Feel like a boss driving upgraded luxury sedans
They match on price, but the Mercedes has personality while the BMW is tech-savvy
The BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class have been completely overhauled for this year, and if you didn’t think the regular versions were sporty enough, but don’t want the full-on hardcore M or AMG experience, these two luxury sedans offer a good middle ground. The 2017 BMW M550i xDrive and the Mercedes-Benz E43 AMG 4Matic are two sportier versions of the comfortable, very tech-forward luxury sedans we all know and love. And while you might be thinking that these two can’t be direct competitors because the BMW has a V-8 and the Mercedes has a V-6, the pricing for these to sedans is pretty much even, so that’s why we’re testing them together. They’re natural competitors that offer the full luxury of regular models, but a bit of sportiness without going over the top.
The scoop on the Mercedes
Even though this is a sportier sedan, the first thing you notice about the Mercedes is how quiet it is. Driving on the highway, it’s almost jarring because there’s absolutely no wind noise, tire noise, harshness or vibration, and that kind of quiet really just shows you that this is luxury at its best.
There isn’t much noise from the E43’s 3.0-litre biturbo V-6, but it does make the sedan real fast. The engine outputs 396 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque, which helps it rocket to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds. The V-6 sends power to all four wheels via a snappy nine-speed automatic.
Thankfully, the 4Matic system splits power 31/69 front/rear, which results in a sportier feel during launches and in corners. The suspension is also fantastic — it’s never too stiff or too soft and it helps the car feel confident when you chuck it into a corner.
The twin-turbo’s turn of speed is rewarding, but I was surprised that the E43 feels light on its feet and willing to change direction. It feels a lot more nimble than the BMW, and the fact that it’s more than 200 kilograms lighter probably has something to do with that. The steering is also a bit lighter, and while not that communicative, is responsive and accurate.
When I drove the E-Class coupe earlier this year, I was really impressed by all the advanced technology it had. Unfortunately, at this price point, a lot of that tech isn’t included in the E43, which is a shame considering that it’s not that cheap. I do, however, love the E-Class’s new interior. It’s classy and everything feels and looks fancy. Plus, you can wow your passengers with a million ambient light settings. I love this giant dashboard setup that looks like one big screen but is actually two 12.3-inch screens in one big panel. That means the gauges are fully digital and customizable and they look really fresh and modern.
BMW brings the heat
As soon as you get into the BMW, you notice there’s a lot more noise in the cabin coming from the outside and the ride isn’t as quiet as the E43. A lot of that is also engine noise from the glorious V-8, but some of that is synthesized. There’s something about driving a big sedan with a big V-8 that makes you feel like a boss, and this BMW makes you feel really important in a way the Benz can’t match.
Interestingly, the BMW just doesn’t drive as nicely as the Benz. Its twin-turbo V-8 puts out 456 hp and 480 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels via an eightspeed transmission, and both power figures beat the Mercedes by a lot — nearly 100 lb-ft of torque. It’s obviously a hell of a lot faster than the E43, but it doesn’t feel as easy or natural in corners. It’s nearly 200 kg heavier and you can really feel it in the corners, where there is a bit more body roll and it doesn’t feel as agile as the Mercedes when playing around. The heavy steering also makes it feel slightly more cumbersome than the E43, though it still feels confident.
The interior in the BMW is also quite swanky. While it’s not as modern as the E43, it’s still luxurious and well-built. One of the biggest draws, except for the magical V-8, is all the tech it comes with. Although some of it is gimmicky (such as gesture controls), most of it’s really useful (head-up display, a fantastic backup camera that shows you if you’re at risk of dinging the door next to you) and the adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist are a godsend in crawling traffic.
It is insanely difficult to pick a winner for this comparison — both of these fast luxury sedans are just so damn good. I guess it really depends on what you want in a car like this: Even though it’s down on power, the E43 drives better and has a bit more personality, but at this price, the advanced driver assistants should really come standard. The BMW has that fantastic V-8 and a lot more tech at this price so it seems to have better value, but my guess is that if you’re dropping this kind of cash on a car, it won’t bother you to spend a bit more money on the Benz to get adaptive cruise, which is the main thing it’s missing.
But because this is a comparison of two sportier luxury sedans, I have to look at which one has better driving dynamics, and that means the E43 takes the prize, but by a very small margin. It’s the better driver’s car, but if you want to feel more like a boss, the BMW is a better pick because of its big V-8 and imposing stature. I enjoyed both of these sedans, and a driver in this segment will be happy with either of them, but my money would be on the E43.