The measuring scale of large luxury saloons is very simple and looks like this: a thermometer-style narrow glass tube, filled with liquid burr walnut, with just one red line in the middle. If the burr walnut rises above the line, the car is better than the benchmark, the Mercedes- Benz S-Class. Normally the burr walnut always hovers just below the red line.
But gathered here today, we have no Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And that’s because we’re not interested in reconfirming our unanimous opinions that the S-Class is the best, but rather we want to decide which of the latest newcomers to the large luxury saloon segment are most worthy of attention too.
The Audi A8 with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 was launched only a few months ago near the end of 2012, and BMW thoroughly revamped its 7 Series with a UAE release date around about the same time in October. Just a month later, Lexus countered with its ‘all-new’ LS. So while the S-Class condescendingly looks on from the safety of its top-spot for the segment in terms of 2012 sales, we decided to gather the three also-rans for a guns-blazing shoot-out, minus the guns and the shooting, and plus some sedate cruising…
Imran’s Audi A8 L
The objective of this comparison is to, basically, find out what the second best luxury saloon out there is since the S-Class is untouchable.
Well, almost, because this A8 L is so darn good, Mercedes had better not get too comfortable on top of its perch; second spot isn’t good enough for Ingolstadt.
With a blistering 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 sending 420bhp to all four wheels, it isn’t planning on standing around for anyone. It wants to be seen and heard. Bury the throttle and your ears are met with a thunderous roar. Has its time in the limelight come? Maybe.
What’s for certain is it’s as refined and luxurious as can be both inside and out. The exterior may not jump out and grab you by the neck; instead, it slowly seduces you until you can’t resist its charms, of which there are plenty, such as those sharp LED lights, 19in alloys and muscular body. I’d say it is the most handsome of the three we’ve assembled.
Audi has been producing some of the best interiors for years and the A8 L’s cabin is nothing short of majestic and loaded with every conceivable feature imaginable... Barring a coffee machine. We wouldn’t blame you if you double checked that the boffins didn’t fit one in there too because with a push-button ignition, sunroof, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-way power heated front seats, a power tilt-telescopic steering, Bluetooth, Bose audio system, mobile Wi-Fi capability, Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) with an eight-inch power-retracting TFT display screen, full iPod integration, twin SD-card slots and a navigation system with Google Earth street views, a coffee machine doesn’t sound absurd at all.
The fit and finish and lavishness of it all is so good that apart from Rolls-Royce, no other carmaker comes close. The materials used in here are first class and they feel it too. Though the front seats are very comfortable, it’s here that the Merc shows its class. It boasts active side bolsters that keep you locked into your chair when carving up a corner. Very cool. Audi, Lexus and BMW obviously didn’t get the memo. Ah well, at least the A8 L gets a better looking dashboard... More importantly, it drives as smooth as it looks.
It’s a large car, no doubt, but it manages to shrink around you when you put it through its paces — something the LS badly struggles to do. The Quattro system with its 40/60 front/rear power split keeps you planted on the road no matter how quick you take that corner, while the air suspension cushions you from all the blows on bumpy surfaces. The new V8 is a marvellous piece of engineering that delivers 600Nm of torque and flings the A8 L from 0-100kph in 4.7 seconds.
Mated to an eight-speed tiptronic, the power plant is both powerful yet frugal — 9.5 litres per-100km isn’t bad at all and neither is the Dh369,000 starting price. Is it better than the S Class? Not yet. Better than the Lexus and BMW? Let’s see what the guys have to say…
Dejan’s Lexus LS 460L
Perhaps at Dh375K the Lexus is one of the cheapest luxury cars around because the Japanese carmaker’s tooling costs are at kept to an absolute minimum. The Lexus is devoid of stylistic charm or unique design features as your eyes take ages to transcend 5,207mm of flat steel, searching for something interesting to lock on to before giving up and trailing down towards your feet in disappointment.
Then you just stand there feeling sorry for yourself, and for Lexus for missing
a huge opportunity to carry the momentum its other cars have set — various attractive concepts recently and the GS production model.
Agreed, Lexus has slapped the spindle grille on to the new LS as well, but unfortunately, that’s the car’s only defining feature. Don’t people with money want something special?
