The Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series are large sedans that serve as the flagship models of their respective brands. Both of these sedans have typically been among the first in the world to offer advanced technology, comfort, and active-safety features, as well advanced engineering and construction techniques.
The latest versions of these two models deliver that, but they’re no longer sacrificing as much performance in the name of comfort.
The S-Class, which was redesigned a couple of model years ago, is a lot more rakish and adventurous than it used to be—and while we’re focusing in on the sedan for the purposes of this matchup, an extended lineup of S-Class models now includes Coupe and Cabriolet (convertible) versions. They’re all quite beautiful, with a more upright grille this time around, arching character lines, and a tauter, more horizontal look to the rear styling. It all flows in a way that draws in some of the swoopier, sportier cues of the CLS, a so-called coupe. Shoppers are likely to be more split on the 7-Series’ styling. The latest version that made its debut this past year kept closely to traditional BMW sport-sedan form and proportions. To that, traditionalists and BMW enthusiasts are probably going to appreciate the understated nature in this design, while others will wish for a more ostentateous look.
Inside, these cars are meticulously built and exquisitely detailed. Both have moved to a more horizontal layout for the instrument panel, but there are some key differences. The 7-Series dash keeps to a more formal two-tone look, with sparing brightwork up above and a crisp, angular design theme; meanwhile the S-Class takes a more curvaceous route, employing round vents and in most versions, a little more brightwork. It’s a curvier and showier look inside that you can now see throughout much of the Mercedes-Benz lineup in models like the recently revamped C-Class and new GLC.
The conservative styling in the 2016 7-Series can be deceptive, as it’s received one of its most radical redesigns yet, in the way the car is engineered. It’s built on a Carbon Core platform that borrows some of the experience gained in building BMW’s carbon-fiber “i” cars. For it, BMW has utilized a combination of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, ultra-high-tensile steels, and aluminum, while the doors and suspension components are made of aluminum.
The BMW 7-Series is currently offered in 740i and 750i forms (with rear-wheel drive) or as the 750i xDrive (all-wheel drive); those 740i models come with a 3.0-liter inline-6 making 320 horsepower, while the 750i models havea 445-hp, 4.4-liter TwinPower turbo V-8. Power is delivered through an 8-speed automatic transmission, which now will now decouple for better coasting at up to 100 mph and harnesses navigation-system data to downshift at just the right time for terrain or corners.
On the other hand, the S-Class has favored a lineup of turbocharged V-8 and V-12 engines and has so far in this generation skipped a V-6 (except for in the relatively rare plug-in hybrid). The most popular S550 models get a 449-hp, twin-turbo 4.6-liter V-8 and seven-speed automatic transmission; this model is offered with or without 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Several performance versions of the S-Class aim to crank up the driving eaperience with a sportier look, some boastworthy power figures, and upgraded suspension and braking systems. The all-wheel-drive S63 AMG 4Matic gets a larger 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8, making 577 hp and 564 pound-feet of torque, while the rear-wheel drive AMG S63
AMG S65 has a twin-turbo V-12 making 621 hp and 738 lb-ft.
The S550 Plug-in Hybrid variant that features an 85-kW electric motor packaged with the transmission (and a lithium-ion battery pack that’s mounted under the rear floor), and a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 under the hood. This model makes 436 hp altogether and can get to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds; the setup also allows a pure electric mode such that this model will go 12 miles without the gasoline engine switching on. A comparable model is on the way for the 7-Series next year.
Both the 7-Series and the S-Class lineups also include engine stop-start, which shuts the engine off at stoplights and smartly restarts it when you lift your foot off the brake pedal.
Although those advanced materials lower the 7-Series’ curb weight versus what it would be, it’s still a heavy car; as is the S-Class. But thanks to an active rollbar system and multiple driving settings to fit your mindset at the moment, the 7-Series feels remarkably agile; BMW’s also achieved a perfect 50/50 weight distribution for most of the lineup—an essential for sport sedans. And although we probably prefer the powertrain response of Mercedes-Benz’s latest engines here in the S-Class, these models are a little lacking in driver feedback and connection to the road; that sportier driving feel that’s entered much of the model line recently is mostly missing here.
Interior appointments in both of these models are downright opulent. Especially at the base level, the S-Class might be a step ahead in the way that it cossets front-seat occupants (you might note the available warm-stone massage mode). Although the 7-Series doesn’t stop at rear heated seats; the armrests are heated front and rear, and both of these models can be optioned with packages that up the luxury in back to include massage and power adjustability.
Mercedes-Benz continues to aspire way up the prestige ladder with the S-Class. Mercedes’ Maybach S600 models push the luxury presentation upward into Rolls territory, with an 8-inch longer body that brings a limousine-like interior. There’s nothing quite like it in the 7-Series lineup—but, well, BMW owns Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
These two models are safety sweethearts in nearly every way; even though there aren’t any U.S. crash tests for the 7-Series or S-Class, both of them have great real-world reputations for occupant safety. On the S-Class, optional equipment includes forward collision alerts with automatic braking; lane-keeping; blind-spot monitors; night vision with obstacle and pedestrian detection; and a parking assist system. The 7-Series offers comparable systems, and new Adaptive Headlamps consider speed, steering angle, and more.
BMW has finally caved to touch-screen technology in the 7-Series, and its huge 12.3-inch wide-screen system (same size as in the S-Class) provides plenty of redundancy and ways to access features—plus a menu system that we continue to find more intuitive and sensible than that of COMAND in the Mercedes-Benz. iDrive in the 7-Series has a new Gesture Control interface, as well as wireless charging, while the head-up display covers a larger area than before.
You also get magnificent sound in these sedans, especially if you step up to the top-tier systems. Bowers & Wilkins surround sound employs 16 speakers and 1,400 watts in the 7-Series, while the top Burmester system in the S-Class has 24 speakers.
Which is the flagship German sedan for you? The 7-Series feels like it stays closest to its status as an understated, tech-centric engineers’ car; yet it’s the S-Class that currently has the strongest powertrains and the most passionate design expression. Whichever you go with, the S-Class and 7-Series lineups are ways of showing that you have the ways and means for success in the business world, as well as a lot of sensibility. They’re indulgent but not over-the-top opulent, and they give you plenty of opportunities to embrace some of the latest and best automotive technology in the world.
This article first appeared at The Car Connection.