The Axis of Equals

The past, present and future coalesce in three deliciously disparate super sport sedans

WORDS BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS PHOTOS ELLEN DEWAR

WE’RE AT a point in time of profound change. Australian manufacturing is winding down. Electrification is ramping up. And technology is increasingly taking control. The fast road ahead is anything but conventional. And it is here where our protagonists meet.

Assembling an HSV, Mercedes-AMG and Tesla for a large super-sedan head-to-head mightn’t make immediate or obvious sense, especially considering a $140,000 differential between cheapest ($109,490 GTS-R) and dearest (Model S P100D from $251,577).

And yet there really isn’t the gaping divide between the rear-drive, supercharged V8 HSV, the all-paw twinturbo V8 AMG and the all-electric, all-wheel drive Tesla that the specs suggest. Each can warp time and speed while simultaneously accommodating five astonished souls. Each is the ultimate expression of athleticism in their respective spheres. And each one’s worth relative to the other will inexorably alter over time, as evidenced by the values of most chrome-bumper Aussie legends.

The clock is, of course, ticking for the GTS-R. Get in quick if you lust after one of the 1000 sedans or 600 Maloo utes, both bearing a 5kW upgrade to the US-built 435kW/740Nm 6.2-litre LSA V8. We’d wager the HSV’s value will skyrocket even before local production ceases forever come this October. Especially as greed is already driving the now sold-out $170K W1 with its ballistic 474kW/815Nm LS9 V8 towards $300K and counting… The GTS-R, therefore, assumes the mantle as the attainable Aussie sports sedan pinnacle. That it’s based on the 11-year-old VE Commodore design is no hindrance, since even sheer familiarity cannot dilute its handsomely muscular stance. The Gen-F2’s proportions remain elegant and, yes, timeless.

That’s in contrast to today’s E63, which is probably the most amorphous in a quarter of a century of fast E-Classes, which started with the Porsche-built 500E of 1991. Is it a C220d from behind? What a wasted opportunity, though a unique AMG nosecone does at least create an aggressive visage.

There’s no questioning the menace of what lurks under the bonnet, though. Tested here in potent S guise, which adds an extra 30kW/100Nm to take total outputs to 450kW/850Nm, the E63’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 is a new high-water mark for the supersedan breed. Paired to AMG’s nine-speed multi-clutch transmission that sends drive to all four wheels, the AMG’s drivetrain also highlights the unprecedented level of engineering transformation undertaken by the Affalterbach virtuosos.

Now sporting an all-new, and rather complex, 4Matic system (rear-drive-only E63s are seemingly a thing of the past), Mercedes reckons the traction and control benefits of all-wheel drive outweigh the hardware’s 70kg weight penalty. Times are a-changing.

Unique suspension and brake components redefine the ultimate E-Class too, with torque-steer-quelling components for the four-link front axle forged from aluminium. Similarly, dynamic engine mounts change

Technology is taking control. The fast road ahead is anything but conventional

Inside the GTS-R

Identifiably designed in Australia for Aussies. Even in this company, the GTS-R’s lovely quilted seats and driving position are supreme. VF Commodore dash doesn’t disgrace itself either, and head-up display a nice touch, though Alcantara-clad wheel will get grubby quickly and VE-era tree-trunk A-pillars still restrict vision. HSV-specific EDI touchscreen menu provides hours of driver attention-diverting fun – including an effective launch-control setting. Rear accommodation is the best of this trio. Boot practicality is limited by lack of backrest-folding cabin access. Capacity is 496 litres.

stiffness according to prevailing driving and road conditions, reducing inertia for greater dynamic precision. It’s on the track where such progress really matters, though one Mercedes-AMG insider reckons the E63 S’s greatest achievement lies in its ability to rip through the Nurburgring by day and strut to the opera by night.

But who needs the opera when you have an exhaust that sounds this good? Menacing at idle and deepthroated at full-noise, the E63 S’s soundtrack seems to channel Pavarotti himself.

Things are less aurally exciting in the Tesla, which doesn’t so much roar as whoosh. After myriad updates since launching in 2014 to improve functionality, efficiency and performance, the Model S underwent yet another makeover last year. Along with a redesigned ‘duckbill’ face and some cabin advancements, Tesla ushered in its so-called ‘full self-driving hardware’, though right now none of this tech has been enabled as bugs and legislation issues are still being sorted.

That facelift coincided with the introduction of one of the fastest accelerating production vehicles on the market. The P100D (‘P’ for performance, 100 for 100kWh lithium-ion battery and ‘D’ for dual-motor all-wheel drive) might only be good for 250km/h, but a claimed 2.7-second 0-100km/h sprint is quicker than flagship models from Lamborghini and Ferrari. And with a claimed range upwards of a 600km between charges, the Tesla’s on-paper promise is verging on stupefying.

