Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

| 13 Jan 2023
Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

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It was a hostile takeover.

The Germans had swung in with an offer the upper management couldn’t refuse, leaving other European bidders reeling in bitter frustration.

The British Jaguar was particularly soured by the ordeal, having all but invented the idea of the supersaloon back in the 1960s, but this was a new era that left walnut dashboards and polished cam covers behind for aluminium trim and the electronic wizardry of the computer age.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
This early BMW M5 wears retrofitted ‘angle eye’ headlights from 2000

The new millennium demanded tactful problem-solving on top of key competencies: the required cruising speed of 150mph would naturally come with sports car-dispatching torque, while sharp responses at the helm couldn’t come at the expense of four-door functionality plus top-drawer, luxury-car comfort and isolation.

BMW delivered its blockbusting result at the 1997 Frankfurt motor show: a new M5 based on the already highly talented E39 5 Series that had effectively blown away most of its rivals in performance, ride, handling and even build quality.

The headline was the first V8 in an M-car, which channelled the now-expected determination of BMW’s engineers to draw every last horsepower from it.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Optional Heritage leather trim in Caramel complements the BMW’s Silverstone metallic silver paint

To this end, the 540i’s M62 V8 was expanded to such a degree that crossflow water jackets were required to keep the narrow spaces between the 94mm bores cool, while its forged pistons featured valve pockets machined into their crowns to accommodate an 89mm-long stroke.

Controlling it all was what Munich described as the most powerful roadgoing computer of its time.

Developed with Bosch, BMW’s MSS 52 ECU managed not only the individual ‘butterfly’ throttle bodies, with 120-millisecond reactions under a fly-by-wire foot, but also the magnetically operated valves for its excessively sophisticated semi-dry-sump oil system and the latest double-VANOS variable valve system.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Maximum power arrives at 6600rpm in the BMW M5

You can’t help but think that BMW was showing off, but page after page of the M5’s dossier shows something more like a relentless campaign for dynamic mastery.

The new car spent 60,000 miles lapping the Nürburgring to fine-tune its suspension, ending up lower than the standard E39 by 15mm at the front and 10mm to the rear, with revised rates and geometry.

A similarly assiduous approach was taken with the aerodynamics, since the M5’s drag coefficient retains the 540i’s impressive 0.31Cd rating despite the addition of a unique, functional bodykit and a rear spoiler producing around 50kg of downforce at 150mph.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The BMW’s functional rear lip spoiler hints at the fact that this is no ordinary 5 Series

Next to the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, the M5 does look brawny, tense and ready to let loose a burnout at the merest suggestion of a challenge.

Although the BMW is undeniably well-equipped and unbelievably talented – which we’ll come to later – its arch rival from Stuttgart oozes a self-assured calm that must get on the highly strung M5’s nerves.

Its portfolio reads far less aggressively, but there is tacit promise to be found between the lines. The W120 E-Class arrived before BMW’s 5 Series and was really the only one that held fast against its otherwise all-conquering punches.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The BMW sits on 18in alloy wheels

An unusual mix, for Mercedes-Benz, of double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, with rack-and-pinion steering, meant that the new E-Class, champion of luxury and refinement, also mustered the dynamic ingredients to contain the work of newly acquired AMG.

First came the E36, a continuation of the 3.6-litre straight-six-powered model introduced for the previous W124 generation, but a V8 AMG was inevitable.

For the 1998 E55, AMG took the 4.3-litre V8 from the standard range-topping E-Class, and enlarged, strengthened and optimised it into a 5.4-litre, 349bhp, 391lb ft monster, with at least 369lb ft anywhere between 2500 and 4800rpm.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The V8 from the 540i was heavily revised to hit 395bhp and 369lb ft in the M5

Power was upped slightly in 2001 for the updated E55, and a small number of E60 models were made, first in 6-litre, 376bhp form, and later, even more exclusively, in 6.3-litre, 399bhp form.

But these were bespoke solutions for special customers; the 12,000-unit E55 was what to expect to see thundering along the outside lane of the autobahn.

When the Germans arrived in the UK, the supercharged establishment Jaguar was caught a little flustered.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The M5 uses the rear axle from the 5 Series Touring, the strength of which was better suited to the supersaloon’s greater performance

Until this point, accustomed to an exclusive audience with chairpersons and directors alike, the newly sharpened talents of the M5 and velvet-glove punch of the E55 spelled the end of the XJR’s debonair control of the situation.

