Again, you'd have to think a Huracan would be more fun, and would scare you less.
But then it did strike me, on my last lap, as I attempted to find some saliva in my dry mouth, that there's something wonderfully old school, and traditionally Lamborghini, about a supercar that genuinely frightens and intimidates you when you try to push it.
I can't imagine buying one myself, but I can imagine why a certain kind of enthusiast would want to.
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.
You're not getting AEB in a car like this, as the sensors would ugly up the front of the car, and there's nowhere to fit them. But you do get a 'passive pedestrian protection system', which is nice.
Some markets get a driver's knee airbag, but sadly we don't, so you have to put up with just four airbags in total, and a collapsible steering column.
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.