The whole BMW versus Mercedes thing is much like a case of sibling rivalry, except these two haven’t grown out of it. Everything fitted to the BMW in a model refresh is then fitted to the Mercedes in its next model refresh and vice versa.
So when it comes to equipment, these two are nearly identical. The difference though exists in all other aspects of their operation. As I found out, these two vehicles handle differently, steer differently and feel different from each other.
With Diesel engines slowly becoming popular in Australia, I decided to hit up BMW and Mercedes Benz for their leading Diesel luxury large sedan models. Mercedes provided the E280 CDI, whilst BMW hit back with their equivalent 530d.
It’s no secret, the E-class has had its basic shape for quite some time now and it’s slowly becoming dated. The 5-series’ looks are also quite cumbersome and not everybody’s cup of tea. With many pros and cons stacked up against each vehicle, I set off to find out which model reigned supreme in the large luxury sedan segment.
On the outset, an Audi A6 equivalent wasn’t available for comparison during the time frame of this test.
The inner –
The E280 CDI and 530d couldn’t be any more different when it comes to their interiors. Our Mercedes test vehicle featured an elegant wood-grain design, whilst the 530d carried a dark brushed wood design. Where BMW would work on a minimalist approach with its controls (i-Drive), Mercedes would cover the interior with buttons.
One thing became obvious after driving people around in each respective vehicle. Older folk seemed to prefer the Mercedes’ interior, whilst youngsters were in tune with BMW’s offering. According to older passengers, the Mercedes’ interior had an elegant feel to it, whilst the BMW catered toward tech-savvy drivers.
I found the BMW’s interior more relaxing and enjoyable. Once I had a chance to fiddle with BMW’s i-Drive, I was able to master radio, satellite navigation and climate controls with little fuss. There was an obvious gap between the complexity of BMW’s i-Drive in comparison to Mercedes’ COMAND system. i-Drive required far less concentration, which is ideal for situations where you need things done in a hurry whilst watching the road.
The driver’s seat in both vehicles was totally electrically adjustable, even the headrest was adjusted with the touch of a button. Both vehicles had no driver or passenger seat memory (as standard equipment), whilst the Mercedes didn’t offer forward and backward electric adjustment for passengers.
The 530d was dominant when it came to rear leg room. There was more room on offer for rear seat passengers to get comfortable, which was often missing in the E-class. The Mercedes was optioned with foldable rear seats. Upon the flick of a switch in the boot, the respective seat would fold down, also automatically shifting the front seat if it was in the way.
i-Drive was certainly nowhere near as confusing or difficult as some people – and other motoring journalists – portray it to be. In fact, at the end of my week with the car, I was able to confidently navigate the i-Drive system and do anything I desired. It’s certainly quite confronting at first, but with a bit of time to play with the system and master it, there were no issues. The i-Drive system also catered for DVD playback.
COMAND didn’t feel as capable or satisfying as i-Drive. The COMAND system was simply an LCD screen with a set of buttons around it. To change vehicle information, the driver had to circumnavigate a set of menus that were visible via the speedo/tacho cluster. It was slightly confusing and didn’t flow as coherently as the i-Drive system. The COMAND system offered the ability to play DVDs on-screen and could also be optioned with an analog/digital TV tuner.
Both vehicles being test driven had satellite navigation. Although neither vehicle impressed overly in terms of quality of graphics being displayed on-screen – Lexus still seem to be leading this field – the BMW was certainly the standout. Both vehicles offered decent accuracy and direction; the Mercedes simply took far too long to calculate a route. On top of the wait for calculation, the position of the Mercedes’ screen meant that the driver had to glance down to the centre console to view the street directions. The BMW’s system circumvented this by using both the screen molded into the dashboard, along with the Heads Up Display (HUD).
