Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Tesla Model S
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
Tesla Model S
- Rocketship speed
- Clean interior design
- Ever-improving proposition
- Sadly, it's not a sports car
- It's a lot of money
- Lack of convenient charging
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|
Tesla Model S
If you have even a passing interest in the Tesla Model S, you'll have seen the endless internet videos where someone has lined up a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or another fast exotic car you could name, to race against it.
There's a long build-up, usually involving men who can't operate a baseball cap, a drag strip and idiotic words in the headline like "destroys" or "rips", or whatever. There's usually a bunch of honking bros with bad haircuts watching on, already planning their next viral video where they set a perfectly good mobile phone on fire.
It's facile and idiotic and doesn't give you any real clue as to the depth of whatever supercar it has "humiliated" or, just as importantly, the depth of the Model S and its spectacular engineering.
So, I won't be spending the next thousand words building up to the conclusion that the Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode is up there with the world's fastest production cars from 0-100km/h, because I'll tell you now that it is, and it does it in a claimed 2.7 seconds.
Now that's out of the way, there's quite a bit more to the Model S than a "broken" Nissan GT-R owner weeping into their bento box.
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.
Tesla Model S8.3/10
I spoke to a friend who bought a Model S before one had even hit the ground here in Australia. He chuckled when I told him how much this car cost but then said something I'd already suspected. "My mates who own a P100D would never drop that kind of money on a normal car. Buying a Tesla is like buying shares in the company, you're buying into the future."
And that's kind of the point. A $300,000 Audi RS7 (fully-loaded, obviously) is a bit slower in a straight line, looks just as good, is extremely well-built and emits noises that make people like me go as weak at the knees (just as the Model S' acceleration does). And would probably win a 10 lap race with the Tesla around Mount Panorama.
The Tesla is the future of cars. It may still be decades before the internal combustion engine is gone, but Tesla buyers are getting the jump, and today the Model S is the best car in which to make that leap.
Does the Tesla have the spark you need or do old-fashioned hydrocarbons still light your fire?
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.
Tesla Model S7/10
The Model S is definitely the looker of the three Tesla models on sale (the Model 3 might be some way from release, but you can reserve one and it's... weird-looking). With a slinky, Jaguar XF/Audi A7 roofline and low-slung stance, it looks the business. Like the X, the detailing of the car's surfacing and panel gaps aren't where other $200,000+ cars are, but it has improved a lot over the last couple of years.
The styling is quite sparse, really. Teslas look like computer renders in real life, especially in white, with little in the way of jewellery or detailed design elements. And that's probably the idea. It's a cleaner design than when first launched, with a simpler, flatter snout that brings out the headlights better.
The cabin has improved even more than the exterior. It's still the same minimalist design, but it fits together much more tightly than it used to. The 17.0-inch portrait screen is still there in its central but skewed-to-the-driver position and is now up to version 8. It's an impressive interface, covering off the vast majority of functions in the car, and is mostly easy to use. The responsiveness is key to its usability. If it was underpowered, you'd quickly start demanding real buttons.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
The Model S is a rare car in this class in that it has an almost completely flat floor, meaning rear seat passengers don't have to negotiate a transmission tunnel. The two motors run physically independently of each other so there's no crankshaft to get in the way.
The floor is thicker than a normal car, it's like a big skateboard underneath. That means your knees are up higher, which might cause numb bum on a long trip. The rear seats are comfortable enough, but middle seat occupants might feel like the outboard passengers are falling into them.
The view out isn't too bad given the rising window line, and if you've got the big two piece sunroof (without cover, irritatingly... ), it's quite airy out back. And hot (with the sunroof), but you do get rear air-con vents.
The boot is an eminently sensible 744 litres with the seats up and 1795 with the seats down, although the floor doesn't fold flat. While it's a big boot, it's relatively shallow so your suitcases go in on their sides. Up in the front boot (or froot) there's another 150 litres, so you can pack a lot in to the Model S. And with all that torque, when you do load it up, the extra kilos barely make a dent on the performance.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
Tesla is basically a technology company - well, a battery company - that makes cars, so the features and options reflect that. It's a gadget-laden five-door hatch powered exclusively by electricity and seemingly full of things that will drain the batteries quickly.
If you view the car's price purely through its standard features list and the cost of options, you're missing the point. If it had a 3.0-litre turbo six, there's no way you'd pay this kind of money for the Model S. But it doesn't have that, it has a bleeding edge battery pack and propulsion system.
The Model S can be had for as little as $118,652 for the 60 offering 400km range, rear-wheel drive, and 5.8s 0-100km/h (but move quickly, Tesla has just axed this model), or as much as this P100D which starts at $250,582.
Standard are a seven-speaker stereo, leather-like trim, 19-inch alloys, reversing camera, 17.0-inch touchscreen, keyless entry and start, forward collision warning, digital dashboard, electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, internet connectivity via included SIM card, power mirrors and windows and air suspension.
Our P100D came with 21-inch grey 'Turbine' wheels ($6800), panoramic roof ($2300) multi-coat pearl paint (white, $2300) and carbon-fibre interior trim bits for $1500, as well as a carbon lip spoiler for another $1500.
We also had the 11-speaker audio upgrade (with neodymium magnets, don't you know) for $3800 and the 'Subzero Weather Package' (seat heaters, heated steering wheel, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heaters) and on-board high-power charger (speeds up charging with the 'Tesla Wall Connector', $2300).
There was also 'Enhanced Autopilot' ($7600) and 'Full Self-Driving Capability' ($4600). The former is meant for highway running, and comes with four cameras (up from one) and 12 ultrasonic sensors around the car, as well as upgraded processing power to run it all.
