The Luxury Squadron: S 350 Bluetec vs A8, 740d, Range Rover

Mercedes S 350 L BlueTec, Range Rover TDV6, Audi A8 3.0 TDi, BMW 740d xDrive
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This test puts two absolute novelties face to face (Range Rover and Mercedes S-Class), but also two models that reached maturity, one close to the end of its life cycle (BMW 7 Series) and another one, right after the mid age facelift (Audi A8). The new S-Class is designed to redefine the supreme automobile notion in front of the eyes of the customers. Which car defines the luxury notion better?

Why the test?

For a genuine premium dose. For there is a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class generation and the moment was stared at in wonder by all those involved in the automotive industry worldwide. For Land Rover conceived and made the most luxurious and high-tech-end model of the brand, that pulls it out of the luxury SUVs shadow and scarelessly throws it right up against the big guys in the luxury automobiles fraternity. For no matter how good the S-Class is, Audi and BMW come up with competitive models, that still have something up their sleeve, ready to hog-tie the British prince intruded in the range, but also the „car of the presidents”.

Mercedes S 350 L BlueTec

Many years ago, somebody apparently wiser than me, told me that is the best car in the world that you coud ever afford. Therefore, he inhered that there are a million definitions of the term, that constantly depend on the number of zeros that you have in your bank account. I should call and tell him he was wrong, because Mercedes-Benz recently stated that the new S-Class is the „The best car in the world”, as it reasonably carries out the price restraint by definition.

Overruling the German’s lack of modesty, it is certain that the new S-Class bears a special meaning for the auto culture worldwide. You must only look into the history of the letter S and you will immediately find that every model ever launched made a brandnew page of history in the book of the modern automobile, and some even made full chapters.

Looking at the exterior of the S-Class, I can’t help remembering that there is no design detail on the endless list of innovations proposed by this model along its history. Things haven’t changed by now when it comes to this, as the S-Class stays the kind of honorable, elegant model, with a definite appearance more regarding the dimension than the shape. Not a single body board or a single visual component was preserved or refined from the former generation and even if you cover the logo, a 10-year old kid knows it’s an S.

If the exterior should not dazzle, the interior surely and literally will. You only need to climb into the right rear seat and comfortably adjust it. It won’t be easy, as you have a million settings available, but the perfect position will compensate the number of remote buttons by your hand. Small details as the soft cushion that plays the part of an intermediate between your head and the headrest or the perfect layout of the seat face cloth, that allows you to plunge into it, but still keeps a firmness and a holding level are things that make so much sense in an S-Class, that you almost instantly get used to them.

You can become accustomed to the Energizing massage function just as easy. It imprints the hot stones massage canons straight onto your back, with an efficiency that could get some massage therapists jobless in the near future. Another brandnew spoiling concept is the possibility of heating the mid armrest and the upper part of the door panel, for the cool days when the touch of a surface that does not have the optimal temperature, throws the damper of buying a company or two.

For the passengers from the right rear seat, there is no better alternative than S-Class.

When it comes to the seats, we must also mention the possibility to select a first class lounge that acts exactly like its luxury jets correspondent and the simple seat can turn into a real bed by a simple remote. Of course, all this time, the privileged passenger at the back has two remotes in handy, one to control his own phone and one to control the audio/video individual system for the rear passengers. Mercedes-Benz offers the 3D 24 speakers Burmester audio system for the music lovers. The system turns every song into a miniature private concert to their ears.

There is a signally contrasting dashboard at the front, where there are small chances to find the one who payed the bill for the car. At the upper side, there are two widely generous displays and a lower part as classical as may be, with retro details among which, there is the rotating control of the air vents and the analogue clock. At first sight, it seems that the dashboard designers wanted to compensate the slightly exaggerated high-tech approach of the upper side, by embeding the classical details, but this also shapes up a slight fracture.

The novelties turn hard to find in the technical side, where the standard AirMatic suspension went through minor changes, the three liter turbodiesel engine displays the same power figures and the automatic 7-speed transmission was practically pulled out the former model and implanted into the new one. The aftermath is a road holding obviously emphasizing the comfort, so obvious that the S-Class can dynamically go up against the widely bigger rival Range Rover, against the less balanced A8 or against the sporty 7 Series. Moving the automatic transmission and the suspension into the Sport mode gives more of a placebo feeling than a relevant change of the behaviour, so you would better keep away from those two buttons. This quite reserved approach of the technical assembly leaves room for the next 9-speed automatic transmission that will be launched in the near future, as for the Magic Body Control suspension that disposes the ability of scanning the road by two video cameras and by instantly modifying the feedback of the dampers.

At the end of the day, laying on the back seat, it seems as obvious as may be that the main innovation of the new S-Class is not the magical suspension, neither is the hot stone massage, but the way it was built, inside out. When the competitors will look at the luxury limousines more as living space and less as cars, the S-Class will have real rivals. Until then, for all those who favour looking at life from the rear right seat, there is no better choice.

