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2003 Audi RS6 and 2003 Mercedes-Benz E55AMG Comparison

The fastest production four-doors we've ever tested.

Arthur St. Antoine
Sep 25, 2003
Photographers: Dean Siracusa
According to the "Hollywood Handbook for Automotive Authenticity & Flames," a fast car should look as follows: roofline lower than prime interest rate, chrome-plated engine parts protruding from hood, rear wing capable of lifting C-130 cargo plane, and--if needed to enhance machismo rating of unusually diminutive male lead--full-length "Starsky" racing stripe.

By those standards, the two discreetly attired sedans pictured here, with their upright four-door profiles, roomy cabins, and distinct lack of peel-'n'-stick "You and What Army?" graphics, should be about as exciting as a midnight rerun on C-SPAN.
Except that the slower of these two cars does 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds.
You read that right. Each of these seemingly stoic German sedans will transport four adults (five in a pinch) and their luggage as comfortably as a Gulfstream
jet. Yet each is also capable of sending a normally proud Porsche 911 pilot straight to a therapist.
If you like to work up a sweat at the wheel, better shop elsewhere. Here you'll find luxurious, leather-lined cockpits, no-fuss (yet sophisticated) automatic transmissions, and steam-locomotive torque ratings. Annoying little Boxster S in the next lane? Just mash the throttle pedal and humiliate. Quite simply, there isn't a more effortless, exhilarating acceleration experience to be had without needing an ejection seat. Indeed, with the BMW M5 in hibernation until at least the '05 model year (MT, August) and the new Jaguar R models ponying up "only" 390 horsepower, the new Audi RS 6 and the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG stand alone as the planet's fastest, most thrilling production four-doors.
The question is: Which one of them stands on top?
Absolute Power
The E55 AMG is the established player in this test, having first appeared in 1999 with a 349-horsepower naturally aspirated V-8. You'd think Mercedes engineers had since been feeding the car one of those powdered muscleman drinks, as the new-for-'03 second-generation E55 is an altogether more broad-shouldered machine. Not only is it based on the superb new E-Class, it brandishes a supercharged and intercooled 5.5-liter V-8 good for 469 horsepower at 6100 rpm and a staggering 516 lb-ft of torque at 2650. Transmitting such Hoover Dam output through two wheels instead of, say, a submarine screw means the E55's rear tires lead brutal lives. Though onboard electronics help keep blue smoke to a minimum, the rear Continental SportContacts are saddled with a job almost as difficult as being Kathie Lee Gifford's vocal coach.
112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan Engine
  |   112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan Engine
Coupled to the E55's Mt. Olympus engine is an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission with SpeedShift. In addition to the standard Drive position, the tranny offers a semi-manual mode that allows Formula One-style shifting by pressing one of two buttons mounted behind the steering wheel, plus an "Optimum Gear" setting that automatically upshifts and downshifts for maximum acceleration in all driving situations. Mercedes rounds out the E55's extraordinary performance portfolio with an AMG-developed Airmatic DC suspension with three damping levels, gigantic vented-disc brakes with eight-piston calipers in front, and four-channel ABS. Entry price for all this choice hardware: $76,720.
112 0309 Roadtests 2s 2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan Engine
  |   112 0309 Roadtests 2s 2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan Engine
New for '03 is Audi's entry into the supersedan clash, the RS 6. Audi says the car was inspired by the company's Le Mans-winning R8 racer, and it only takes one stab of the throttle to realize that there's a lot of Mulsanne Straight in the RS 6's DNA. Under the hood lies a twin-turbocharged-and-intercooled, twin-cam, five-valve-per-cylinder V-8 that wrings 450 horsepower (at 5700 rpm) and 415 lb-ft of torque (at 1950) from just 4.2 liters of displacement.
Like the E55, the RS 6 features a five-speed automatic transmission with Sport and semi-manual modes (instead of buttons, the Audi uses F1-style shift paddles behind the wheel), four huge vented disc brakes (including eight-piston Brembos up front), and four-channel ABS. Unlike the Benz, though, the RS 6 pours its considerable power to the ground through Audi's quattro full-time four-wheel-drive system. Which means the standard Pirelli PZero Rossos will lead their entire lives in the no-smoking section.
You'll pay a premium over the E55 for Audi's new autobahn avenger. Base price is $82,700, with fewer than 1000 examples expected to make the trip stateside.
3...2...1...Liftoff
We knew these sedans were fast. A few days of high-g turning and twisting through the peaks outside Los Angeles had shuffled our internal organs sufficiently that, for a while, we had to breathe with our kidneys. But even our most jaded test drivers were left speechless once we lit the candles at the test track.

