Lerato Matebese, Ryan de Smidt and Brenwin Naidu sample two family haulers with supercar performance credentials. Gallery and specifications at the bottom of the page.
The only apologists for the estate car in South Africa are motoring journalists and funeral directors, writes Brenwin Naidu…
We members of the fourth estate take every opportunity to extol the virtues of the station wagon. And we are quick to cite the Europeans as a bastion of pragmatism and intelligent consumerism since the genre does incredibly well on their continent.
But then, when did those European buyers become the sole arbiters of good taste? The SUV and crossover formats appear to represent solutions for challenges particular to our market.
For starters, a taller ride height makes the threat of poor road surfaces less intimidating. That commanding driving position offers empowerment in the face of nuisances like wayward taxi drivers, traffic light loiterers and irritatingly toned blonde men and women in tight clothes handing out CrossFit pamphlets in Sandton. And yet their road manners are not dramatically far removed from their saloon and hatchback counterparts. These varying standpoints formed the basis for an interesting comparison. If you are the type of buyer who yearns for practicality – but you do not want to relinquish performance – there are options to be considered.
Gracing these pages is a German duo boasting over 400kW each, in addition to seating for five and ample Labrador and baggage hauling ability. Since the wagon genre appears to fade into the periphery; we will begin with the model you are probably keenest to read about. The BMW X5M is indeed a veritable choice among government blue-light brigades and private sector high-flyers. Fair enough, we are being stereotypical about those owner profiles. But sifting through the reputation established by its drivers, the X5M represents an incredible feat of engineering.
A look at the numbers is enough to leave even the most jaded in awe. How is it possible that a hunk of metal in excess of two tons can dash to 100km/h swifter than most hot hatchbacks? Brute force is the answer. Actually, the X5M makes a good example for those who claim that there is no replacement for displacement. Flipping the calendar back a decade ago, BMW offered the X5 4.8is. The normally-aspirated eight-cylinder mill was good for 265kW and a sprint time of 6.1 seconds. Fast-forward to the present F15 designation model; the manufacturer stuck to a cylindrical octet, albeit with the bonus of forced-induction resulting in 423kW and 750Nm. Now the standstill to 100km/h time reads 4.2 seconds. It is indeed a beacon of progress. And the sensation it produces when the urge to stamp that throttle takes over is incredibly visceral. Yes, you get the commensurate pace. You also get the impression that this car is grafting hard to disprove the physical parameters of mass and momentum enshrined in first-year university science textbooks. Perhaps it has something to do with that innate human attunement to the notion of self-preservation; but moving so fast in something so hefty feels unnatural, incredibly exhilarating, but incredibly unnatural. There is a trio of settings for the drivetrain, suspension and steering, as we have become accustomed to in models fettled by the wunderkinder at BMW’s M department. Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus cover the spectrum. The best part is that you can pick and mix. Say, for example, you want the immense punch but not the rigid ride quality or overly weighted steering wheel. Such is the extent of the available settings.
Alas, no amount of electronic configurations can fully negate the effects of a higher centre of gravity. This is where enthusiasts will chime in, voicing support for the dynamically superior Audi RS6 Avant. There is something ineffably cool about a fast wagon. Volvo knows this. Subaru knew it too, before products like the Forester became so heavily diluted for the mass market. It is heartening to see that Audi is not shying away from a tradition first created by the now iconic RS2 Avant spawned in the 1990s. While the Audi has (marginally) less power than the X5, it is swifter to 100km/h – managing to execute the dash in 3.9 seconds. For some perspective, the McLaren 570S also featured in this issue will get to triple digits in 3.2 seconds. Except the RS6 has about 15 times the cargo capacity. This is not hyperbole either; with the rear seats folded down it will swallow 1680 litres of stuff. But the sensations, not the sterile figures put everything into perspective. The V8 engine sounds a great deal crisper than the unit in the BMW – a more raspy tone in comparison to the primal grunting of its SUV counterpart.
Blipping the eight-speed transmission down as you approach a red traffic light is irresistible, because a crack of thunder emerges through the tailpipes. While it weighs less than the X5 (1950kg Vs 2350kg) the RS6 still feels like a chunky machine; so do not be deluded into thinking it handles with the nimbleness of something like an S3. As with its peer, one can feel the transfer in mass when chucking the car into corners with exuberance. Traction is never a concern with either, as both boast all-wheel drive – something you will never forget in the case of the Audi, as the word quattro is emblazoned on the lower front grille. The BMW is a bit more subtle about its xDrive benefits. I can tell you unequivocally that the impression from the power seat of the ground-hugging Audi is a lot more natural. It feels like a super sports car – one that just happens to feature accommodation for the contents of a small home. Mind you, that means very little when you find yourself on a shoddily surfaced piece en route to your next holiday destination, when you might wish you had opted for the SUV instead. A certain red beret-wearing political party leader might dismiss this as an imperialist move. But in this case, I take the Eurocentric stance: the mean wagon from Ingolstadt would be my choice. It makes great economic sense too, given that it is considerably cheaper than the BMW.
