It's the BMW M5 versus its rivals, the Jaguar XFR and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, as Germany and Britain battle to take over as chair-car of luxury performance sedans. Words: Jez Spinks. Photos: Easton Chang
Executives have been in a rush to make money long before fictional Wall Street warlord Gordon Gekko proclaimed, “greed is good”.
And for those in the ultimate hurry, what better than the breed of luxury car that’s become more hyperbolically described as the super-sedan.
The most famous exponent is the BMW M5, one of the German car maker’s first M cars that, when launched in 1985, claimed the mantle of world’s fastest production sedan.
Five generations and 27 years later, the latest manifestation of the king of the BMW 5 Series range is more focused on being regarded as the best production sedan in the world.
To achieve this ambition, the new BMW M5 will have to fend off two fellow corporate-car-buyer raiders: its traditional compatriot nemesis since the mid-1990s, the E-Class AMG, and a relative fresh newcomer from England, the Jaguar XFR.
There are no go-fast pinstripes on these suited and booted four-doors. Instead, each of our leather-laden muscle cars features bulked-up bodywork with more aggressive design features. Each, however, is relatively restrained (note to HSV), retaining a semblance of the elegantly styled shapes of their donor models, the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Jaguar XF.
A common thread under the bonnet also unites our super-sedan triumvirate: forced induction V8s sending power to the rear wheels. Those eight-cylinders in the Germans are of particular significance.
The M5 and E-Class AMG have epitomised a power war in which BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been embroiled for decades, with each successive generation adopting ever-bigger engines churning out ever more kilowatts.
Now, though, no car maker is immune from the pressure to make their cars leaner and cleaner in the way they burn fuel.
The E63 AMG released locally in December 2009 featured a 6.2-litre V8 but exactly two years later downsized to a 5.5-litre unit that was boosted by double turbochargers and improved fuel efficiency by 21 per cent.
The M5 started with a six-cylinder (derived from the M1), moved to a V8, and in the last generation peaked with a mighty, high-revving V10.
All those engines were normally aspirated but the M5 becomes the latest model to be inducted into BMW’s all-turbo strategy across its range.
The loss of two cylinders and the gain of two turbochargers reduces the M5’s official fuel consumption by a remarkable 30 per cent, to less than 10 litres per 100km (9.9L/100km with CO2 emissions of 232 grams per kilometre), yet also sees power and torque increase by 10 and 30 per cent respectively.
With 412kW, the M5 becomes the most powerful BMW production car yet, though that isn’t enough to get the BMW to the chequered flag first in the 0-100k/h sprint.
With a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.3 seconds it’s a photo finish with the 386kW E63 AMG, though our Mercedes test car was fitted with a $17,900 Performance Package that lifts power to 410kW and lowers that sprint time by a tenth.
The three-pointed star is only a fraction behind for efficiency and emissions, too, registering 10.0L/100km exactly for official combined fuel use, with 234g/km.
The Jaguar XFR, first released in 2009, just about finds itself the oldest model here and it tells in a few ways, including the area of performance.
England’s luxury muscle car is certainly far from underendowed with its 375kW but the XFR’s speedo takes 4.9 seconds to spin its dial from its starting point to the 100km/h marker while the choice of a mechanically driven supercharger that saps some power from the engine, an automatic transmission with fewer ratios, and the omission of an engine stop-start system doesn’t help its efficiency and emissions figures of 12.5L/100km and 292g/km.
(The XFR is due to upgrade to an eight-speed auto with engine stop-start soon, though, which improves its figures to 11.3L/100km and 268g/km.)
This is still one quick luxury car, though, and the speed comes effortlessly as with the Teutonic duo.
The XFR’s supercharged V8 is creamy smooth, purring along at cruising speed and developing into a growl under hard acceleration. It’s relatively muted compared with the sounds generated by the M5 and E63, though – part of the Jaguar’s more reserved character that is typically British.
There’s nothing introverted about the E63. In true AMG fashion, the elite E-Class is pure drama.
In terms of the driving experience, the 5.5-litre V8 is almost omnipresent. Even on a light throttle there’s a menacingly deep burble to the exhaust note before a big push on the accelerator pedal from your right foot transforms it into a thrilling staccato soundtrack that, along with the E63’s rapid pace, could easily convince you that you’re actually driving a ‘DTM’ German touring car racer.
With the M5, the soundwaves from the engine bay and exhaust pipes reach the eardrums in a different arrangement and pitch again.
