Many folks have come to terms with the fact that they are unlikely to ever walk into the dealership of a high-end marque, point to the sexiest machine on the floor and say “I’ll take two of those please.” Still, reality – painful though it may be – doesn’t stop most of us (myself included) from having lottery-win fantasies.
What else are you going to do in your office on a Tuesday afternoon? Work? Come on.
As a realist, one must appreciate that not every motoring function can be served by that gleaming red Ferrarumbli Snazzarini, and so some practical choices need be made, even with fantasy win cars.
Don’t let their size and four doors fool you, each of these swoopy beasts are nothing short of semi-sensible super cars. Want a bit of proof? Audi claims a 0–100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds. Mercedes states 3.7 seconds. I’ve probably had sneezes that lasted longer than that. Best of all, you can terrorize three passengers whilst either of these monstrous beasts gulp back fuel and air at a rate normally reserved for a small jet.
Normally in an autoTRADER.ca comparison test, we’d start off with a good, wholesome category – you know, something like Interior Space, Fuel Efficiency or Value. Not this time, my friends. These cars are all about their engines, so let’s begin by looking at the heart of the matter.
The Audi features a 32-valve, DOHC twin-turbocharged V8 that displaces just under four litres – small by most modern V8 standards. It puts out 560 magnificent horsepower between 5,700 – 6,600 rpm and 516 lb-ft of torque at only 1,750 rpm. The power delivery is as sensational as one would expect from the numbers – and from barely off-idle all the way to redline, the RS 7 emits an unholy howl. It’s not high-pitched like a Ferrari, but nor is it throaty like a big-block domestic engine either. It’s just sweet, ear-pleasing sophistication. This car just pulls and pulls with utter ferocity.
But the Benz pulls harder.
The twin-turbo 5.5L V8 in the CLS 63 provides 550 hp of thrust. But this isn’t a measly CLS 63 AMG. This car is an S-Model AMG, meaning it dispenses with 577 angered Clydesdales ready to reverse the earth’s rotation. But it’s the torque figure (590 lb-ft) that will actually achieve it. These bumps in gusto are the result of turning up the boost from 13.0 psi to 14.5.
The CLS is the sort of car that interrupts a passenger mid-sentence even if they could not care less about cars. The accelerative forces driving one’s body deep into the seatback cannot be ignored; such is the impact of maximum torque of that magnitude between 1,750 and 5,250 rpm. If you’ve ever stood at the beach with your back to surf when a rogue wave hits you from behind, you’ll have an understanding of a half-throttle start in the Benz.
Although muffled beneath the turbos compared to the older 6.2L AMG V8s, the music is all bass. It’s deep, throaty and sounds like it would be completely at home roaring around the Hockenheim during a DTM race.
With its greater torque and deeper singing voice, the handcrafted AMG engine takes this one.
The Rest of the Drivetrain
New for 2014, Mercedes has decided to provide North Americans with only all-wheel-drive versions of the CLS 63 AMG (and its mechanical E 63 AMG twin). Europeans are apparently more skilled drivers than we North Americans and can still purchase a rear-wheel-drive variant. With the CLS 63, all-wheel drive merely enables mortals like you and I to get a lot more excitement out of the big engine without hurting others or ourselves. If it’s a crutch, it’s not an unwelcome one.
Audi’s name is practically synonymous with Quattro – the brand associated with the company’s all-wheel drive and also the division of the company that produces the RS cars (Quattro GmbH). It’s not surprising then that the RS 7’s AWD system (and sport differential) is masterfully engineered to direct power where it’s needed without feeling like it’s hindering or weighing down the car (which of course it is – weighing it down, not hindering it).
When coupled with the eight-speed automatic, the Audi’s prodigious power is measured out precisely to ensure maximum forward momentum, seemingly on any road surface. Shifts happen quicker than you can even think them and are dispatched with crisp authority either with the paddles or on their own. While a traditional manual transmission would be more engaging for those of us who prefer them, the ability of this autobox to eke out maximum performance from the brilliant engine cannot be denied.
By most standards the CLS’s AMG Speedshift sport transmission (seven-speed automatic) would feel responsive and sufficiently brisk, but when compared to the Audi’s unit, the Benz seems to have had the sharp points polished off its shifts. Less crisp, more relaxed.
Here the Audi is the decisive victor.
On the Road
Independently, each of these cars provides a balance of blistering performance and luxurious comfort inconceivable even a decade ago. Each one is intensely gratifying to drive and would provide any driver with countless miles of grins and a quickened pulse, yet can also be called upon to deliver VIPs to a black-tie soiree at the finest venue.
In driving them back-to-back and then back again on a variety of divided highways, urban streets and lightly traveled, twisty country roads, each car’s distinct personality shone more brightly.
