CAR Magazine's Review of 435i vs.E400 vs Audi S5
Car Magazine recently had the opportunity to test BMW's 435i, the Mercedes E400 and Audi's S5 all back to back. Their testing grounds were the coastal roads of Portugal and the track at Estoril. Both venues are familiar from our press drives at the International Press Launch of the 4-Series Coupe in Portugal. Car Magazine has put together a battle of the coupes and here are some of the highlights from the article.
The Powers we are dealing with:
All three engines employ six cylinders, the displacement is an identical 3000cc, and all are forced induction. While S5 and E400 muster 328bhp at 5500rpm, the 435i develops 302bhp at 5800rpm. In contrast, every unit plots its own individual torque curve. Audi opted for the sportiest graph which plateaus from 2900 to 5300rpm where 324lb ft are on tap. BMW seems to favour the middle ground, as reflected by a maximum twist action of 295lb ft which is available from 1200rpm all the way to 5000rpm. The V6 fitted to the E400 is at its punchiest between 1400 and 4000rpm, where 354lb ft make stability control work overtime.
Thanks to the dual-clutch S-tronic transmission, the engine is firing one torque salvo after another through the close-ratio ’box. Pity that the Dynamic Steering is a little passive even in Dynamic mode, combining lightness and lifelessness while scrubbing off excessive momentum. Although sticking the gearlever in ‘S’ and letting the chips do the work would also put the S5 in express mode, it is so much more rewarding to set the rhythm and pace via the metal shift paddles. The brakes decelerate with aplomb, but tyre grip is again an issue, and we would prefer more feedback through the pedal. The cornering attitude is of the I-go-where-you-point-me kind – at least until you begin to run out of road, lift off, and wait for the Audi to recover in one big gracious arc.
On the track:
it simply isn’t particularly interested in absorbing obstacles. Instead, the top priority at speeds above 50mph is the total devotion to grip, traction and roadholding.
The 4 coupe feels about 300kg less heavy than the competition. This could be due to the slightly quicker steering, the more eager gearing, the sharper chassis or the beefier low-end punch of the straight-six engine.
The 435i has more involving and more entertaining handling. But the advantage over E400 and S5 remains surprisingly small, and it virtually pales into insignificance whenever the road opens up and the car moves into triple-digit mph territory. As soon as you touch the brakes again though, this subtle tactility returns, and it connects with your palms as the BMW turns in, aims for the apex and begs for the steering to open up again. For a while, the relatively stiff ride is not a concern anymore. On the approach to the next village, however, where trucks have corrugated the blacktop, stability suffers momentarily and the stopping distance extends by a heartbeat or two. Power is nothing without control? This slogan doesn’t only apply to tyres. It has at least as much to do with the compliance of the suspension.
On the track:
the BMW feels lighter, nimbler, more agile and quicker overall than the other two contestants. It’s also more chuckable, more willing to assume emphatic cornering attitudes, and more forgiving should your mind be more ambitious than your body is capable. The transition from carving to sliding is less seamless than professed by the Mercedes, second gear is a tad too short even for slow corners.
True, the Mercedes is not a world champion in the grip and traction sweepstakes. But in ESP Sport, the tail will only wriggle, not swing out of shape altogether. Therefore, it doesn’t take long for confidence to establish itself, and from that moment onwards, the rear-wheel drive coupe (4Matic? Call again in 2017) is an absolute hoot.
The Merc's twin-turbo V6 is arguably the nicest engine we have the pleasure to rate here. It has a bit more muscle where it matters, it does not need to be revved hard to deliver, and it fuses with the transmission in a slo-mo slingshot manner. Oh yes, the body rolls, it dives under hard braking, it squats whenever you tickle the ESP solenoids in a low gear, and you can almost always sense that Mercedes used plenty of rubber when designing the chassis mounts. But the motions are fluent even at ten-tenths, the dialogue between steering and throttle is totally intuitive, and the ride borders on feeling cushy.
On the track:
One hour on the track is plenty to prove that the E-class coupe is not a poseur. Instead, this is a GT with sports car talents which only wait to be unleashed. At the same time, we experience a smooth-riding, waltz-friendly four-seater with zero breakdance ambition.
What was the verdict? Which was the best?
The Audi costs most, yet at the end of day two it is the least loved of the three cars. It still looks stunning, its interior still feels special, and it’s still the coupe to beat against the stopwatch in a straight line. The Benz has a lot of other things going for it, too. Perceived quality, for instance, style at least from certain angles, packaging (biggest boot, most rear legroom), a great engine and that magic carpet ride. On the debit side, ho-hum ergonomics, a rather steep asking price, the absence of four-wheel drive and not much else. Sure, the neatly balanced and admirably competent 435i is even more fun to drive. But in the mirror of the BMW, the E-class looms larger than expected.
The BMW is more affordable, and although it doesn’t look quite special enough inside and out to justify that trumpeted 4-series badge, number four-three-five is again the pacesetter when it comes to having fun from A to B. And back. And forth again.
Looks like a win for the 435i, but not an easy victory by any means. What are your thoughts on the results of the battle of the coupes?
Read about the entire test here!
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