Perhaps they’ll find it inside the new LS. The interior feels the same as the GS’s, which is a good thing, but with a few extra touches of leather and twin rear seats in the long-wheelbase model and all the trimmings — the right-rear throne reclines with extending leg supports, and the centre arm-rest houses the computing power of a passenger plane, so you can command the whole car from the back. That’s neat, but it suggests this car is not meant to be driven, but be driven in.
So you probably don’t care that the LS 460 L comes with the same old 4.6-litre V8 producing 386bhp and 498Nm of torque. Peak power comes in high, as does the torque, but there’s now an even smoother eight-speed automatic transmission and driven in its element (below 3,000rpm), the Lexus LS is eerily silent and unrivalled in comfort.
The light steering is pinky-friendly and all the right controls are mounted to the wheel-spokes, while the rest of the gizmos are reached via the mouse-like command knob beside the gear level.
Up top there’s a screen that’s darn near the size of my television set, but it’s all
not as fluid to use as either BMW’s excellent new iDrive or the latest generation of Audi’s MMI. Other features include adaptive cruise control with over- eager braking (unlike in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class the system isn’t totally autonomous for easy traffic-jam crawls), all the usual safety systems (lane departure, blind-spot monitoring…), excellent surround-sound quality, air suspension, smart entry and start, and a relatively small boot for the car’s overall size.
Although Lexus claims otherwise, the handling is still the same as before, an abdominal workout at best as you tense to remain in the outrageously comfortable yet unsupportive seat. If you don’t care much about driving, this is the best car in the world.
Sony’s BMW 750Li
Of the three, the BMW 7 series is arguably the least opulent. With a cabin that’s a little too similar to that of its lesser siblings, the 7 Series lacks the unreserved extravagance of the Audi’s interior. It also doesn’t match the superlative comfort offered by the Lexus’s ride. But what it does is offer perfect blend of agility with restrained luxury and comfort. Seemingly in defiance of all the laws of physics, the 7 Series still continues to surprise with a kind of dexterity around bends that belie its enormous heft. Of the top luxury saloons, the BMW offers the most involving driving experience, barring perhaps the Jaguar XJ and the Porsche Panamera.
For the 2013 model year, the 750Li’s turbo V8 gets more power and torque. While power is bumped up by 44 horses to a healthy 444bhp, torque is up by 50Nm over the previous model, making a total of 660Nm. The V8 is also more efficient now thanks to a new eight-speed transmission and an automatic stop-start system. However, these constant restarts could be quite annoying in stop-and-go traffic, so it’s likely that you’ll end up switching the function off as I did after a few minutes in traffic.
While it may be argued that the A8 L comes close to the 7 Series in terms of driving dynamics, where the Bimmer scores high is in its ability to strike a perfect balance between litheness and comfort. It’s subjective, but I personally feel the 7er is a more comfortable long-distance cruiser than the A8 L, although it falls short of the LS’s super supple ride quality. Although there aren’t any ottoman seats like the Lexus, the extended wheelbase version’s rear seats offer ample legroom for six-foot-tall passengers even with a couple of reasonably tall guys in the 14-way adjustable front seats.
The 750Li comes standard with safety features such as antilock brakes, traction and stability control, airbags all around including full-length side curtain airbags and front knee airbags as well as active front head restraints. Then there’s blind-spot detection and a lane-departure warning system that alerts you by vibrating the steering wheel if you drift off the lane. The latest iDrive user interface with its revised and customisable menu system and navigation displays is a pleasure to use.
Outside, it’s more of a refresh than a redesign for 2013, but the previous model, with its sharp, athletic good looks didn’t warrant anything more. So, with its brushed up contours enhancing its restrained elegance, the BMW still manages to look good in the company of newly redesigned rivals like the Lexus
LS and the Audi A8 L.
So that brings us back to the pertinent question; which of these is the best? In this class of cars, it’s generally difficult to say one model is better than the other, as when it comes to luxury flagships, manufacturers go all out to match one another in cramming their respective cars with high-tech features and the best in craftsmanship. Each of these cars has its unique selling point; if opulence and build quality are Audi’s, a serene and tranquil ride is Lexus’s strength while the BMW amazes with its composed handling. But if we must pick a winner, it ought to be the A8 L, even though the 7 Series runs it pretty close. The Bimmer blends sportiness, luxury and comfort fabulously well but you have to pay a large price for it. The Audi, on the other hand, performs just as well and you don’t have to break the bank for it.