The BMW’s ingenious Heads Up Display system displays the vehicle’s speed, cruise control information and satellite navigation information upon request. The set of mirrors at the front of the dashboard gave the impression that the image was being projected onto the front of the bonnet. This meant that the driver never needed to take their eyes off the road as the HUD information was always available in their peripheral vision.
The optional BMW Professional Package incorporates an 8.8” colour display screen that can be split into two sections, accommodating for a continuous satellite navigation display, along with anything else that is chosen. This included the analog/digital television that was selected via i-Drive. The tuner automatically chooses a digital signal if there is enough strength and switches back to analog when the digital signal dies down. The Professional Package also included the comfort access system. The driver simply keeps the key in their pocket and grasps the door handle to enter the vehicle and hits the starter button to start the vehicle, the key never needs to leave the pocket. This package also includes the voice recognition. Hit the button near the gear lever and you can splurge out commands for the i-Drive system. It works…sometimes…and is one of those things that require patience.
Our Mercedes test vehicle was also optioned with the Logic7 Harman/Kardon sound system. The sound system is nothing short of extraordinary. The constant level of bass and clarity was spectacular. Even at unreasonable levels, the sound system retained composure and faltered in no way.
In conclusion, the two vehicle’s interiors were a great place to be. With build quality being some of the best I have ever witnessed, there is no shortage of pleasure sitting inside the cabin. But, as I mentioned earlier, older folk preferred the Mercedes’ interior. They said it had an element of elegance and luxury that the BMW simply couldn’t replicate. The BMW’s minimalist approach didn’t warm to the elderly…err I mean ‘older’ folk.
The outer –
Both of these vehicles look elegant and certainly stand out on the road. The Mercedes is slightly more discreet than the BMW. The BMW has rather adventurous styling that doesn’t appeal to everyone.
The Mercedes’ optional 17” alloy wheels and sport suspension gave it a sportier stance over the standard E280 CDI. The chrome door handles and side highlights further emanate the E-class’ prestigious definition. The E-class is getting quite dated though, the latest update from Mercedes only featured minor styling changes. A new E-class is expected in the near future and should re-establish the fight between BMW and Mercedes.
If anything, the 530d doesn’t look as prestigious as the Mercedes. The 530d portrays a sportier image, opposed to one of dedicated luxury. The 5-series misses out on chrome door handles and chrome highlights around the front and rear (to the extent of the E-class). I preferred this somewhat deceptive image though; it certainly kept potential traffic light GP contenders at bay. Looking at the BMW from front on emanates the BMW slogan – “The ultimate driving machine.” The swept back look about the headlights and bonnet make the car look like it’s moving and ready to propel at any moment.
Out of the two, I preferred the BMW’s slightly more sophisticated and outlandish looks, I found that older folks, again, preferred the minimalist approach that the Mercedes held.
On the road –
Driving the Mercedes and BMW back to back unearths many individual character traits. The Mercedes – weighing in at 1715kg – is the heaviest of the two by 125kg, coupled with 40Nm less torque; it’s also the slowest during a dash from naught to one-hundred. The BMW achieving the feat in 7.2-seconds, whilst the Mercedes gets there in around 8.6-seconds.
As most motoring enthusiasts will understand, rating a car’s performance isn’t entirely limited to 0-100 performance. Factors such as the vehicle’s cornering ability, weight transfer and braking ability come into play. With that in mind, I threw these two through a few bends to figure out if the German folk could build a luxury tourer that doesn’t mind getting down and dirty through a few mountainous roads.
First thing’s first. Throughout my week with the Mercedes I never appreciated the ‘parameter steering’. In essence, the parameter steering program makes steering during low-speed maneuvers easy and comfortable, whilst adding more weight as speed increases to make the drive more relaxing. The steering felt far too electronic and didn’t do things that regular steering does – such as kick back into the straight-ahead position after turning into a street for example. Some people may enjoy this kind of assistance, but I personally couldn’t stand it.