Out of the gates, the RS 6--with its four-wheel-drive traction--posts an early advantage. But, thanks in part to its superior horsepower, the E55 hits 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds (versus 4.3 for the Audi) and never looks back. While the RS 6 is amazing in the quarter mile (12.63 seconds at 109 mph), the E55 is nothing short of astonishing. The Benz tripped the lights in just 12.39 seconds at 116 mph--making a sizzling, upper-crust-hot-rod noise the whole way. We've never before experienced such capillary-crushing acceleration in a car so roomy and civilized. For comparison, the last Corvette Z06 we tested ran the quarter in 12.4 seconds at 119 mph. And, of course, the doors to the Vette's back seat are very, very hard to find.
2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan interior
  |   2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan interior
Out on curvy roads, however, the E55's slight quickness edge over the Audi shrinks to insignificance. Trod too enthusiastically on the Benz's go pedal, and the standard Electronic Stability Control computer will spend much of the time smacking the engine and yelling "Nein! Nein! Nein!" The throttle intervention isn't severe, and the E55 doesn't feel hobbled by it--but it's there. (Owners with experienced right feet may prefer to switch off the E55's stability systems when driving hard.) In tight turns especially, the AMG engine often feels like a gorilla banging against an electronic cage.
The RS 6, in contrast, is as smooth and seamless as a Miles Davis riff. Press as hard as you like on the throttle--anytime, anywhere--and the Audi rushes forward in a muffled whoosh of pressurized potency. No hiccups, not so much as a chirp from the tires. The RS 6 spools up with so little drama, it doesn't feel as quick as it is. Until you look down and realize you're going 20 mph faster than you thought you were--and 50 mph faster than your mother would want you to.
2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan interior
  |   2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan interior
The Audi extends its advantage with superior grip (0.89 g versus 0.83 g for the E55) and more responsive steering. In posting the Audi's impressive 68-mph slalom speed, test-driver Chris Walton praised the RS 6's steering quickness (2.3 turns lock-to-lock) and reported that its chassis felt unshakably poised. Credit the sticky Pirellis and Audi's innovative new Dynamic Ride Control, a mechanical active suspension system that diagonally connects the front and rear shock absorbers (using hydraulic lines) to help keep the body level.
At 67 mph, the E55 was only slightly slower in the slalom, but our man Chris had to wrestle with its slower steering (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) and noted that the Benz also felt nervous at its limits--an observation shared by several other drivers after their on-road drives. The Benz also was slightly edged out in braking performance, its electro-hydraulic binders stopping the car from 60 mph in just 118 feet--versus a tongue-straightening 113 for the RS 6. Neither car's brakes knows the meaning of the word "fade."
Bottom line for drivers of either of these two wuendercars: The fabulon in the Ferrari 360 might be able to smoke you. But only if he works a helluva lot harder.
Flog Cabins
Sport-sedan cockpits don't get any better than these. Both Audi and Mercedes have got it just right. In each car, the interiors are cleanly styled and classy (rich leather, graceful swoops and curves), with just the right hint of aggressiveness (white-faced gauges in the Benz, bright-red instrument pointers in the Audi, contemporary wood and metallic accents in both). Each car also offers superb front seats, combining deep side bolsters that hold the driver securely during cornering with excellent back support for long drives. The Audi has a small advantage in rear-seat legroom; the Benz counters with a slightly larger trunk.
No stripped-out "performance" cabins here. The E55 delivers such standard features as four-zone automatic climate control, a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system, a power glass moonroof, and Mercedes' multifunction COMAND control and display system. Options include Dynamic-Drive seats (with side bolsters that automatically inflate in turns to hold the driver in place), radar-guided cruise control, and a huge Panorama sunroof so rear-seat passengers can watch the clouds pass by at unusually high speed.
The RS 6 is equally well-luxified, sporting standard dual-zone automatic climate control, a 200-watt Bose audio system with six-disc CD changer, and a rear Parktronic parking-assist system. The few options include a digital cell-phone, a GPS navigation system, and cool carbon-fiber interior trim.

112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan Dash
  |   112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan Dash
112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan Dash
  |   112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan Dash

