Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Maserati Quattroporte
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Terrific powertrain
- Huge luxurious cabin
- Great looks and badge
- Iffy entertainment software
- Weird sensations through electric steering
- Some dodgy plastic chrome bits
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|
Maserati's Quattroporte is part of a dying breed. A decade or so ago, the European manufacturers took a huge amount of pride in their range-topping big luxury sedans, cars you can either drive or be driven in, bristling with the latest technology.
While by no means low-tech, the Maserati Quattroporte takes the high style route, focussing on a luxurious interior with that handmade feel.
|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.
Beauty is way more than skin-deep in the Quattroporte and while the 330 doesn't have the punch of the S, it's hardly that much slower. Maserati reasons you will want to spend the $25,000 saved on options, concentrating on the Italian craftsmanship rather than the outright performance available in the V8 or the efficiency of the less aurally attractive diesel.
As with any car of this type, you've got to want one in the first place, but for a big, beautiful sedan, there's nothing as good looking this side of an Aston Rapide. The Quattroporte 330 does nothing to dim the allure of Modena's big mover and, if you're that way inclined, nobody on the outside will ever know.
For Quattroporte money would you stick with the Italian or be tempted by one of its German rivals? Let us know 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.
Long, flowing lines mark out the Maserati as something quite different to its German, British and Japanese competition. This Quattroporte has increased in every dimension but the lines cover its size beautifully.
Big wheels, long wheelbase, low ride but it still looks like a sedan rather than pretending to be a coupe.
The elegance of the lines is complemented by a distinct lack of bling – there's little in the way of chrome work or shouty details. There's plenty satin finishes available and the beautiful paint, while available in pretty much any colour you like, is best kept to a restrained, deep hue. Or silver.
The cabin will doubtless age well. Classic shapes house a fairly conventional but hugely comfortable cabin. The front seats have heaps of adjustment and are large but supportive. Naturally, the leather is soft and supple.
The central screen isn't the dominant feature, like a 50-inch LCD screen in a small living room while buttons are kept to a minimum.
The rear seat is sensationally comfortable, with hectares of available space and a seat comfortable for either lounging or working.
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 330BHP uses the same, Ferrari-built V6 but detuned to 'just' 330 bhp. The price has been detuned too, dropping $25,000 from the V6 S's entry price to kick off at $210,000.
Maserati 330bhp benefits from an overall specification improvement across the range, landing in your garage with a ten-speaker stereo with USB and Bluetooth, power everything, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera, cruise control, sat-nav, auto headlights and wipers, double glazed windows and an interior covered in leather and wood.
Later in the year, your Quattroporte will be available with a new silk trim from Zegna
Only very occasionally does it become clear that Maserati is part of the Fiat Group and that moment comes when you use the 7.0-inch central screen in the dash.
The software is based on the group's UConnect and it isn't great. It's not bad, but it feels its age (however, it's much better than the system on the Gran Turismo), needing a lot more work or a quick surrender to Apple's CarPlay or Android Auto.
Once you work your way through the weird menus, it's fine to use and is miles ahead of the not-much-cheaper Lexus LS unit which is almost unusable.
Sound from the ten speaker stereo is crystal clear and the phone performance is also very good.
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.
Like the S, the 330bhp is powered by Maserati's twin turbo 3.0 litre V6, made with more than a dash of Ferrari involvement. As the name suggests, it produces 243kW and a chunky 500Nm. With just under two tonnes to shift, the ubiquitous eight-speed ZF automatic transmission whisks the Quattroporte 100km/h in 5.6 seconds, only half a second down on the 301kW V6 S.
Maserati claims 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle (with the help of stop-start), which seems reasonable given our figure of 10.8L/100km, which we got a with a mix of city and highway running as well as a very enthusiastic blast through some secret back roads.
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.
Just a few hundred metres behind the wheel is all it will take to convince you the Maserati belongs in the same class as the competition. It's incredibly quiet – courtesy of the acoustic double glazing – and all occupants benefit from supreme comfort.
While the 330 is 58kW down on the full fat V6, you won't really miss them. There's a fat torque curve, with all 500Nm available from 1750 to 5000rpm, meaning easy progress for the 5.2 metre sedan.
The Quattroporte has two sport buttons to choose from – one looks after the drivetrain and exhaust valving while the second stiffens up the Skyhook suspension.
With the first sport button pressed, you get a more lively throttle, sharper shifts and a glorious noise from the exhausts, although they are a long way from your ears.
It's still a fast car, with strong acceleration from standstill and in the gears, the power as linear as you like with no real turbo lag and a most un-turbo noise to go with the performance.
The only dynamic problem is the electric steering – it seems to get confused between your inputs and feedback from the road, the tyres feeling like they're 'nibbling' an uneven surface, tweaking the wheel in your hands.
The assistance is a little spotty, too, unexpectedly changing weight. It's just a bit weird. In normal driving, you'll never notice it.
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.