Lerato Matebese says…
A bit like a tale of two cities, the war that rages on among the automotive German triumvirate that is Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, is well documented. Today we have two thirds of the trio, thus the duel of the titans seems an apt sub headline for this rambunctious octet of tailpipes on offer. As Brenwin has alluded above, there is no shortage of power, theatrics and visual assault with this pair – in fact the opposite is true.
The BMW X5M is somewhat of a misnomer, a straight mismatch if you will, as its inherent design defies its dynamic capabilities. It is a lumbering, towering giant that changes direction with verve more akin to a low slung, sports saloon. Granted, I might be pushing it somewhat there, but what the Munich brigade has achieved is deserving of the praise being heaped upon it. That 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 has proven its muscle in both the M5 and M6, which are devastatingly fast projectiles. The X5M is no exception. It is quick, perhaps even bordering on the brink of obscenity, as it somehow leaves the driver sniggering at its capabilities, all the while dispensing with any would-be hot hatch. Alas, even with such an impressive sheet, it is not the one I would happily drive away in.
Enter the Audi RS 6, available only in Avant this time around, and its station wagon silhouette cracks a positive nod with me. Not only does it accentuate the baroque pose of the Ingolstadt carmakers’ RS models, but it also boasts more boot space and has a resolutely better laid out cabin, not to mention weighing in slightly lighter than the Beemer.
That 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 mill remains a peach among its ilk, offering oodles of shove from the get-go, the latter certainly emphasised by the Quattro four-wheel drive system employed beneath. The conventional eight-speed automatic doing duty here may lack the dexterity of a dual clutch unit, but it remains suitably adept, adequately responsive, and reassuringly sturdy. While SUVs continue to be the craze of affluent South African buyers in the premium segment, Audi’s knack of building visually appealing wagons, which are admittedly averted by the majority of South African car consumers, means they remain exclusive entities on the road. And that for me further heightens the prospect of sealing the deal. Simply put, the four-rings is the unanimous winner from my corner of the ring.
Ryan de Smidt says…
Both Audi’s RS6 Avant and BMW’s X5M are incredible machines, both putting down over 400kw onto the tarmac and capable of carrying an average-sized family with relative ease. So how do the two differ from one another? Unsurprisingly, I was drawn to the allure of the Audi, being an owner of a model of the brand. I do however feel that the X5M was a worthy adversary to the almighty Audi, boasting an array of features that may even trump the four-ringed behemoth.
Of course, one is a wagon while the other an SUV, but both share similar traits and appeal to a very similar market – those needing space to haul the kids, and luggage; those wanting to have an engine worthy of producing “supercar-like” power; and those with a large bank account – with both the RS6 and X5M retailing for more than R1.4-million.
In terms of power, both powerplants are simply masterpieces, to say the least, with the RS6 Avant shying slightly by slamming out 412kw onto all four wheels, while the X5M thumps up the power making 423kw on all fours.
BMW’s torque figure sits at 750Nm, while the RS6 pulls in at 700Nm – highlighting that for the family man, both are more than suited to pulling whatever is required of them.
Both models are capable of catapulting the vehicles to the 100km/h mark in under 5 seconds, with the X5M hitting the mark in 4.2-seconds, and the RS6 galloping in at 3.9-seconds. The pair shares a limited top speed of 250km/h.
I do, however, feel that the RS6 is more my style, and definitely seems to have a greater interior space, as well as room in the back for a little more luggage.
In terms of overall cost, the RS6 retails in stock form for R1 465 000, while the X5M starts at R1 708 500. Now I’m no mathematician but a saving of close to a quarter of a million rand makes a difference in my books, and will definitely do so to my bank balance, especially considering that the pair is so closely matched. On the whole, both the Audi RS6 Avant and BMW’s X5M have proved their worth. For me, choosing between the two is purely down to brand favouritism, and my money lies with Vorsprung Durch Technik.
Engine: 4 395cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Power: 423kW between 6 000 and 6 500 rpm
Torque: 750Nm between 2 200 and 5 000 rpm
Fuel consumption: 11.1l/100km (Claimed)
CO2: 258g/km (Claimed)
0-100km/h: 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h
Priced from: R1 708 500
AUDI RS6 AVANT
Engine: 3 993cc, V8,
Power: 412kW between 5 700 and 6 600 rpm
Torque: 700Nm between 1750 and 5500 rpm
Fuel consumption: 9.6l/100km (Claimed)
CO2: 223g/km (Claimed)
0-100km/h: 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h
Priced from: R1 465 500
THIS FEATURE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NOVEMBER EDITION OF SUNDAY TIMES MOTORING.