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2014 Audi RS7 vs. 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe, 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG S-model


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IMAGE: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG S-Model 4MATIC, 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe, and 2014 Audi RS7 »

We’ve watched two Gulfstreams and a Learjet touch down in a span of 30 minutes, taxi along the stretch of pavement we’re using as our provisional test track, and tuck into spotless hangars. Only the flight crews disembark from these planes. The nondescript southern German village of Schwäbisch Hall, population 40,000, isn’t the kind of place where you’d reside if you could afford to live anywhere. From what we can tell, this airfield is the EZ-In/EZ-Out parking garage for the planes of one-percenters who reside elsewhere. Suddenly, our collection of $100,000-plus four-seaters doesn’t seem so extravagant.

Aside from a private jet, however, few vehicles make our test trio look humble. When you’re grounded, there’s no better way to travel than in Audi’s RS7, BMW’s M6 Gran Coupe, or Mercedes-Benz’s CLS63 AMG. Each of these three automakers has a larger, more opulent flagship if you intend to ride in the back seat. The RS7, the M6, and the CLS63, however, are the top machines for those who insist on driving. Speed barons, kings of luxury, and fashion slaves, these cars exist in the overlap of an exotic automotive Venn diagram.

Germany’s de-restricted sections of autobahn are as close as the earthbound can get to the freedom of flying. Yet even 10-mile stretches aren’t enough to achieve top speeds, which in our cars are as high as 190 mph—a white van always seemed to veer into the left lane every few miles doing a mere 100 mph. A great test of the brakes, that.

 

And because a tank of gas only lasts 40 minutes when there aren’t speed limits, we trekked away from the freeway to a sinuous, tree-lined hill-climb to understand how differentials, adaptive dampers, and gummy tires shrink these large cars when the road starts twisting.

Audi waltzes into this bout with an overflowing trophy case. The A7already knocked out the CLS550 and the 640i Gran Coupe in separate matchups. In our last Audi-BMW-Benz comparo [July 2012], the S6 shrugged off a roughly 100-hp deficit to topple the E63 AMG and the M5. This time around, Audi’s entry is fighting in its weight class. The RS7 comes from Quattro GmbH, Audi’s answer to the M and AMG organizations. As in the S6 and S7, its power comes from 4.0 liters of twin-turbocharged V-8, but the R in RS7 means 140 more horsepower and 110 more pound-feet of torque matched with a sophisticated suspension and, in the case of our test car, optional carbon-ceramic brakes. And as the only hatchback in this set, the RS7 boasts cargo space the others can’t match.

BMW’s M6 Gran Coupe, on the other hand, faces an uphill battle. Its good looks can’t mask its close kinship to the disappointing M5 that placed last in our previous test. The Gran Coupe rides on the same 116.7-inch wheelbase, is powered by the same 4.4-liter blown V-8, and uses many of the same chassis components as its 5-series equivalent. Ponderous and plodding, the M5 shuns M-brand hallmarks of litheness and agility. But it should be noted that the M division’s philosophical approach with the Gran Coupe—how it tunes the bushings, springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars—sounds closer to how it views the sharper, sportier M6 coupethan the bulky M5 sedan.

 

Visually, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG is the same as last year’s car. Mechanically, one significant change has transformed it: 4MATIC four-wheel drive. Our tester is branded as a new “S-model,” a trim that replaces the old AMG performance package because a trunk badge helps retain resale value better than a window-sticker line item. More noteworthy, the S-model raises horsepower from 550 to 577, adds a limited-slip rear differential, and lifts the governed top speed from 155 to 186 mph.

Spectacular as it is, this German power orgy isn’t complete. We also hoped to include one of the nine variations of Porsche’s recently refreshed Panamera. The Turbo model comes closest in output with 520 horsepower (a Turbo S is forthcoming), but it costs almost $30,000 more than the competition. The naturally aspirated Panamera GTS is priced on par with this group but gives up more than 100 horsepower to these turbocharged models. In the end, it didn’t matter what model we wanted because Porsche wouldn’t play. So we played without a Panamera.

 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG S-model

Third place: Civil War.