Unfortunately, the fact our P100D is a customer car that has already been sold meant we couldn’t put Tesla’s lofty performance claims to the test at the dragstrip.

But even if we could have, AKO-652 is saddled to the gunwales with weighty options so probably wouldn’t have delivered a representative time. A glass roof, 21-inch wheels, premium seats, high-end audio and a heap more blew our Model S out towards $300K. That’s unscrupulous W1 money.

Yet even without the aid of our satellite-driven stopwatch, the 2350kg-plus American EV’s ability to bound off the line like a startled antelope is jawslackening.

From scooting along with jet-stream ease to pinning its occupants back in G-force fervour, the sheer breadth of forward thrust is astonishing, especially with Ludicrous Mode selected. For this reason alone the P100D’s price of admission is worth it.

Like most EVs, easing off the throttle immediately engages the regenerative dynamo-like gubbins for an effect akin to deploying a small braking chute. Pivot your right heel forward again and you’re powering on once more. It’s just like foot-operated Scalextric.

V8 fans will rejoice that the Mercedes feels at least as hungry for speed. A blistering 11.3sec time to 400 metres means it’s probably not too far behind the Tesla. The AMG’s appetite for destroying distances is, if anything, even more theatrical, because of the polyphonic crescendo accompanying each rising rev.

Toggle the Drive Mode selector to Sport Plus, and your peripheral vision blurs as the road is reeled in relentlessly.

Meanwhile the Speedshift MCT transmission slices and dices through the required ratios the way a two-hat

The $9 million GTS-R

Besides switching air filters for an extra 5kW, the circa-$9m HSV splurged for the GTS-R program also brings bigger yet lighter brakes (with AP Racing six-piston monobloc calipers up front), wider composite front wheel arches housing a relocated vent, fatter forged alloys (now 10” in the rear), newlook lower-bumper aero splitters and diffuser, a reshaped spoiler, retuned bi-modal exhaust with diamond shapes for the twin tips and lush quilted seating.

All for $10.5K over the regular GTS.

Bargain.

If the E63 S goes like lightning, the HSV is pure pushrod thunder

sushi chef wields a knife, though it is sometimes overeager to slide in upshifts when you’re plodding along, leaving you short of instant response if required. Still, assassinating stretches of blacktop is this AMG’s forte.

Out at the Heathcote Dragway, on a cold and slightly damp track, the Merc’s mix of power, torque, completely variable AWD and trick launch-control hardware see it sprint to 100km/h in just 3.3sec (0.1sec quicker than the factory claim), backed up by a sub-2s squirt from 80-120km/h.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that in such high-tech company the ageing HSV could feel a little underdone.

But if the E63S goes like lightning then the GTS-R is pure pushrod thunder. Its supercharged howl at higher engine speeds is addictively rousing, and while its times at the strip were slightly off HSV’s claims (4.8sec to 100 versus 4.5s), in no way does the GTS-R feel undermined by its comparatively old-tech spec. Its combination of a manual ’box and rear-wheel drive may have seen it scrabbling for a foothold where the AWD AMG would simply hook up and go, but as its 400m time of 12.4s proves, the Holden still hammers.

So, unfortunately, does its yearning for 98RON premium unleaded. Over two days of hard driving, the HSV records an on-test consumption figure of 16.1L/100km, only slightly more than the altogether harder-charging E63’s 15.3L/100km, though the German car does boast a ‘Half Engine mode’ tech, which disconnects cylinders two, three, five, and eight to save juice when under light loads.

The Tesla’s energy consumption can’t be fairly compared to the others here because it didn’t undergo the performance-testing workout that’s always thirsty business. However we managed to eke out nearly 400km of often fast and furious driving between charges each day, with kays left to spare. But it isn’t just the what and how of fuelling that separates the Tesla from its V8 rivals.

From an enthusiast’s point of view, the Model S is ostensibly a grand tourer, not a sports sedan, and the reason why starts and finishes with the steering. No matter which mode you choose – Comfort, Normal or Sport – the wheel lacks sufficient precision. Clearly Tesla has dialled in a ‘sneeze’ factor to ensure minute movements don’t result in any nervousness at speed, but the upshot is dullness. A clearer sense of connection and more road feedback is much needed.

That said, the P100D’s wide track, long wheelbase, AWD and low centre of gravity conspire with the double wishbones up front and multi-links out back to provide wonderfully flat and composed handling, even at comically quick cornering speeds. This thing is remarkably unfazed by sudden shifts in direction.

