Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Porsche 911
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Tight in the rear
- Bit thirsty
- No manual (yet)
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|
The big three automotive icons - VW’s Beetle, the original Mini, and… the Porsche 911.
In continuous production for more than 50 years, a new, eighth-generation ‘992’ version of one of the world’s most recognisable cars has arrived in Australia.
Launching initially in rear-wheel drive Carrera S (CS) and all-wheel drive Carrera 4S (C4S) variants, the headline technical upgrades are more power with lower emissions, all alloy body panels (apart from the front and rear aprons), a new eight-speed ‘PDK’ dual-clutch transmission, a ‘Wet Mode’ driving program that supports the driver in the rain, and availability of ‘Night Vision’ using an intelligent thermal imaging camera.
But there’s so much more to the story.
|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.
In designing a modern sports car, who’d hang the engine over the back wheels? This layout just shouldn’t work in the way it does, but Porsche has continued to evolve and hone the 911 to an incredibly fine point. It’s a simply superb sports car experience.
If it were our money, we'd go for the Carrera S coupe. Entry-price dollars with minimal penalty in terms of dynamics relative to the C4S.
Porsche 911 or Merc-AMG GT? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
In designing a new 911 you’re effectively carrying the Porsche brand on your shoulders, and Porsche design chief Michael Mauer and his team have created a look that’s contemporary, yet unmistakably 911. Quality and attention to detail permeate every millimetre of this car.
The profile, though substantially larger, mirrors that of the 1963 ‘901’ original, with the car’s rear-engine layout a key driver in terms of stance and overall proportion.
Read More:The latest 911 Carrera Coupe review.
First, the front and rear axles have been lengthened (45mm fr - 44mm rr) without any change to the wheelbase, so the car looks broader than ever before.
And for the time being, there’s no such thing as a ‘wide body’. In previous generations of the 911 successive iterations (AWD C4S, Turbo and GT versions) have offered wider bodies, particularly at the rear. But the CS is as wide at the haunches as the C4S.
One of the key external changes is a single LED light bar across the back of the car; a design signature across all current Porsche models. And I for one, love the old school typefaces used for the brand and model badgework.
Another shift is the move to staggered rims on the mainstream Carrera models, with 20-inch alloys up front and 21s at the rear, while the pop-up rear spoiler is a new design incorporating a large slice of the rear decklid and able to raise all the way to a full air-brake position.
The drag coefficient is a very respectable 0.29, and car-spotters will be pleased to know the RWD CS sports black louvers in the rear grille, while the AWD C4S swaps that out for chrome finish.
At the front, a recessed channel at the top of the bonnet (front boot lid) is a tip of the hat to early 911 generations, the headlights look the same as the out-going model but they’re LED (four types offered), and electric pop-out door handles are flush fit.
Inside, the dash design will be immediately familiar to early 911 owners. Parallel horizontal lines define its upper and lower edges, with a sleek 10.9-inch multimedia screen neatly integrated in the centre, and five toggle style-buttons underneath facilitating the switch between key functions.
The instrument display allows for a classic 911 five dial arrangement, or multiple other layouts to be configured across two 7.0-inch “freeform” screens sitting either side of a fixed analogue tachometer in the centre. It’s beautifully executed.
The steering wheel is new, with a drive mode dial sprouting from the four o’clock position on ‘Sport Chrono’ equipped cars, and marginally lighter redesigned seats trimmed in partial leather look as good as they feel (especially with the standard houndstooth-style cloth inserts).
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.
So, there’s practicality, and then there’s sports car practicality. The latter balances all the smile-inducing dynamic ability you’d expect, with space for luggage and the stuff of everyday life, on a sliding scale from pathetic to liveable.
The 911’s needle is bouncing up against the liveable end of the dial because it’s actually a four-seater, with more than toothbrush and undies cargo capacity.
Yes, it’s a ‘2+2’ with the back seats best for kids or very occasional and short-term adult accommodation. But talk to a 911 owner and despite the limited rear legroom they’ll tell you about dropping the kids off at pre-school, or that time they had to take friends home after a party. Those extra spots are incredibly handy.
As well as that, the rear backrests flip forward to create a broad storage platform, supplementing the 132-litre (front) boot.
Generous boot dimensions mean it’s big enough to swallow a weekend-for-two’s worth of soft bags, or even small hard suitcases, not to mention a modest grocery shop if the need arises.
In the cabin, increased interior dimensions mean front seat occupants are provided with 12mm of extra headroom despite the car growing only 4.0mm taller overall. Part of that trick is the front seats being mounted 5.0mm lower and the cushions being slightly thinner. There’s heaps of room.
Day-to-day stuff includes a fixed cupholder at the bottom of the centre console, and a pop-out device at the end of the dash on the passenger side. Door pockets are slim, but they’re there, and will accept small water bottles laid on their side.
A medium-size glove box is a welcome addition, as are multiple connectivity/power options including two USB ports in a small console storage box, and a 12-volt outlet in the passenger footwell. There are also clothes hooks on the front seat backrests and on the B-pillars.