 

This Mercedes is unapologetically different from the other two contenders. The CLS63 AMG is truest to its roots, a direct descendant of AMGs named the “Hammer” and the “Red Sow.” It emits the baritone roar of a Cigarette boat and punches a hole in the air with the same sense of entitlement asthe larger S-class. It is an outrageous engine wrapped in an imposing car. But one of the CLS’s biggest contrasts is how it distances its driver from the road.

First went the clutch pedal. The shift paddles are sure to follow. The computers are so sophisticated, the engines so powerful, and the acceleration so rapid in these cars that the human body and brain struggle to keep up. Just try to time the 1-2 upshift in the CLS63 AMG at full throttle. The V-8’s stampede to 6400 rpm, along with a slightly lethargic manual-shift apparatus, means you need to think about shifting now—as soon as you flatten the throttle—if you want to avoid bucking against the rev limiter.

AMG’s stone-cold launch control will manage gearchanges for you. With a wet-clutch pack in place of the torque converter, the Merc cuts the anchor chain at 3750 rpm to hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and clears the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds. It is the quickest car here thanks to its combination of four-wheel drive and launch control, not to mention the most potent engine. The 27-hp bump over the old performance package and the switch to four-wheel propulsion hack 0.6 second off the 60-mph sprint.

While it wears the smallest tires and is the only car here with conventional iron brake discs (carbon-ceramics are optional), the CLS still manages the stop from 70 mph in 148 feet, evincing no fade. It was second quickest through the slalom, where it displayed exceptional stability but scant athleticism, with no sinewy connection to the driver.

The Mercedes’ performance only came into question when we attempted our tight and technical hill-climb in Eberbach. Here, back-to-back-to-back hairpins of the first-gear variety open up into a series of sweepers where speed is dictated by your nerve and confidence more than the topography. On these roads, the Mercedes’ vaultlike qualities weigh it down. It is neither as eager to change direction nor as neutral as the Audi or the BMW.

Mercedes, which kicked off the “four-door-coupe” trend with the first CLS (pictured immediately above), now builds the least-pretty one. But it sounds like a whack from Thor’s hammer.

The CLS feels larger and more sluggish than the others, despite the fact that it claims the shortest wheelbase, the shortest length, and a curb weight halfway between the Audi and the BMW. Driving fast in the Benz means using the engine to compensate for the chassis. It’s a point-and-shoot affair rather than a fluid chain of carefully managed acceleration, braking, and steering.

The CLS63 AMG comes into its element on the autobahn, where its buttoned-down chassis is unfazed by the rare pavement irregularity even above 130 mph. The insulated cabin mutes wind and road noise, the bulky front seats could be comfortable for days, and the rear cabin is generous. The exterior execution is, to our eyes, less successful. Mercedes may have invented the so-called “four-door-coupe” form factor, but everyone else seems to have implemented it better. The CLS’s surfacing is cluttered, and its rear end looks droopy and dowdy.

What’s the point of a four-door coupe if not to make the rear end sexy?

 

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Second place: Civil War.

We’ve been tough on the 6-series Gran Coupe, which isn’t even a coupe. You know, one more example of a brand-expansion scheme that’s out of control. But if Mercedes and Audi get a pass with their mid-size, four- and five-door “coupes,” why shouldn’t BMW? There’s an even better rationalization for the M6 Gran Coupe, though: It’s a stronger car than the M5.

That discovery is difficult for us to wrap our heads around, as the two cars are so similar. Yet the M6 Gran Coupe was repeatedly praised for its performance in this test, both subjectively and objectively. It recorded the fastest slalom time thanks to prodigious grip and unflappable stability. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes have great top-of-pedal response, and the M6’s stopping distance was just one foot longer than the RS7’s.

The weighty steering isn’t as quick as we might like, but it reacts to every small adjustment. And in the Gran Coupe’s body motions, there’s no evidence of the M5’s nervous up-down clip. The Gran Coupe masters ride and handling trade-offs in a way that’s been notably missing from other recent BMWs. Even in sport-plus mode, the M6 retains a suppleness that’s absent from the Audi and the Mercedes.

