THE SPECTRUM OF GERMAN GIANTS – BMW, AUDI & MERCEDES ESTATES

Delivering an Audi A6 Avant 2.0TDi last week completed my driving CV as far as large, executive German estate cars is concerned (I had already driven the Mercedes E220d estate and BMW 520d Touring). All two litre diesels with 190hp or so and automatic gearboxes. So how was the Audi? In short, it was classy, comfortable and a very refined motorway cruiser (apparently it has “acoustic glazing”). It is marginally more refined than the Mercedes and perhaps more noticeably so than the BMW but in the great scheme of things they are all quiet and comfortable compared to many (mostly cheaper) cars.

All three cars have smart, high quality interiors with the Mercedes being the most extravagant and futuristic. Mercedes even give you a choice of two controllers for your “infotainment” system. On the console between the seats, a touchpad affair curves up and over the alternative rotary dial. For some reason the whole arrangement reminds me of the USS Starship Enterprise. The Audi’s dashboard is more down to earth and understated although it does have the novelty of a touchscreen that pops up out of the dashboard upon start up and which tucks itself away at the journey’s end. On a spectrum from classy understatement (Audi) to space age tech (Mercedes), the BMW is probably in between.

Whichever criterion you use to compare these three cars, you are generally talking about narrow margins. Except when it comes to weight where there is a significant difference between the lightest (BMW) and heaviest (Mercedes). The lighter weight boosts BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” claims and the 5-series does feel as if it “fits” around you more than the Audi and Mercedes do.  Serious motoring journalists will tell you that the BMW is more of a driver’s car. But if you are not interested in tearing round corners as fast as possible, the Audi will get you up and down the country more comfortably and more quietly. And the Mercedes will carry more golf bats/garden rubbish/flat pack furniture/mothers-in-law in the boot than the other two. For such large cars, you should get impressive fuel economy on a long, steady motorway journey – 55 to 60mpg. I have managed this in both the Audi and Mercedes, but have not had a comparable journey in the BMW.

The advantage of the Audi for some (those who don’t care about having a “driver’s car”), will be front wheel drive. In extreme weather conditions, the Audi should be more sure-footed due to better traction with the engine turning the front wheels. In snow, Audi drivers will definitely feel a bit smugger than their BMW and Mercedes counterparts. Rear wheel drive cars can be a bit hopeless in the white stuff. Unless, of course, BMW and Mercedes drivers drive their cars backwards when it snows, thus converting them temporarily to front wheel drive. And why not? In these days of reversing cameras (which all three cars have), you can see where you are going on the touchscreen in front of you without having to look over your shoulder. Once you have got used to the rear wheel steering, you will be able to wipe the smug smiles off the faces of Audi drivers.

Of course the idea of facing backwards in a car and seeing where you are going via a TV screen is not unprecedented. In Gerry Anderson’s puppet-based science fiction TV series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (produced in the late 1960s), Spectrum agents were doing this in their 8 ton, 200mph Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles. In fact the SPV had no windows at all. Dispensing with glass and having driver and passengers face rearwards were important safety features. Captain Scarlet was frequently having to plunge his SPV through hay bales, barriers and five bar gates in Spectrum’s battle to save Earth from those dastardly aliens from Mars, the Mysterons. Like every other self-respecting 10 year old growing up in the mid 1970s, I had the Dinky version of this very cool car (or rather, primary armoured interceptor ground vehicle). This model car and the Corgi James Bond Aston Martin DB5 are probably the greatest ever die cast model cars. In the UK. In my opinion. Discuss.

SPV model 2
I was going to include a photo of the Audi A6 but, fine car as it is, the SPV is more exciting to look at.
The Dinky model imitated the “real” SPV by having a rocket that fired from underneath an opening bonnet, caterpillar tracks that dropped down at the back and, by pushing a button on top of the car, the side door slid out and lowered a miniature Captain Scarlet to the ground. Actually, the door pinged out at a rate of knots and dropped the good Captain like a small stone in very jangly fashion. Now those caterpillar tracks would be a great addition to the Merc and BMW for dealing with any tiresome snow………

In Gerry Anderson’s television world, SPVs were hidden around the globe in disguised buildings so that they could be quickly accessed by Spectrum agents. Now what a barn find one of these beasts would be! By the way, if you watched Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons as a kid, did you realise that the puppets were never seen to walk? I didn’t! I only found that out many years later. They cleverly managed to get the young viewer so absorbed in the story and other action that this minor detail went unnoticed. Gerry Anderson’s puppets were seen to walk in the earlier Thunderbirds but that was thought to be too unrealistic.

So which of the above cars is the best? If you found the odd £37 to 39k down the side of the sofa, which should you buy? Well, I’m not going to tell you. That’s because they are all very good. Which of these you would choose depends on what you want from your large executive estate and where on the sporting-luxury spectrum you want to be.  If you want to hammer round corners and really feel a part of your car, you would choose the BMW. For those who want the most overtly luxurious and high tech of the three and/or the maximum golf bat carrying ability, it’s the Mercedes. The Audi is for the person who likes classy understatement and getting on with life quietly, very quietly.

And which one would I have? Well, that’s easy. The SPV of course.

Anorak’s Corner:

Audi 6 Avant SE Executive 20.TDi S Tronic: 0-60mph, 8.5 seconds/190bhp/combined mpg, 64.2/boot (rear seats up) 565 litres.

BMW 520d Touring SE automatic: 7.8 seconds/190bhp/65.6mpg/560 litres.

Mercedes E220d Estate SE 9G-Tronic: 7.7 seconds/194bhp/67.3mpg/640 litres.

Colin

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6 thoughts on “THE SPECTRUM OF GERMAN GIANTS – BMW, AUDI & MERCEDES ESTATES”

  1. I’m not sure I’d want any of the three big “barges” as I prefer a smaller vehicle as they are better in town, and big motors hardly fit in most parking bays. I’m not sure what the model year was for the 5 Series, but all the new ones in the UK are 4WD.

    Talking about reversing quickly I once had a DAF 55 Coupe which went as fast backwards as forwards. The previous owner was James Bolan (The Actor), and it was great fun. I once got over 40 mph going backwards and nearly hit a massive tree – I never tried it again after that near miss.

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      1. Ah, but BMW love playing with badges. My 2 Series is an xe, but X Drive does not feature even though the car is 4WD. In Germany the new 5 Seties can be bought in 2WD, but not here – so they do not call them X Drive(as far as I know). Yes the Daf had a great belt drive system and a good 1108cc Renault engine. Very rare now.

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