• 2010 BMW 760Li, Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, Porsche Panamera Turbo Comparison

DRIVEN: 2010 BMW 760Li, Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, Porsche Panamera Turbo Comparison

January 21, 2010
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The history books would have you believe that the West was once a wild place. But if you're braving the sweltering California desert and happen upon a little town called Palm Springs, you'd never know it. The dusty bandits, merciless bounty hunters, and untamed renegades are long gone, replaced by air-conditioned cafés, opulent galleries, and swanky day spas. The only weapons in use are those rumbling under the hoods of the many exotic and classic cars cruising the boulevard. The desert people clearly favor Cadillacs over Caterhams, though - luxury rules the West now.
1002 01 Z+2010 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG BMW 760Li+porsche Panamera Turbo
The BMW 760Li, the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, and the Porsche Panamera Turbo each enter the saloon with at least 500 horses of firepower tucked away beneath a façade of formality. They look benign enough, but when the dust starts flying, there are few steeds that can match their speed. They may all hail from Germany, but there's something distinctly Wild West about these three sedans. And so we took them to Palm Springs, their natural habitat, for a gunslinging showdown.
The idea that a luxury sedan should be able to dice with a sports car is a relatively new one. Acceleration is relatively easy to achieve - just add more engine - but getting a big, cushy, heavy car to dance through the corners like a light sports car isn't. And the very essence of a sports car - the lovely sounds, the tight body control, the connected steering - is exactly the opposite of a luxury sedan. Or so you'd think.
Thanks to computer-controlled suspensions, brilliant engineering, and colossal powertrains, these three Germans break all the rules. They're do-everything machines - large, gilded cruisers with first-class interiors and all the latest techno-gizmos, and yet they can pull off sports car moves with almost no penalty to comfort. On the surface, the BMW, the Mercedes, and the Porsche are very similar: They cost the same. They're all similarly powerful - and have so much brute force at their disposal that they start out in second gear unless you request otherwise. And yet, in the details, they couldn't be more different.
1002 04 Z+2010 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG BMW 760Li+porsche Panamera Turbo
THE GOOD
You could describe the BMW 760Li as angelic. If ever there was a divine luxury sedan, this would be it.
1002 05 Z+2010 BMW 760Li+side View
It may not be the most visually stunning car in the world, but nothing about the 7-series' design will offend you, either. In fact, the 7-series seems as though it were designed to be the least offensive car on the planet. That's really no surprise: BMW certainly knew where it stood as far as the last 7-series was concerned - its design and user interface generated almost ceaseless commentary. And although its creators denied any and all wrongdoing, they obviously listened very closely, because they addressed every complaint. In stark contrast to its predecessor, the new 7-series is subtle and understated in every way. Except, of course, for its exceptional performance.
With a curb weight of more than 5000 pounds, the 760Li is no lightweight, but a number of factors conspire to hide that mass. First among them is the absolutely ludicrous thrust provided by the 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 under the hood. At peak, 535 horses trample the pavement, but far more impressive than what this engine does at its pinnacle is what it can sustain: 550 lb-ft of torque available from 1500 rpm all the way to 5000 rpm. That means warp-speed acceleration is easily available with a twitch of a right toe; no big downshifts needed, no big revs required. And no notice given - the V-12 is barely audible from either inside or outside the car.
The 7 also does a good job masking its length. The V-12-powered 7-series is available in long-wheelbase form only - there's enough room between its front and rear wheels for a Smart ForTwo, with twenty inches to spare. Back-seat passengers are so far away that they seem as if they're in a different zip code - even the tallest passengers can't reach the front seatbacks. To keep the 7 maneuverable, it comes standard with Integral Active Steering, which both varies the steering ratio and angles the rear wheels. Turn-in is sharp, and the computers keep the effective steering ratio quick, so the 7 drives smaller than it is. Unfortunately, experience with other 7-series models without active steering has shown us that the system is responsible for numbing much of the feedback coming through the BMW's steering wheel.
And to be honest, there's not much feedback to the driver coming from the rest of the car, either. Despite unmatched handling balance (in this test or against just about any other sedan on the road), perfect brake action, and a telepathic eight-speed automatic transmission, the 7-series is more of a high-speed limo than a back-road stormer. Admittedly, there is no "M" badge on this 7, and BMW makes no claim that the 760Li is the sports car of the 7-series lineup, but it does say "The Ultimate Driving Machine" right on the window sticker. And the car certainly delivers the goods - just in a much quieter, more restrained manner than, say, the Mercedes.
