They’re both big, powerful, prestigious and German, but each pulls back just a little from being the most capable and expensive in the class. How do the Bimmer and the AMG compare in their fight to park in your driveway?
BMW M550i x-Drive Base
- Price: $83,000; as tested, $100,700
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V-8
- Transmission/drive: E-speed automatic, all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.3 city/ 9.4 highway
Mercedes-AMG E43 4Matic
- Base price: $80,400; as tested, $95,200
- Engine: 3.0-litre biturbo V-6
- Transmission/drive: Nine-speed automatic, all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city, 9.4 highway
M550i x-Drive: There’s no doubt the Bimmer looks the business, with tightly stretched panels and just enough creases to reflect the sunlight exactly so. This is the performance version of the 5 Series mid-size sedan, stopping just short of the full-on $113,300 M5, so it has large (and very functional) air intakes underneath the front fender to cool both the engine and the front brakes. The tester was also finished in “frozen black,” which is BMW’s satisfying version of frosty matte black, and comes at extra cost.
AMG E43 4Matic: Not quite so sinister, perhaps slightly less Teutonic in appearance only, the AMG seems a little softer and more rounded. It also has the large air intakes because its engine and brakes have no less work to accomplish, but the panel creases are a little more curved. It’s also a step short of the $115,500 E63, but not quite so brutish to look at as the BMW.
M550i x-Drive: The Munich designers have come a very long way from the Spartan interiors of a decade ago. It’s all about simplicity of the dashboard now, with most of the buttons and switches moved into the central touchscreen. For years, BMW refused to include a touchscreen, insisting that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel, but its designers caved to public demand with the new 7 Series and now all the Bimmers are getting them. They work well, but it can take a while to figure out the available screens and drop-down menus. All five potential passengers will be comfortable, however, with plenty of legroom and headroom for full-sized adults.
AMG E43 4Matic: Again, a softer approach to the interior, with curvier swoops to the brushed aluminum dashboard, and a much better integration of the large central display screen. The gauges are fully digital and so more customizable, but the features themselves are no more or less capable. Comfort just isn’t an issue at this price level for a premium sedan, and there’ll be no complaints from anyone, even with three passengers in the rear seat.
M550i x-Drive: Never lets you forget that it’s a sport-oriented sedan. The big V-8 engine makes 455 hp, but even more impressive, it creates 480 lbs.-ft. of torque from just 1,800 rpm. This is enough of a kick to reach 100 km/h from standstill in four seconds flat. Sure, the M5 will whup this at 3.4 seconds, but the M5 will cost you $30,000 more for the privilege, and how much power do you really need? On the street, the M550i is all about dynamics and doing exactly what you expect in all conditions, and there are no surprises whatsoever on the straights and through the curves.
AMG E43 4Matic: The AMG’s smaller, finely tuned V-6 makes 396 hp, with 384 lbs.-ft. of torque that needs at least 2,500 rpm to reach its peak. It’s not as quick as the BMW, hitting 100 km/h from stand-still in 4.6 seconds, but again, on the street, it’s more about the dynamics than brute power. And again, it has a big brother E63 rocket ship that will shut down all contenders for an extra $35,000. Mercedes’ all-wheel drive system, called 4Matic, has a rear bias that makes the E43 a little more tail-waggy than the BMW if it’s really pushed hard, but it’s no less predictable.
M550i x-Drive: As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of technology in the BMW, even if it’s not quite the M5 flagship. Yes, it will drive itself for short stretches, and yes, it will hold the road better and shift gears more smoothly than you’d expect. One of its gimmicks is “gesture control,” in which you can wave your hand in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction in front of the radio and the volume will increase or decrease (a camera under the mirror picks up the motion); in practice, though, this doesn’t work very well and it’s far easier and more effective to just turn the volume knob, which is right in front of your rotating hand anyway.
MG E43 4Matic: The AMG is loaded with everything Mercedes can think of, and while it also drives itself for short distances, it goes a step further than the BMW in actually changing lanes (when safe to do so) by just activating the indicator stalk. The system is designed (by Mercedes’ lawyers) to demand you put your hands on the wheel at least every 30 seconds, but in practice, the tester car was far more relaxed, allowing fully autonomous driving on the clogged Don Valley Parkway for up to eight minutes at a stretch. When the remarkable car was returned and Mercedes was informed of this, company representatives were horrified and the errant E43 was presumably hustled off for “re-education” before the lawyers could find out.
M550i x-Drive and MG E43 4Matic: Nobody’s going to choose one of these sedans over the other because of its cargo space. The BMW has 530 litres of available cargo capacity in the trunk while the Mercedes has 540 litres. That’s enough for several golf bags; if you want more cargo room, buy an SUV. Both BMW and Mercedes will be pleased to sell you one.
M550i x-Drive: 9.0
It’s the more powerful, more masculine car. It makes no bones about it. It’s heavier and thirstier on premium fuel, and more likely to be chosen by Russian mafia bad guys to run you down if you should cross them. Its main challenge will be that it basically tells everyone that you couldn’t afford the M5, but since it looks so much like its bigger brother, few people will notice. And besides, you just squint a little at such questions and say that the savings paid for a year of your kid’s Ivy League fund, or a new swimming pool. Just try to look convinced when you say this.
The E43 AMG is the all-rounder – more a Pierce-Brosnan Bond than a Daniel-Craig Bond (even though it was Brosnan who escaped from bad guys in a remote-driven 7 Series). Your partner will be as happy as you to drive the E43, and it’s far enough behind the 600-hp E63 that you’ll never have to justify being the poor relative. It’s better on gas too, in the city at least, and its CO2 emissions are a little lower. It’s the happier, friendlier, performance sedan, but no less prestigious or impressive to those who don’t really care about such stuff.
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