New Audi A8 vs Mercedes S-Class Comparison

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The new Audi A8 is possibly the most advanced car you can buy, so it poses the biggest threat yet to the Mercedes S-Class’s dominance of the luxury limo class

*** Note : £1 = $1.38 (correct at time of post)

The contenders

Audi A8 50 TDI quattro
  • List price £73,095
  • Target Price £64,681

Audi’s high-tech new flagship aims to shake up the luxury class.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350d L AMG Line
  • List price £75,505
  • Target Price £65,403

The big-barge benchmark is back with a new engine to defend its five-star rating.

Audi A8 vs Mercedes S-Class

Luxury limos lead very different lives from those of humble hatchbacks. These wizards of waft spend their time ferrying the exquisitely dressed to their business meetings and glamorous black-tie balls, bathing in the flashlights of the paparazzi.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a name synonymous with luxury and a car that has led the way in automotive opulence and technology throughout its long life. We’re testing it here fitted with the new – and our favoured – 3.0-litre diesel engine and in longwheelbase ‘L’form, meaning lavish amounts of rear leg room.

Its new-money contender is Audi’s latest A8. It has a 3.0-litre diesel engine, too, and is also tested here in extended-wheelbase form. Moreover, the new A8 is packed with technology that attempts to beat the S-Class at its own game.

Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Both cars’ engines pump out 282bhp and produce the same amount of maximum pulling power at identical points in the rev range. It’s hardly surprising, then, that they accelerate similarly briskly, although Audi’s standard quattro four-wheel drive helped the A8 to get off the mark more effectively on our damp test track.

There isn’t a bad gearbox here. The S-Class’s nine-speed automatic is marginally less hesitant feeding in power from standstill, but both are superbly smooth and quick to respond to manual changes (by pulling paddles behind the steering wheel) once on the move. There’s a bigger difference in engine noise: the A8’s diesel sounds more gravelly at idle and makes itself heard more when accelerating, although it’s still a million miles from fractious.

The S-Class is the more enjoyable car to drive. Its steering is more naturally weighted and the willingness with which it turns in to corners and keeps its body under control is deeply impressive for such a large car. The A8’s steering is precise but numb, while its four-wheel drive provides better traction in damp corners and more predictable handling.

But the most important area of all has to be ride quality – and here the A8 is the more comfortable for both front and rear passengers. Despite both cars riding on optional 20in alloy wheels, the A8 smooths over ruts and potholes with less shimmy through its body in town and remains more settled on the motorway, too.

Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality

New Audi A8 vs Mercedes S-Class

Finding the ideal driving position in the two cars is a cinch. Both get electric front seats as standard, including four-way electrically adjustable lumbar support, so comfort is almost guaranteed. Unfortunately, Audi’s decision to put the climate controls on a touchscreen isn’t so impressive, because finding and selecting your desired temperature on the move is rather distracting. The S-Class has physical buttons for the aircon that are far more user-friendly.

These cars’ vast length and width can make them feel a bit cumbersome to drive in town, but at least they have decent-sized side windows and thin front pillars for judging roundabouts and T-junctions. It’s a good thing that both come with front and rear parking sensors as standard, as well as a crisp and clear reversing camera to help better judge tight parking spaces.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the interior quality on show from the two manufacturers is some of the finest you’ll find anywhere. There’s swathes of leather covering both cars’ dashboards and doors, slick, well-damped switches and metal trim highlights. However, the A8 just has the edge, with its plastics and piano black trims feeling a tad more solidly bolted together.

Infotainment systems

Audi A8

Audi has opted for dual touchscreens (10.1in and 8.6in) on the A8 – the upper screen for infotainment and the lower one for climate controls.The former is high-resolution and haptic feedback helps to gauge when you’ve pressed an icon,but it’s still more fiddly to use on the move than the previous A8’s MMI system. DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav, four USB ports, wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all standard.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

A sharp 12.3in screen dominates the S-Class’s dash, with the menus navigated via a rotary controller between the front seats. It’s not the most logical or responsive of its type (the best remains BMW’s iDrive system),but it’s certainly easier to find and select what you need while driving than it is in the A8. It, too, comes with built-in sat-nav, Bluetooth, wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but only two USB ports.

Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

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Room in the front of the two cars is pleasingly generous for the driver and front passenger. Both manufacturers provide deep door bins, a decent-sized cubby beneath the central armrest and a couple of cupholders. The S-Class also gets a useful cubby at the base of its dashboard – a space that is taken up by the lower of the two touchscreens in the A8.