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 new 911 is offered initially in rear-wheel drive Carrera S, and all-wheel drive Carrera 4S versions with a new eight-speed ‘PDK’ dual-clutch transmission only. Pricing for soft top cabriolet variants has been set with arrival timing to be confirmed.
Base ‘non S’ Carrera models, and the option of a seven-speed manual gearbox an all models will be available later in 2019.
Launch pricing, before on-road costs, ranges from an rrp of $265,000 for the Carrera S Coupe, through $286,500 for the Carrera S Cabriolet, on to $281,800 for the Carrera 4S Coupe, right up to $302,600 for the Carrera 4S Cabriolet. So, very much the premium sports car experience, then.
And despite the rarefied air the 911 flies in there’s some serious competition in the same space, although they all circulate at a slightly higher financial altitude.
In ascending order the key competitive set includes, the BMW M6 ($292,600), Jaguar F-Type V8 SVR AWD ($295,578), Nissan GT-R Nismo ($299,000), Merc-AMG GT S ($301,129), McLaren 540C ($325,000), and if you’re willing to cough up a few extra bucks a month, the entry-level Audi R8 ($367,000).
And aside from the new 911’s comprehensive safety and performance packages, which we’ll cover in later sections, the standard features list is an impressive roll-call.
It kicks off with partial leather trim, complete with chequered flag style cloth inserts, over heated 14-way electrically-adjustable sports seats (with memory package), a leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, ‘Porsche Communication Management’ (audio, navigation, communication and assistance systems), 12-speaker Bose Surround Sound-audio (including digital radio), Apple CarPlay (no Android Auto), keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, LED auto headlights, the characteristic ‘4-point’ LED daytime running lights plus LED tail-lights, the ‘Carrera S’ alloy wheels, active cruise control, the 10.9-inch multimedia screen, and twin 7.0-inch digital instrument screens.
The options list is also long. For example, ‘Night Vision Assist’ using an intelligent thermal imaging camera to bring the darkness to light is a $4900 extra, and a Burmester ‘High-End Surround Sound System’ will set you back $6700.
Available standard colours are white, black, red and yellow, with optional metallics covering white, black, grey, mid-blue, dark-blue, dark-grey, silver and a deep green. ‘Special’ optional colours include a full-bodied red, and soft grey, as well as ‘70s-inspired orange, close to aqua blue and lime green. And I’m sure if you really wanted it, Porsche would finish your 911 in pink, brown, or gold.
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 911’s rear-mounted, all-alloy 3.0-litre, twin-turbo flat six-cylinder engine now features high-pressure piezo injectors and bigger turbos for more power (+22kW) and torque (+30Nm), with outputs reading 331kW (444 horsepower) at 6500rpm and 530Nm from 2300-5000rpm.
Not only are the turbos bigger, they’re now mirrored and rotate in opposite directions, where they were previously identical and spinning the same way. It’s all about balance and evening out charge pressure.
The turbo wastegate valves are now operated by electric stepper motors rather than vacuum for faster pressure control, with maximum boost set at 1.2bar.
Porsche’s ‘VarioCam Plus’ variable valve timing and lift system, operating on the intake and outlet side cams and the intake valves, is now able to de-throttle the engine under partial load to save fuel.
A new eight-speed ‘PDK’ dual-clutch transmission packs a completely revised gear set, and the final drive ratio is longer. Maximum speed (a lazy 308km/h in the CS) is achieved in sixth gear.
The front diff in the AWD C4S is now water-cooled for improved durability, with the map-controlled multi-plate clutch able to deliver a maximum 50:50 front to rear variable torque split, although Porsche says that would only ever happen on snow and ice.
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.
Of course, Porsche claims improved fuel economy and lower emissions to go along with the 911’s boosted performance.
Stated fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 9.5L/100km in the CS, and 9.6L/100km in the C4S. Hardly frugal, but not bad for cars with such huge performance potential.
CO2 emissions are rated at 216g/km for the CS and 219g/km for the C4S, and the standard auto stop-start function is relatively subtle.
Minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded. You’ll need 64 litres of it to fill the CS’s tank, and 67 litres to brim the C4S.
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.
The local 911 launch program took in open rural roads in McLaren Vale (south-east of Adelaide), South Australia and The Bend Motorsport Park, a slick new facility privately developed from Mitsubishi Australia’s former proving ground at Tailem Bend.
Over two days we were able to push the CS and C4S coupe as hard as we dared, and let’s get it out of the way up front, the new 911 is fast.
With the optional Sport Chrono package the roughly 1.5-tonne C4S will accelerate from 0-100kmh in just 3.4 sec. Even in its ‘slowest’ non-Chrono CS form that number only drops by three tenths.
On top of these performance figures it also manages to magic up an engine and exhaust sound that’s a beat-for-beat match for naturally aspirated 911 flat sixes of old. There’s no synthetic skulduggery here, just skilful manipulation of the exhaust system, getting a pitch-perfect amount of gas past the turbos into grateful ear drums.
