I am sure most of you car lovers must have sometime dreamt of driving in one of the luxury limousines of the modern era. Luxury limousines are the ultimate way to travel. They should be stylish, equipped with the latest technology, offer first class comfort, deliver strong performance and sure footed handling. Basically they need to do it all. They should include features that convey an image, brand, status or prestige, or any other ‘discretionary’ feature or combination of them. The term ‘luxury’ is quite relative and may be comprehended differently by different people; “What is a luxury car to some… may be ‘ordinary’ to others.
Let us look at three such luxury cars and evaluate them based on several factors. First one is the Mercedes S-class. It’s always been the benchmark for luxury cars and its recent update aims to keep it ahead of the game. This game includes the new Audi A8 which aims to beat the Mercedes both on technology and comfort. But we shouldn’t forget the new BMW 7 series which is the limousine for people who like to drive themselves rather than be driven. So which of these cars is the best, we are going to find out. To help you decide which one is the best, I will compare how stylish they are in design, review the technology they use, test what they are like to drive and see how practical they are. But first we need to start with the cost because you will need some serious cash to buy one of these. The new BMW 7 series starts from 72000 Euros and this version of the BMW has a V4 engine. The Audi A8 starts from 78000 Euros and you get a V6 engine along with an all-wheel drive. The Mercedes S-class though starts from 83000 Euros and it also has a V6 engine but not an all-wheel drive. However, these are all the long wheelbase models and therefore they cost a little bit more. The eventual price you pay totally depends on the dealer from whom you purchase your car. Some dealers really offer some attractive deals which may reduce your costs compared to the actual price of the car.
Now, I know that no matter which car you buy, you want it to look like a million dollar car. The reason I added technology too into the same category as the looks is because I will only judge the technology that adds to the aesthetics of the car.
If you want to turn up to an event in style then you want to arrive in the Mercedes S-class. Nothing says “I have made a success out of my life” more than this car. It’s elegant, cool and looks very sophisticated. The Mercedes emblem sticking out on the front bonnet of the car makes you feel more important than the other motorists. The S-class interior is very elegant; the sweeping dashboard is simple and delightful, has very few buttons and just seems so special. The infotainment system has two big screens with one for the driver and the other one being the main screen. What I like about this is the fact that they are at an appropriate height for the driver so that the driver doesn’t really have to take his eyes off the road really to look these screens. The main screen can be operated using a swivel controller and I like the fact that the screen is not only touch screen but also can be controlled using buttons on the steering wheel. There are two different sets of buttons on either side of the steering wheel to scroll through the menus on either screen. The steering wheel looks quite elegant. But it’s not all perfect, for instance the leather on the top of the dash is quite fake. This might have been acceptable in an E-class but not in an S-class for sure. Although the infotainment system has big bright screens, it is not that easy to operate as it should have been. When you tap on the door of the car from the inside, you get an impression of it being hollow. This car also has a fake looking exhaust pipe.
BMW 7 series:
There can be no doubt that the 7 series looks the sportiest of the three cars. There is some real sense of class and quality in the 7 series too. While the design isn’t quite majestic as the Mercedes but the 7 series interior is totally in a different league. BMW always feels solid and well-built inside, no more so than in the top of the range in the 7 series. The materials used in the interior feel expensive and there are no flimsy bits of trim. Trust me it’s a very nice car to sit in and it leads the field when it comes to technology. The infotainment system in BMW is still the best in the business. The one in the 7 series can be used in the traditional swivel wheel way to easily scroll through menus, it’s very easy to use, you can use the shortcut buttons, swiping, touchpad entry and now in the new 7 series, you can also operate it as a touch screen if you like. The resolution of the screen is absolutely high definition and glorious to see. The X-factor though is the gesture control present in the car, so you can do things like increasing or decreasing the volume of the stereo by waving your finger around. There are some nice options for the driver as well like the 360 degree virtual surround view camera. That’s not all though, you can get the car with touch command tablets for the rear passengers so that they can control various features and surf the net. The rear passengers can send messages directly to the driver’s instrument and navigation displays. There is also a personal trainer program available for the rear passenger screens. What’s more is that the car’s key is like an Apple watch. You can use it to control several other car’s features remotely including driving it albeit slowly. Let me give you an instance where this feature would be very helpful. Suppose you want to park your car between two cars very tightly and you realize that there is not enough room for opening the doors and getting out of your car if you park in between those two cars. In such a case, you first can get out of the car before it enters the narrow space. Then you can remotely drive the car and steer it slowly with the key to park it. Similarly the case while removing your car from a tight spot, you can turn on the engine and steer it to a comfortable position with the car key. Then you can easily get into the car and take control. However, the digital dials displayed in front of the driver are just alright and too simplistic. I must say that the 7 series looks better in the shorter wheelbase version than its longer wheelbase version where it starts to look more ungainly and more like a barge. The 7 series is very sensitive to colour and trim. It has a real exhaust pipe as it appears from the outside.
