With Jaguar announcing a near-600bhp version of its XE saloon and Mercedes unleashing the latest AMG E63 now seems like a good time to take a look at the best in the super saloon market
In Greek mythology the hero always seems to end up having to face a series of challenges and challengers, each one intimidatingly great at what they do. So it is here. The Audi, BMW and Lexus each have a quality that they’re really rather brilliant at, and each one is different. Could one car take them all on and still come out the hero?
That’s the idea behind this rather odd group test. The Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ is possibly one of the greatest all-rounders, and now comes with the ultimate weapon of a 604bhp twin-turbo V8. But can it please the ears more than the 5.0-litre V8 in the Lexus? And could it then go on to out-accelerate the awesome Audi RS7 Sportback? And, finally, assuming it passes all these herculean tasks, could it out-handle the BMW M6 Gran Coupe? It’s a big ask.
A sound footing
First off, let’s put it up against the Lexus GS F. The 5.0-litre V8 in the Lexus is renowned for the purity of its tone, unsullied by turbos or bad living. But Mercedes-AMG has responded with volume, aided further by the £1000 optional performance exhaust.
Lexus GS F
Engine 4969cc, V8, petrol
Power 470bhp at 7100rpm
Torque 391lb ft at 4800rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 1865kg
Top speed 168mph
Top speed 4.6sec
Fuel economy 25.2mpg
CO2/tax band 260g/km, 37%
The Lexus has a great silky sound until you hit 4000rpm then it really cuts loose, screaming and shouting to a rather thrilling degree. It actually sounds better in the cabin than it does from the outside, but it’s outside where we have the noise meter. It scores 87.2dB, and then winds down in a civilised manner.
The AMG just shades it at 88.9dB, albeit with rather a lot more kerfuffle than you might want if you want to drive gently past that static police car. But then you ease off, and all that popping and banging of unburnt hydrocarbons sends the noise meter into meltdown. Just when the Lexus thought it was safe, the coup de grace is administered by the E63 S.
Audi RS7 Performance Sportback
Engine 3993cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 597bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 553lb ft at 2500rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 1930kg
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 29.7mpg
CO2/tax band 221g/km, 37%
The next challenge looks impossible. The Audi acceleration times for big four-seater super saloons or estates is now definitely under four seconds to 62mph, and it easily feels that fast. All four wheels just grip, no scrabble, no hesitation or duplication in either turbo time or gearbox response. You’re off, back pressed into seat, in a seamless shove of real violence. How did cars like this get so fast?
The Mercedes-AMG has more torque and a touch less weight but it feels a hopeless task. But it also has Race Start, AMG’s launch control. There’s definitely more surge at higher revs than the totally linear delivery in the Audi, but it doesn’t feel as fast overall. Then we look at the data from the timing lights.
Even though the Audi passed 62mph in 3.36 seconds, and even though it hit 100mph in only 7.52 seconds – staggeringly quick times – it was slightly beaten by the E 63 S. Epic, underdog beats champion time.
Can you handle this?
The newcomer just has one more challenge to conquer before it gets the maiden/kingdom/sees home again. All it has to do is outhandle the handling king.
BMW M6 Gran Coupé Competition Pack
Engine 4395cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 592bhp at 6800rpm
Torque 516lb ft at 1500-6000rpm
Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight 1950kg
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy 28.5mpg
CO2/tax band 231g/km, 37%
The E63 now has air suspension, adjustable and adaptable, to go with four-wheel drive. However, all this has not made the car more comfortable or more biddable. You could argue the opposite. AMG cars seem to be heading in the direction of harshness, with a thumpingly unforgiving ride being the price demanded for sharp handling. There’s also a restlessness to the ride that means you’re likely to leave it in Comfort mode just about all the time, and even then you’ll sometimes sigh and wince.
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+
Engine 3982cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 604bhp at 5750-6500rpm
Torque 627lb ft at 2500-4500rpm
Gearbox 9-spd dual-clutch automatic
Top speed 186mph
Fuel economy 31.0mpg
CO2/tax band 207g/km, 37%
Against that, the BMW offers only steel springs and rear-wheel drive. On normal roads it engenders more of a feeling of confidence as well as comfort. Which means you can carry more speed because you believe in it more, and you feel more connected. Where the Mercedes grips incredibly and turns in hard, there’s a level of separation caused by all that all-drive technology that just isn’t in the way with the BMW M6 Gran Coupe.
The Merc can engage Drift Mode but actually that’s quite a process to engage, deliberately so presumably. Under most other modes the BMW feels the more alive and the more enjoyable, even if at the outer edges the Mercedes-AMG displays that touch more control and balance. So these two fought hard and it’s actually quite hard to declare a winner since neither was dealt a mortal blow.
It was going so well for E63 S, but that last stumble will raise a few eyebrows with people who are already feeling slightly concerned about the way Mercedes-AMG is tuning its cars’ suspension. Perhaps that is the Achilles Heel after all, a weakness in the impressive armour.
Right, the Augean Stables are this way.