The BMW’s steering felt heavier and more ‘realistic’ – so to speak. With that in mind, it still had a few faults that irked me. The steering wheel felt too big and cumbersome when trying to switch directions in a hurry, this can be circumvented with the option of a sports steering wheel that fills the hands nicely and offers a better driving arrangement.
The Mercedes test vehicle was fitted with the optional sports suspension ($1375 option). The optional suspension package made the ride slightly firmer but assisted the Merc through corners. On turn-in to the corner, the vehicle would remain flat and seemingly didn’t exhibit any body roll. You could push the car through a corner with abnormal pace and still be on top of things when exiting the corner; its ability to stay true, even after abnormal expectations was quite commendable. The optional ($2,150) 17” ‘Light Alloy Wheels’ helped this situation with 245/45 rubber front and rear.
Throwing the BMW through the same set of bends produced varying results. Due to the incredible amount of grip at the rear, it wasn’t uncommon to see the 5-series under-steering slightly when pushed out of a corner. There was also a considerable amount of body roll in comparison to the Mercedes – which was expected due to the optional suspension featured in the Merc. The BMW’s steering held the upper hand though, communicating every aspect of the front wheels through to the driver, the steering also carried considerable weight through a corner, allowing progressive and aggressive driving.
Both vehicles were on par with each other when it came to slamming down the anchors. A full emergency stop literally had the ability to tear up shreds of road. The brakes in each vehicle had fantastic feel through the pedal and had an astonishing ability to pull the vehicle up in phenomenal pace – which makes me wonder how insane the brakes would be on the M5 or E63 AMG. In emergency braking situations, the BMW activates an extra brake light at the rear to alert other drivers of the imminent amount of braking.
A 6-speed and 7-speed gearbox feature in the BMW and Mercedes respectively. The 6-speed ZF gearbox in the BMW carries worldwide recognition as one of the smoothest and most seductive gearboxes on the market – behind the VW Dual-Clutch DSG gearbox of course!
Although the BMW ‘box is smooth and efficient, the Mercedes’ gearbox is even smoother. Unless you are meticulously watching the tachometer, it’s hard to spot the 7-speed automatic’s shift points. The gearbox is certainly one of the smoothest I have ever tried. The response is quite rapid and thorough, providing both comfort and sporting ability. The BMW’s gearbox delivers power far quicker though, the Mercedes’ gearbox is almost too smooth for sporty driving, always shifting early. The ZF gearbox is the best compromise between comfort and sporting ability. The ZF allocates points depending on the driver’s driving habit. If the driver is giving the throttle a pounding, the gearbox alters shift patters and will even hold gears if necessary.
For example; during the trip through the mountains, there was quite a bit of full throttle application, along with hard braking and aggressive driving. As I would approach a corner in third gear, the gearbox would drop down high into second gear during braking to maximize the power out of a corner. During sweeping bends, the gearbox would remain in second the entire time, despite exceeding the regular shift point. As I mentioned earlier, short of the DSG gearbox, the ZF has to be one of the best on the market. It’s always one step ahead of the driver and always knows exactly what’s going on. Both vehicles offered a manual sequential shift program.
Under the hood –
Mercedes Benz E280 CDI:
Under the hood lies a 3.0-litre, turbocharged V6 Diesel engine. The engine produces 140kW of power and a considerable 440Nm of torque. Power is sent through a 7-speed automatic gearbox.
The BMW also features a 3.0-litre, turbocharged, 6-cylinder Diesel engine. At 4000RPM, the Beemer produces 160kW, whilst between 1750-2750RPM it lays down a hearty 480Nm of torque.
Fuel consumption is a trump card that both of these vehicles boast. They both sip 7.5l/100km. This figure is quite realistic too. During testing, both vehicles happily returned sub 8l/100km fuel efficiency figures.
Price, safety and options –
Although these vehicles compete against each other, there’s a discerning price difference. The Mercedes E280 CDI is available from $101,500, whilst the BMW retails for $115,000.