But it’s really these cars’ rear quarters that need to provide seriously luxurious space. Make no mistake: Audi and Mercedes have ensured that space in the back is fit for giants, but ultimately the A8 has more rear leg and head room, even if its rear seat area is very slightly narrower.

On paper, official boot space figures show there’s just five litres between the two cars. However, our S-Class test car was fitted with an optional Individual Rear Seat Package (£5000) that, while enabling electric movement of the rear seats, as well as heating and cooling, reduces boot space by 30 litres. Our A8 test car also had electric adjustability in the back via the optional Rear Comfort Pack (£2195) and heated, ventilated and massaging rear seats (£3300), but its boot doesn’t suffer as a result. As such, we managed to fit eight carry-on suitcases in the A8 versus seven in the S-Class – although it’s likely that the S-Class would be able to swallow an extra case in standard form. However, the A8’s rear seats can be folded flat to create even more space, while this isn’t possible – even as an option – on the S-Class.

Audi A8
  • Official boot capacity 505 litres
  • Suitcase capacity 8

While the A8 offers slightly less front leg room,its front quarters are still hugely spacious and it betters the S-Class for head and leg room in the rear.We managed to squeeze an impressive eight carry-on suitcases into the boot

Mercedes S-Class
  • Official boot capacity 510 litres
  • Suitcase capacity 7

Rear seats are slightly wider than those in the A8,but adding the Individual Rear Seat Package,which brings electric seat adjustment,slashes boot space to 480 litres.Rear seats can’t be folded flat to create more boot space, either.

Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

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This much space and quality requires a big budget: both cars come in at more than £70,000 at list price. Don’t be afraid to haggle, though; if you’re in the lucky position to be paying in cash, both cars are available with huge discounts. Mercedes dealers are even more generous than their Audi counterparts, which helps three-year running costs fall in favour of the S-Class – despite the fact that it’s the pricier car to service.

It’s the same story if you buy on PCP finance. Sign up to a three-year deal, limited to 10,000 miles a year with a £5000 customer deposit, and you’ll pay £816 a month for the S-Class and £1170 for the A8. That’s because Mercedes will contribute a whopping £10,000 towards your deposit.

However, anyone looking to run the A8 or S-Class as a company car will find it a closer-run thing, because while the S-Class has lower CO2 emissions, it has the higher P11D price. Over three years, the S-Class is the cheaper company car for anyone in the 40% tax bracket, but only by around £500. And the cars are closely matched for companies choosing to lease, with only £120 separating them per year.

Both cars have a standard equipment list befitting the luxury class, but the fact that the A8 includes heated rear seats and adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous steering assistance as standard, while the S-Class doesn’t, scores it extra points. It’s a shame, though, that the A8 isn’t making its even more advanced autonomous driving technology available for some time.


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The S-Class wasn’t going down without a fight and, after the recent facelift, it’s as good a luxury car as it has ever been. It has a strong yet smooth diesel engine, is more agile than the A8, has a better infotainment system and is the cheaper option for most buyers. The S-Class very much deserves its five-star rating.

So it was always going to take an extraordinary luxury car to dethrone the S-Class. But we have one in the A8. It manages to feel even sturdier inside, is quieter on the move, has an even plusher ride and comes with more standard equipment. The A8 has certainly earned the right to waft past the S-Class to take the win in this test.

1st – Audi A8

  • For For More comfortable ride; quieter on the move; higher-quality interior
  • Against Poor infotainment usability; slightly gruffer engine
Specifications: Audi A8 50 TDI quattro L
  • Engine 6cyl, 2967cc, diesel
  • List price £73,095
  • Target Price £64,681
  • Power 282bhp @ 3750-4750rpm
  • Torque 443lb ft @ 1250-3250rpm
  • Gearbox 8-spd automatic
  • 0-60mph 5.9sec
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 50.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions 146g/km
2nd – Mercedes-Benz S-Class

  • For For Sharper handling; cheaper for PCP buyers; better infotainment system
  • Against Mixed ride quality; interior quality not quite brilliant; not as well equipped
Specifications: Mercedes S-Class S350d L AMG Line
  • Engine size 6cyl, 2925cc, diesel
  • List price £75,505
  • Target Price £65,403
  • Power 282bhp @ 3400-4600rpm
  • Torque 443lb ft @ 1200-3200rpm
  • Gearbox 9-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 6.2sec
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 52.3mpg
  • CO2 emissions 139g/km




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