Fortunately, the new S-type, a smaller executive car aimed squarely at the 5 Series, was about to graduate into an R – thanks to Ford’s scholarship money.

It arrived in 2002, smartly dressed in its dark trim, subtle bodykit and modern-retro wire-mesh grille, adding a measure of much-needed seriousness to the standard S-type’s chromed, slightly naïve-looking face.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG makes for effortless, smooth progress, but the traction control can intrude and compromise fast starts from rest

Lower and heavily planted on its class-standard 18in wheels, the R has an air of ability that promises to match its rivals step-for-step, if not quite the brash confidence to barge them out of the way.

Underneath lies Jaguar’s familiar V8, with new heads, pistons and exhausts, enlarged to 4.2 litres and with its supercharger turned up by 5%.

Clearly, BMW’s suspension design had been closely studied, and the S-type R’s new subframe-mounted front lateral and diagonal aluminium links represented so much of an improvement that the set-up was adopted by the rest of the range.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Mercedes’ plush cabin is the most comfortable out of our foursome

Torsional rigidity was also increased for facelifted cars, including a laser-welded roof panel, while the R’s stiffness was boosted further by a bolted-in panel behind the rear seats.

Jaguar’s sophisticated CATS adaptive dampers then worked to counteract dive under braking and body roll through corners, but, like the Mercedes, no limited-slip differential left a traction-controlled hole in an otherwise clean sheet of straight-As.

The Maserati Quattroporte is a contrasting image of the self-made performance saloon. The fourth-generation ‘four-door’ marked the end of a long run of cars based on the 1981 Biturbo, with an engine that harked back even further.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Crisp dials in the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

Introduced in ’94, with a 2.8-litre twin-turbo V6, it was the last of a trio of Biturbo-derived products alongside the 1990 Shamal and 1992 Ghibli.

Like its siblings, its neatly tailored Marcello Gandini-styled suit gave the Maserati enough class, despite its age, to look obviously exotic next to its new-school rivals.

Following the management switch from Fiat to Ferrari in 1997, a full audit and improvement campaign on factory operations led to changes on some 400 of a total 800 main components on the Quattroporte.

The 3.2 Evoluzione was the result, and it delivered its classic sports saloon ingredients at maximum velocity.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG (right) is fitted with 18in rims; the Maserati has to make do with smaller 17in wheels

A six-speed manual Getrag gearbox linked to an aggressive limited-slip differential suspended by tubular trailing arms, while the 32-valve V8 added two Japanese-made IHI turbochargers to a design originally conceived by Giulio Alfieri as a Formula One engine.

The performance figures might not immediately put the others under threat, but you can’t help thinking that the Maserati has more tricks up its sleeve.

It has an unpredictable, quietly menacing feel, and its 0-60 time and top speed are close enough to demand attention.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The E55 AMG’s twin-spark V8 makes 349bhp

Parked together, it’s difficult to ignore the BMW’s presence. The M5 commands the car park as much as it does the road, and there’s a clear understanding that it expects the driver to do the same.

It’s all business inside: buttons are lined up and labelled neatly, and even the light controls continue of the style of the dials in the binnacle.

The ‘Heritage’ leather seats in this car are an extravagance, a reminder of the finer things, but they are firm, purposeful and set in a near-perfect driving position.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The engine and gearbox don’t always feel in sync in the Mercedes

At normal speeds the M5 is calm; quiet, even. It’s refined and relaxing, but drop two gears and the car tenses, grabs the road and howls in cultured V8 anger towards the illuminated redline.

It is deep-toned but doesn’t quite rumble like the Mercedes-Benz E55’s classic muscle-car soundtrack, and as it soars into its higher reaches it takes on a BMW-branded smoothness infused with a hint of NASCAR.

There is a Sport button, which variably reduces steering assistance and sharpens the long-travel throttle, and in doing so brings the gloves off a fighter that is already utterly dialled in.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
‘The muffled rumble of the 5.4-litre AMG V8 was a gratifying solution to the stress of finite time’

The linear power is easily managed with the throttle and pushes you back in the leather seat ever more firmly until a quick snap of the short-throw gearlever reloads the onslaught.

Turn-in is sports-car-crisp and cornering astonishingly flat, and the responses are so pure that, when a sequence of bends is consumed and you take a breath for a junction, there’s a moment when you remember with incredulity that this is a 5 Series, with four doors, five seats and a large boot.