 Range Rover TDV6

The biggest cliché is that the Range Rover is the father of the luxury SUVs. But I will also use it, because it is so and, beyond the lack of inspiration the moment you call on such a statement, this is a serious reason for bragging for the Land Rover, that practically invented a new kind of automobile, very much appreciated nowadays. The recent generation highly raised the standards, as the Range Rover practically became a luxury automobile, with a considerable road clearance and a highly operational 4-wheel drive system. All right, but what’s this doing inside the „proverbial” A8 – S-Class – 7 Series triple game? At least from where we’re standing, the new RR is demanding the affiliation to this group. And is doing it looking down. Does it have the right to do it? If we consider the S-Class, we are playing a game in which three ultra-modern fighter planes, F22 Raptor, for example, would dare to go against the sharship Enterprise. This is the difference, because the new Mercedes-Benz avant-garde is simply „avant time”.

We agreed right from the start that the new S-Class is an automobile playing in a whole different level. This is because it brings the idea of comfort offered aboard a terrestrial vehicle up to a level that was never seen before. But the Range Rover is not as far as it may seem at first glance. The visual impact is considerably stronger for the British grandee. My opinion is that we are talking about the most refined current outside looks. A line preserved along decades of Range Rover existance, but highly stylish and refinely reinterpreted.

On the inside, we go into an aristocratic world, ready to receive the top show-off of the kingdom grandees. In the same time, we are talking about a luxury level that can practically satisfy any demand, as it is no wonder that most of the soccer players in the Premier League (best paid typical sportsmen on the planet) are parking at least one Range Rover in their private „collections”.

The new Range Rover  is much lighter than old generation

The materials are good or very good, the furnish is excellent, but some combinations seem to be made with not enough responsability. There are small inadvertences that you can skip up to a certain point, but when your rivals are three Germans who are keen on quality, your sheet-metal is shaking in fear, even if your name is Range Rover. No matter the seat in the binnacle, it will make you feel special. At the rear, you have all necessary comfort and the multimedia systems can turn you even into a cinema spectator even in the godless places in the country. The driver is assigned with the famous patented Land Rover position behind the wheel, as the traffic scan is extremely well done from above. This trick goes a long way to place the „mastodont” inside the urban crowd, as its big gage is easily leviable and controllable.

As for the sensations provided while driving, the Range Rover is stunningly on. It does not involve you as much as the 7 Series or the A8, but it is unique in its own way. The new Range Rover is expansive, it is much easier to drive than it may seem from the outside and its roadholding is infinitly better than that of the former generation. More than that, even the first Range Rover Sport generation would go green with envy right now. Providing a higher safety feeling even on bends (the much reduced weight apart from its predecessors, goes a long way for this, as it reduces the idleness and directly raises the trust of the driver), still counting on a 4-wheel drive system, that gives credit to a producer that was practically born in the off-road and mud, giving a generous inside space and an exceptional quality of life aboard, fortunately completing them with an engine-transmission couple, the resources of which encounters the needs of an usual luxury automobiles user, the new Ranger Rover can be worthly considered a serious threat for the test partners.

In term of luxury interpretation, Range Rover become a rival for Mercedes S-Class and offer more than Audi A8 or BMW 7 Serie

And even though the new S-Class is placed so high up, there must be a shadow of doubt. This only comes for those who would not sniff and would accept our arrogance; that of putting the Teuton into a duel against an extremely luxurious off road vehicle. You will surely not float inside the Range as you would inside the S and you will not have in hand as many equipments as the Mercedes-Benz contrived, as you will not drive the so called „car of the presidents”, but the alternative is much more attractive and more tempting in many ways; that is if you are not the type of person with ready-made opinions, of course. Because the Range Rover is more of an S-Class as ever, so the Mercedes-Benz must keep an eye on their fellow countrymen now. They must also buy a binocular for the English Channel.¸

Audi A8 3.0 TDI

Audi A8 has been, ever since launching, a limousine to provide luxury and comfort to clients, at the same level as the competitors, but all dressed up in a body that is more discreet than deluxe. For those who want to enjoy the luxury of a private jet without drawing the sometimes jealous looks of the others in traffic, Audi is the best choice. For all those who want to be singled out, there is always the stately Range Rover and the presidential S-Class.

