2021 has brought its share of SUV launches, but the luxury sedan market with our chauffeured motorists are hard to ignore bunch. And what I’ve had a-go-at is at least one if not two of the most sought after back seat luxury sedans. The first being the facelifted E-Class in 350d form with a diamond sheen upfront to further enhance its chrome-y appeal and the second – the newly launched, sportier but awkward-looking, 6 series GT in 630i guise with lots of neat M sport highlights.
And with prices starting north of almost 65 big ones, these cars truly represent the big league of proper affordable luxury full-sized sedans with an ever so large feeling of occasion. The facelifted E-class continues to be offered in 200, 220d and 350d (this one-ups its visual appeal with AMG derived bumpers, wheels and features adaptive dampers too) with a long wheelbase of 3079 mm. While the just launched facelifted 6 series GT will be offered in a 630i, 620d and a 630d trim with a wheelbase of 3070 mm (also featuring M bumpers, wheels and an adaptive suspension).
So on paper these two cars are quite close, but in character they are quite different, which this comparison inevitably and hopefully highlight.
Exteriors: Refined Aggression vs Elegance
The 6 series GT with its awkward-looking jacked-up styling has not set the sales charts on fire apart from in China, where buyers responded more positively to its blend of luxury, space and value than anywhere else. The facelift brings a sharper looking front and rear with new bumpers, BMW’s laser lights and better-looking wheels especially in that M sport trim. With the same 3070mm wheelbase as a current 7 Series saloon, the 6 GT continues to excel in its sense of space, visibility and practicality, but fails to increase its score on pure design desirability despite its classier frameless windows.
And that’s where the facelifted E-Class simply dazzles. Starting with the new multibeam headlights, that AMG line front bumper, sporty looking 5 spoke AMG wheels and the long limousine silhouette inspired by the Maybach version of the S Class. Even the new slimmer and more longitudinal styled tail lamps gives it a sportier appeal. It is one of the few understated sedans that nails the long wheelbase design, but it does come at the cost of ground clearance on some really uneven roads with a full load of passengers.
Interiors: More Screen-Time
Step inside in the back (with the air suspension lowered for easy ingress) in the 6 GT, and it feels pretty similar to the last-gen car. You are immediately greeted with 2 large individual infotainment screens which work quite seamlessly to control many of the car’s functions using BMW’s iDrive which still feels one of the best to use in the business. And with that raise roofline, you’re not short on space anywhere; with more headroom and better visibility in both rows than you’d get from a large executive saloon, and excellent knee, foot, elbow and shoulder room available too. You also get powered recline seats for the back passenger and auto sunblind’s but it misses out on the controls for moving the front passenger seat as well as the soft-close doors. The overall colour palette is a darker shade of beige, and upfront the driving position is as driver-focussed as ever, with a chunky M Sport Steering wheel, digital dials that aren’t the easiest to read on the go and a well laid out infotainment system with BMW’s rotary control and voice commands.
Step inside the E-class’s back seat and despite the same wheelbase as the 6 GT, it feels more spacious due to the lighter beige interior, a slightly lower seating position and a twin sun-roof setup. You get more buttons to push here (like the seat controls for front, left & right passenger, sunblind’s) than the 6 GT but one less screen. The only screen at the back is a detachable Android tablet with access to most audio, climate and comfort functions. The new waterfall design steering wheel upfront is quite unique and the beige surround is easy to stain, the new MBUX twin screen setup continues to dominate the living room like leather interior which feels better suited for the occasion compared to the BMW’s almost solid but sporty design.
Overall if its elegance you’re after, the E’s comfort and design would wow you easily, and in case you’re looking for something more practical and sporty with a strong dose of infotainment for all passengers, the 6 GT would not fail to impress either.
Driving: Acceleration with Poise
BMW provided the petrol-powered 6GT to us and we had the 3-litre diesel-powered Merc, so comparing a diesel with this petrol mill will be unfair. But it’s fair to assume that any engine that makes a two-tonne luxury conveyance like this capable of accelerating as quickly as a hot hatch, covering distance with the manners of business lounge attendant and deliver almost 10 km/l merits some warm-hearted appreciation. The greatness of BMW’s 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel as one of the best in its class is beyond question, and it being mated to ZF’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox make relaxed mile-munching supremely easy. The 2-litre petrol in this 30i betters refinement but misses out on the thrust factor given this car’s inherent weighty nature.
The Merc’s 3-litre diesel on the other hand is not as voracious in its power delivery and the longer wheelbase is simply not designed for enthusiastic motoring across twisties. Linear power delivery with its smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic gearbox corsets the passengers behind for miles at end, and the adaptive dampers even with those 18-inch wheels can take on our broken tarmac with aplomb.
The 6 GT seems to be the better insulated of the two despite its frameless doors and windows, but refinement levels of the E-class even with this six-cylinder diesel engine underneath is quite improved. As something both to drive and be driven in, the 6 Series GT is the better all-rounder with a tighter chassis control, and sharper steering, but if it’s more of being driven in with maximum pampering, the E Class simply edges ahead.
The 6 GT seems to be the better insulated of the two despite its frameless doors and in objective terms, the 630i GT has true luxury-level comfort, a spacious cabin front & rear, refinement and convenience as well as the latest on-board tech expected of a modern limousine. It’s quite engaging and pleasant to drive and better than before to be driven in with usability exceeding the E-Class given its larger boot and a more raised stance. But it falls a long way short of the desirability expected of a Rs. 65 lakh rupee luxury car for most testers, especially in the company of the new facelifted E Class.
The E-class simply blows out the competition given its higher perceived design quality, its focus on rear passenger comfort and an elegant limousine silhouette featuring the latest generation of on-board infotainment and connected car features. Overall the E class wins this test, and it would have been a similar story if we had the smaller-engined E200. And if you’re looking for driving thrills alone in this segment, you’re better off waiting for the soon to be launched facelifted 5 series.