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The 1999 S-Class vs BMW E38

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By MUSTAFA ZIRABA

Posted  Thursday, March 7  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

The W140 saw the S-Class grow in its proportions; more technology and features were added due to product evolution and through competition. A The BMW E38 models were offered with either a five-speed automatic or manual transmission.

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A 1997 BMW 750iL is given to James Bond by Q in the movie Tomorrow Never Dies. BMW 750iL (the stretched version, noted by the “L” in 750iL) is a four-door, as opposed to the sexier two-door Z3 seen in Golden Eye. A bullet-dodging Bond operates this car from the backseat, lying on his side, with a remote control that doubles as a mobile phone.

The car doesn’t make it out alive in the movie though. It takes a memorable dive off a seven-story parking garage and crash lands onto an Avis car rental office. Why the long introduction, well the Beemer is harder to come by in Uganda compared to its obvious challenger the Mercedes Benz S Class a.k.a W140 in Mercedes speak. E38 is the BMW lingual. Both cars are old German flagship luxury sedans. Even though the E38 is the better driver’s car, it just doesn’t ooze “tank, bank vault, classic, overbuilt” the way the Benz does. Nonetheless, the BMW is timeless and will be looked at as a classic.

In fact many commented that it looks better than the generation that came after. On the other hand, the Mercedes W140 is eternally elegant, quintessentially German, and as a general sentiment the world over, the very last Mercedes to be grossly over-engineered just for the sake of it. Perhaps it is the car where cost-cutting simply never entered the design team’s lexicon. For many there you cannot be on the fence on this one, you either go BMW or Mercedes from the get go. For many car people, the sight of either car invokes a special sentiment of “yes they don’t make them like they used to anymore”. For this head to head we shall weigh up the 1999 models of Mercedes Benz S320 and the comparable BMW 735i.

Exterior
Both cars are big and exude that German presence in your rear view mirror. Most people agree that the BMW sleek and classically styled body is easier on the eyes. Just like the Beemer which almost resembles a stretched 3 Series at the front, the Mercedes looks like an XXL size up from its smaller brothers in the Mercedes stable of the time.
For styling, the Beemer gets a win for sportier look while the Merc gets a plus simply for class. In fact ordinarily, I am not a big Mercedes fan but will always give them credit where credit is due, no door ever made slams better, more solidly, or more tightly than a W140 door.
When you slam that door, it sounds like the car has been hermetically sealed, giving you the desired reassurance.

Interior
In 2013, both cars shall have aged interiors. While this might not bother some, looking at newer offerings from both manufacturers might change one’s perception. Again here it is really an acquired taste. In both cars you shall find sumptuous leather fittings coupled with wood panels, real wood that is. Interior space is generous on both cars with the Merc taking the prize for the president’s car. It is sort of designed or gives the impression that you ought to be driven rather than drive it.

Performance
By virtue of the target market for these cars, their engines perform superbly well and are naturally big just to typically carry around all that weight.

The BMW presented the 3.5 Litre V8 producing 233 horsepower 345 Newton metres of torque while the Mercedes has the 3.2 Litre inline 6 producing 228 horsepower and 320 Newton-meters of torque. If that means anything know that for a car this old and this size you will watch your fuel gauge literally move in traffic.

Reliability
Both have been known to have sporty issues of some sort. I do feel more confident with the reliability of the E38 over the W140. But a good and well maintained Merc isn’t bad either, just as long as you know its failure spots and attend to them faster before they actually fail.

Generally both cars share the same common failures such as sensors, regulators and door lock actuators. Reliability goes hand in hand with maintenance, and also depends on the car you are buying.
Some cars are better kept than others. Of course there are always items that need addressing, or might need attention, as long as there is no big ticket items that are wrong, such as engine leaking, transmission slipping, bad suspension etc. It is really a tie in this department, however, a plus would sway towards the Benz simply because it would be easier to find replacement parts.

Value
Face value, both cars are more car than many cars on the road today. This is the kind of car for the people who know exactly what they are getting into, the people who shall stomach whatever repair gremlin that might surface.
These are cars that shall make you praise German engineering yet at times detest the reason why you ever acquired the car. To me, these cars are the pinnacle of German car engineering. The newer ones have nicer engines but lack the class, luxury and prestige of the old ones.
People who owned Mercedes Benz and BMWs in the ‘80-90s know what I am talking about. It is a sad shame that quality and reliability which set both companies apart from the competition had to be sacrificed.

As most car enthusiasts would agree, the battle between the S Class and the 7 Series with the Audi A8 and Lexus LS chipping in once in a while has raged on for ages. While you might have a clear winner either way for the latest models, the W140 and E38 are both super cars, but one happens to be a Mercedes, while the other is a 100 per cent BMW, one of the best ever. We weren’t able to get prices