Comparison test: Mercedes-Benz E-Class vs BMW 6 Series GT
If you wanted the very best car in the world, you'd probably look at the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or the BMW 7 Series. But what if you could get the luxury, space and feeling of occasion, with something more affordable? Well, the E-Class LWB and 6 Series Gran Turismo might just fit the bill.
The E-Class LWB has a longer wheelbase than the standard S-Class (as sold internationally), and the 6GT has the same wheelbase as the previous gen 7 Series! And with a recent update, the E-Class with the base diesel engine gets BSVI certification and a slew of goodies that were available on the higher spec V6 diesel earlier, closing the gap to the S even further. Going into this comparison, we knew this was going to be a close one, given how different these two cars are in terms of character. Especially since BMW sent us the larger-engined 6GT with the sporty M Sport pack, which really ups its appeal - and its price tag. The 620d compares more favourably in terms of price but does lose out on key equipment only available on the 630d. With that in mind, could these two really be flagship alternatives?
Some cars are better suited to darker colours and these two illustrate that point perfectly. The E-Class looks elegant in white, with a prominent emphasis on curves - but it's not exactly eye-catching, though it does look far more stately in black. The good thing is that the E could be mistaken for the flagship (pre-facelift) S-Class, thanks to Mercedes' streamlined design approach - and if you didn't know any better. But it also closely resembles the C-Class, so it could go either way.
And while you could argue the same about the front end of the BMW, one look at the profile and you know there's something different about the 6GT. I've driven a lower variant previously, in a lighter colour, and in this dark blue, it looks like a completely different car. The slightly awkward notchback boot makes for a far more appealing shape in a dark shade, with the BMW's 19-inch wheels adding to the refined aggression set by its strong lines.
Despite the BMW's classier frameless windows, there's nothing really separating the two at this point. At nearly 5.1m long, these two sedans have the footprints to impress, though the E-Class looks longer than the 6GT, though the opposite is true dimensionally. The E-Class LWB also measures in at 3,079mm between its front and rear wheels, while the 6GT is virtually the same with a wheelbase of 3,070mm. That should mean about the same space inside, right?
Immediately, the cabin of the E-Class feels a more cosseting place to be. Starting in the front, the dashboard wraps right around you, with wood panelling and leather trim flowing well into the doors. It sort of feels like you're piloting a luxury yacht, with the large 12.3-inch displays creating a widescreen for driver information and infotainment. The E-Class offers far slicker operation via the steering wheel controls and the BlackBerry-like thumbpad should feel familiar to the businessman who'd occasionally find himself behind the wheel.
The materials and finish in both feel of the highest quality but the E-Class' extravagance stands out in contrast to the typical Bavarian restraint, something that the new generation of BMWs fix. If you've grown up admiring the simplicity of BMW cabins and driver instrumentation, you'll appreciate the 6GT, which marries the look of the old-school dials with a full digital panel. It doesn't offer quite the same breadth of information as the Mercedes though.
Visibility in the BMW is better, since you have to seat yourself quite high in the Mercedes to not be distracted by the screens in front of you, and still can't quite see the edges of it. The result being that placing the 6GT on the road feels more natural. The 6GT offers more choice of personalisation, with six upholstery colours or even Nappa leather, while the E-Class only offers three colours for the Artico leather upholstery and a choice of wood finish.
Coming back to the enveloping feel of the E-Class' cabin - it just gets better in the rear bench. From the scalloped seats to the feather-soft neck pillows, wireless charging pad and touch panel for audio, climate control and ambient lighting, to even being able to control the panoramic sunroof and window shades, the rear seats of the E-Class feels really special. In comparison, the rear bench of the 6GT feels like a more simplistic space.
The seats themselves are very comfortable but could use a little more under thigh support, and feature electrically reclinable seat backs. But there isn't much to really call it a pampered experience, apart from the four-zone climate control and electric window shades. There are screens mounted on the back of the front seats but there's no touch control, and the remote control feels decidedly old-school. Between the two, the Mercedes' ambient lighting creates a more awe-inducing atmosphere compared to the BMW's low-key set-up.
With both these cars you know you're getting the best of German engineering, and the difference comes down to the extra airbag in the E-Class (seven vs six for the 6GT), active pedestrian protection, and active brake assist which warns if the car senses impending impact. Note, that this doesn't actually apply the brakes for you, and both these cars should ideally offer some level of radar-based safety systems at the price, even if those only work in specific conditions. The E-Class doesn't have a front facing camera, which the 6GT does, and that does make parking the BMW that much less stressful.
Engine, performance and efficiency
Fundamentally, the 2-litre in-line four-cylinder in the E220d is far removed from the 3-litre in-line six-cylinder in the 630d. There's 71PS and 220Nm of torque separating the two! Obviously, where the BMW pulls ahead is in outright performance but as we'll see, it gets affected in our value parameters.
The 6GT manages the 0-100kmph dash in an impressive 6.2s, while the E-Class does the same in 8.5s. It's a similar story with the roll-on figures, though the difference isn't as pronounced. The BMW's in-line six is silky smooth, sounds good for a diesel and feels effortless getting up to highway speeds and well over it, while the E-Class feels refined and quiet till you ask too much of it, at which point, it gets a little gravelly. The 6GT's 8-speed is quicker when it comes to asking for shifts via the paddles and when left to its own devices both are seamless enough for you to not notice shifts at all. What you will notice is the eagerness of the powertrain on the BMW with sharper responses from the throttle pedal. In comparison, there's a laid-back slickness to the way the Mercedes responds, which means it feels slower than it actually is. For the potential owners of these cars, both will please when it comes to fuelling up. The city figures of 11.3kmpl and 11.9kmpl for the Mercedes and BMW respectively are very, very good considering the heft. Both have visibly effective Eco modes which help switch to coasting earlier and the 9-speed gearbox in the Mercedes helps it to a seriously impressive 18.7kmpl, with the BMW behind at 16.5kmpl.
Ride and handling
With both these cars on programmable air suspension, we were still surprised at how well the BMW rides in comparison to the sublime ride of the Mercedes. In the Mercedes, for example, I kept waiting for the rumble that comes from driving over a particularly broken section of road on my way home but it just never came. It always feels like there's a layer of insulation between you and the road - only tall speed breakers catch it out, with the suspension seemingly running out of travel and thudding. The BMW may not thud over speed breakers as often but then it can't quite match it over poor roads but to its credit, it comes close.
In fact, you feel more of the road through the 6GT's light and precise steering than through the body of the car. The Mercedes is far less communicative through the wheel and predictably, not as involving around a corner. So while the BMW firms up in its Sport modes, the Mercedes just seems to lose a bit of its laid back attitude but that really doesn't suit its character. Accordingly, you can turn into a corner at a decent turn of pace in the BMW and have it settle quickly on its suspension.
The wider tyres also give you the impression of more grip than you can exploit, while the Mercedes wafts into corners and takes that split second extra to control its body movements. The M package brakes on the 6GT help it stop quicker and cover less distance too. Proving the cliche right, the BMW would give the owner more of a rush if he decides to get into the driver's seat!
Leaving aside the flagship aspirations for a moment, the E-Class just manages to edge ahead of the 6GT in the few areas we think most people shopping in the segment are going to value more. So while the notchback from Bavaria surprised with how consistently great it was, the E-Class just makes too strong a case for itself.
We reckon the story would be the same even if we had the smaller-engined 6GT Luxury instead, which still is a lakh and a bit more expensive than the fully-kitted E-Class Exclusive. So, while it may not have the ultimate bragging rights and electronic goodies of the flagship, the E-Class comes very, very close.
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