Bodyroll is so minimal to be virtually undetectable.

Electronically adjustable air springs also help iron out the rough stuff, for a ride that is impressive in its absorption and pliancy over large bumps, as well as commendable in its overall quietness. Along cruddy roads riddled with craters, the Tesla’s ride was exceptional, despite the optional 21-inch wheel and tyre package. Only around pockmarked urban streets do smaller-frequency ruts and irregularities make themselves felt.

Conversely, the E63 S is an out-and-out and always

The Tesla is remarkably unfazed by sudden shifts in direction

Hey Super Charger!

In one 365km stint, our P100D consumed 81.9kWh of energy, which, at the Victorian peak rate of $0.28, equates to $23, versus the HSV’s $106 on 98 RON.

Using a three-phase plug takes about a day or so to charge.

By year’s end the dozen fast-supply Supercharger outlets will grow to 20, with 19 from Adelaide to Gympie via each capital.

WA and NZ owners can also use the CHAdeMO network.

Finally, ‘Insure My Tesla’ (QBE backed) brings down AAMI’s fully comprehensive $8200 annual rate to about $1800.

Tesla’s interior take

Slinky, Porsche Panamera-rivalling silhouette never more obvious than when ducking head to enter/exit the Model S. Elegant T-shaped dash and massive touchscreen still appeal, though fiddly menus require potentially hazardous concentration. Steering wheel is ugly. Some squeaks and wind noise from pillars also detract from erstwhile serenity, but refinement otherwise outstanding. Near $4K ‘Premium’ front seat option looks space age, feels only okay. Rear-seat support poor for adults despite sumptuous air-suspended ride.

Storage is also limited in the rear seat. Huge liftback a bonus; reveals capacious cargo volume of 745 litres.

Cabin class, AMG-style

Dash is beguilingly contemporary if complicated at first, though familiarisation reveals typically Germanic logic. AMG three-mode virtual instrumentation cluster (Classic, Sport, and Progressive), IWC clock and swathes of Nappa leather add class/chintz (you choose). Drive Pilot intelligent semi-autonomous tech mostly works a treat. Brilliant comfort, quality materials and upmarket ambience abound, though squeaky trim infuriates while no-cost option racing seats firmly ensconce but cause seatbelt rattle. They also exacerbate the ultra-firm ride. AMG wheel paddles perfectly sited. Boot is a massive 540 litres.

on sports sedan, despite Mercedes’ vaunted Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension. A firm to hard ride, even in Comfort, coupled with ever-present road noise intrusion, underscores the German’s fanatical performance focus. The AMG’s flat-chat autobahn body control compromises the relaxation and refinement you might expect from an E-Class. Never switching off, the AMG is afflicted with performance OCD.

But what commanding and assertive handling traits await. The multi-link rear is toughened and employs a specific rear axle carrier for the wider track. More bracing, better mountings, stronger welds and an AMG GT R-style tubular anti-roll bar aid stability.

The variable ratio steering is crisp in its response too, with the E63 S’s AMG-specific tune providing a reasurring amount of communication. As a connection between road and machine, the AMG is magnetically fluid, imbuing a level of high-velocity confidence and maturity that – whether wet or dry – is both exhilarating and gratifying.

Assisted by variable torque distribution and an electro-mechanically controlled coupling that shuffles drive to the front axle as required but mainly remaining rear-biased, AMG’s 4Matic system delivers a delightfully tail-out attitude, lightness and agility. There’s also a degree of deftness and helm control that shouldn’t catch the unwary out. Unless you’re hell-bent on hooliganism.

In which case you can activate Drift Mode. The threestage process for tail-happy fun begins by selecting Sport Plus or Race, then using both hands to pull the paddle shifters. This then kills the ESC and directs 100 percent of torque to the rear axle.

So, after such Teutonic mastery, how can the HSV hope to compete? Even with the GTS-R’s magnetic ride control dampers, that heavy, ageing Zeta platform couldn’t possibly deliver the same dynamic dexterity, right? Well, no. But for cohesion, the local car’s efforts are extraordinary.

Fluent and measured in its reaction and load, the Holden’s helm feels completely in tune with Australia’s unique conditions, being beautifully receptive to inputs and naturally connected. The driver is never in doubt where the front end is pointing.

The HSV can’t match the planted roadholding of its AWD adversaries, yet it feels beautifully light on its feet and can carve through tight corners with a crispness and composure that belies its size.