No such illusions with the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG. This is a luxury car, one bound for the driveways of decision-makers who need the reassurance and calm that begins with the weighty ‘thwomp’ of its perfectly damped door.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The S-type R’s excellent dynamic package is balanced and neutral, displaying Jaguar’s typical refinement

For those at the top of their game, the no-nonsense five-speed automatic and muffled rumble of this 5.4-litre AMG version was a gratifying solution to the stress of finite time.

The softest, richest leather seats, with orthopaedic control, set the tone for an ambience that is almost always serene.

Even with your right foot buried into the carpet, the cultured sounds of its big V8 simply ooze into the cabin rather than prick the ears, and the big Mercedes makes long-legged strides into the distance with comforting authority.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Jaguar S-type R’s retro wire-mesh grille adds some much-needed seriousness to the standard car’s chromed face

Added to the expensively glossy birds-eye maple veneer and hand-stitched leather steering wheel, little AMG flourishes on the gearknob and the instrument facings make this feel that bit more special than a standard E-Class.

It feels born for miles of autobahn, with unwavering stability and tall gearing that Mercedes-Benz undoubtedly will have tuned for the purpose.

It is easy to drive smoothly and endowed with a silken ride quality, and you guide it through corners, leaning into much more body roll than the others here but also, it feels, with so much less effort. Those velvet gloves need not ever come off.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Inside, the Jaguar’s near-perfect driving position is satisfying

If they do, you won’t find much in the way of feedback and, if really pushed, the E55 AMG will soon introduce you to its largely undefeatable traction control.

It will keep up with the others almost as hard as they can possibly push, but only with a sweating brow and an unbefitting loss of decorum.

The S-type R fares much better. In typical Jaguar fashion, its suspension is finely tuned to the point of perfection and finds grip beneath a supple layer of isolation.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The S-type R’s six-speed ZF ’box has an improved J-gate for optional manual control

It has excellent balance, feeling just as neutral as the BMW, and its steering offers about as much feedback while being a little lighter.

Only the over-light pedals mar the Jaguar’s natural responses: perhaps it’s the price to pay for the biggest, most resilient anchors in the group.

You sit low within the S-type R, a feeling exaggerated by the Spitfire-wing veneer of walnut across the dash top, as in the XK8/R.

It’s a classically sporting atmosphere that is only amplified by the stirring supercharger whine that enthusiastically resonates from ahead with pokes of the throttle.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Jaguar’s 4.2-litre V8 produces 390bhp

It manages to summon 310lb ft at just 1300rpm, accumulating the sort of deceptive acceleration that often eludes even the E55 AMG, which has more of a tendency to kickdown and hunt.

Replacing the XJR’s old Mercedes-sourced gearbox with a ZF six-speed auto was clearly a good decision.

For manual control, the usual Jaguar J-gate is as effective as ever, although the prodigious torque means that using the Sport mode in ‘D’ is normally more than enough.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
‘The S-type R is tuned to the point of perfection, and finds grip beneath a supple layer of isolation’

The Jaguar’s duality of purpose is interpreted inside with red stitching on the seats and the dark, almost shimmering grey-stained birds-eye maple veneer, all tastefully restrained.

It’s an inevitable shame, though, that the luxury detailing isn’t met with consistent quality throughout.

The switchgear looks and feels relatively hollow when compared directly with that of the Germans, and the way the glovebox opens or how the centre armrest slides back to reveal cupholders forces you to recall that somewhere, in the transatlantic distance, there is a Lincoln LS underneath.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Gandini-styled Maserati Quattroporte sports his distinctive kick-up at the rear wheelarch and shares many similarities with the Shamal it’s based on

To bring a cup of coffee into the Maserati Quattroporte’s cabin would seem an insult against tradition.

This is a place for driving, although it is also now a place for admiring the daring combination of Connolly leather, elm wood burr and Alcantara that, once upon a time, the Italians could get away with.

The same applies to the driving position, and thanks to the slightly high-set seat it’s easy for longer-legged drivers to knock their knees on the steering column.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Quattroporte’s 330bhp 3.2 V8 has its roots in a design for a Formula One engine

The gearshift is weighty, even without comparison with the M5, and the clutch is abrupt.

The V8, immediately a lively presence, feels frustratedly held back at lower speeds, along with the heavy controls and firm ride.

But you need to be wary with your right foot, because at anything more than half throttle and 3000rpm, the twin turbos spool up with a voracious impatience.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Maserati has a Lancia Thema steering wheel; the build quality lags behind rivals’

It almost feels as though the right pedal will be taken away from you and held against the bulkhead; obey, and the Quattroporte fires down the road with rude pace, snarling and whooshing through the rev range, its turbo wastegate fluttering aggressively with each gearchange.