The 3.0-litre flat six produces its maximum 530Nm of torque from 2300-5000rpm, with peak power (331kW) taking over at 6500rpm. The fat mid-range pushes you firmly back in your seat with a simple squeeze of the right-hand pedal, and the engine’s revvy nature makes the temptation to visit the 7500rpm rev ceiling almost irresistible.
Porsche knows its way around a dual-clutch transmission, and the new eight-speed PDK delivers rapid fire, positive shifts up and down the ratios, with the slender alloy wheel-mounted paddles adding to the immediacy and fun.
A big question is, in its creep from small and light to bigger and heavier has the 911 lost its ability to form a direct and intimate relationship with its driver. After all, thanks to added safety and performance hardware this car’s a full half tonne heavier than the ‘901’ original. The answer is an emphatic no.
The strut front, multi-link rear suspension set-up continues, with active dampers (PASM) and active anti-roll bars standard. In Comfort mode the 911 rides incredibly well, even over the coarse chip rural surfaces covered on the launch. Despite monster Goodyear Eagle F1 high-performance rubber (245/35 20 fr - 305/30 21 rr) general noise, vibration and harshness levels are impressively low.
But switch up into the more dynamic modes and you’ll really start to bond with the new 911. The slightly quicker electrically-assisted steering points beautifully, with the variable assistance ramping up in superbly linear fashion.
I remember widespread hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth when Porsche moved the 911 to electric steering. No need to have worried, road feel is even more present in this latest gen version.
Hot lapping The Bend’s 4.95km International Circuit (one of four layouts available) amplified the new car’s abilities, not to mention its ergonomic excellence.
‘Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus’ (PTV Plus) packs in an electronically regulated rear diff lock with fully variable torque distribution and the car opens up a clear conversation as the limits of adhesion arrive.
Basically, the new 911 turns go-fast wannabes into track-day super heroes, its every movement felt immediately through the fingertips and seat of the pants. Speaking of which, the standard sports front seats are brilliant, and the new design steering wheel is perfect.
It remains balanced and predictable at speeds that would have the constabulary locking the cell door and throwing away the key, steady and easily steerable with the throttle through hold-your-breath quick corners.
There's precious little difference between the CS and C4S. Yes, the AWD car grips even harder at the front end, but the rear-drive car feels lighter in the nose and that bit more responsive to steering input. Really, there's not a struck match in it.
Then there’s the brakes, and oh how good they are. A ceramic composite brake package (complete with black calipers) is a $20,500 option. I’d advise buying a Yaris SX as a weekday runabout instead because the standard stoppers are brilliant.
Huge ventilated cast iron rotors (350mm front and rear) are clamped by red six-piston monobloc calipers at the front and four piston units at the rear. Despite lap after hot lap (tailing various tame racing drivers) the left pedal lost none its response or effectiveness. Amazing.
We also got to play with Wet Mode through a simple figure eight exercise on a soaking skid pan, and it makes a distinct difference without shutting down the fun. Yes, the throttle’s softer, but the engine still revs freely, the car remaining stable and predictable in what equated to torrential conditions.
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.
Although the new 911 hasn’t been given a safety rating by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, you could argue its exceptional dynamic ability represents one giant, five-star safety feature. But specific active techology includes ABS, BA, forward collision warning, lane change assist, stability and traction control, and AEB (operating up to 85km/h).
You’ll also pick up a reversing camera, ‘Parking Distance Control’ (front and rear) and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
The standard ‘Wet Mode’ uses sensors in the wheel arches to pick up the sound of water splashing off the tyres. It then preconditions the brakes and other control systems as it warns the driver, who can then push a button or use the rotary dial on the steering wheel (‘Sport Chrono’ package) to change modes.
Once activated, Wet Mode connects ‘Porsche Stability Management’ (PSM), ‘Porsche Traction Management’ (PTM), the car’s adjustable aerodynamics, and the ‘Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) Plus’ system, to set the car up for best possible stability.
At 90km/h and above, the rear spoiler goes to its "maximum downforce" position, the engine cooling flaps open, the accelerator pedal response is flattened off and Sport mode can’t activated. Read all about how it feels in the ‘What’s it like to drive?’ section.
But if all that fails to side-step a crash the airbag count runs to six (dual front, dual front side and dual thorax). And both rear seat positions incorporate top tether and ISOFIX anchors for child seat/baby capsule location.
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.
The 911 is covered by Porsche’s three year/unlimited km warranty, with paint covered for the same period, and a 12-year (unlimited km) anti-corrosion warranty also included. Certainly off the mainstream pace, but possibly modified by the number if kays a 911 is likely to travel over time.
Porsche Roadside Assist provides 24/7/365 coverage for the life of the warranty, and after the warranty runs out is renewed for 12 months every time the vehicle is serviced at an authorised Porsche dealer, and the main service interval is 12 months/15,000km.
No capped price servicing is available, with final costs determined at the dealer level (in line with variable labour costs by state/territory).