Buy/Drive/Burn: Big German Luxury Sedans of 1991

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn big german luxury sedans of 1991

They’re large, expensive, and hail from a time when the sedan was king of the luxury pyramid. German exclusivity personified in three flagships — but which will you burn?

BMW 735i

The sporty one. BMW introduced the second generation of its flagship 7 Series model in 1986; forums called it E32. Improvements over the prior version included many more electronic gizmos, additional control over things like traction and climate, and a more refined interior. V8 and V12 engines debuted in this generation, but in 1991 options were limited to cylinder counts of six or 12. Today’s selection is the top-trim 735i with a 3.4-liter inline-six. With 208 horsepower on tap, both manual and automatic transmissions are available. Choose whichever you like.

Audi V8 Quattro

The new boy. Audi decided to get into the full-size luxury sedan game in 1988. It was the first time Audi implemented a V8 in any of its vehicles, and also the first time an automatic transmission was paired to the Quattro all-wheel drive system. Just think, at one point in time all Quattro Audis had manual transmissions. Two different V8s were offered in the V8 Quattro, dependent on when the purchase was made. The introductory 3.6-liter V8 was offered from 1988 to 1993, while the larger 4.2 went into production late in 1991 for 1992 model cars. That means today’s V8 is the smaller one, offering 247 horsepower. Zero to 60 took 9.9 seconds with the automatic, or 7.6 seconds with the manual. Your choice.

Mercedes-Benz 420SEL

The stalwart. 1991 was the final model year for the frankly epic W126 S-Class, as the following year it was replaced by the larger, heavier, and much more complicated W140 version. Launched in 1981, the W126’s impressive decade-long run was punctuated by a variety of engine offerings of inline-six or V8 configurations. 1986 saw major updates to the S-Class line, as well as reconfigured engine offerings. Two V8 engines were offered after ’86: the 4.2 in the 420SEL, and the full-fat 5.5-liter in the 560SEL. Today we reach the lower end of V8, with the ever-conservative Mercedes only offers 201 horses. Hey, at least there are dual airbags. An automatic transmission is the only one on offer.

Three exclusive German sedans, and only one goes home to the garage. Which will it be?

[Images: BMW, seller, Audi]

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2 of 69 comments
  • Durailer Durailer on Apr 26, 2019

    Dad got to play two-thirds of this game back in 2000. That's the year someone rear ended his 1982 Volvo 240 GLT, and his 1990 740 GL (another Swede, not the Bavarian one) was getting on in its years (but barely). He test drove an early 90s 7 series and loved it, but bought an 86 420 SEL on anticipation of worry-free ownership. Once the Benz was parked on his driveway, the younger Swede became the beater. At the time, you'd have to be crazy to consider a 10 year old Audi. The Benz definitely had presence, I can't imagine a Roller of similar vintage would give you that much more quality and luxury for the money. I'd play it the same way he did. Buy: Benz, one of the greatest ever made. Drive: BMW... I don't feel like I'm really driving unless there's a third pedal. Burn: Audi, they hadn't reached their peak yet.

  • Glwillia Glwillia on Apr 27, 2019

    Buy: Benz Drive: BMW Burn: Audi I've never owned any of these but I've had an E34 (1990 535i/5) and a W124 (1994 E420). The W124 was smoother, better built, more comfortable and more powerful but the E34 was more fun in the twisties and vastly easier to work on. Neither was what I would call particularly reliable but I owned them at 15+ years old and well over 150k miles. I now have an E39 (530i sport/manual) and it kind of is the best of both worlds.

  • Analoggrotto So UAW is singling out Ford, treating them slightly better in order to motivate the entire effort. Mildly Machiavellian but this will cost them dearly in the future. The type of ill will and betrayal the Detroit-3 must be feeling right now will be the utter demise of UAW. I just hope that this tribulation is not affecting Mary Barra's total hotness.
  • Redapple2 I guessed they were ~$150,000. Maybe attainable.
  • Redapple2 want one.
  • Redapple2 Brutal business. I should have stayed in Aviation (Boeing, RTX)
  • Lou_BC I don't like the looks of this era of Ramcharger. I prefer the removal top. I would buy 1st or 2nd generation. A 1st generation 1974 with 440 would be amazing. I like the '79's stacked headlights.