It’s surprising how quickly the car becomes fluent when pressing on: the gearchanges fall easily into place and the steering lightens, even offering some degree of feedback.

Balance it on the throttle mid-corner and it feels neutral, but there’s always a nagging feeling that there’s a sharp edge in its character just behind all of that leather, wood and Alcantara.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The Maserati’s (front) edgy drive is in stark contrast to the AMG’s fluid pace

The Maserati is fun to drive, possibly even more fun to be driven in. It’s the sort of car that you can be glad exists, but unless you have a particular penchant for its style, it’s a difficult one to offer a position on.

The Mercedes-Benz is the complete opposite: a steady hand and a rational purpose delivered with devastating efficiency.

With the biggest engine and the plushest interior, the E-Class has a deserved aura of superiority, yet it’s the Jaguar that is probably the best all-rounder.

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
The M5’s breathtaking performance makes it easy to forget it’s a four-door saloon car

There is dynamic brilliance to the S-type R, particularly from its ride and handling, which exemplify its duality.

But there is only one supersaloon here that can abandon its four doors when it comes down to business, and that is the BMW M5.

It plays the executive role perfectly, delivering refinement, style and practicality, while being able to exhilarate like a supercar at the drop of a hat.

It is by far the fastest and most thrilling way to be going places.

Images: Luc Lacey

Thanks to: Reading International Business Park


Factfiles

Classic & Sports Car – Supersaloon showdown: BMW M5 vs Jaguar S-type R vs Maserati Quattroporte vs Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

BMW M5 (E39)

  • Sold/number built 1998-2003/20,482
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank, 32-valve 4941cc V8, fuel injection
  • Max power 395bhp @ 6600rpm
  • Max torque 369lb ft @ 3800rpm
  • Transmission six-speed manual, RWD via LSD
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts, double-pivot control arms rear multi-link, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 15ft 8⅜in (4784mm)
  • Width 5ft 10⅞in (1800mm)
  • Height 4ft 8½in (1437mm)
  • Wheelbase 9ft 3½in (2830mm)
  • Weight 3957lb (1720kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.3 secs
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Mpg 20
  • Price new £59,950
  • Price now £20-50,000*

 

Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

  • Sold/number built 1998-2002/c12,000
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank, 24-valve 5439cc V8, fuel injection
  • Max power 349bhp @ 5500rpm
  • Max torque 391lb ft @ 3000rpm
  • Transmission five-speed automatic, RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones rear multi-link, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 15ft 8⅜in (4795mm)
  • Width 5ft 10⅞in (1799mm)
  • Height 4ft 8½in (1411mm)
  • Wheelbase 9ft 3½in (2833mm)
  • Weight 3957lb (1710kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.3 secs
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Mpg 21
  • Price new £60,540
  • Price now £10-30,000*

 

Jaguar S-type R

  • Sold/number built 1999-2007/8043
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank, 32-valve 4196cc V8, Eaton M112 supercharger and fuel injection
  • Max power 390bhp @ 6100rpm
  • Max torque 399lb ft @ 3500rpm
  • Transmission six-speed automatic, RWD
  • Suspension independent, at front by wishbones rear wishbones, control link, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering power-assisted, speed-sensitive rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 16ft (4877mm)
  • Width 5ft 11⅝in (1818mm)
  • Height 4ft 8in (1423mm)
  • Wheelbase 9ft 6½in (2909mm)
  • Weight 3968lb (1800kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.3 secs
  • Top speed 155mph
  • Mpg 18
  • Price new £47,400
  • Price now £5-25,000*

 

Maserati Quattroporte IV

  • Sold/number built 1994-2001/c2400
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc-per-bank, 32 valve 3217cc V8, twin turbochargers and fuel injection
  • Max power 330bhp @ 6400rpm
  • Max torque 332lb ft @ 4400rpm
  • Transmission six-speed manual, RWD via LSD
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar rear tubular trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs, with servo and anti-lock
  • Length 14ft 11⅛in (4550mm)
  • Width 5ft 11¼in (1810mm)
  • Height 4ft 6⅜in (1380mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 8⅜in (2650mm)
  • Weight 3631lb (1647kg)
  • 0-60mph 5.8 secs
  • Top speed 168mph
  • Mpg 18
  • Price new £57,995 (1997)
  • Price now £10-30,000*

*Prices correct at date of original publication


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