And if you want to stand out of the crowd, the A8 does a good job. The car has a very distinctive face because it has what seems to be the largest grill in the automotive world. Infact, it’s kind of like it’s got a gaping mouth like a basking shark. However, it does have some cool light graphics at the front and at the back. When it comes to interior, Audi A8 has an absolutely gorgeous cabin. I think it’s not quite showy as the Mercedes or a BMW but it’s got a cool Germanic geometric feel to it which I really love. The material quality is second to none, so the wood that they use is really good quality and the solid sounding doors when you tap them are just top notch. It does not look the most expensive of the three but it is one of those cars that can slip into the radar but do it in comfort. Then there are features such as the one where the air vents automatically open up and rotate forward to lie flush with the rest of the trim when the ignition is turned on. Now the Audi’s new infotainment screen is positioned such that it is completely flush with the dash, so when it is off it just looks seamless and you cannot make out whether it is the dash or the screen. The screen is fully touch screen and not operated by a swivel anymore as before. I feel this is a big mistake on the part of Audi because touchscreens are much harder to operate while driving. There is a screen below the main media screen having options to control the air conditioning and heating functions. One good thing is that you can use this secondary screen below to write in letters to search something on the navigation screen on the main media. Audi has a virtual cockpit for the driver if he doesn’t want to use the secondary screen system. This is a more convenient option while driving. So you can scroll through all the different options, you can use the navigation there, you can also change the different views and you have also got Google earth as well because you are connected to the internet. It’s all very simple and nice and clear and I think it has one of the best digital dial systems than any car at the moment. You also have the option of voice commands just like the other two cars if you don’t want to use buttons or dials. Inspite of so many good points, the car looks like a big slab especially in the long wheel base version and it has a completely fake looking exhaust.
All the three cars have a 3L diesel engine. The one in the Mercedes has a 258 HP, the Audi A8 has 262 HP and the BMW 7 series has 320 HP. The A8 and the 7 series are both a four-wheel drive but the Mercedes is just a rear-wheel drive. That is the reason that in a drag race, the BMW comes first, then the Audi and finally the Mercedes.
The normal length (short wheel base) models of these limousines are practical enough but the stretch versions (long wheel base) is what you will need if you need to carry rear passengers with comfort quite often.
The Audi A8 is super roomy and you can literally stretch and relax in its graded seats. However, the seats feel a little bit on the firm side. So they aren’t quite as comfortable as in the BMW or in the Mercedes. The Audi is really not comfortable to carry 3 rear passengers as the center seat is very inconvenient to sit as it is too high and there is not much shoulder room. Also it is very hard to fix a child seat in it due to the hidden isofix anchors. But the A8 is superior to the other two cars in terms of outright boot space.