112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan Seats
  |   112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Audi Rs 6 Sedan Seats
112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan Seats
  |   112 0309 Roadtests S 2003 Mercedes Benz E55 Amg Sedan Seats
Conclusion
Ever spent a day enjoying the surf at the beach, only to return home and still feel the waves surging against your body? We noted similar phantom g forces after these two four-wheeled centrifuges departed our test fleet. Few cars have left impressions as lasting as the E55 and the RS 6.
Which would we choose? The Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG is the solid-fuel rocket of this pair. Light it off, and it goes and goes and goes with a seemingly unquenchable power that's breathtaking in its intensity. For buyers in search of a designer-suit hot rod--one crafted with the precision and quality for which Mercedes is deservedly famous--the E55 is the chariot of choice.
Our choice, though, is the RS 6. The Audi is the liquid-fueled rocket in this dynamic duo--it's more sophisticated, more controllable, and more graceful. Whereas the E55 feels like a luxury sedan with a Herculean engine in its nose, the RS 6 feels like a fully integrated go-fast system. It's also a car brimming with lovingly crafted details: the gorgeous perforated-leather steering wheel, the racy brushed-aluminum outside mirrors, the little nibs that caress your fingertips when you're paddle-shifting through the gears. The RS 6 delights even as it's rearranging your molecular structure.
BMW will undoubtedly deliver a serious counterstrike when it's finished with its new 500-plus-horsepower V-10 M5. Until then, the Audi RS 6 rules as the ultimate four-door road rocket. Houston, we have a superstar.
Second Opinion
Audi has certainly produced a brilliant, fast, executive flyer with enough horsepower to accomplish almost anything an enthusiastic driver might ask. Yet, while ensconced in its luxury, I felt something was missing. No, not missing. Dialed out: entertainment. "Superbly effective" seems to have been the RS 6's target brief and Audi's success is described in our story. The E55 AMG, though, while being the RS 6's match in luxury and features, adds a measure of delight to its engineering package. The Mercedes feels a ton lighter and quicker than the Audi. With its dazzling performance comes an edge of exotic-car fun that Audi has chosen to leave out of its design philosophy. "Because we can" doesn't seem enough of a reason to engineer all the edges out of a car with this much entertainment potential.--Larry Crane
This comparison presents a well-founded case. In fact, I agree with everything it says. Still, when I reach for my hypothetical checkbook, I find myself writing one out to the Mercedes-Benz dealer. Don't get me wrong: I flat-out love this mega Audi. Yet the E55 has a snarkiness, an extra measure of edge, that wins me over. Perhaps it's the look, or the supercharger-induced torque, or the faultless high-speed stability that AMG can build into a car better than nearly everyone else these days. Das Bad Benz is cheaper, too, and will surely hold its value. This all just goes to show that a logical conclusion, and what you buy just because, are not necessarily the same.--Matt Stone
2003 {{{Audi}}} RS 62003 {{{Mercedes-Benz}}} E55 AMG
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, awdFront engine, rwd
Engine typeTwin-turbo {{{90}}}* V-8,Supercharged 90* V-8,
aluminum block & heads aluminum block & heads
Valve gearDOHC, 4 valves/cyl, variable intake-valve timingSOHC, 3 valves/cyl
Bore x stroke, in/mm3.32 x 3.66/84.5 x 93.03.82 x 3.{{{62}}}/97.0 x 92.0
Displacement, ci/cc254.6 / 4172331.9 / 5439
Compression ratio9.8:19.0:1
Max horsepower @ rpm450 @ 5700469 @ 6100
Max torque @ rpm415 @ 1950516 @ 2650
Specific output, hp/liter107.986.2
Power-to-weight, lb/hp8.98.2
Max engine speed, rpm67006100
Transmission5-speed automatic5-speed automatic
Axle/final-drive ratio3.19:1/2.{{{57}}}:12.65:1/2.19:1
Suspension, front; rearFour-link with upper and lowerUpper and lower control arms, control arms, coil springs,air springs, anti-roll bar;anti-roll bar; upper and lowerfive-link, air springs, anti-roll bar control arms, coil springs
Brakes, f;r14.4-in vented disc;14.2-in vented disc; 13.2-in vented disc, ABS, EBD13.0-in vented disc, ABS, BA, EBD
Wheels, f;r18 x 8.5; 18 x 8.5 cast alum18 x 8.0; 18 x 9 cast alum
Tires, f;r255/40ZR18; 255/40ZR18 245/40ZR18; 265/35ZR18 Pirelli PZero Rosso{{{Continental}}} SportContact Z
DIMENSIONS
Seating cap55
Wheelbase, in108.6112.4
Track, f/r, in62.1 / 62.562.3 / 61.1
Length, in191.3190.9
Width, in78.471.3
Height, in56.157.0
Turning circle, ft37.437.4
Headroom, f/r, in38.9 / 37.837.4 / 37.7
Legroom, f/r, in41.3 / 37.343.6 / 27.1
Shoulder room, f/r, in58.6 / 57.356.4 / 56.1
Curb weight, lb40243857
Weight dist, f/r %60/4053/47
Cargo volume, cu ft15.015.9
Fuel capacity, gal21.720.6
TEST DATA
Acceleration, sec
0-30 mph1.41.8
0-40 mph2.22.4
0-50 mph3.23.2
0-60 mph4.34.2
0-70 mph5.65.3
0-{{{80}}} mph7.16.5
0-90 mph8.88.1
0-{{{100}}} mph10.79.7
0-100-0 mph15.214.4
1/4 mile, sec @ mph12.63 @ 108.6412.39 @ 116.21
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft113118
{{{600}}}-ft slalom, mph67.866.5
{{{200}}}-ft skidpad, lateral g0.890.83
Top-gear rpm @ 60 mph21001750
CONSUMER INFO
On sale in U.S.CurrentlyCurrently
Base price$82,700$76,{{{720}}}
Price as tested$83,350$76,720
Airbags, f;rDual front, side, and head;Dual front, side, and head; dual side and headdual side and head
Basic warranty4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/50,000 miles
EPA mpg, city/hwy15/20 (est)14/20
Range, miles, city/hwy326/434 (est) 288/412
Recommended fuelUnleaded premiumUnleaded premium

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