Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Maserati Ghibli
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Okay warranty
- Marginal on value
- Fast but not furious
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|
So, there’s two hundred grand burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re keen to extinguish the flames by purchasing a premium, full-size, high-performance sedan.
Both can tear the tarmac off the road thanks to outputs in the ‘getting on for 600 horsepower’ range, and dynamic systems finely honed by unhinged boffins in Munich and Affalterbach.
But what if you prefer to follow a less-predictable path? One that sends you due south to Modena in Northern Italy, the home of Maserati.
This is the Maserati Ghibli, specifically the new S version, offering more power and torque than the standard issue.
It’s the famous Italian brand’s take on a serious sports sedan. But the elephant-sized question in the room is, why choose the road less travelled? What does this Maserati have that BMW or Merc’s finest doesn’t?
|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.
Maserati will tell you people are drawn to its motor-racing heritage and sporting DNA, and that the Ghibli offers something different in a world of grey, business-like conformity.
There’s no doubt the M5 and E63 are left-lane autobahn hot rods, stunningly fast but relatively remote. The Ghibli S delivers a more nuanced driving experience. And the design details all through the car actually do connect with the brand’s history.
So, before you go Deutsche you might want to think about a high-emotion Italian relationship.
Does the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport's dynamic character put it at the top of your premium performance sedan wish list? 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.
For 2018, the Ghibli is available in two new trim levels. Add $20k to the ‘standard’ price tag and you can choose between the GranLusso, with a focus on luxury (including the option of a Zegna silk interior treatment!), or the more performance-focused GranSport you see here, the high-output S version, resplendent in ‘Blu Emozione’.
The GranSport is identified by its unique front and rear bumpers, as well as a chrome concave grille, with two wings and a prominent splitter underneath it.
More recent Maserati design signatures, including three stylised vents in the front guards, and aggressively angular (adaptive LED) headlights, merge with classic references like delicately formed trident badges on each C-pillar to form a distinctively dynamic exterior. It’s aerodynamically slick, too, boasting a low 0.29 drag coefficient (down from 0.31 for the 2017 car).
Then you open the door and step inside. In this case, the bright-blue exterior is matched with a black and red interior. Make that mostly red, in fact mostly very red leather on the seats, dash and doors, with trademark touches like the oval-shaped, dash-mounted analogue clock, hooded instrument binnacle, and racy alloy-finish pedals setting the tone.
Taking a different path to its Teutonic competition, the Ghibli S dash and centre console combination manages to blend gentle curves with an occasional sharp turn. Cover over the trident badge and other brand giveaways inside, and it doesn’t feel like the usual suspects. It‘s a distinctive, characterful design.
Also worth calling out is the fact that when you crack the bonnet open to impress your friends they’ll actually be able to see the engine, or at least major parts of it. Like alloy cam covers, complete with Maserati in old-school cursive script in the casting. Yes, there’s some plastic dressing on top, but the ability to lay your eyes on real metal warms the heart.
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.
Front-seat passengers enjoy a spacious feel, thanks largely to the dashboard’s progressive slope towards the windscreen, rather than the hard-edged, upright layout more commonly found in high-end sedans.
There are two cupholders in the centre console, but locating anything bigger than a piccolo latte in them would be a struggle. Same goes for the doors. Yes, there are storage bins, but forget water bottles or anything much thicker than an iPad (in a Gucci slipcase of course).
That said, there are several covered storage boxes in the centre console, as well as multiple connection options including an ‘auxiliary in’ socket, USB port, SD card reader and 12v outlet, plus a specific drawer for your mobile (in place of a now-deleted DVD player).
No surprise then that rear space is generous. I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm height, with plenty of legroom and more than adequate headroom. The gap for your feet under the seat in front is kinda squeezy, but it’s nowhere near a deal-breaking issue. Three large adults across the rear is do-able, but tight.
There are two adjustable vents for rear-seaters, map pockets on the seat backs, small door bins, plus a neatly configured storage box and (small) twin cupholder combination in the folding centre armrest.
The rear seat backs split-fold 60/40 to increase the standard 500-litre cargo capacity and improve load flexibility. There’s a 12v outlet, a side net pocket, and decent lighting back there, too. But don’t bother looking for a spare, a repair kit is standard issue, and an 18-inch space saver is an 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.
Cost of entry to this exclusive Italian club is $175,990 (plus on-road costs) for the Ghibli S, with an additional $20,000 opening up the choice of Ghibli S GranLusso or S GranSport ($195,990).
