Time to add up the points. The BMW is a five-seat racer, a drift-challenge contender dressed up for a night on the town. It provides an intense driving experience, always connected, never on a long leash. If you like that 100-percent-on-the-alert-at-all-times attitude, then look no further. But, as involving as it is, the 530i is let down by its unsettled transmission, edgy active steering, and a stressed engine that works much harder than the more desirable 300-hp, twin-turbo unit fitted to the 535i. Factor in ho-hum cabin materials and a somewhat cramped rear seat, and the 5-series is more like a grown-up 3-series than a downsized 7-series. If you're intent on buying a 5-series, we would definitely suggest the standard steering and the twin-turbo six.
The Audi is a four-door sport coupe, a potent traction artist, and a solid good-looker. But the ride suffers, to the point that one is reluctant to accept it as the trade-off for superglue roadholding. Low-speed compliance is lacking, wheel travel is disappointingly curt, and like almost all other Audis, it hates manhole covers and transverse ridges. The prime attraction of the A6 3.0T is the potent yet very civilized supercharged engine, which is every bit as quick as the more expensive and even thirstier 4.2-liter V-8.
The brand-new E350 is the epitome of dynamic balance, a role model for near-perfect chassis compliance, and a very clever piece, especially when your pockets are deep enough to order all the high-tech options. True, the engine isn't the class leader in terms of power and refinement, directional stability could be a little more unerring, and the steering and the brakes don't respond with the impatient sharpness of the competition. On aggregate, however, the Benz is the new king of harmony and equilibrium. As far as ride comfort is concerned, it plays in a league of its own. The handling is now much more entertaining and involving. And in terms of perceived quality, it at long last represents the stuff that the Mercedes legend is made of. That's a lot of praise, and yet the E-class doesn't outdistance the A6 and the 5-series by much. But its lead is substantial enough to crown it the winner - the E-class is destined to be the new darling of the image-conscious, mile-eating, agenda-driven upper-income set. At least for now.