Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Comparison: 2007 Audi S6 vs. 2006 BMW M5 vs. 2007 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
The Terminators: They look like conventional German luxury sedans. But tick one off and it's "hasta la vista, baby."
Strap into the sleek Audi A6 4.2, and you'll enjoy the heady thrust of 350 horsepower. Or perhaps the BMW 550i's mighty 360 ponies are more to your liking. You also could strut about town in a Mercedes-Benz E550, boasting to all within earshot of your ride's thunderous 382 horsepower.
On the other hand, maybe you're one of those defiant souls for whom such lofty power ratings elicit a different response: "Not enough."
Ah, then please follow us down the hall. First we need to run you through Paycheck Analysis (good, good-you've got the requisite digits in your bank account) followed by a quick screening in Velocity Tolerance (check your preconceptions at the security desk, please). Thumbs up? Splendid. Now, be patient a moment longer while the guard deactivates the Laser Drool Neutralizer and...feast your eyes on those! You're looking at the three latest supersedans from Germany's leading premium brands. What's that? They seem tame? Why, that's the whole idea. These babies may pattern their sheetmetal after their conventional A6, 5 Series, and E-Class counterparts, but underneath they're Terminators.
You already know about the M5, which BMW launched in all-new, fourth-generation form for the 2006 model year. Let's not pass up a chance to review the car's high-adrenaline vitals, though: world's first V-10 engine in a production sedan; 100 horsepower per liter of displacement (that's 500 horses in total); 8250-rpm redline; seven-speed sequential-manual paddle-shift gearbox (or, for 2007, optional six-speed manual); cross-drilled, ventilated disc brakes; M Dynamic Mode for the ultimate in computer-aided, dancing-on-the-limit handling; and...hey, should we turn the Drool Neutralizer back on? In the M5's first title fight, against the Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG (March 2006), the beastly Bimmer won a close decision, its fighter-jet responsiveness edging out the Benz's headbanging straight-line thrust.
Since then, however, two new, exceptionally worthy rivals have emerged from Deutschland. Audi's latest weapon is the new S6 sedan, third generation of a model first introduced in 1995. Like the M5, the S6 brandishes V-10 power, in this case a 5.2-liter version of the engine Audi also builds for corporate colleague Lamborghini (where it serves in the Gallardo sports car). For S6 duty, the 40-valve, aluminum V-10 is detuned slightly, producing "only" 435 horsepower at 6800 rpm, but it's still very much an "exotic" powerplant: direct injection, magnesium variable intake manifold fed by two separate air paths (each with its own air filter), hydraulically adjusted, chain-driven double-overhead camshafts. The engine distributes the considerable fruits of its labors to the road through a standard six-speed automatic with Tiptronic and quattro permanent all-wheel drive. The only visual giveaway is a "V10" badge on each side.
For sheer oomph, the new E63 from Mercedes's high-sport AMG division trumps both of its rivals. Under its hood lies a new, handbuilt V-8 displacing 6.2 liters (yes, that "E63" badge is a tad optimistic). Unlike the outgoing E55's supercharged engine, the new 6.2 is normally aspirated. You won't feel cheated. While torque is down (from 516 pound-feet to 465), horsepower is up-from 469 to a staggering 507 horses at 6800 rpm. What's more, the torque dip has allowed Mercedes to replace the previous five-speed automatic transmission with its brilliant seven-speed auto and still maintain durability standards. Like the M5, the E63 throws all of its Herculean muscle to the rear wheels, the better to torture the standard 18-inch Continental Sport Contacts stuck back there.
Each of these luxurious, convenience-loaded machines is capable of performing feats of time/space distortion totally unbefitting an automobile with more than two doors and no rear wing. Which is precisely why we love them all. But after putting our trio through a grueling trial of screaming hot laps, rubber-burning track tests, hundreds of road miles, and thrilling blasts through the cinematic Los Angeles River, one of them has earned the distinction of being our favorite Terminator of them all.
You'll need mil-spec firepower to fend off any of these brutes in a straight line. Not surprisingly, the all-wheel-drive S6 was quickest out of the gate, putting down its power without a hint of wheelspin, but with the trio's lowest power rating and, at 4528 pounds, the highest curb weight, it quickly dropped to third in the drag race. Still, it sprints to 60 mph in just 5.1 seconds and runs the quarter mile in 13.6 at 104.4 mph. That's when the tarmac is dry. It's worth remembering that of the three Terminators, the S6 is the least affected by changing road surfaces and weather conditions. On wet tarmac, it'd suffer the smallest performance drop-off-and would likely wind up in front.
Shoehorning 500 horsepower into a BMW body that does just fine with 255 (the 530i) made wondrous digits appear on our test equipment. Launched well-and it takes a skilled driver to produce the perfect whiff of wheelspin-the M5 scorches from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds and nails the quarter in 12.7 at 114.6 mph. That's when it's running in full commando mode: engine set to max power (by default, the M5 starts up delivering a "docile" 400 horsepower), stability/traction control switched off, suspension firm, SMG configured to shift with all the subtlety of a rear-end collision. All these variables-and many more (an incredible 279)-can be adjusted using the standard iDrive controller (while parked, thank you). The driver can even store his favorite setup and then summon it later with a single push of the "M" button on the steering wheel. So cruise along in 400-horse comfort mode with complete confidence: A 500-horsepower, tire-shredding cyborg is just a push of an "M" button away.
