Four-wheel drive is usually one of the first things to consider in a prospective SUV. Additional traction features like a limited-slip differential are a layer of icing on the cake. But here’s an interesting question: Can luxury sedans perform as well as SUVs? Well… now we might have an answer to that question.
Carwow’s Mat Watson took three of the most popular sedans from the early 2000s, and it BMW 7 series, Mercedes Benz S-Class and Lexus LS off-road to test traction, climbing power, and more. As you can already tell, this is not just any sedan comparison. It’s an apt off-road comparison of luxury sedans. So really, we want to see if you can go off-road with a luxury sedan. After all, who said you couldn’t?
Watch as these sedans battle for the top spot in the off-road luxury sedans challenge.
Introducing every luxury rider
The contenders for this off-road luxury sedan were the 2001 BMW 735i (7 Series), the 2000 Lexus LS 430, and the 2001 Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI.
Each of these cars produces more than 200 horsepower. Equipped with a 3.2-liter V6 diesel engine with 200 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque, the BMW has a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V8 producing 270 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque, and the Lexus LS has a 4.3-liter V8 engine With 280 horsepower and 308 pound-feet of torsion. All models direct power to the standard rear-wheel drive system via automatic gearboxes. The Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI and Lexus LS have five-speed transmission while BMW has a six-speed automatic transmission.
As if that wasn’t really that interesting, there was a problem: Each of these luxury sedans costs £1,000 on the used car market.
And what about the idea? If you plan to go off-road in luxury, you don’t need to buy an expensive SUV. Alternatively, you can spend as little as £1,000 on an old luxury sedan. In each round, the car that finished first gets 3 points, the second car gets 2 points, and the last car gets 1 point.
Climbing, traction and pulling force
The first challenge tested the sedans’ traction by having them rise to what appears to be a 15-foot-high on a 35% steep slope. In this challenge, it was all about the car that would provide the most power and traction to take the climb. The Lexus LS 430 came first, offering better climbing power. BMW came in second, and Mercedes came in last.
For the second challenge, all the cars passed through a dirt track covered with mud and grass, to test the vehicles’ traction. BMW won this challenge, delivering better traction and more ground clearance. Mercedes-Benz came in second place. The Lexus LS had the worst traction, slipping everywhere.
The next challenge involved driving vehicles up and down two steep slopes, to see which car would pull itself up the slope without veering off the ground. Thanks to the higher torque, Mercedes-Benz carried itself on the slopes better. Although the Lexus landed twice at the top of the slope, it had better ground clearance than the BMW, which skidded all over the place.
Articulated chassis, suspension, sliding ramp
On the next run, the cars drove down a muddy track with deep potholes to test how well their suspension system was performing. This was an easy win for the Lexus who finished first and the Mercedes who came second. Both of these vehicles have height-adjustable air springs. BMW, on the other hand, packs coil springs and adaptive hydraulic dampers, which obviously weren’t made for tough terrain.
The next round took the vehicles on another steep slope. But instead of driving to the top, the sedans walked on the side. This was a way of figuring out which car would carry itself best on a side slope, with potentially some wheels off the ground. The BMW stopped after coming off the slope and struggled to climb the next slope, throwing it last. Mercedes won the downhill tour.
The final round drove the vehicles through a heavily eroded dirt road, which led to a deep muddy spot. Thanks to the ground clearance and a 4.3-liter V8, the Lexus was able to get through the mud unscathed, other than a few bruises on the thresholds. Pushing BMW off the last and most muddy part of the track, Mercedes itself broke down, requiring a towing.
And the winner is…
In all, the Lexus LS 430 won, scoring 14 points in total. Mercedes-Benz came in second with 11 points with a stop. BMW came in last place with 10 points.
So, that’s right. You can go off-road in a luxury sedan. But to do this, you will need a sedan with more power, higher ground clearance, as well as good traction and suspension.