1002 09 Z+2010 BMW 760Li+rear Three Quarter View
THE BAD
With a howling V-8, a great chassis, and a fabulous cabin, the S63 AMG is the S-class you don't mess with.
1002 10 Z+2010 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG+front Three Quarter View
The S63 AMG isn't the quickest S-class in a straight line. That honor goes to the S65 AMG, which, like the BMW, has a 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12. But that S-class costs another $70,000, and its aging SOHC engine suffers from lots of turbo lag, an embarrassingly low redline, and is paired with a timid five-speed automatic. For every point the V-12 S65 gains in speed over the S63, it loses three in involvement.
The S63 is all about the 7200-rpm V-8 under its hood - 6.2 liters of normally aspirated brute force bolted to a seven-speed automatic that shifts so fast that it squeals the fan belt. And the trump card is the noise this V-8 makes - wearing no turbochargers to muffle the exhaust, it needs to be revved, and it rewards with a demonic wail that bellows across the desert floor. The 760Li can't be heard from the next lane, but you can hear the S63 from a mile away.
And if you do, chances are that it'll be catching up to you soon. The S63 might be the slowest of this trio according to the stopwatch, but when you charge up and down mountain roads, the S63's active suspension shows off with minimal body roll, pitch, or dive. Supercars wish they had body control like this. Midcorner bumps? Who cares?! Midcorner speed bumps wouldn't even faze this Mercedes.
Nor, you might surmise, would a midcorner tree. If you had to pick a car in which to suffer a big crash, it'd be this Benz. The S63 weighs about the same as the BMW but feels a ton heavier from behind the wheel. Not because of any lack of cornering ability - no, no, this crazed steed beats the Bimmer in the twisties - but because of how solid and massive it feels. From the way the slow steering refuses to self-center at low speeds to the way the turn signals sound (a loud, crisp click of a relay, not some computer-generated chime), everything fools you into thinking the S-class is as heavy as a tank.
The dashboard has precious few buttons, but those it does have look and feel rich. The cabin creates a feeling of elegance and occasion that the BMW's can't match. Active Body Control gives a supple ride that the BMW can't equal, either. And when asked to perform luxo-limo duty, the Merc is the back-seat champion. The BMW wins on paper with more head- and legroom, but in the real world, the S63's bench is more comfortable, and it affords a better view out.
The S-class is getting on in years - it was updated for 2010, but the basic car dates to 2007, and some of its electronic systems lag behind the BMW's. Both cars are rolling electronics showcases with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and night-vision aids, but the BMW's systems work slightly better. BMW's iDrive controller is also a bit easier to use than Mercedes-Benz's aging Comand interface. Meanwhile, the Porsche, which is the newest of the three, has about a gazillion buttons on the dash, just like Mercedes and BMW used to.
1002 14 Z+2010 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG+controls
THE UGLY
The Porsche Panamera Turbo wasn't designed to be pretty. It was designed to be the performance superstar of luxury sedans.
1002 19 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+rear Three Quarter View
Porsche lists a bunch of objectives in the press materials for the Panamera but doesn't once mention elegance, style, or grace. No, the Panamera isn't supposed to be comely - it's meant to be fast as hell, surprisingly efficient, and very, very practical.
And it is all of those things. First, look at the data panel on page 82 for some unbelievable test results. The Porsche reaches 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and pulls almost 1 g on the skid pad. Its top speed is 188 mph. These are among the most impressive figures we've ever printed - and certainly the best numbers from any car with four doors, a huge trunk, and a spacious, well-appointed cabin. Where the other two cars post sports car numbers, the Panamera posts supercar numbers.
In that precious data panel, the Turbo wins every single category, including the best results in EPA fuel economy testing. These are especially laudable achievements given that the Panamera is Porsche's first-ever sedan.
The Panamera is a very different machine from the two other sharpshooters in this gunfight. First of all, it wasn't initially designed as a luxury tourer and then retrofitted with serious power, suspension, and brakes. As such, it's much shorter and lighter than the other cars, but it still offers a back seat large enough for a long trip. And unlike in the other two cars, that back seat can fold down and play dead. The Panamera's hunchback hatchback may not be beautiful, but it'll swallow cargo that would need to be strapped onto the roof of the BMW and the Mercedes. (And hauling your wares home from the general store on your roof is never pretty.) The Panamera Turbo's four-wheel-drive system means it'll go places, in bad weather conditions, when the remaining two would be relegated to the stable.