There’s an almost diesel-like thrum at freeway speeds, but turn the M5 into attack mode by squeezing the BMW’s floor-hinged accelerator pedal towards the floor and there’s a whoosh from the twin turbines as they spool up followed by a demonic shrill.
Purists may be disappointed to note that BMW has tried to compensate for the loss of the V10’s banshee-like wail by fitting the new M5 with an Active Sound system that pumps a manufactured exhaust sound through the car’s audio speakers.
Your senses, though, are quickly diverted to focusing all attention on the road because the M5 passes legal speed limits (on the track, of course) with a stunning surge of thrust. That peak power of 412kW can be found between 6000 and 7000rpm, but with that mighty momentum provided by 680Nm spread across a vast part of the rev range it seems natural to change up earlier and make the most of all seven gears.
Each car here gives the driver the option to change gears themselves by squeezing paddleshift levers mounted behind the steering wheels, while there are opportunities to change a variety of car settings.
The M5 and E63 AMG offer the broadest range of choices. The BMW M5 has three-mode settings for steering response, variable dampers and engine characteristics – varying from Efficient (read most relaxing) to Sport + (read maximum attack), with a midway mode called Sport.
There are individual buttons for each on the centre console, while M5 owners can also program their two favourite set-ups and save them via M-1 and M-2 buttons on the steering wheel for instant access.
The E63’s centre console also features a separate button with three levels of suspension set-up, with a rotary dial that can be turned to switch between drivetrain settings of C (comfort), S (Sport), S+ (Sport plus) and M (manual).
There’s also an AMG button to store the E63 driver’s personal settings.
Jaguar keeps matters fairly simple, which is good or bad depending on your viewpoint. You can press a Dynamic button to switch the auto into a sportier mode that holds gears longer and shifts quicker, but the steering ratio or weighting can’t be changed and the XFR’s variable dampers only adjust automatically.
Many M, AMG and R owners take their vehicles to track days, and some circuit work was part of CarAdvice’s week-long comparison test.
With dampers set to their firmest setting, engines and gearboxes to their most aggressive mappings, and stability control systems completely disengaged, the M5, E63 AMG and XFR are capable and entertaining machines on the limit.
A saturated track also provided an easier opportunity for each to showcase their talents for going sideways, aided by different takes on limited slip differentials.
Jaguar calls its electronic version an Active Differential but it was the least effective, making the XFR less predictable and enjoyable. When the diff works, the XFR is a beautifully balanced machine – despite the most noticeable body roll of the trio – that slides progressively. But all too often the XFR’s rear inside wheel would be allowed to spin up; revs would soar but without any meaningful momentum sideways or otherwise.
Steering that all three testers unanimously described as overly light also contributed to a consensus that the Germans again had the edge over the Brit.
The BMW M5 is certainly a great track car. It provides the biggest impression of stability both in a straight line and under heavy braking, and it also benefits from a set of Michelin rubber that gives the M5 both superior traction and front-end bite. That grip meant the 5 Series M car’s throttle needed a determined press on the gas to generate the desired slip angle, while on three occasions – with different testers – the M5’s electronics also had a panic attack while sideways.
Two different warnings illuminated each time: ‘Tyre pressure monitoring system failure’ and ‘Dynamic stabilisation failure’. It was clearly just gremlins because an engine restart back in the pits saw the M5 immediately back to its impressive normality.
It meant the E63 AMG was the only hi-po, hi-lux sedan not to skip a beat, and the Mercedes gave the clear impression that it was happy to lap hour after hour. It understeers more than the M5 but it was also felt an even more willing partner for power-drifting antics and lighter on its feet.
ON THE ROAD
It’s not often that a BMW M car is described as being less agile than one of its AMG arch-rivals, but it’s a consequence of the latest M5 piling on a few pounds. The M5’s steering, while good, won’t go down as the best in BMW history, either. It’s at its most disappointing in the Sport + setting, where the steering’s weighting just becomes artificially heavy.
But as dynamically excellent as the Jaguar XFR and Mercedes E63 are on the road, Munich’s executive express is ultimately the most accomplished.
On bumpy country roads, it’s the M5’s suspension that delivers the most supreme control, dampers acting the fastest to keep the BMW’s body remarkably flat and unflustered.
The E63 AMG and XFR still deal with bumps impressively, but they both take a fraction longer to settle compared with the M5, delaying the driver’s confidence in getting back on the power.
These sedans must still perform their duty as a luxury car, though, and all three provide a surprisingly comfortable ride when in their comfort modes. Each especially excels on the freeway, with limited noise intrusion, comfortable seats, and of course those torque-laden V8s that help to devour hundreds of kilometres with ridiculous ease.