For formal duties, the CLS is the better choice. Its ride is noticeably more supple than the Audi’s. Bumps are better absorbed and the ride is simply calmer in the Benz. And yet, this does not mean the Mercedes is a floaty, sofa on the back road twisties. Not at all. For such a sizable vehicle, the CLS always feels planted and surefooted, thanks in no small part to its all-wheel-drive setup, for sure.
The superior ride-versus-handling tradeoff of the Benz versus the Audi can be traced to its adaptive air suspension. The only downside to this set up is the somewhat undignified exhale from the car’s rear suspension once it’s been parked for a moment and settles down.
Still when driven on the same back roads immediately following the Audi, the Benz’s more serious demeanor begins to just feel weighty by comparison. Each test driver came away certain that the CLS was the larger and heavier car by a decent margin. In fact, the Mercedes is lighter by 125 kg – a fact I could not believe until double-checking the specs myself (1,995 kg for the Audi, 1,870 kg for the Benz).
The RS 7’s steering feels quicker and livelier which also contributes to its comparative lightness on the road. The Audi seems happier being aggressively handled in tighter curves than the bigger-feeling CLS but again, this is not to diminish the incredible grip and maneuverability of either of these sizable machines.
The RS 7’s ride is noticeably stiffer than the CLS 63’s, so if your sensible super car needs to settle down and relax from time to time, the Mercedes is your better bet.
Brakes on both cars are out of this world in terms of their power to halt so much mass so quickly and with such precision.
But if a luxurious ride was the number one priority, a Mercedes S-Class would do a better job than the CLS. These cars are appealing because of their performance capabilities without sacrificing space.
And for that, the Audi takes this category.
Inside and Out
Each of these cars embodies the corporate design language at its best. Not as overtly sporting or extreme as Audi’s R8 or the Mercedes SLS, but bold, aggressive and arresting.
Normally when I see A7s on the road, I’m drawn to them. I love the angry front end, the LED strip light treatment and the squat hatchback tail swept down fluidly from the roofline. In fire engine red, however, this RS 7 is downright obnoxious next to the Benz.
Even though the CLS wears “only” 19-inch wheels, their design and dark finish look right-sized on the Mercedes, highlighted further by the red AMG brake calipers. The Mercedes finished in our tester’s deep grey hue looks expensive instead of gaudy.
Inside the Audi cannot be matched. From its exquisite quilted-pattern leather seats to the dark oak trim layered with aluminum pinstripe inlays and the exceptionally clever touchpad associated with Audi’s latest infotainment interface, the RS 7 is a visual and tactile treat throughout.
By comparison the CLS, with its rows of dash buttons and small, lower resolution infotainment screen, appears archaic and somewhat tired next to the Audi. Again, like the Benz’s transmission, it’s not a bad execution at all – remarkably good in fact – but the Audi’s is simply among the very best.
What’s more, with a spacious and comfortable rear seat and a mammoth cargo space beneath the rear hatch, the Audi is not only the better-dressed choice, but the far more practical one too.
Audi takes this one too, but stay away from the arrest-me red.
With victories in everything but the engine category so far, it probably seems like a foregone conclusion that Audi’s RS 7 is the sensible supercar to have. And yet maybe it’s the boorish red paint on the Audi or the fact that the RS 7 doesn’t look that different from the many lesser A7 models I see regularly in my area (the lowliest of CLSes here is still a 400+ hp super sedan which keeps them fairly exclusive even if it is based on the E-class sedan). Surely the price disparity is nothing to sneeze at – even in fantasy lottery-win worlds. After all, that $20,000 difference could send me and several friends to a private villa in Bali for a week’s luxury getaway.
Ultimately though, I just fell foolishly in love with that beastly AMG. From its impractical styling to its impossibly ferocious engine, it’s one of the most enjoyable all-round motoring experiences I’ve had. I simply could not get enough of the car – either driving it or standing back and staring at it. And for my fantasy car – even a sensible super car – that’s what it’s all about.
|2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG 4MATIC S||2014 Audi RS 7|
|Base Price $122,250||Base Price $115,000|
|A/C Tax $100||A/C Tax $100|
|Destination Fee $2,075||Destination Fee $1,995|
|Price as Tested $129,825||Price as Tested $142,095|
|Optional Equipment Premium Package $2,300 (Power trunk closer, heated rear seats, KEYLESS GO); Advanced Driving Assistance Package $2,700 (DISTRONIC PLUS, Active Blind Spot Assist)||Optional Equipment Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System $6,500; Audi Active Lane Assist $600; Vision Package $4,000; Sport Exhaust $1,000; Carbon Optics Styling Package w/ Quattro $4,200; Driver Assistant Package $2,300; Power Rear Door Closers $500; Alcantara Headliner $3,000; Audi Dynamic Ride Control $1,000; Beaufort Oak w/ Aluminum Inlays $2,000|