Dynamically the GTS-R is much more than simply 50 percent of the E63 S that its half-price positioning suggests. For this reason alone, it’s hard to argue with the HSV’s value proposition. And while it’s not as quick in a straight line, its underlying compliance and longdistance ability makes it an altogether more cosseting and quieter car than the E63 S.

Fitted with the trio’s best front seats – generously padded and deeply bolstered – the HSV’s cabin is another high point, with a fine driving position and swathes of Alcantara and brightwork lifting

Never switching off, the AMG is afflicted with performance OCD

E63 by a nose

AMG altered the W213 E63 more than any other in the series’ history.

Even the body is new from nose to windscreen, with the redesigned headlights, grille, bonnet, bumpers (including the rear), and front guards striving for a greater ‘coupe’ style compared to the rather cookiecutter regularlooking sedan.

The fatter guards aren’t just for visual titillation, since they accommodate the pumped-out track, while the gaping air-intakes are necessary for greater cooling requirements.

The P100D is a harbinger of what tomorrow’s highperformance grand tourers will be like

the ambience over that of a regular VF Commodore. The GTS-R also sidestepped the squeaks that blighted the Tesla and the Mercedes on test, though a fiddly touchscreen and crude graphics won’t keep Audi up at night.

Things are much more modern in the E63, with its expansive dash screen, multiconfigurable multimedia and expensive, glossy materials, though the cheapo column shifter lets it down. There’s space aplenty for adults to luxuriate in, the optional racy sports buckets are firm but pleasingly supportive and all rear seat aspects are pitch-perfect. But the rattles proved infuriating. And there is way too much road noise.

Somewhere in between is the Model S, which is really a slinky five-seater coupe with ample room up front on inviting (though optional) sports seats. And while the dash is quite deliberately minimalist, it still manages to elicit admiration and even awe, due mainly to the oversized touchscreen.

Packaging wise, the Tesla is an enigma. It’s great up front, but the rear seat area gets off to a bad start with low door apertures, and is then compounded by a high floor that the EV battery chassis requires, which dictates an exaggerated knees-up posture. Trust us, taller passengers will moan. Exacerbating this is an oddly angled backrest, scant thigh support and no overhead grab handles, storage or cupholders.

At least the cabin is hushed at speed, and that long and wide hatch area adds another dimension of practicality compared to the traditional boots offered in the AMG and HSV.

The fact is, the P100D is a harbinger of what tomorrow’s high-performance fiveseater grand tourers will be like, today. An eco crusader with warp-speed performance, roller-skate handling and a certain inherent charm, its obvious flaws nearly don’t matter, especially considering this is the company’s first totally in-house effort. No pure EV has ever addressed range anxiety so successfully while providing anything like the Tesla’s otherworldly performance.

Time is just about up for the GTS-R, but its place at the apex of the Aussie greats scoreboard is assured. The HSV is today’s Torana A9X moment. If you’re in a position to buy but instead dither, you’ll kick yourself in decades to come. Guaranteed. It’s a properly fitting finale.

Which leaves the force-of-nature E63 S. The big German pushes boundaries as effortlessly as it pounds the existing class benchmarks.

But there’s no doubt that the convergence of speed, dynamics, safety and, yes, even value, elevate this Mercedes-AMG onto a new plane of super sedan performance.

HSV GTS-R

Performance Power-to-weight: 231kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 6000/6100rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 96 Speed in gears 81km/h @ 6100rpm 121km/h @ 6100rpm 166km/h @ 6100rpm 216km/h @ 6100rpm 250km/h @ 5650rpm* 250km/h @ 4450rpm* Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.8sec 0-40km/h: 1.8sec 0-60km/h: 2.6sec 0-80km/h: 3.8sec 0-100km/h: 4.8sec 0-120km/h: 6.4sec 0-140km/h: 7.9sec 0-160km/h: 9.6sec 0-180km/h: 12.2sec 0-200km/h: 14.8sec 0-400m: 12.8sec @ 185.4km/h Rolling acceleration: 3rd/4th/5th/6th 80-12Okm/h: 3.3/4.0/5.7/7.9sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 34.7m

Verdict 8.5/10 Sheer roar and oomph; chassis interactivity, comfort; space Heavy-duty manual shift; A-pillar blind spot; the end of an Aussie era Track: Heathcote raceway, cool. Temp: 13ºC.

Driver: Byron Mathioudakis.

Warranty: 3yr/100,000km.

Service interval: 9 months/15,000km.