The Mercedes comes standard with: Cruise control (with speed limiter); central locking; halogen projector headlights; electric windows; 16” alloy wheels; front and rear fog lights; 6-disc CD-player with MP3 compatibility; rain sensor; speed sensitive parameter steering; ARTICO (man made leather); front and rear parking sensors; auto dimming rear vision and driver side mirror; leather steering wheel and gear shift lever; automatic climate control and full size spare steel wheel.
The BMW on the other hand comes standard with: Cruise control; central locking; electric windows; front and rear parking sensors; run-flat tyres; Datadot technology; 17” alloy wheels; front fog lights; automatic rain sensors with auto headlights; metallic paint; 6.5” colour display with radio navigation; Bluetooth phone capability; in-dash CD-player with 6-disc in glovebox; Hi-fi 10-speaker sound system; automatic climate control; auto dimming interior and exterior side mirrors; leather steering wheel; leather upholstery and electric driver seat adjustment with memory.
Standard safety features in the E280 CDI are: Driver and passenger airbags; driver and passenger side airbags; rear side airbags; full length curtain airbags; ABS brakes; Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD); Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Stability Program (ESP).
Standard safety features in the 530d include: Driver and passenger airbags; driver and passenger side airbags; rear side airbags; full length curtain airbags; ABS brakes; Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD); Brake Assist (BA); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and run flat tyre indicators.
Both of the test vehicles had several options attached.
The BMW 530d being tested included: Electric sunroof – glass ($3,300); Bi-Xenon headlights with headlight washing system ($2,110); Adaptive headlights ($860); Alarm system with remote control ($975) and Professional package – includes comfort access, head up display, 8.8” colour monitor, with professional navigation with TV and voice recognition ($2,500). The addition of these options took the RRP from $115,000 to $124,745.
The Mercedes E280 CDI being test also included a few extras: Metallic paint ($2,400); Integrated child seats ($790); Driver seat electrically adjustable with memory ($2,500); Folding rear seat ($1,390); Glass electric sunroof with lifter ($3,300); Sports suspension ($1,375); COMAND system – incorporating DVD navigation and DVD player, AM/FM radio, CD player, telephone functionality and TV (optional extra) ($7,950); 17” Light alloy wheels ($2,150) and Harman/Kardon Logic7 Surround Sound System ($2,100). This took the RRP of $101,500 to $123,455.
After spending two weeks in these vehicles, I grew quite fond of them. It was clear that the E280 CDI was marketed toward a mature audience, whilst the 530d was catered toward the middle-aged executive after some cred’ in the work car park. With that said, it’s hard to say that one’s better than the other.
The Mercedes was superior when it came to pegging through corners, whilst the BMW’s ZF gearbox read the mind of the driver and anticipated every movement. With that said, the BMW’s engine produced more torque and power, resulting in quicker 0-100 times and more pace out of corners. That certainly doesn’t mean that the E280’s torque wouldn’t suffice, it would be plenty.
Even though the Mercedes was cheaper, it became obvious that the BMW was cheaper to option up with desirable features. As noted above, when the Mercedes was optioned up to the BMW’s level, it became more expensive.
If I had the option of owning either of these two marvellous machines, I’d have to go with the BMW. The only reason I’d go for the BMW is simply because of the styling, as styling is a subjective trait, it most certainly won’t apply to everyone reading this report.
So, you’re probably no closer to a firm decision. Here’s your best bet; if you like playing with gadgets and don’t mind learning new things, check out the BMW. If you want to be driven around in the utmost of luxury, head for the Mercedes. Either way, if you’re planning on buying this type of vehicle, test drive both as their engines and fuel efficiency figures are simply astounding and make either of these models a sound purchase choice.
Keep one thing in mind though if you buy the BMW, don’t get on the voice recognition lady’s bad side…she hates it when you leave the toilet seat up.
– Paul Maric