Earlier on, luxury car buyers didn’t have much of an option. Chose only the Mercedes and the occasional illegally imported Lexus. Now, it’s a different story altogether. Right from the entry level buyers to the top end luxury class, there is a spade of choices. For the entry level buyer, there is the Nano, Alto and other cars while for the top end luxury class buyer, there is the Maybach, Bentley and Rolls Royce awaiting them. So much for competition that these manufacturers don’t even advertise their products. Here we are referring to the top end ones and not the entry level. In between the midlevel executive class luxury buyer has got the choice of going in for the BMWs, Audis and also the Mercedes with the occasional Volvo or Jaguar thrown in for good measure. In the Indian market, there is a new launch and it is the 2011 Audi A6. No sooner after its launch, its inevitable that we don’t compare it with its other German compatriots. Well, it’s a known fact that even buyers in this segment go in for the diesel powered cars more than the petrol engined ones for the sheer fuel economy they provide. The 2011 BMW 530d in India and the 2011 Mercedes E350 in India are not too pleased with the 2011 Audi A6 in India and would want to sort out their issues via a duel. We just provided them a platform here. All these are top end diesel models even though the manufacturers provide lower variants with different engines and stuff.
All these cars here ape their bigger brother as far as the exteriors go. The E looks a lot like the S, the 5 looks similar to the 7 and the A6 is just about smaller than the A8. The new Audi A6 definitely is the longest as also the widest in this comparison, not that it would be felt immediately coz of the tight packaging done by Audi designers. As for being the hideous Goliath of the bunch, the BMW overshadows the Audi. With its designers showering their design frame with liberal strokes, the 5 series looks bulbous. The E and the A6 both looks slimmer than it. Infact, the E-class is the narrowest of all the cars featured here for the test and it looks the part as well. The alloy wheel design of all the three cars here is similar and the Audi sports the weediest tyres here with the size rating of 225/55-R17s. All the three cars also come with the proprietary LED technology for their headlamps. Moreover, their tail lamps are also fitted with the highest quality LED lamps. The BMW boasts of a clustered twin tail pipe configuration while the others have dual exhausts at both the sides. We personally favor the arrangement of the tail lamps in the BMW. The E-class has got a too modest tail lamp cluster. All the three have radio antenna clusters towards the rear windscreen, something which BMW started with their cars.
Though its very tough to distinguish the exteriors of the old A6 and the new one for a layman, in the interiors, anyone would be able to tell apart the difference. The new 2011 Audi A6 in India has got the interior quality up from its previous generation model, though some flimsy bits like the plastics for the electric seat arrangement and stuff. But that’s easily dismissible, since most of the times, it’s the chauffer doing the driving here. The front seats are supportive and overall the dash looks sporty in its approach. We would have however liked a bit more of the lights gimmick found in the much more expensive Audi A8. However, Audi says that with the interior lighting package worth Rs 3lakhs extra, the interior can be brought upto the standards of the A8.The rear seats however, are not so promising. They do have enough of leg room as also head room but then the underthigh support can be found lacking. This is immediately evident after one sits in the Audi after an excursion in both the Mercedes and BMW. The MMI interface in the Audi has far more clarity than the iDrive system in the BMW and also the useless COMAND system in the Mercedes. Overall the cabin fare in the Audi reeks of spaciousness and also a clear vision with almost no blind spots dialed in.
Minimalistic is the theme for both the Merc and BMW. The BMW’s cabin boasts of a having being focused on the driver part. For a driver, the most important thing is to concentrate on the job of driving rather than look around and try to understand which button stands for which. The wide and accommodating proportions of the BMW definitely are a good thing for those with minor back problems. The minor part was stressed on since the lower part of the seat is actually very hard. The sultry voice guidance system from the navigation part provided is soothing and also accurate. Ohh, the party trick in this car is the headsup display. The rear seats have got an ingress egress problem wherein one has to hop over the middle hump to have any sort of comfort. However, once seated there, its almost like a lounge. But then the high windowline and also the massive front seats in your face thing does make it a kinda cooped up.
Amongst all these cars, the Mercedes E350’s interior feel a bit boring. There is not much of lighting gimmick inside here and plus the muddy brown color is detested by many. But then on the practical side, it does work wonders considering that there is less of cleaning involved for them. Just like the Audi, use of materials is fantastic barring a few bits here and there. Looking at the 3 pointed star down the long bonnet has always got to be a special feeling. As discussed before, the Merc does fall short on various goodies offered by the others here with its spastic COMAND system also no navigation system , reverse camera and other stuff. But then the seats in the Mercedes are very comfortable and once in them, we immediately forgave the car for its lack of features. Boot space is more or less evenly handled by all the 3 here.