The torque delivery from the 4.4-liter engine is especially linear, smoothing out the typical turbo wallop and placing both the power peak and redline higher in the rev range. The 552-hp M engine also sounds like no other turbo eight-cylinder. Higher pitched and with a prominent turbo whir, it’s part sci-fi special effects (some of the soundtrack actually comes from the stereo speakers) and part race-bred howl.

We’re not so charmed by the tumorous shifter that makes rotary knobs and column-mounted stalks look ingenious. It transforms basic tasks—such as three-point turns, shifting from neutral to drive, and engaging park—into challenges. Mastering the cryptic launch-control procedure requires studying the owner’s manual, and even when you do get all seven steps right, the instrument panel occasionally stares blankly back at you. When you do get it right, the launch deftly masks any sprint handicap inherent with two-wheel drive. The sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports are the widest rear tires in the group, and the 3.5-second zero-to-60 run is just one-tenth behind the Audi. The Gran Coupe’s quarter-mile is one tick behind that of the CLS63 and the RS7, but it compensates with the highest trap speed.

Each of these cars is capable of besting common sense on the autobahn’s unlimited sections, but it’s the BMW that requires the most focus. When speed ventures past 160 mph, ripples in the pavement become waves in the body, and, as the lateral g-forces build up in the long bends, the BMW develops an unsettling side-to-side bobbing that neither the Audi nor the Mercedes exhibits.

Low, long, and lovely, the M6 Gran Coupe provides something in return for the loss of a conventional sedan’s rear-seat passenger comfort.

The Gran Coupe is also the tightest four-seater of this bunch. The rear cabin runs short on foot-, knee-, and headroom, and outward visibility is impaired by short glass all around. Even the front passenger has to deal with an encroaching center console. Ironically, the confining BMW was the only tester to include a fifth seatbelt, though even a jockey would refuse to straddle the climate vents as BMW proposes.

The M6 Gran Coupe hasn’t completely redeemed the M5. This car never feels compact or particularly nimble. Despite an aluminum hood, a carbon-fiber roof, thermoplastic door skins, and the absence of front driveshafts, the M6 is less than 100 pounds lighter than the Audi or Benz. But it does feel less cumbersome and sharper than the M5, at least.

Or maybe it’s just easier to swallow the M division’s mission creep with the Gran Coupe. Whereas past M5s stirred our souls, the 6-series has always been a grand tourer. The M6 Gran Coupe is still benign by traditional M-car standards, but it fulfills many expectations the M5 doesn’t.

 

2014 Audi RS7

First place: Civil War.

This is strait-laced Audi cutting loose. With the RS7, the tuners in Neckarsulm adorn the A7’s thoughtful shape, clean lines, and meticulous interior with honeycomb-stitched seats, 21-inch wheels, and an optional grille with “quattro” identification not so subtly displayed. Of the massive rollers, Quattro claims it will never go bigger than 21s. It makes no such claims about the 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, even though we can’t imagine why you would need more punch. The RS7 is always in the power band—just look at its worst-in-test observed fuel economy. Subjected to repeated hill-climb runs and long blasts on stretches of de-restricted autobahn, even the RS7’s smallest displacement and cylinder deactivation couldn’t help it. It scored just 9 mpg.

Because Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox can’t cope with the uprated 4.0-liter’s torque, the RS7 uses the pervasive ZF eight-speed automatic. It doesn’t shift with the crispness of the BMW dual-clutch, but it shows better behavior around town. It also reacts faster and shifts more assertively than the Mercedes’ gearbox. With a traditional torque converter at the front of the transmission, the RS7 can’t offer a 4000-rpm clutch-dump launch program. Brake-torqued to roughly 1900 rpm, though, the RS7 manages a 3.4-second run to 60 mph; its 11.6-second quarter-mile matches the CLS63 and beats the M6.

Acceleration to 60 mph is a two-shift affair, accounting for some of the 0.2 second ceded to the Mercedes. But on the ­serpentine hill-climb route, that shorter second gear is a boon. Where BMW and Mercedes present a driver’s dilemma—high rpm in first gear or low revs in second—the Audi feels poised and primed in second.