Glass’s 3-year resale: 47%. AAMI Insurance: $2068 *Speed limited ** Includes Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob ($1590) $109,490/Tested $111,080** Drivetrain Engine V8 (90º), ohv, 16v, supercharger Layout front engine (north-south), rear-drive Capacity 6162cc Power 435kW @ 6150rpm Torque 740Nm @ 3850rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Chassis Body steel, 4 doors, 5 seats L/W/H/W–B 5044/1899/1486/2915mm Front/rear track 1616/1590mm Weight 1886kg Boot capacity 496 litres Fuel/capacity 98 octane/71 litres Fuel consumption 17.1L/100km (test average) Suspension Front: struts, A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar Rear: multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar Steering electric rack-and-pinion Turning Circle 11.4m (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) Front brakes ventilated discs (410mm) Rear brakes ventilated discs (372mm) Tyres Continental ContiSportContact5P Tyre size 255/35R20 (f), 275/35R20 (r) Safety NCAP rating (Aus) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

MERCEDES-AMG E63 S

Power-to-weight: 230kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 7000/6900rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 95 Speed in gears 54km/h @ 6900rpm 90km/h @ 6900rpm 129km/h @ 6900rpm 178km/h @ 6900rpm 240km/h @ 6900rpm 291km/h @ 6900rpm 300km/h @ 6150rpm* 300km/h @ 5100rpm* 300km/h @ 4280rpm* Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.6sec 0-40km/h: 1.1sec 0-60km/h: 1.7sec 0-80km/h: 2.4sec 0-100km/h: 3.3sec 0-120km/h: 4.4sec 0-140km/h: 5.7sec 0-160km/h: 7.2sec 0-180km/h: 9.0sec 0-200km/h: 11.2sec 0-400m: 11.3sec @ 201.1km/h Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: 1.9sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 34.9m 9.0/10 Warp speed; astounding breadth from calm to crazy; brilliant control Tetchy ride, constant tyre/road noise, rattly trim, U-turn graunch Track: Heathcote raceway, cool. Temp: 13ºC.

Driver: Byron Mathioudakis.

Warranty: 3yr/unlimited km.

Service interval: 12 months/15,000km.

Glass’s 3-year resale: N/A. AAMI Insurance: N/A *Speed limited $239,990/Tested $239,990 V8 (90º), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo front engine (north-south), all-drive 3982cc 450kW @ 5750-6500rpm 850Nm @ 2500-4500rpm 9-speed automatic steel, 4 doors, 5 seats 4988/1907/1460/2939mm 1649/1595mm 1955kg 540 litres 98 octane/80 litres 15.9L/100km (test average) Front: double A-arms, air-springs, anti-roll bar Rear: multi-links, air-springs, anti-roll bar electric rack-and-pinion 11.2m (2.3 turns lock-to-lock) ventilated discs (390mm) ventilated discs (360mm) Pirelli P Zero 265/35ZR20 (f), 295/30ZR20 (r) (Aus)

TESLA MODEL S P100D

Power-to-weight: 191kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: N/A Speed at indicated 100km/h: 98 Speed in gears N/A Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: N/A 0-40km/h: N/A 0-60km/h: N/A 0-80km/h: N/A 0-100km/h: 2.7sec (claimed) 0-120km/h: N/A 0-140km/h: N/A 0-160km/h: N/A 0-180km/h: N/A 0-200km/h: N/A 0-400m: N/A Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: N/A Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: N/A 8.0/10 Performance; design; ride; refinement; eco credentials Rear-seat packaging; potential charging hassles; fiddly touchscreen Track: N/A. Warranty: 4yr/80,000 km.

Service interval: 12 months/20,000km.

Glass’s 3-year resale: N/A. AAMI Insurance: $8231. ** Includes multi-coat paint ($2300), 21-inch alloys ($6800), Panoramic sunroof ($2300), carbonfibre décor ($1500), Premium Seats ($3800), Carbon spoiler ($1500), High Power Charger ($2300), Enhanced Autopilot ($7500), Full Self-Driving Capability ($4500), Premium Upgrades Package ($5300), Ultra High Fidelity Sound ($3800), Subzero Weather Package ($1500) $251,577/Tested $294,677** Three-phase four-pole AC induction Dual axle, all-wheel drive Battery: 100kWh lithium-ion 450kW @ – rpm 1074Nm @ – rpm 1-speed fixed gear aluminium, 5 doors, 5 seats 4978/1963/1445/2959mm 1661/1699mm 2350kg 745 litres Electricity/100kWh 225Wh/km (test average) Front: double A-arms, air-springs, anti-roll bar Rear: multi-links, air-springs, anti-roll bar electric rack-and-pinion 11.0m (2.3 turns lock-to-lock) ventilated discs (410mm) ventilated discs (372mm) Michelin Pilot Super Sport 245/35ZR21 (f), 265/35ZR21 (r) (Aus)