No small chunk of change, and in the same territory as the M5 and E 63, so what does that mean in terms of standard spec and tech?
For a start, the S GranSport rolls on 21-inch ‘Titano’ alloy rims, and features an eight-speaker, 280-watt Harman/Kardon sound system (including DAB digital radio). You’ll also luxuriate in extended leather trim (including a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel), carbon and piano black interior highlights, 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, keyless entry and start, sat-nav, LED headlights, power rear window sunshades, power boot lid (with hands-free mode) and soft-close doors.
There’s also dual-zone climate control air, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera (plus surround view), rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, ambient lighting, alloy-finish pedals, a 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, and an 8.4-inch colour multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto present and accounted for.
That’s plenty of luscious fruit, which is cost-of-entry in this rarefied market territory.
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 Ghibli S is powered by 3.0-litre, 60-degree, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, designed by Maserati Powertrain in Modena and manufactured by Ferrari, just up the road in Maranello.
It’s an all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection, variable cam timing (inlet and exhaust), low-inertia parallel turbos, and a pair of intercoolers.
While it can’t match the powerhouse Germans on outright numbers the Ghibli S still produces just over 321kW, or around 430 horsepower at 5500rpm, and 580Nm of torque from 2250-4000rpm. That’s a boost of 20kW/30Nm over the outgoing Ghibli S.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission.
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.
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.
So, the first thing to say is the Ghibli S GranSport is fast, but it’s not in the same eye-widening league as the M5 and E63. The sprint from 0-100km/h is covered in 4.9 seconds, and if you’re game (and your driveway is long enough) claimed maximum velocity is 286km/h. For reference, the just released (F90) M5 is claimed to hit triple digits in 3.4sec, and the E 63 in 3.5.
The V6 turbo sounds nice and growly in the Sport setting, the soundtrack controlled by pneumatic valves in each bank of the exhaust. In ‘Normal’ mode, the bypass valves are closed up to 3000rpm for a more civilised tone and volume.
Maximum torque is available across a useful band from 2250 to 4000rpm and the twin-turbo set-up helps with linear power delivery, while the eight-speed auto is quick and positive, especially in manual mode.
The sports seats (12-way electric adjustable) feel great, a 50/50 front to rear weight distribution helps the car feel balanced, and the standard LSD helps put power to the ground without fuss in tight going.
And despite a 1810kg kerb weight, it does, in fact, manage to feel lighter and more involving than its high-profile, highly powerful German rivals.
Braking is courtesy of big (red) Brembo six piston calipers at the front, and four piston at the rear on vented and cross-drilled rotors (360mm front/345mm rear). They’re up to the task, and the claimed 100-0km/h stopping distance is impressive at 36m.
The new electrically assisted power steering (a first for Maserati) is light at parking speeds, but it points nicely and road feel improves as the speedo needle twists to the right.
Suspension is double-wishbone front, five bar multi-link rear, and despite big 21-inch rims wrapped in high-performance Pirelli P Zero rubber (245/35 front-285/30 rear), ride comfort is amazingly good, even on patchy surfaces.
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.
Maserati’s ‘ADAS’ (Advanced Driver Assistance Package) is standard on the Ghibli S, and now includes lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and traffic-sign recognition.
There’s also AEB, forward-collision warning, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’, ‘Rear Cross Path’ and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
The 2018 Ghibli and larger Quattroporte sedan are also the first Maseratis to feature IVC (Integrated Vehicle Control), a tailored version of ESP (Electronic Stability Program), using a smart controller to predict driving situations, adapting engine speed and torque vectoring (by braking) in response.
The ‘Maserati Stability Program’ (MSP) also wraps up ABS (with EBD), ASR, engine brake torque control, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’ and a hill holder.
In terms of passive safety the Ghibli is equipped with seven airbags (front head, front side, driver’s knee, and full length curtain) as well as anti-whiplash headrests.
There are three top tether points across the rear for child seats, with ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.
Although ANCAP hasn’t assessed the Ghibli it rates a maximum five stars from EuroNCAP.
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.
Maserati supports the Ghibli S GranSport with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is now some way off the industry leading eight years (160,000km) from Tesla, and seven years (unlimited km) from Kia.
But the recommended service interval is a lengthy two years/20,000km, and the ‘Maserati Maintenance’ program offers pre-paid schedules for Ghibli and Quattroporte owners, covering required inspections, components and consumables.