With 1152 Horsepower, the Going Gets
There was a time, not all that long ago, when the conclusion of this test would have been forgone. The AMG, a previously sedate Mercedes-Benz taxicab, was the recipient of a heart transplant in the form of a snarling pugilist of a motor with ice and fire flowing through its veins. The E-Class AMG’s speed rivaled anything from Italy, and its manners anything from 9th century Sweden. A brute’s brute, as it were. Nothing more than a belligerent musclecar with decent carpeting in the trunk. Best to name it after a brute force, ignoble hand tool of some sort. Hacksaw, pipe wrench, crowbar, no — how about just hammer?
The BMW M5, by way of contrast, was for drivers. Quick and pulse-quickening, yet delicate and in love with the notion of finesse. Masterful in accepting inputs and its controls, fluid in its movements, all the while retaining enough refinement and sophistication to fully satisfy and delight the banking/orthodontic set. The M5, you see, is what God would drive if he/she were into driving cars. I’m not making that up. Three generations ago, when the E39 M5 and its naturally aspirated V-8 coupled to a six-speed manual debuted, that was the word on the auto journalist street: “God’s car,” “perfection has a roundel,” and other such hyperbolic musings. Fast-forward to 2013 and things are very, very different. Unless they’re not. You see, AMG has built a bigger hammer, while the mad Bavarians of the M Division have done the exact same thing to their once ballerina-like M5. It seems that truth is indeed more bizarre than fiction.
The pertinent facts of the case are thus: The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S Model is a monster. Under the bulging hood sits a nicely juiced-up version of the now-familiar M157 AMG engine. It’s 5.5 liters in displacement, has two turbochargers fitted directly to the exhaust headers, and fills the combustion chamber with direct-injected gasoline at 2000 psi. Such a motor, especially in the new S Model tune, creates 577 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Of course those power numbers are GMFN, or German Minimum Fantasy Numbers. Meaning that we stuck this particular gray example on K&N Engineering’s dynamometer and discovered that the M157 in this car churns out 541 wheel-horsepower and 508 lb-ft of torque. As the S Model E63 is AWD, and since you typically factor in a drivetrain loss for AWD cars of 20 percent (the transmission and drive shafts tend to suck a lot of power), the actual crank numbers on this car are much closer to 676 hp and 636 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to propel the 4511-pound sedan to 60 mph in a crazy quick 3.4 seconds and through the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds at 121.8 mph. That’s one big hammer.
But then you have the BMW M5, and specifically the new-for-2014 M5 Competition Package, a more hardcore version of the already pretty extreme F10 M5. Goodies include a bump in horsepower from 560 to 575 (torque remains flat at 500 lb-ft) from the re-chipped 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 and a heavily revised suspension (bushings, springs, dampers, sway bars) that make this car drive nearly as good as our favorite BMW, the M6 Gran Coupe.
Either way, the M5 Competition sits 10mm lower than the regular car. There’s a revised exhaust, too. As for power, we also subjected the big orange sedan to K&N’s dyno, and we saw 508 hp and 452 lb-ft of torque at the wheels. Using 15 percent as our driveline loss correction (the M5 remains RWD only, for now), that’s 598 hp and 531 lb-ft of torque. That’s a lot of boost.
Our technical director Frank Markus would like me to point out that BMWs are notoriously difficult to test on a dyno for a variety of reasons, chief among them sufficient cooling, and that modern RWD cars with dual-clutch transmissions probably suffer parasitic driveline losses closer to the neighborhood of 10 percent. Likewise, the AMG is probably losing closer to 15 percent. Regardless, the 4369-pound M5 rockets to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and rips through the quarter mile in 11.9 seconds at 122.2 mph. That’s slower than the AMG, but the M5 also lacks the heftier car’s AWD grip advantage. Compare these times to the 4 seconds flat to 60 mph and 12.4 seconds at 114.2 mph through the quarter for the last, regular-strength M5 we tested. Not only does the Competition Package make more power than before, but as Randy Pobst is so fond of saying, it puts the power down.
While the AMG wins the drag race, it’s not by much. Until you consider that the M5’s launch numbers were achieved using the complicated up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, select, start launch control. For those who think I’m exaggerating, I’ll go ahead and quote from the last M5 story I wrote: “First, you need to place the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in manual mode. Then, you hit the little button below the shifter joystick twice to put the transmission into the fastest shift mode. Next, you hold the traction control button down for about 10 seconds to turn all the nannies off. Then you touch the brake pedal lightly with your left foot and with your right hand push the stick forward. Next, release the brake. Finally, you simultaneously jam the throttle to the floor (making sure to really jam it, as the BMW has a stupid detent about 90 percent of the way down that you have to kick through) and release the stick.” At a traffic light, the AMG is getting the M5’s lunch money.
Elsewhere, however, the two are evenly matched. Both cars stop from 60 mph in a respectable 106 feet. It should be noted that this M5 came with $9200 carbon-ceramic discs, while the E63 makes do with drilled steel rotors. Both cars pull a max g of 0.96 and both complete our figure eight in 24.3 seconds, a damn impressive time. (For instance, the 3133-pound Porsche Boxster also takes 24.3 seconds to go around our figure eight.) How the two accomplish the same task couldn’t be more different. The E63 is calm and collected, an athlete in a business suit. AMG’s AWD solution permanently routes 33 percent of the torque to the front wheels and 67 percent to the rears. So while you always have AWD bite, the car still feels like it’s RWD. The result is no fuss and no muss when it comes to limit handling. The BMW, on the other hand, is like standing barefoot on a knife’s edge. You must be careful. Feel like drifting? So does the M5. Sloppy throttle application has the Competition Pack’s rear end stepping out whenever and wherever. Again, the M5 CP can do what the E63 AMG can — it just requires more skill. Keeping traction and stability control on keeps the rear end from stepping out, but also slows things down considerably.