Almost an year back, Audi upgraded its admiral ship, that got more efficient and more powerful engines (the great V8 4.2- liter TDI was upgraded up to 385 HP), new assistance systems and LED Matrix headlights as an option. After the facelift, the three liter diesel has the same output as its rivals, S 350 BlueTec and 730d, that is 258 HP up against the former 250 HP, while the fuel consumption went down by 0,7 l/100 km, to 5,9 l/100 km. The explanation is the very light body shell. Although it standardly has a 4-wheel drive, the A8 3.0 TDI only weighs 1.880 kg, by 105 kg less than the BMW 730d xDrive. This is why the A8 is easier to drive than its Bavarian rival, famous for its proverbial agility. The adjustable drive train (five modes among which there is the Individual one) elegantly draws in the long bumps during the Comfort mode, but when it comes to the short ones or to the bridges cross bars, the suspension is not as soft as in the S-Class. Although it seems more agile in driving than the BMW or the Mercedes, thanks to a lower weight, the too much assisted steering and the obvious understeering even with the quattro 4-wheel drive does not generate that general sporty impression above the rivals.

A8 has a more discrete presence, but it has all high-tech innovations available in this class

The interior is just as we expected, extremely well furnished, with excellent ergonomics and all the additional gadgets of an automobile of the category and the dashboard comes close to perfection regarding the finishing. The Audi spoils the driver in its Valcona leather seats, the 12-position adjustment and electrical steering wheel which does not have any additional cost, plus the optional massage and  fanning functions. All these provide a flawless comfort right before we put it up against what the S-Class has to give, as it goes above the average of the segment by the new comfort facilities, the colour climate and the special lighting. No other rival gives the massage as in the Mercedes Hot Stone function and the Executive seat in the S-Class is unique in the range.

At speeds higher than 160 km/h, there is some wind noise in the A8, while there is absolute silence inside the S-Class. After the facelift, the Audi looks more modern and fresher, the assistance systems are upgraded and the inside ambience and the manufacturing quality measure up to those demanded by the luxury class. But it does not provide the comfort facilities of the S-Class especially for the precious rear right seat passenger.

BMW 740d xDrive

Right from the very beginning, the 7 Series is the car that you wish to drive of all these introduced in this test. It is the easiest to handle and the most agile thanks to the way it hides its gage. I am not saying it would be first option in buying, but, I will reason this statement later on. You need very little time to get used to it. The steering is intuitive, the stability is high quality considering the company, the bi-turbo three-liter diesel engine 6-cylinder inline and 313 HP, is strong enough for you not to complain about the lack of power and the 4-wheel drive xDrive gives an extra haulage.

Then the BMW dazzles with an 8-speed automatic gear box, that works flawlessly no matter the conditions, if we should mention, reaching a hard to equal refinement. There are also two buttons on the console, by the help of which you change the car behaviour from a very comfortable one to another one in which the suspension turns more rigid. The difference can really be felt, it is not just a marketing invention.

BMW 7 Serie is very agile and pleasant to drive but does not feel so light like Audi. And the figures confirm is not so light.

Regarding the interior, it does not seem as high-end as that of the competitors. I call it „high-end” because of the mutual elements with the models in the range. The gear stick may as well be the one of a 3 Series and, judging by the console, you may think you are in a 5 Series.

Althought it is pleasant to drive, you will not be disappointed by the comfort level provided when you ride in the rear seat. The only problem in the rear seats is the existance of the Mercedes S-Class and, same as the Audi, the BMW does not offer the comfort facilities of the S-Class, those so much appreciated by the back seat riders. The tested model also had a refrigerator on the options list, which you can access when the armrest is down. It takes too much room in the boot, but I don’t think you buy such a car to drag off with it and the space left for the luggage is more than enough.

Foto: Răzvan Loghin

The Verdict

It is not a comparative test and we did not have three versions of similar power, as the BMW had a more powerful engine. But we’ve got one thing straight: the Mercedes S-Class again sets the comfort and well-being standards for the passengers seating in the back seats. And in its turn, the Range Rover wishes to become some kind of an S-Class of the SUVs. And it is almost there, if we should forget that there is also the Mercedes GL.

 Technical data 

ModelAudi A8 3.0 TDIBMW 740d xDrive Range Rover TDV6Mercedes S 350 L BlueTec
Engine typeV6, turbodieselL6, bi-turbodieselV6, turbodieselV6, turbodiesel
Displacement (cmc)2967299329932987
Max.power/revs (CP/rpm)258/4000-4250313/4300258/4000258/3600
Max. torque/revs (Nm/rpm)580/1750-2500630/1500600/2000620/1600-2400
Transmissionaut., 8 gearsaut., 8 gearsaut., 8 gearsaut., 7 gears
L/l/h (mm)5135/1949/14605079/1902/14715000/1985/18355246/1899/1496
Wheelbase (mm)2992321029203165
Boot capacity (l)490500550-2030510
Kerb weight (kg)1880201520851975
Maximum speed (km/h)250250209250
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (s)
Combined fuel consumption (l/100 km)
Emission CO2 (g/km)155159196148
Price (euro with VAT, GER)76,70084,60091,30086,453.50