Because it wasn't conceived as a luxury sedan first, the Panamera falls short of the other two Germans in cushy creature comfort. The seats are, relatively speaking, hard and narrow. The interior is dressed in high-quality materials but lacks the glamour of the Mercedes or the plushness of the BMW. The instrument cluster houses concentric round gauges, and one pod is a circular LCD screen that can display any number of things, including a full-color map. It's très cool - and enough to make up for any other interior shortcoming.
In normal driving conditions, the Panamera isn't quite as supple as the other luxury sedans. Despite Porsche's adaptive suspension, the ride is a bit busy - although body control is outstanding - and road noise creeps in where it's absent from the BMW and the Merc. Of course, unlike those heavy beasts, the Porsche doesn't have double-glazed windows, and surely some of that weight savings comes from less sound-deadening material. The optional Burmester sound system, however, is among the best we've ever heard in an automobile - it turns ordinary music into what sounds like a live performance in a recording studio. Road noise? Who cares?
1002 15 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+front Three Quarter View
Around town, the dual-clutch transmission can be slightly clumsy off the line, slipping the clutch a bit more than we'd like. It can occasionally become confused, too, but never more so than the driver, who's forced to cope with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles apparently designed by someone who wasn't born with normal hands. On the highway, the Panamera loafs along in seventh gear, whose ratio is longer than any Mexican standoff. At 70 mph, there's zero engine noise - the twin-turbo V-8 is practically asleep, turning just 1600 rpm. And, as you can imagine, fuel economy is suitably impressive - the EPA rates the Panamera at 23 mpg on the highway, far better than its rivals in this test.
1002 15 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+front Three Quarter View
Of course, that kind of mileage is achievable only if you're well-behaved. And why would you ever act in such a way in a turbocharged Porsche? Let's get back to that 3.5-second 0-to-60-mph run - this feat is accomplished thanks to the combination of several factors, not the least of which is the traction afforded by all-wheel drive. The BMW and the Benz light up their rear tires and will lay yards and yards of rubber - even on those rare occasions when you're not trying to. Second, the Panamera's transmission has a very short first gear (which yields 29 mph in first gear at redline, compared with 39 and 43 mph in the BMW and the Mercedes, respectively), and it will, at your request, perform a 4800-rpm clutch dump.
At full throttle, the Panamera is almost Nissan GT-R-ish in its lack of drama. The engine's noise isn't particularly pleasant, since the turbo whoosh easily overwhelms the V-8 music, upshifts are copious and practically impalpable, and the four-wheel-drive system is tuned for traction, not tail-out antics.
From behind the Panamera's wheel, the experience is decidedly not Boxster, Cayman, or 911 - it's about capability, not communication. The steering is quick and perfectly accurate, although it's not particularly talkative; the brakes are powerful but with no better feel than the other cars. Cornering grip, though, is unbelievable, and the Panamera feels light on its feet but unrelentingly buttoned-down, even as it transitions into moderate understeer as you cross its limits - limits so high that we doubt most drivers will ever reach them on the street.
A point which brings us back to the gunfight at hand. Even though the Porsche unquestionably dominates in the numbers department, we wonder what purpose those numbers serve other than as bragging rights. Numbers can be misleading, anyway - sure, the Panamera is the fastest to 60 mph, but much of that advantage is due to the way it launches from a stop. In real-world driving, the BMW is effectively as fast. Case in point, the 30-to-70-mph passing number: The Porsche's scorching 3.6-second result was achieved in Sport Plus mode, which keeps the engine revs up high, ready to pounce at any moment (undermining any fuel-economy advantage, by the way). Put the Panamera in "D" and floor it, and the result is identical to the BMW's - something we verified by lining up the two cars at 30 mph, racing them side-by-side, and watching them both cross the 100-mph mark together, over and over again.
1002 19 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+rear Three Quarter View
But it's not as if the owners of these cars will be drag racing on the way home from their Palm Springs boutiques. Betcha you'll never see a Panamera Turbo doing launch-control hole-shots at the quarter-mile track, an S63 exercising its way around a road course, or a 760Li doing burnouts behind the neighborhood high school. Numbers are but one piece of this pie - these cars are about so much more than that.