The RS7’s handling hews closer to manic. In steady-state cornering, the five-door exhibits typical Audi understeer, the most prevalent of any car here. But the torque-vectoring rear differential makes the most of dynamic exigencies. Part-throttle oversteer turns the RS7 into a loose pendulum in the second half of our 610-foot slalom, earning it the slowest time. Yet for showing such extremes on the test track, the RS7 is far more wieldy at a slightly slower clip on public roads.

Here, the Audi is defined by eager responses that reveal a sense of playfulness and liveliness. The light and quick steering shaves the perception of mass from its heaviest-in-test 4453-pound weight. After stints in the Mercedes and BMW, you’ll find yourself carrying a line that’s too tight through corners until you recalibrate your expectations. With less steering and more throttle finesse through turns, the RS7 rewards its driver with superb balance and surprising speed.

For perspective, each of these three cars is more than a half-second quicker to 60 mph than an Aston Martin Vanquish. The RS7 also brings a dose of practicality.

In dynamic-suspension mode on the autobahn, the RS7 bounced over slight pavement oscillations. Comfort and auto modes damp out the busy ride, and the standard suspension setup is slightly softer. Whereas our tester wore steel coil springs and a set of diagonally connected dampers, the base configuration uses air springs and adaptive, but non-linked, dampers like the S7.

In terms of practicality, the RS7 is the clear winner. Its rear seats are nicely sculpted and offer excellent thigh support. The RS7 is the only car in this test in which rear headroom feels on par with its conventional sedan counterpart. The hatch adds nine cubic feet of cargo space over the BMW.

The RS7 isn’t just the most fun on back roads and the most pragmatic four-seater, it’s also the best value. Audi hadn’t finalized option pricing as of this writing, but the RS7’s low base price suggests it should easily undercut the BMW and the Mercedes when all parties are equipped with those pricey carbon-ceramic brakes. Nevertheless, the Audi could be the most expensive car in this test and still walk away with a win. The fact that it owns the rational categories as well as the emotional ones makes victory for this four-seater that much more conclusive. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Scoring, Performance Data, and Complete Specs

Civil War: Ballistic power and lavish trimmings combine to create a breed of four-seat supersedans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
     
 
 
     

VEHICLE 2014 Audi RS7 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG S-model
BASE PRICE $105,795 $115,225 $107,425
PRICE AS TESTED $130,000* $145,155 $125,285
DIMENSIONS      
LENGTH 197.3 inches 197.2 inches 196.7 inches
WIDTH 75.2 inches 74.8 inches 74.1 inches
HEIGHT 55.9 inches 54.8 inches 55.4 inches
WHEELBASE 114.8 inches 116.7 inches 113.2 inches
FRONT TRACK 64.3 inches 64.2 inches 63.3 inches
REAR TRACK 64.0 inches 63.5 inches 64.1 inches
INTERIOR VOLUME F: 50 cubic feet
R: 44 cubic feet
F: 56 cubic feet
R: 41 cubic feet
F: 51 cubic feet
R: 41 cubic feet
TRUNK 25 cubic feet 16 cubic feet 15 cubic feet

POWERTRAIN      
ENGINE twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8
244 cu in (3993 cc)
twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8
268 cu in (4395 cc)
twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8
333 cu in (5461 cc)
POWER HP @ RPM 560 @ 5700 552 @ 7000 577 @ 5500
TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM 516 @ 1750 502 @ 1500 590 @ 2000
REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF 6600/6600 rpm 7100/7100 rpm 6400/6600 rpm
LB PER HP 8.0 7.9 7.6
DRIVELINE      
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 7-speed dual-clutch automatic 7-speed automatic
DRIVEN WHEELS all rear all
GEAR RATIO:1/
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
MAX MPH
 4.71/5.6/37
 3.14/8.5/56
 2.11/12.6/83
 1.67/15.9/105
 1.29/20.6/135
 1.00/26.6/175
 0.84/31.6/190
 0.67/39.7/160
 4.81/5.3/38
 2.59/9.9/70
 1.70/14.9/106
 1.28/19.8/141
 1.00/25.4/180
 0.84/30.2/190
 0.67/37.9/165
 4.38/6.2/41
 2.86/9.5/63
 1.92/14.2/94
 1.37/20.0/132
 1.00/27.3/180
 0.82/33.3/186
 0.73/37.5/168
AXLE RATIO:1 3.08 3.15 2.65

CHASSIS      
SUSPENSION F: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, air springs, anti-roll bar
BRAKES F: 16.5-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
R: 14.6-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
F: 16.1-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
R: 15.9-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
F: 14.2-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
R: 14.2-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
STABILITY CONTROL fully defeatable, competition mode fully defeatable, competition mode, launch control fully defeatable, competition mode, launch control
TIRES Pirelli P Zero
F: 275/30ZR-21 (98Y)
R: 275/30ZR-21 (98Y)
Michelin Pilot Super Sport
F: 265/35ZR-20 (99Y)
R: 295/30ZR-20 (101Y)
Continental ContiSportContact 5P
F: 255/35ZR-19 (96Y)
R: 285/30ZR-19 (98Y)

C/D TEST
RESULTS
     
ACCELERATION      
0–30 MPH 1.4 sec 1.4 sec 1.3 sec
0–60 MPH 3.4 sec 3.5 sec 3.2 sec
0–100 MPH 7.8 sec 7.9 sec 7.7 sec
0–130 MPH 13.1 sec 13.0 sec 13.5 sec
¼-MILE @ MPH 11.6 sec @ 123 11.7 sec @ 124 11.6 sec @ 122
ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH 4.4 sec 4.0 sec 4.1 sec
TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH 2.4 sec 2.2 sec 2.7 sec
TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH 2.8 sec 3.0 sec 2.7 sec
TOP SPEED 190 mph (gov ltd, mfr's claim) 190 mph (gov ltd, mfr's claim) 186 mph (gov ltd, mfr's claim)
CHASSIS      
BRAKING 70–0 MPH 143 feet 144 feet 148 feet
610-FT-SLALOM 41.7 mph 44.1 mph 42.1 mph
WEIGHT      
CURB 4453 pounds 4365 pounds 4409 pounds
%FRONT/%REAR 56.4/43.6 51.5/48.5 55.0/45.0
FUEL      
TANK 19.8 gallons 21.1 gallons 21.1 gallons
RATING 93 octane 93 octane 93 octane
EPA CITY/HWY 16/27 mpg 14/20 mpg 16/22 mpg
C/D 150-MILE TRIP 9 mpg 10 mpg 10 mpg
SOUND LEVEL      
IDLE 48 dBA 48 dBA 46 dBA
FULL THROTTLE 75 dBA 79 dBA 79 dBA
70-MPH CRUISE 66 dBA 68 dBA 67 dBA

*C/D estimate.

tested in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, by ERIC TINGWALL
 

 

Final Results
VEHICLE Max Pts. Available 2014 Audi RS7 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG S-model
DRIVER COMFORT 10 9 8 9
ERGONOMICS 10 9 7 8
REAR-SEAT COMFORT 5 5 3 4
REAR-SEAT SPACE* 5 5 4 4
TRUNK SPACE* 5 5 3 3
FEATURES/AMENITIES* 10 10 9 9
FIT AND FINISH 10 10 10 9
INTERIOR STYLING 10 9 8 8
EXTERIOR STYLING 9 9 8 7
REBATES/EXTRAS* 5 0 0 0
AS-TESTED PRICE* 20 19 17 20
SUBTOTAL 100 90 77 81

POWERTRAIN        
1/4-MILE ACCELERATION* 20 20 20 20
FLEXIBILITY* 5 3 4 3
FUEL ECONOMY* 10 9 10 10
ENGINE NVH 10 9 10 8
TRANSMISSION 10 9 8 8
SUBTOTAL 55 50 52 49

CHASSIS        
PERFORMANCE* 20 19 20 19
STEERING FEEL 10 8 10 8
BRAKE FEEL 10 8 9 9
HANDLING 10 9 10 8
RIDE 10 8 9 9
SUBTOTAL 60 52 58 53

EXPERIENCE        
FUN TO DRIVE 25 23 23 21

GRAND TOTAL 240 215 210 204
 

 

Article Credit: Car and Driver

Updated 6 Years ago
 

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Tags:     2014 Audi RS7 vs. 2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe     2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG S-model

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