The Mercedes S-Class could be your ideal car if you prefer your saloons stylish, supremely comfortable and kitted out with more luxurious features than many high-end hotels. It does, however, face stiff competition from the likes of the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series. We compare these high-tech limousines side-by-side to help you choose the perfect new car.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – price
At such a price point, few buyers will consider the most basic versions of these super-stylish saloons. Tick the options boxes a little too liberally and you could find yourself spending approximately £100,000 on both the Audi and BMW and more than £180,000 on the Mercedes. This hefty price tag does, however, net you a monstrously powerful AMG S65 model with a 630hp V12 engine.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – styling
The 7 Series, with its numerous chrome trim pieces and fussy design details, sports the least restrained design of our trio. It’s neither as subtle as the Audi nor as well-proportioned as the Mercedes. The optional M Sport pack helps it stand out but lends it a slightly ungainly, bloated look – not particularly befitting of a car costing more than £63,000.
In contrast, the Audi A8’s square body and smart styling give it a dignified, business-like appearance. It’s certainly stylish but it won’t turn heads like either the elegant S-Class or the sporty 7 Series. As a result, it makes a great covert cruiser – perfect for secret missions into the heart of London’s financial district.
The S-Class is instantly recognisable as a Mercedes but manages to look distinctly more upmarket than almost anything else the German brand produces. Selective chrome trim has been metered out more carefully than on the BMW while its curvy body is more characterful than the blocky Audi. In short, it’s by far the best looking car in this group.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – interior
The BMW’s cabin blends both a stylish design with excellent materials and a fantastically intuitive infotainment system. Not only are you treated to a high-resolution screen on the dashboard but a neat display replaces the conventional instrument cluster. You can even control selected functions with gestures rather than buttons – although you may find yourself only using this feature to impress your friends.
The Mercedes boasts one of the best looking interiors of any large limousine. Its stylish dashboard features two giant screens in place of traditional instruments while the majority of materials feel fantastic and look suitably plush. Unfortunately, it’s let down by fake leather trim on the dashboard and a slightly fiddly infotainment system.
The Audi’s cabin may have been cutting edge when the car was launched in 2010 but it’s beginning to feel a little old fashioned in the face of such high-tech rivals. Its infotainment screen looks tiny in such a giant car and swathes of brown wood trim and conventional analogue dials leave it lagging behind both the BMW and Mercedes in the style stakes. It is, however, beautifully built and feels, in places, slightly more solid than the S-Class.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – practicality
All three cars boast hugely spacious cabins with enough room in the back to pick up the odd hitchhiking giant. Boot space is similarly impressive although, unlike some smaller saloons, you’ll not be able to fold down the rear seats in any of our well-trimmed trio to carry long or bulky items.
The Audi’s central rear seat is fairly firm and it trails behind the BMW in terms of shoulder space and headroom. The S-Class has its rivals licked in this respect – it’s not only the most spacious in the back but can be specced with fabulous upgraded rear seats and even a fridge behind the central arm rest.
All three are closely matched in terms of boot space. The Audi leads the way with a commodious 520-litre load bay while the 510-litre Mercedes and 515-litre BMW aren’t far behind. The BMW’s square boot opening does make it the easiest car to load, however.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – driving
If you prefer to take the wheel yourself rather than have a chauffeur do all the work, you’ll find the new 7 Series drives well and boasts a noticeably more cushioned ride than its predecessor. It does wallow slightly through tight corners but it’s by no means ungainly. In 740d spec it’s surprisingly quick, too.
The S-Class delivers effortless progress in a manner few rivals can match. Its well-tuned suspension and silky smooth nine-speed automatic gearbox do their best to isolate you from the road as much as possible. As a result, it’s not a car for keen drivers. For wafting from meeting to meeting, however, few cars can match the Mercedes’ excellent levels of refinement.
It might be the oldest of the bunch but Audi’s A8 handles with the poise and control of a much smaller car. All models come with four-wheel drive as standard and offer a tempting blend of punchy performance and relaxed cruising ability. As an added bonus, the optional double glazing mutes almost all wind noise, too.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – engines
The 7 Series is offered with numerous petrol engines, from an efficient six-cylinder 3.0-litre unit to a twin-turbocharged V12 that can sprint it from 0-62mph in just 3.7 seconds in M760Li xDrive guise. A hybrid model, powered by a compact 2.0-litre engine and a 100hp electric motor is available but our preference would be the efficient 3.0-litre diesel unit in the 730d. This model can reach 62mph from rest in 6.1 seconds and return 58.9mg.
The S-Class is offered with two diesel and three petrol units, including a pair of efficient hybrids. The best all-rounder is the 3.0-litre diesel V6, however. Not only can it return more than 50mpg but it has more than enough power to waft you along with almost no fuss. AMG S63 and AMG S65 models – developing 585hp and 630hp respectively – are also available if you’re looking for both limousine luxury and supercar performance.
The A8 is available with a selection of smooth diesel engines including a 4.2-litre V8 and a 3.0-litre V6. Some buyers may be tempted by the draw of a big V8 but, for a better blend of performance and economy, the 42.8mpg capable V6 is a better choice. Thirstier petrol units are available but we’d pick a diesel A8 every time.
BMW 7 Series vs Mercedes S-Class vs Audi A8 – verdict
The Audi A8 puts on an impressive show, despite its age. It drives better than its two younger rivals and feels well built but is neither the most refined on the road nor the most high-tech inside. As a result, it has to settle for third in our test.
The BMW boasts more futuristic gadgets than almost any other car on the market and teams them with a great selection of engines and one of the best infotainment systems in the business. Its styling is slightly divisive, however, and it isn’t quite as refined as the S-Class, so takes second place here.
Elegant looks, a stylish cabin, decent standard equipment and excellent passenger comfort help the S-Class take the top spot in our group test. It isn’t as fun to drive as the A8, nor is it – in entry-level trim at least – as fast as the 7 Series but, as a luxurious all rounder, this Mercedes leads the field.
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