If we had to choose one to drive from Sydney to Melbourne or vice versa, it would be the M5. It has the most cosseting ride of the group as well as the most relaxing and supportive driver’s seat.
It feels like a big, fat armchair – made from a soft (red) Merino leather – yet is low and sporty enough so there isn’t a detachment from the driving experience.
You feel like you’re sitting higher in the E63 relative to the M5 while the XFR’s seat is, for a performance sedan, disappointingly short on bolstering support.
The BMW takes the honours for overall cabin appeal, too. It feels opulent when judged against its rivals, with the most elevated perception of quality.
There’s no doubting the high quality of the AMG’s materials and fit and finish, it’s just that the E63’s interior feels merely luxurious in the M5’s company.
The XFR is another step down from the Mercedes, and it has the least rear legroom here and the boot with the narrowest access. There’s much to like about the Jaguar’s interior, though. We still love the sense of theatre provided by features such as the touch-sensitive interior lights and air vents that rotate open on engine start-up. The ‘Phosphor blue’ ambient lighting also gives the Jaguar a sense of contemporary coolness not experienced in either the BMW or Mercedes.
If only so many of the Jaguar’s controls – from the engine start button to the touchscreen menu system – didn’t seem to take so long to respond.
And with Mercedes’ Comand system still lacking in terms of aesthetics and intuitiveness, it gives the BMW another advantage with its neatly evolved iDrive operating system.
Jaguar needs to play catch up to the Germans in technology, too. Even this flagship version of the XF range is bereft of driver assist technologies starting to find their way into more mainstream vehicles.
Only the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz offer, for example, night vision and warning systems to help drivers avoid accidentally steering into an occupied blind spot or mistakenly wandering into another lane.
The Jaguar XFR is the most affordable of our super-sedan group with a starting figure of $210,400, though how much of a swaying argument that is at this price point is debatable. And it’s certainly not enough to prevent this comparison test coming down to a straight fight between Stuttgart and Munich.
The XFR is a fine car in isolation and certainly a worthy consideration for super-sedan buyers who don’t want the usual German badge, but in this company the English competitor is the weaker in terms of cabin accommodation and practicality, and doesn’t strike as good a balance between luxury and performance as the Germans.
Perhaps its softer edges will be toughened up by the Jaguar XFR-S that has been spied testing.
For now it’s time for an executive decision on two great exponents of the super-sedan breed.
It’s true that many customers will have already sworn allegiance to either BMW or Mercedes and that will make any choice redundant. For neutral buyers it’s a tougher call – if you ignore the fact our E63 cost more than $42,000 more than the M5 with a raft of options including the Performance Package.
The AMG version of the E-Class has never been so closely matched to the hero of BMW’s 5 Series range. And for those looking for a luxury sedan with more overt performance, the E63 is the pick.
And the BMW M5 isn’t perfect, getting noticeably chubby around the mid-riff. It’s ballistic rather than balletic, and BMW may need to consider aluminium construction for the next 5 Series.
But the M5 is coated in an extra layer of civility that allows you to enjoy it purely as a supremely comfortable and cosseting luxury car before peeling away that mask to expose its thrillingly epic ability.
The BMW M5 is more than good.
As tested: $240,520
Body style: sedan
Engine: 4.4-litre V8
Power: 412kW at 6000-7000rpm
Torque: 680Nm at 1500-5750rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Weight: 1870kg (DIN)
0-100km/h: 4.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.9L/100km
CO2 emissions: 232g/km
As tested: $210,400
Body style: sedan
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8
Power: 375kW at 6000-6500rpm
Torque: 625Nm at 2500-5500rpm
Transmission: 6-spd auto
0-100km/h: 4.9 seconds
Fuel consumption: 12.5L/100km
CO2 emissions: 292g/km
MERCEDES-BENZ E63 AMG
As tested: $282,780
Body style: sedan
Engine: 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 386kW at 5250-5750rpm (410kW at 5250-5750rpm*)
Torque: 700Nm at 1750-5000rpm (800Nm at 2000-4500rpm*)
Transmission: 7-speed auto
0-100km/h: 4.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 10.0L/100km
CO2 emissions: 234g/km
*With optional Performance Package
BMW M5: 4.5 STARS
MERCEDES-BENZ E63 AMG: 4.5 STARS
JAGUAR XFR: 4 STARS
This comparison review first appeared in the October issue of the CarAdvice iPad magazine app. Head to the Apple App Store to download the latest, November issue.