BMW 7 series:
So, how does the 7 series fare for practicality? You can get really quite spacious back seats with the rear central console having a tablet to control the seat movements. This is a little bit more comfortable to stretch in than the Audi. There is one problem with the BMW seats though. You have to undo a zip to access the isofix anchor points when fitting a child seat. It’s just marginally better than the Audi to fit 3 passengers in the rear seats. The glove box is small but the boot is still an impressive size but not quite as big as that of the Audi. Even if it’s not the biggest, the square shape of the boot though means that it is the only car of the three where you can fit a bicycle in if you remove the wheels.
The Mercedes boot is also impressive. It has a smaller opening than the other cars here. So it’s slightly harder when loading larger items. This car has an optional fridge fitted which eats into the boot space. You can remove it if the need be but it’s there for a reason. You don’t have to worry about your bottle of champagne getting warm. But the back of the car is a real deal. It feels really super comfortable in the upgraded seats and the big pillows at the headrest of the rear seats are really very sumptuous. The S-class is also really good in carrying 3 people at the back at once and it’s the easiest to fit in a child seat too.
All the cars feel first class but the Mercedes is a cut above the rest when it comes to space. It feels more like Emirates than Lufthansa. So the S-class seems to be the most practical of the three.
Driving comfort & passenger experience:
BMW 7 series:
Let’s start with the BMW 7 series first. It is supposed to be the ultimate driving machine. The 7 series feels very different to most other BMW cars. It’s definitely softer and less agile than its earlier model. The idea is for this model to be a luxury limousine and compete with the S-class. Even in the sports mode, the car is a little bit of a barge in the corners. Well, what you can get though from the system is that it will read the road ahead of you using the satellite navigation and it will brace the suspension as you go around a corner to keep the car nice and flat. In terms of engines, BMW stands out. All their engines especially the 740 D is rapid and has got enough power, performance and is still fairly economical. This car is capable of 54.3 miles per gallon. This car feels quite vibration free and noise proof as well due to a very quiet cabin but you can still feel the little imperfections and a few bumps coming through the cabin. The mean vibration rating is 5 on the vibration scale and the average noise level while driving at 50 mph is 66 dB.
Next, let’s talk about the Mercedes. While driving a Mercedes S-class you will feel that it just delivers effortless progress. Even though its engine may not be the best of the three cars but this car just goes away very smooth when you put your put down, the gearbox just blends the gears together and it just feels like the perfect car to drive. In terms of economy, this car is capable of 50.4 miles per gallon. This car seems to deal a little better with the imperfections on the road. The mean vibration is a 4.7 on the vibration scale and the sound meter records 67 dB while driving at 50mph which is just 1 dB louder than the BMW.
Coming to the Audi A8, it just feels so good with handling and it’s quite amazing to know that it maneuvers the best around corners. It’s quite a grippy car due to the all-wheel drive present in it and the V6 diesel engine is so smooth and it’s so punchy that you don’t feel the need to have any bigger V8 diesel engines. The V6 is supposed to be capable of 48.7 miles per gallon. However, the engines and the gearboxes in this car are definitely not as good as the other two cars. The air suspension of this car is unbelievably the best leading to a smooth and relaxing drive free of jolts or shocks. Coming to the rear seat experience, the mean vibration rates 5.2 on the vibration scale which means it is not as good as the BMW or the Mercedes. The sound meter records a loudness of 68dB which is definitely a touch noisier than the other two cars.
So clearly the Mercedes S-class wins the battle when it comes to the driving experience.
This final verdict is purely mine and I know a lot of you could argue with me and you are more than welcome to do so with your strong opinions.
Starting with the Audi A8, it is by far the oldest of the three. But it doesn’t feel so to drive. Dynamically it really stood the test at times very well. It certainly is the sharpest car handling wise out of the three.
If you want the technologically most advanced car, it has to be the new BMW 7 series without a doubt. It really is a gadget geek’s dream come true with its most updated technology and very powerful engine performance. This car runs the Mercedes S-class very close on comfort.
But the S-class just has the edge in terms of how relaxing it is to drive and to travel in and really that’s what limousines are all about. That’s why I feel ultimately the Mercedes S-class is the winner of the three.