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Mercedes-Benz S320 vs BMW 735Li vs Audi A8L - Going Deutch

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This is turning out to be a BSM special issue meant for megalomaniacs. We thought bringing two Phantoms from two eras together was tough enough, but then came the bigger challenge – getting a Mercedes-Benz S-Class and a BMW 7 Series to run alongside the brand new Audi A8L. You have seen the lead picture and you know that we managed to get these machines together, but we trust our readers to be sharp beings... I can already see a few raised eyebrows. 

Yup, you, the one on the second row, you are right – the S-Class featured here is the wrong car. DaimlerChrysler couldn’t organise a new S350L, the only version that is currently sold in India. So they sent us a pre-facelift S 320. But it is still an S-Class. Then the BMW came with the wrong V8 under the hood. Ideally, the 745Li with a 333 bhp motor should have shouted ‘present, sir’ when the BMW name was called out – more so, since it would have taken the battle straight to Audi’s court and then some. Instead we had the 735Li with a smaller V8. Alright, somewhere in this issue you will also find that the 7 Series has gone through a facelift to cure its Bangled flaws. That leaves the Audi. The only model on sale in India is the A8L and the only car present in India came for our shootout. Danke schön, Island City Motors! 

So the verdict of the story looks very easy to come up with – the A8L would tear the opposition to shreds, right? True, but then we have tested the S350L and the 745Li separately, and we decided to borrow the numbers from those road tests and compare the cars you see in the pics for only the rest of the parameters, like looks, interior, ride and handling and overall comfort. I know it sounds a bit contrived, but then it is. Sorry, try getting three top-end imports that cost anywhere between Rs 60 to Rs 90 lakh a piece
and you will realise even motoring journalism can get tedious...occasionally. 

As nice blokes bent on giving you the very best stuff, we will ignore the 243 phone calls that made this story happen and take you straight to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway for some quick, fast and luxurious action.

Mirror, mirror...
The Audi looks absolutely correct, the Mercedes is great to arrive in and the BMW... well, is already a classic! You may want to argue with me about the Beemer, but remember, by messing with the classic lines of BMWs, Chris Bangle has a done a big service to the classic car industry. Trust me, twenty years down the line, each one of those Bangled 7s (that started the trend) is going to fetch a whole lot more money than ‘normal’ BMWs. Do we like it? Well, just as we are about to warm up to the car, we hear Munich has chained Bangle in the loo and sanctioned a revamp penned by someone from the old school. Sad. To be honest with you, the 735Li test car, in deep metallic blue, looked more energetic and younger than the other two. We tried to close its already sealed boot a couple of times, but still. The Mercedes-Benz has received clear lens headlamps and some tweaks since the car you see here and is every inch a stately automobile, and it is difficult to find a wrong line in that whole mass of sheet metal and glass. Yes, it looks stunning in silver. The Audi is better in the flesh than in pictures and is a flawless example of contemporary automotive design that aliens would happily take home as a souvenir from planet earth.

To sum up, the Audi is totally today, while the Mercedes-Benz is delightfully yesterday. The Beemer, dear friends, is eerie tomorrow, yesterday.
Audi A8: *****
Mercedes S-class: ****
BMW 7 Series: ****

Inner feelings
Make no mistake, all the three cars here are large, comfortable sofas on wheels. The Mercedes-Benz is the most comfortable in the back seat, the BMW brilliantly built around the driver and the Audi extremely good overall. You see, it is blatantly visible that while Mercedes and BMW try to market their reputation, Audi tries to earn one. Everything, from switchgear to the thread used for holding the leather together feels slightly better in the Audi. You can imagine a design room somewhere in Ingolstadt complete with two stripped out
S-Class and 7 Series serving as benchmarks. You can touch, feel and even smell the additional effort that has gone into making the Audi cabin a cut above the rest. A notch below and it would have looked like a Volkswagen and such a disaster has been craftily avoided. 

The Mercedes suddenly feels old and dated and I wish it did so in a delightful fashion. There is no doubting the quality of materials in use, but the sum of it all belongs to an era when old money ruled. It has got gadgetry but the interfaces do not look and feel cutting edge. Personally, I detest the seat controls shaped like a, er... seat. If you want to see what DaimlerChrysler is capable of doing, then please step into a Maybach or even the smaller E-Class. That said, the comfort factor is well taken care of and you will hardly miss your Presidential suite in the back seat of an S-Class.

There is nothing old-world about the BMW though. It is beautifully crafted from new-age materials and, thankfully, does not look and feel as sterile as the Audi. The test car came with a full load of goodies and each one of us fell in love with the black trim that complimented the leather. Like in any true BMW, the place to be is in the driver’s seat and that is where a problem strikes. While the other two cars sport rather conventional controls, BMW made sure that the 7 Series is the test bed for their (then) upcoming Rolls-Royce Phantom. So you get spindly levers for selecting drive. It is not difficult to master, but the big question is ‘why bother’! While us motoring journalists don’t spend enough time with the car to understand iDrive, those who have used it in real life swear by it and we take their word. All in all, the BMW interior is a very agreeable place to be in.
Audi A8: ****
Mercedes S-class: ****
BMW 7 Series: *****

