Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Maserati Granturismo
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Soaring engine
- Gorgeous looks
- Seats four in comfort
- Dated multimedia system
- Very heavy
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|
Cars that have had this many birthdays don’t really deserve to look this good, but the GranTurismo's first impression is a good one – it's so pretty and that Birdcage-inspired nose, if anything, is getting better looking.
They don't really deserve to be this engaging, either. Maserati's range continues to expand with the Ghibli finally coming on line but the real attention-grabber remains the GranTurismo. And in this Sport Line guise, you get a bit of Stradale visual aggro without the chiro-inducing ride.
|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.
From the most compelling engine sound this side of … well, anything … to a timeless, shapely body the GranTurismo is a surprising car. While its age is catching up to it in a few areas (fuel consumption, in-car entertainment) what matters most is that this Maserati still lights the fire in the belly.
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 has already been (indelicately) mentioned, this is a design that is not only ageing well, it still looks pretty fresh from most angles. The only let down are the over-sized tail-lights that look more at home on something less exotic. Those aside, it's a deeply pretty car, with lovely surfacing, the highlight being those beautiful rising guards that funnel your vision down the bonnet.
Interior packaging isn't the GT’s strong point. Inside is pretty cosy with a fat transmission tunnel that makes for a narrow footwell.
With the Sport you get carbon-backed seats that are thinner in the backrest allowing for more room in the tight rear bucket. Snug they may be, but head and leg room is surprisingly good. The white leather interior of this one may not have been to everyone’s taste, but it was certainly beautifully put together.
The boot is fairly small but will fit more than, say, the similarly sized (but double the price) Ferrari FF.
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.
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.
The GranTurismo MC Sport comes in two versions. Both have six-speed gearboxes, but one has the rear-mounted robotised manual while our version was the six-speed ZF automatic, which is mated directly to the engine.
The auto weighs in at $295,000, $23,000 cheaper than the Stradale. Both cars come standard with Poltrona Frau leather, carbon fibre trim inside and out, alloy pedals, bi-xenon headlights, foglights, parking sensors front and rear, 20-inch MSC alloys, keyless entry, electric seats, Alcantara headlining, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and electric adjustment for the steering wheel.
Sadly, time has marched on from when the GranTurismo's entertainment system was first presented to the world. It's a weird, unwieldy system that takes a lot of getting used to, with buttons that don't always seem to do what their label says. Pairing the phone was arduous and while most owners do that once, it does speak to the overall usability.
Having said that, the 11-speaker Bose stereo pumped out some pretty good sound and once the satnav's input method is deciphered, it worked surprisingly well given its fairly basic presentation on the seven-inch screen.
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.
Maserati's 4.7L V8, inherited from the then-parent Ferrari, is a cracker. Based on the V8 found in the F430, it has a gloriously silly redline of 8000rpm. Peak power is 338kW at 7000rpm and 520Nm at 4750rpm.
The 0-100km/h is dispatched in 4.8 seconds and top speed is 298km/h.
The transmission is a six-speed ZF automatic and fuel economy is a sobering 14.3L/100km on the combined cycle.
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.
There are few more impressive sounds in the automotive world than a Maserati-tuned V8. Even on start-up, the smooth V8 gives you a little bellow to wake the neighbours and when in non-Sport mode it quickly settles into a quiet idle. The exhaust has the now-familiar valving that opens up when you switch it into Sport and if you don’t default to that when driving the GT, you're probably dead inside.
The V8 makes a tremendously addictive racket, getting better with every rev as the tacho needle swipes right to the redline.
When compared with the lightweight sportster from which the engine is lifted, you won't be moving quite as quickly, but the noise and the sharp-shifting transmission will keep you happy. Tunnels are worth the price of entry as you crank the windows down and flip the paddles to find second or even first.
It's hard to pick that the transmission is a traditional automatic. The shifts are fast and positive but never violent – that would be out of character – responding properly to the paddles. In automatic, it's smooth and gentle.
The steering is mighty impressive too. There's enough feel to keep you interested and entertained but not so much you’ll be overwhelmed in the daily drive. The nose changes direction with a flick of the wrists and the moderately-firm Skyhook suspension does a good job of making the rest of the car follow without undue body roll.
Despite rolling on 20-inch alloys shod with sticky 245s up front and 285 at the rear, cruising in the GT is surprisingly quiet and comfortable. WithSport mode off, it's a very agreeable place to be. The seats are hugely comfortable, even in the rear, which seems impossible.
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.
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.