In the real world, both vehicles are comically overpowered for nearly all situations. And they’re both pretty damn great to drive. The lovely Alcantara steering wheel on the AMG sends lovely signals through your palms. How AMG does it is anybody’s guess, but 4500-pound cars rarely feature steering this light, especially when power is being sent to the front wheels. Remember that the 4700-pound E63 Wagon, this car’s plump brother, finished seventh out of 12 at this year’s Best Driver’s Car. Losing nearly 200 pounds of mass makes the sedan feel that much more sporting. Curiously, even though it is heavier, the AMG drives lighter than the M5 does. Exactly why probably has to do with the lightness of the E63’s steering. The E63 felt more fluid when being pushed hard on a canyon road.
The M5 suffers from the M Division’s newfound love of total adjustability. The throttle response, suspension, steering, and DCT all have three modes. That makes a total of 125 different ways to set up the car. Some of them just don’t make much sense. When do you not want instant, linear throttle response in an M5? I guess when you’re just putting around town. But even then, when do you want that middle setting, the sort-of-fast throttle response? The adjustable steering’s even worse. You get the impression it was decided that the car would have three different steering modes, and then the engineers were given the task of thinking up what exactly those modes should be. Their solutions were heavy, heavier, and sword-in-stone. None is very good. Contrast these with the single, really good steering solution in the AMG and you start to see the M5’s problem. We feel it’s good for the people building the cars to have a strong opinion as far as handling goes.
The other issue with the M5 is isolation. I’ve typed this many times before, but the F10 platform is the problem, as it shares components with the 7 Series and Rolls-Royce Ghost and Wraith. Those are luxury cars of course, and as such the M5 feels like a bank vault with the speedometer always reading 100 mph. “Really,” you think to yourself, “How is it possible I’m going so fast?” The fact that the M5 corners quite flat (at least in the suspension mode) accentuates this sensation. Whereas the E63 tends to lean more in corners, which I like, as that Z-axis movement lets you know what the car is up to. At least there’s plenty of noise in the M5’s cabin, from both the revised exhaust and all that jazz BMW pumps in over the speakers. So maybe it’s fairer to say it’s like a noisy bank vault with a triple-digit speedometer.
I should point out that as critical as I’m being of the BMW, this new M5 Competition Package is a much better-driving car than the regular strength M5 or the M6. (The latter finished 10 out of 12 at BDC 2013.) Had the Competition Package been available to us this past June, I’m betting the M5 would have finished quite a bit higher than tenth. It is a fabulous car. Trouble is, I’m tasked with explaining why such a fine machine is finishing behind the E63 AMG S Model in this here comparison test. Apart from everything else, confidence is a key factor, and I was simply more confident behind the wheel of the Mercedes than I was when driving the BMW. Confidence, especially knowing what’s going to happen as you bury your right foot, allows you to push a car harder. I think most people will agree. While the competition between these two is quite fierce, AMG has built the slightly better hammer. But as we were conducting this test, M Division announced that it’s considering AWD for the next batch of M cars. It seems things are just heating up, so watch this space.
In conclusion, hats off to the boys at M for greatly improving what has up to now been a frankly disappointing M5. And hearty congratulations to AMG for beating BMW at its own game. Until we all meet again.
|2014 BMW M5||2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||268.2 cu in/4395 cc||333.3 cu in/5461 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||575 hp @ 6000 rpm||577 hp @ 5500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||500 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm||590 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm|
|REDLINE||7100 rpm||6400 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||7.6 lb/hp||7.8 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.||7-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||15.7-in vented, drilled ceramic disc; 15.6-in vented, drilled ceramic disc, ABS||14.2-in vented, drilled disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||9.0 x 20-in, 10.0 x 20-in cast aluminum||9.0 x 19-in; 9.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R|| 265/35ZR20 99Y; 295/30ZR20 101Y
Michelin Pilot Super Sport
| 255/35ZR19 96Y; 285/30ZR19 98Y
Continental ContiSportContact 5P
|WHEELBASE||116.7 in||113.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.1/62.3 in||64.0/62.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||193.5 x 74.4 x 56.9 in||192.4 x 73.7 x 57.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||41.3 ft||37.1 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4369 lb||4511 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||51/49 %||54/46 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.5/38.3 in||37.9/38.2 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.4/36.1 in||41.3/35.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||58.3/26.2 in||57.8/56.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||14.0 cu ft||16.4 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.6 sec||1.3 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.5||1.6|
|QUARTER MILE||11.9 sec @ 122.2 mph||11.6 sec @ 121.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||106 ft||106 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.95 g (avg)||0.95 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.3 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)||24.3 sec @ 0.83 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1550 rpm||1600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$117,075||$106,825|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited||Unlimited|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.1 gal||21.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||14/20 mpg||16/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||241/169 kW-hrs/100 miles||211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.20 lb/mile||1.05 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|