The E63 AMG allows a little driver customization-the shocks can be set to three levels of firmness; comfort and sport modes alter the transmission's responsiveness and shift points-but mostly this big Benz asks only, "What do you want to do with your right foot?" If your answer is "Stand on it," hang on: The E63 rockets from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. In the quarter mile it's dead-even with the M5 (12.7 seconds), though it's moving a tick slower (113.0 mph) when it gets there. Like the M5, the E63 demands sensitive pedaling when traction/stability control (ESP) is off-or the rear tires will go up in smoke. But with its huge torque advantage it's the most willing to pin your ears back in any gear, at any rpm. "E63" is apparently how you say "street rod" in German.
While the straight-line contests were as stunning as they were predictable, laps around the East Loop of the Buttonwillow race circuit produced a few surprises. While the S6 is down on sheer thrust, it has spectacular brakes, gobs of grip (0.89 g), and by far the most stability of the trio. Squeeze your foot down in a corner and the S6 just lunges forward, its considerable curb weight seemingly doing an instant Slim Fast, the nicely weighted steering transmitting plenty of warning when the chassis finally begins to understeer. A master of momentum-management, the S6 posted a lap time just one tenth of a second behind the almighty M5 (on our shorter, tighter Figure Eight test, the S6 won handily).
The BMW may ultimately have a performance edge, but you'll work a lot harder to see it. First, you'll need to set up all the systems just so (say hello to Mr. iDrive). Out on the track, watch that throttle-tickle on too much gas in a corner and the tail heads for Alaska. (Admittedly, the chassis is beautifully balanced and the power-oversteer drifting is fun, but too often there isn't a racetrack around when you need one.) Hot laps are aided by superb steering, perfectly placed SMG paddles, and an excellent head-up display that shows your selected gear and an easy-to-monitor pictogram of engine revs. It all adds up to a machine that screams "track car." If that's what you're looking for-be honest with yourself-the M5 offers a totally immersive driving experience.
The E63 attacks the track like a bull. It has to go easy through turns-too much weight and torque for those narrow hooves-yet on the straights it charges with a V-8 bellow that could frighten the V-10s right off the circuit (when it comes to making motors, AMG is clearly in tight with the gods on Mt. Olympus). Addictive as the acceleration is, though, compared with the finely sorted Audi and BMW the Mercedes ultimately feels like a locomotive. You'd love the E63 on the autobahn, but around the track and in the Figure Eight, it finished a distant third.
Which ride rules as the ultimate factory Terminator? The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG tops the trio in power and in base price, starting at $87,475. In return you get an unfailingly civilized executive's express with a handsome (if conventional) cabin, classic Mercedes good looks, and a powertrain worthy of Zeus himself. But the rivals offer even more. Third place.
The BMW M5 may well be the planet's closest thing to a four-door Formula 1 car. But like an F1 machine, the M5 demands a lot in return for its extreme capabilities. Base price ($85,595) is high, and the extras quickly push the as-tested price to a stratospheric $94,965 (imagine buying a car in this rarified realm and having to shell out an extra $3500 for black perforated leather). And while the M5 offers an immersive driving experience, the question remains: Do you really want to be that immersed? The all-intrusive iDrive controller is only one of countless buttons and switches that must be twirled, pushed, mastered. To love the M5, you must be prepared to deal with its omnipresent HAL 9000 personality. And sometimes, all you want to do is drive. Second place.
Which brings us to our winner, the ultimate Terminator sedan. In the S6, Audi has created an automobile of power, beauty, and-most important-consummate balance. The S6 cruises on the highway with poise and grace and attacks twisty roads with electrifying V-10 sizzle-and to switch modes the only thing the driver needs to adjust is his mind-set. Performance is extreme but never overbearing. Quattro all-weather stability dramatically extends the useability envelope (quick blast to Aspen, anyone?). The cockpit is artful (stylish carbon-fiber accents add just $400 to the tab), thoughtful (shift into reverse and an optional rearview camera feeds the central display), cutting-edge but user-friendly (unlike iDrive, Audi's standard Multi-Media Interface is an intuitive pleasure to operate). And the S6 delivers all the above at an as-tested price ($78,320) that uncuts the Benz and the Bimmer by roughly $16K.
Hasta la vista, baby.
Effortless V-10 power, unfailing quattro stability, supreme comfort and style. Frankly, far more entertaining to drive than we expected. Makes $74K seem like a bargain.
Enjoy race-car moves-if, that is, you can deal with the cyborg interface. The Terminator sedan for those who like to tweak and fiddle.
MERCEDES-BENZ E63 AMG
What Zeus would drive. Fast, rowdy, thunderously powerful, though a bit of a blunt instrument compared with 1 and 2. The choice for rocketing across Germany at V max.