Power stations
Independent test results of Mercedes-Benz S 350L and BMW 745 Li used for this segment of
the story.Let us start at cruising at 150 kph. Any car in this league should do that comfortably, right? We did just that with the threesome and guess what, there was micro-little that separated them in this game. The most relaxed machine of them is the BMW. In the 745Li iteration, the Beemer gets power from a 4398cc motor that bristles with 333 bhp at 6100 rpm and a class leading 45.3 kgm of torque. It beats the A8L, with a 335 bhp 4172cc V8,  in the waftability department fair and square. The Mercedes S350L has to do with
a 3722cc V6 that is good for 230 bhp, yet is not disgraced when it comes to cruising speeds. But as the speedo climbs to 200 kph and gets on its way to the top speed of these cars, the real difference comes through. The Audi engine is a refined-monster in this department and it mercilessly dispatches the world backwards with linear, relentless power delivery. The BMW is close on its heel almost all the time and the car feels lighter and faster as the speedo climbs towards the governed top speed of 250 kph. The Mercedes does feel comfortable till 220 kph, but then it begins to feel a bit thrashed and loses breath somewhat. Mind you, it will still do a commendable 240 kph, eventually.

When it comes to initial acceleration, the Audi is the king and the queen. It can do 100 kph in just about 7.5 seconds, which is exactly what the BMW 745Li would do too – but remember,the Audi sends power to all
four wheels and it feels (and is) safer when launched in an aggressive manner. The Mercedes is not too hot, thanks again to the V6 immigrant under the bonnet, and takes a sweet 9.7 seconds to hit the ton – leisurely and majestic are nice words, but not good enough to win a drag. The BMW is the most involving car here. You can sense every pebble and ridge in the concrete as the near two-tonner surges into the horizon. Imagine two little German gents sitting just above the lower arms and SMSing news on what lay beneath, and you get the picture of how communicative the front end of the Beemer is. 
Audi A8: *****
Mercedes S-class: ****
BMW 7 Series: *****

Corner ahead
Which one of these machines will I take to my favourite hill station? Hmm, let me answer this way. If I am alone, I will not even blink and grab the Beemer’s keys. But if I have to haul precious cargo, like my family, then it would be the Audi A8L. The rear-wheel drive Beemer is a brilliant car, especially when you can play around with those steering-mounted gear shifters. It doesn’t take time for you to get familiar with the dimensions of the car and it shrinks around you as you push your luck and limits. The Audi instead teaches you what Quattro is all about. This is a car that you can drive fast and aggressively, with the reassurance that nothing ever will go wrong. Slam it into a corner at speed and you will sense the car re-programming into the dynamic mode, with sensors working overtime to send adequate amounts of traction to the wheels that it can handle the most. With the magic letters that make up Quattro, the A8L has arguably taken the mantle of being the safest automobile available in India today. It wouldn’t be wrong to replace ‘India’ with ‘world’ too. All this sensory overload has its drawbacks though. While you laugh your way up the ghats as the BMW exercises your driving skills, you end up fiddling around with the audio-system in the Audi – you decide, which one is better? The BMW has more body roll in comparison while the Audi is straight and level in most situations. The Mercedes-Benz is not very comfortable at carving corners but it will show steely determination in getting you there. Some of the passengers may hit the restroom straightaway.
Audi A8: *****
Mercedes S-class: ****
BMW 7 Series: *****

One for our road
This is Mercedes-Benz territory. The Audi and the BMW feel fragile in comparison (with the latter even more so) as the going gets rough. What the big Merc can dismiss with barely audible thuds, become heart crunching, rubber splitting noises muffled by layers of foam in the other two. Not that the air-suspension in these machines are any dissimilar, but just that it feels like the Mercedes is the best built of them all. When you spend so much money on a car, it is important that the machine holds on well in the long term, right? I am pretty certain the quality of ride in the Mercedes will be better, say after 50,000 km of strutting around pot-holed terrain, and therein lies the strength of the three-pointed star. In its quest for the title of the best car in the world, the S-Class sure traversed some seriously rough terrain around the world and all that experience is put to good use in the latest version.
Audi A8: ****
Mercedes S-class: *****
BMW 7 Series: ****

Verdict
When importing a brand new luxury car that costs a bomb, three things should be kept in mind – service support, service support and service support. And Mercedes is a clear winner here. You can wake up happily in the morning, miss a flight and take the S-Class across two or three state borders without blinking an eye, knowing that most big cities will have a Mercedes-Benz dealership or service station. BMW has three and Audi will soon have two or three, and that is just not good enough. Alright, if you are based in Mumbai, Bangalore or Delhi and your driving is limited to the city, and maybe to Pune, Mysore and Jaipur respectively, you can still go ahead and buy the Audi or the BMW. 

But a comparison road test is beyond service support and we have the task of picking a winner. The Mercedes-Benz has to take the last position. The magnificent S-Class is getting a bit too familiar and needs to get better powertrains, at the least, to rub shoulders with the likes of the BMW and the Audi. It looks stately and is after all a Mercedes-Benz – when you are aiming for the sky, you’d like your very own star, right? The BMW is a fantastic car that is meant for the rich enthusiast. We never expected it to entertain us (that is the job of M3s and M5s, we thought) and it surprised us with its agility and athleticism. Under those Bangled (read neo-classic) lines lie a car that is almost alive. It wouldn’t take second place if what you are looking for is a luxury car with a youthful attitude and a lot of class from bumper to bumper – ask Amitabh Bachchan and he will agree. But it has to, because in the Audi A8L, we have the most state-of-the-art automobile amongst the threesome. It may not have the star, nor does it have the sportiness, but what it has in abundance is technology and quality that your money deserves to buy. It is as new age as Infosys and investing in one can be termed a wise move. It is a discreet alternative to the established icons. In any case, it is not fashionable to scream wealth in today’s age.