The full self-driving is meant for around town. The idea is you punch in a destination, or speak to the computer or passive-aggressively stay silent, which triggers the car to check your calendar and take you to the address in the appointment. Part of the extra cost of that is yet more cameras (up to eight), more sensors, and more number-crunching power.
We would love to tell you how all that worked, but being Tesla 'Hardware 2', it's not ready yet. While these features are being fleet-tested by 1000 cars in the US, your car will run it all in "shadow mode" for data and behaviour validation. One day you'll go to your car and a software update will be ready to download and install the functionality.
Unusually, you can retrofit both of these features for about $1500 more (each) than if you order them up-front. That's very cool and Tesla is probably the only car company in the world that will let you do it.
The 17.0-inch screen's software is regularly updated, like a mobile phone's. Also like a mobile is the sometimes less successful update, in this case the slightly bewildering and difficult-to-use music interface that is very keen for you to make a selection with voice commands, but not ones that go through your phone.
A 'Premium Upgrades' package adds the overkill of a 'Bioweapon Defense (sic) Mode' that knocks out 99.97 per cent of exhaust particulates and other contaminants, using two activated carbon air filters for other nasties like NO2 and hydrocarbon exhaust fumes.
LED turning lights and fog lights, real leather on the armrests, steering wheel and lower dashboard (if you also have leather seating), nappa leather and Alcantara on the dashboard, soft LED interior lighting, power tailgate and backlit door handles for $5300. Thankfully, the silly self-opening front doors in the Model X's pack aren't in this little lot.
Grand total? $297,792. On the road in, say, NSW... $313,013. Youch.
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.
Tesla Model S10/10
The P100D ships with two electric motors fed by a huge battery pack which triples as the bulk of the chassis and a super-strong crash structure. It's also shared with the Model X SUV.
Combined power output is 568kW with more of it out the back rather than up front. Torque is quoted at 1000Nm, but it's likely more than that. Claimed 0-100km/h time is a mildly unbelievable 2.7 seconds, with a further two-tenths to be shaved off when you press and hold Ludicrous Mode and accept a warning that you'll wear the car out faster if you use it.
With 'Ludicrous Mode' comes not just software but a higher capacity fuse that allows more power to be drawn from the batteries for longer to provide the searing acceleration.
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.
Tesla Model S10/10
Zippo. Obviously with the new rules for Tesla Superchargers, it's not as cheap to own and run a Tesla as it was before (from January 2017, all new orders don't get free juice after the first 400kWh), but if you charge it at home (and can get away with it), it'll probably be cheaper than using Tesla's chargers. If you look, there's a company offering $1 per day charging for electric cars.
If I'd charged the car to 100 percent rather than the 80 percent recommended by Tesla for most charges (past that mark, the charge rate drops and the software has to slow to a trickle, doling out the electrons to the different cells), I would have managed just over 400km on the charge.
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.
Tesla Model S7/10
The first time I drove a Model S, I enjoyed the acceleration and the silence of the electric motor (this was back in the Dark Ages when even the P90 only had one motor). And that has remained, with the air suspension providing a firm but comfortable ride despite the P100D's 21-inch rims and very low profile tyres. Electric motoring in any electric car is addictive.
Much progress has been made (yes, I'm getting to the acceleration, stay with me) in the way it drives. The earlier cars felt too computer gamey, with little feel through the wheel or the seat of your pants. The steering is better, especially in Sport mode, but not a lot gets through the air suspension, so it takes a while to build confidence in the chassis.
On the freeway (look, you can read ahead if you must) it's amazingly quiet, with just a bit of a rustling around the mirrors. Well, of course it's quiet, it's electric. For chassis and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) squashers, not having the marvellous engine noise means much harder work to dull the other noises you just don't hear when there's an internal combustion engine.
And there's the acceleration. As the driver, you obviously know it's quick. Mash the throttle and the response is instant, the horizon closing in on you like you're attached by a very stretched and immensely strong bungee strap that's just been released. The way cars disappear in your rear vision mirror is hilarious.
It's more fun as a passenger, though. The Model X elicited whooping and laughing, but the P100D's extra 0.6s-worth of acceleration over the P90D, delivered with a truckload more G-force, equals silence. One woman said she was glad I'd caught her before dinner rather than after, before bursting forth with a range of expletives. One passenger became quite emotional, almost crying. And not just because they were stuck in a car with me.
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.
Tesla Model S8/10
The Model S comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, three ISOFIX points, rollover sensors, emergency power disconnect. Additionally, when the software arrives, you'll have full AEB (ours was limited), self-driving and an ultra-clever active cruise that'll change lanes and overtake if the car you're following falls below your set speed.
The Model S scored five ANCAP stars, the maximum available, in April 2015 via the sharing arrangement with 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.
Tesla Model S8/10
Tesla offers a four-year/80,000km warranty with a parallel eight year/unlimited kilometre warranty for the battery and drive units. Roadside assist applies for the four year warranty period.
Tesla offers two maintenance plans, three and four years in length. The three year plan costs $2100 and the four year $3175. Paying for the services individually over the same period will cost $2300 and $3425 respectively. That includes a wheel alignment (if needed), but it isn't particularly cheap when compared with 'normal' luxury cars.
Your first 400kW/h of recharging is free using Tesla's supercharger network, so that would be four full charges from empty (which you wouldn't do, obviously), or about 1600km worth. After that, it's 35c per kWh or $35 for a full charge.