1002 16 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+engine
Someone who is laying out $135,000 - or about $150,000, as our test cars were equipped - for this type of vehicle wants a grand sedan that gives the feeling of being in a sports car. Titillating sounds, brutal acceleration, and the feel of quick responses are far more important than quarter-mile times and peak lateral g's. These buyers aren't willing to sacrifice any comfort for that performance, and if that's the game we're playing, it's the bad guy who wins this time. The Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG is the most versatile actor in this film - it plays the most comfortable cross-continent cruiser, dresses up as the most glamorous luxury sedan, and does the best impression of a sports car, replete with a sound track to scare off even the toughest gunslingers in the West.
1002 19 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+rear Three Quarter View
BMW 760Li
Price (base/as tested) $139,125/$154,925
1002 09 Z+2010 BMW 760Li+rear Three Quarter View
ENGINE 48-valve DOHC twin-turbo V-12
DISPLACEMENT 6.0 liters (364 cu in)
HORSEPOWER 535 hp @ 5250 rpm
TORQUE 550 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
DRIVE Rear-wheel
STEERING Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
SUSPENSION, FRONT Control arms, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES Vented discs, ABS
TIRES Goodyear Excellence
TIRE SIZE F, R 245/40YR-20, 275/35YR-20
L x W x H 205.3 x 74.9 x 58.3 in
WHEELBASE 126.4 in
TRACK F/R 63.4/65.0 in
WEIGHT 5150 lb
EPA MILEAGE 13/19 mpg
0-60 MPH 4.8 sec
0-100 MPH 10.3 sec
0-120 MPH 14.7 sec
1/4-MILE 13.1 sec @ 113 mph
30-70 MPH PASSING 4.6 sec
SPEED IN GEARS 39/59/88/110/142/147/140/140 mph
CORNERING L/R 0.89/0.86 g
70-0 MPH BRAKING 161 ft

MERCEDES-BENZ S63 AMG
Price (base/as tested) $137,425/$148,575
1002 10 Z+2010 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG+front Three Quarter View
ENGINE 32-valve DOHC V-8
DISPLACEMENT 6.2 liters (379 cu in)
HORSEPOWER 518 hp @ 6800 rpm
TORQUE 465 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
DRIVE Rear-wheel
STEERING Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
SUSPENSION, FRONT Multilink, coil springs and hydraulic cylinders
SUSPENSION, REAR Multilink, coil springs and hydraulic cylinders
BRAKES Vented discs, ABS
TIRES Continental Sport Contact 2
TIRE SIZE F, R 255/35YR-20, 275/35YR-20
L x W x H 206.5 x 73.7 x 58.0 in
WHEELBASE 124.6 in
TRACK F/R 63.0/63.2 in
WEIGHT 4960 lb
EPA MILEAGE 11/18 mpg
0-60 MPH 4.8 sec
0-100 MPH 11.5 sec
0-120 MPH 16.2 sec
1/4-MILE 13.5 sec @ 108 mph
30-70 MPH PASSING 5.1 sec
SPEED IN GEARS 43/65/97/136/155/156/150 mph
CORNERING L/R 0.90/0.91 g
70-0 MPH BRAKING 160 ft

PORSCHE PANAMERA TURBO
Price (base/as tested) $133,575/$146,720
1002 15 Z+2010 Posche Panamera Turbo+front Three Quarter View
ENGINE 32-valve DOHC twin-turbo V-8
DISPLACEMENT 4.8 liters (293 cu in)
HORSEPOWER 500 hp @ 6000 rpm
TORQUE 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
DRIVE 4-wheel
STEERING Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
SUSPENSION, FRONT Control arms, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES Vented discs, ABS
TIRES Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
TIRE SIZE F, R 255/45YR-19, 285/40YR-19
L x W x H 195.6 x 76.0 x 55.8 in
WHEELBASE 115.0 in
TRACK F/R 65.2/64.8 in
WEIGHT 4422 lb
EPA MILEAGE 15/23 mpg
0-60 MPH 3.5 sec
0-100 MPH 8.3 sec
0-120 MPH 11.8 sec
1/4-MILE 11.8 sec @ 120 mph
30-70 MPH PASSING 3.6 sec
SPEED IN GEARS 29/52/85/125/170/188/170 mph
CORNERING L/R 0.99/0.97 g
70-0 MPH BRAKING 157 ft
1002 02 Z+2010 Mercedes Benz S63 AMG BMW 760Li+porsche Panamera Turbo

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