Handling and ride quality
Anyone going up against BMW in the handling front know that they would have a high standard to match to. That saying, over the years, the BMW 530d has lost much of its charm in this department. The biggest change is the adoption of an electronic power steering, something which dampens the entire feeling of driving a BMW car. For the off-center, the steering is sharp to respond. It has lost that heavy feeling at lower speeds. One more surprising thing is that this Beemer doesn’t seem to be liking high speeds and has some serious stability issues with all the testers remarking that the car seems to be wafting. Nothing wrong with the air pressure or even the run flats. At low speeds, surprisingly for a BMW, the ride quality was very compliant. However, much of vertical movement could be felt at higher speeds. The Audi A6’s adaptive suspension does the trick here with the car displaying a good ride quality at lower speeds and also being more absorbent as the speeds increase. However, the extensive use of aluminium has also brought about a lightness in the way things are handled and more often than not, the larger bumps are transmitted to the cabin. Moreover, the noise insulation in the Audi is not as good as that of the Mercedes or even the Beemer. The steering wheel of this car is not that confidence inspiring and is more like its predecessor.
For ride quality, it is always the Mercedes that seems composed of the lot. There are not many electronics guiding the shock absorbers and hence the traditional technology does the trick here. Though the steering wheel may not be the most communicative unit in the market right now, it has a surprisingly easy going feel to it and infact instills some confidence in the driver. Body roll is well controlled and though the car has a fondness for taking things slowly, its there but for sure. Something akin to the Mercedes asking you to take things in a slower manner rather than go outright and treat it as a racing machine. As far as NVH is concerned, the Mercedes is the quietest of the lot followed by BMW and then Audi.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
A 3.0 liter inline 6 cylinder engine is what comprises the BMW 530d’s engine. 245 Bhp and 550 Nm are the figures for the power and torque respectively. The gearbox used here is an 8 speed auto one. For the 2011 Audi A6 in its 3.0 liter diesel trim, the motor makes a similar to the BMW’s 245 Bhp and 510 Nm of torque. It uses a DSG 7 speed auto box. The E350 CDI in the meanwhile makes do with 231 Bhp and 550 Nm of torque. It uses the conventional torque converter with 7 ratios to play with. Though the E lacks in Bhp, it makes do with a higher torque rating and is an effortless thing to pilot around. When you want the kick in your back feeling, then the E would feel ashamed of itself and curl in a corner and die. Its not for those kick inducing actions but only for the usual cruising and commuting. For the kick action, its either the Beemer or even the Audi. The Audi has got a wide powerband, however, we could rarely use it to its redline. In stark contrast, the Beemer’s engine is far more rev happy and occasional visits to the redline could be seen. The Audi’s engine combines the best of both worlds in the sense that the panache of the Mercedes is there and also the urgency of the BMW. The DSG gearbox is also a good one and rarely are shifts mistimed or stuff.
The E350 has a slow gearbox which has a mind of its own. We have repeated it in almost all the comparisons and tests that this gearbox is best left on its own, since putting it to semi manual mode rarely makes a difference to the throttle response or stuff. The BMW’s steering wheel may not be as communicative as the previous generation ones but then the 8 speed gearbox is definitely more at home on the highway. The same way the previous generation steering wheel had a telepathic effect, the same way the 8 speed autobox senses when the driver wants to downshift or even upshift. For the records, the 0-100 kmph dash is completed in the Audi before the BMW catches it up and then finally the Mercedes comes puffing to make the rear. Due to its taller 8th gear, the BMW is able to achieve a higher top speed as well.
As for the safety equipments, all the three cars here have got it in safe amounts with the Mercedes feeling sparsely equipped out of all the three cars here. Its got the PreSafe thing going for it wherein upon sensing a collision, all the doors are rechecked to see if they are bolted on properly and also the open windows and sunroof are also closed. There are no reverse cameras and stuff . 6 airbags is a common stuff for all the three cars here and all the cars here have an excellent crash test ratings from the European unions.
As for the fuel efficiency, the Audi trumps the others here. The Mercedes is the least fuel efficient returning an overall 11.3 kmpl compared to the 11.8 kmpl by the BMW and 12.2 kmpl by the Audi. Did anyone say that power and fuel efficiency don’t go hand in hand?
Like we have always mentioned, all the manufacturers definitely try and up the game before they launch their products. Its actually a shamus that Mercedes are doing precious little in upgrading the power and fuel efficiency of their cars plus they are way behind in the interior trims and also the features. Also, Mercedes cars are charged a bomb as compared to the others here. We would wistfully lust after the Audi, were it not for the excess of aluminium used in the cabin which makes it somewhat unsuitable for the Indian roads since aluminium has a far greater displacement than steel. Of all these cars, the one with the least aluminium content is the Mercedes and its build quality still stands out. The BMW has a better build quality than the Audi. All said and done, Mercedes are the proved ones in the Indian market as of now and owning a 3 pointed star is definitely one of the highpoints of any person who wants to announce that they have arrived in life. The 2011 Audi A6 price in India for its 3.0 TDI engine is Rs 53.00 lakhs (this is the estimated price since Audi haven’t disclosed the price yet). The 2011 Mercedes E350 CDI price in India is Rs 51 lakhs while the 2011 BMW 530d price in India stands at Rs 48.50 lakhs. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai.