Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Alfa Romeo Giulia
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
Alfa Romeo Giulia
- It’s not German
- Improved in-cabin feel
- Better value than before
- Fiddly multimedia software
- Limited in-cabin storage solutions
- Only three-year warranty
To say Mercedes-AMG is popular in Australia is like saying the young people are fond of Drake, or that football fans seem to appreciate Ronaldo’s skills.
Per head of population we buy more of the three-pointed star’s go-fast specials than any other country on the globe. Typically, between 15 and 20 per cent of all Mercs sold here are of the AMG variety.
The ‘43’ suffix appeared on C and E Class variants, meaning a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 had been slotted under the bonnet, providing enough grunt for day-to-day enjoyment without the hardcore edge of a big-banger V8.
But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.
Powered by a 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder turbo engine, the 53-series delivers close to 15 per cent more power and a huge dollop of extra torque courtesy of its tricky ‘EQ Boost’ starter/alternator system.
So, has the civility and relative efficiency of Merc-AMG’s only slightly psycho E Class models been maintained, or has another beast been released?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo was poised to rock the established mid-size luxury sedan segment back in 2017 when it launched the Giulia, firing a direct salvo at the big Germans.
Combining drop-dead gorgeous looks with peppy performance was the name of the game for the Giulia, but after arriving with much hype and fanfare, Alfa Romeo doesn’t seem to have conquested as many sales as they had originally hoped.
So far this year, Alfa Romeo has sold just 142 Giulias, well behind the segment leading Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but a new mid-life update hopes to revitalise interest in the Italian sedan.
The refreshed line-up brings in more standard equipment and sharper pricing, but has Alfa done enough to sway you out of a tried and trusted German sports sedan?
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Mercedes-AMG E53 is a supremely refined and satisfying performance/luxury package. For those who want the practicality and style of a high-spec E-Class, with an extra performance boost (but not the full-fat V8 drama) it’s got to be an appealing option. Plus, the high-tech hybrid drivetrain is brilliantly executed and seamless in operation.
Does the E 53 AMG do enough to warrant the hallowed Affalterbach seal of approval? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7.9/10
This is the Giulia Alfa Romeo should have launched back in 2017.
Especially stacked up against its German rivals, the new Giulia is not only more attractive to the eye, but also the hip pocket.
The boost in standard equipment and safety gear is a huge boon for potential Alfa buyers, while no compromises are found in the Giulia’s fun-to-drive nature and peppy engine.
Its weakest aspect might be its average three-year warranty, but if you are looking for a new premium mid-size sedan that stands out from the crowd without any major concessions, the Giulia should be on your watch list.
Keen car-spotters will pick the E 53 courtesy of its ‘twin-blade’ radiator grille (in silver chrome) with black mesh insert in place of the standard E-Class ‘diamond’ version, and a distinctive ‘A-wing’ front apron design.
AMG-specific side sill panels link the front fascia to a rear treatment including a high-set diffuser panel and quad exhaust tailpipes finished in high-gloss (black) chrome.
The interior doesn’t vary dramatically from other high-end E-Class variants, the biggest differences being grippier, leather-trimmed sports seats, dark ash wood trim on the dash, console and doors, plus an ‘AMG Performance’ steering wheel trimmed in nappa leather.
A twin (12.3-inch) screen ‘Widescreen Cockpit’ media and instrument array includes the ability to scroll through an AMG-specific digital display, scrollable through ‘Classic’, ‘Sporty’ and ‘Progressive’ configurations.
Via the AMG menu it’s also possible to call up read-outs including engine and transmission oil temp, acceleration (longitudinal and lateral), engine outputs, turbo boost pressure, tyre temps and pressures, as well the current vehicle set-up.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
Park a brand-new 2020 Giulia next to its predecessor, and you’ll find they look identical from the outside.
Having been on sale in Australia since early 2017, the Giulia doesn’t look like it has aged a day. In fact, we reckon it has gotten a bit better with age, especially in its top-spec Quadrifoglio trim.
With a triangular front grille and the number plate offset to side, the Giulia looks unique relative to anything else on the road, and we appreciate its distinctive styling.
The angular headlights also add to the Giulia’s aggressive and sporty stance, even in its base Sport trim, while the 19-inch wheels help fill the arches and give a sense of a more expensive car.
The handsome look continues to the rear, with the sculpted derriere looking taught and tight like a well-tailored pair of suit pants rather than some ill-fitting, off-the-shelf trousers.
However, we will point out the black plastic on the underside of the bumper on our base Giulia Sport, which looks a tad cheap with only a single exhaust outlet on the left, and a sea of… nothing.
Stepping up to the more expensive (and more potent) Veloce or Quadrifoglio remedies this however, with a proper diffuser and dual and quad outlets respectively.
Combine the stylish exterior with more colour options – like the new 'Visconti Green' – and you can really make your Giulia pop, though we do wish our test car was finished in a more exciting hue.
With this Vesuvio Grey option, the Giulia blends in a bit too closely to the greys, blacks, whites and silvers you usually see on premium mid-size sedans, but all colours aside from white and red attract a $1355 premium.
Inside, much of the interior carries over as before, but Alfa Romeo has moved things a little more upmarket thanks to a few small touches that add up to a big difference.
The centre console area, while not being redesigned, has been given more of a premium makeover thanks to a carbon-fibre-like trim with aluminium and gloss-black highlights.
The shifter, especially, feels great thanks to the dimpled leather design, while other touch points such as the multimedia control, drive select and volume knobs also deliver a weightier, more substantial sensation.
Aside from that, the Giulia retains its premium cabin materials, soft-touch multi-function leather steering wheel and mixed material finish for an elegant and sophisticated interior worthy of a premium European model.
Our test car was kitted out with the standard black interior, but more adventurous buyers can opt for tan or red – the latter of which would definitely be our pick.
Despite availability in sedan, coupe and cabriolet form, the E 53 launch drive program focused exclusively on the coupe and cabrio.
Like all E-Class models the E53 offers plenty of space up front, as well as a generous, lidded console box incorporating multiple USB ports.
A second flip-top section in front of the media controller houses a pair of cupholders, oddments space and a 12-volt power outlet, plus there’s a medium-size glove box, and the doors feature long bins including big bottle holders.
Rear room in the sedan is typically E-Class generous, with three adults across the back seat a genuine option on shorter journeys.
Adjustable air vents are welcome, and a fold-down armrest houses two cupholders and a lidded bin, with another two USB ports provided. Door pockets incorporate bottle holders and there are map pockets on the front seatbacks.
The sedan’s boot capacity is 540 litres, more than enough to swallow a pram and accompanying baby ‘stuff’, or our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres). And the 40/20/40 split-folding seat back liberates yet more space.
Backseaters (two only) in the coupe and cabrio are well catered for. Legroom is surprisingly substantial, although with the roof up, at 183cm, headroom for me was just adequate. With the cabrio’s roof down however, that improved considerably. Worth noting that sensors in the front seats’ adjustment system stop them from hitting a rear passenger’s knees. Nice.
In terms of storage and convenience, there’s a pair of cupholders between the seats, adjustable air vents, map pockets, and some oddments space near the outside armrests.
Boot capacity in the coupe is 425L and 385L in the cabrio, with the rear seat splitting and folding to offer through-loading space. An electrically controlled, retractable separator in the soft-top’s boot defines the space filled by the roof when folded (which still leaves 310L).
Tyres are run-flat on all variants, so don’t bother looking for a spare of any description.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Measuring 4643mm long, 1860mm wide, 1436mm tall, and with a 2820mm wheelbase, the Giulia offers plenty of room for passengers, front and rear.
The sports front seats are an especially pleasant place to be; tight-hugging, well-bolstered and super supportive, meaning no fatigue even after extended driving trips.
Storage solutions though, are somewhat limited.
The door pockets won’t accommodate a bottle of any size thanks to the armrest design, while the two centre cupholders are positioned as such that a bottle will block climate controls.
A generous storage cubby can be found under the centre armrest though, and the wireless charger design lays your device almost vertically in a separate compartment so you won’t scratch your screen.
Glove box size is standard, but the owner’s manual does eat into room a little, while driver’s also have access to another small cubby to the right of the steering wheel.
At least Alfa now includes a handy key fob holder to the left of the shifter? Though this feature becomes redundant with keyless entry and push-button start meaning you more likely just to leave the keys in your pocket.
The rear seats offer plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder-space for passengers in the outboard seats, even when the front seat is set to my 183cm (6'0") frame, but the door pockets are, again, disappointingly small.
I fit adequately in the middle seat, but wouldn’t want to be there for any extended period of time due to the transmission tunnel eating into the footwell.
Rear passengers have access to a fold-down armrest with cupholders, dual air vents and a single USB port.
This is enough for one large and one small suitcase, with a bit of room in the sides for smaller items, while four luggage tie-down points are located on the floor.
The boot also features latches to fold down the rear seats, but given they aren’t spring loaded, you still need to push them down with something long or walk around to the rear seats to flip them over.
Alfa Romeo has not revealed volume with the seats folded down, but we noticed the aperture into the cabin is noticeably narrow and quite shallow.
Price and features
Pricing for the Mercedes-AMG E 53 ranges from $167,129 (plus on-road costs) for the sedan, through $172,729 for the coupe, and $181,329 for the cabriolet.
Then the cabrio is something of an outlier, with the BMW M4 Competition ($165,615) again a smaller but faster and cheaper option. In the hunt for other performance-focused 2+2 convertibles, you’re into the entry-point of Porsche’s 911 line-up with the Carrera Cabriolet ($248,350) representing a close to $70k premium.
All variants are suitably well equipped. On top of the standard performance and safety tech detailed in later sections, the E 53 is fitted with dual-zone climate control, 13-speaker Burmester audio (including digital radio and Apple CarPlay compatibility), keyless entry and start, nappa leather trim, sports seats, ‘AMG Performance’ (flat bottom) sports steering wheel (also trimmed in nappa leather), adaptive LED headlights (plus active high beam), and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Also included are the Widescreen Cockpit display (twin 12.3-inch screens covering multimedia and instruments as well as ‘Linguatronic’ voice control), sat nav, ambient interior lighting (64 colour options), active cruise, a configurable head-up display, electric front seats (heated with memory), wireless phone charging, wood grain interior trim, electric steering column adjust, rain-sensing wipers, and a panoramic sunroof.
All that stacks up well for a contender in this part of the market. You pay the big bucks, you get all the fruit.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
The 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia has been trimmed down from four variants to just three, kicking off with the $63,950 Sport.
The mid-tier Veloce will set buyers back $71,450, while the top-spec Quadrifoglio is $138,950 – both of which have been reduced by $1450 and $6950, respectively.
Though the point-of-entry is higher than before, the newly introduced Sport grade is actually based on the old Super grade with the Veloce pack added in, actually saving buyers a bit of money compared to be before.
As such, privacy glass, red brake calipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, and sports seats and steering wheel are now standard across the range, and all items that you’d expect in a premium and sporty European sedan.
You'll also score heating for the front seats and steering wheel, which are you wouldn't normally see on any price-leading variant, making these features especially noticeable.
Also standard in the Sport is bi-xenon headlights, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, and aluminium pedals and dashboard elements.
Handling multimedia duties is an 8.8-inch screen, though this year the system gains touch functionality to make Android Auto and Apple CarPlay use a little more intuitive.
A wireless smartphone charger is also now standard across the line-up, which will stop your phone’s charge at 90 per cent as to not overheat/degrade your device’s battery.
As tested here, our Giulia Sport is priced at $68,260 thanks to the inclusion of the 'Lusso Pack' ($2955) and 'Vesuvio Grey' metallic paint ($1355).
The Lusso Pack adds active suspension, premium Harman Kardon sound system and interior ambient lighting, while a dual-pane panoramic sunroof can also be optioned for an extra $2255.
Overall, the Giulia is much better value than it was before thanks to its improved equipment levels, especially when stacked up against base versions of its rivals.
Engine & trans
Already used in other AMG models, including the entry-level version of the just-released flagship GT 4-Door, the E 53’s (M256) in-line six is a 3.0-litre all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection and a single turbo, supplemented by an electric compressor (turbo if you prefer) which builds up charge pressure prior to the main turbo coming on song. Turbo lag, be gone!
The EQ Boost starter-alternator is housed in an electric motor fitted between the engine and transmission, driving a 48-volt electrical system to support the additional compressor as well as the car’s traditional 12-volt functions (lights, cockpit, multimedia and other control units) through a DC/DC converter.
Maximum torque (520Nm) is available from just 1800rpm all the way to 5800rpm, with peak power (320kW) taking over at 6100rpm. But the EQ Boost’s hybrid party trick is the ability to drop in a brief full-throttle burst of 16kW/250Nm. Whoosh.
Drive goes to all four wheels via a nine-speed dual-clutch auto transmission and an AMG Performance turned version of Merc’s ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system, using an electro-mechanical clutch to distribute torque between the permanently driven rear axle and variably driven front axle.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Powering the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport is a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine tuned to deliver 147kW at 5000rpm and 330Nm from 1750rpm.
Mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission and driving the rear wheels, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport is claimed to accelerate from 0-100km in 6.6 seconds, while top speed is capped at 230km/h.
Though those outputs might not seem like much in 2020, the driver-focused, rear-drive layout and brisk acceleration time are more than a match for its petrol-powered German counterparts.
Buyers wanting a bit more performance can also opt for the Veloce grade that takes the 2.0-litre engine to 206kW/400Nm, while the Quadrifoglio uses a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 good for 375kW/600Nm.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is line-ball for sedan (8.7L/100km), coupe (8.8L/100km), and cabriolet (9.0L/100km) variants, emitting 199, 200, and 204g/km of CO2 respectively in the process.
Start-stop is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 95RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 66 litres of it to fill the tank.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Officially, the Alfa Romeo Giulia will sip 6.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, but our weekend with the car yielded a much higher 9.4L/100km figure.
Test driving consisted of navigating the tight inner-city streets of Melbourne’s north, as well as a short blast up the freeway to find some twisty country B-roads, so your mileage may vary.
Worth noting the Giulia Sport sips Premium 95 RON petrol, making it a little more expensive to fill up at the bowser.
It only takes a few kilometres behind the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG E 53 to recognise that it fulfils its job description pretty well.
With claimed 0-100km/h acceleration sitting in the mid-4.0sec zone (coupe 4.4sec, sedan/cabrio 4.5sec) it’s fast, but not brutal. It growls without rising to the full-blown roar that’s become the aural signature of the current 63-series AMG V8s.
But don’t take that to mean meek and mild. It’s properly rapid and the sports exhaust, particularly with the drivetrain mapped to the ‘Dynamic Select’ system’s ‘Sport+’ mode leaves you (and everyone in a 200-metre radius) in no doubt that you’re driving something special.
Dynamic Select allows individual calibration of the engine, transmission, suspension and steering. Around town with everything dialled in to ‘Comfort’ the E 53 is as refined and compliant as any other high-spec E-Class.
Despite the standard 20-inch rims shod with low-profile run-flat rubber (245/35 front, 275/30 rear) the ‘AMG Ride Control’ adaptive damping combines with the overall air suspension system to provide excellent ride comfort.
Find a twisting B-road and push into ‘Sport’ or Sport+’ mode and the car’s character changes distinctly. All 520Nm of maximum torque is available from just 1800rpm right up to 5800rpm. And while that’s plenty, pin the throttle and an additional 250Nm (and 16kW), courtesy of the EQ Boost hybrid system joins the party.
Press on and as peak power (320kW) takes over at 6100rpm you’ll notice the horizon is approaching rapidly. The additional electric compressor means power delivery is beautifully linear, and the hybrid boost is undetectable.
The nine-speed dual-clutch auto is as smooth at parking speeds as it is at maximum attack. Manual changes (up and down) are rapid and positive, accompanied by entertaining blips and bangs from the exhaust in the more aggressive drive modes.
The coupe is the lightweight of the trio, weighing in at 1895kg, with the sedan and cabrio sending the needle roughly 100kg further to the right. But despite that not insubstantial kerb weight, and the all-wheel drive set-up, all feel light and nimble for their size.
While the variable steering adjusts seamlessly as lateral forces increase, no matter which mode is selected, road feel is modest at best. But the AWD system shuffles drive to the right wheel without fuss and power down out of quick corners is satisfyingly solid.
With all this performance, on-tap braking is critical, and the standard set-up is perforated and internally ventilated discs all around (370mm front, 360mm rear) clamped by four piston calipers at the front and single piston floating calipers at the rear. After an ‘enthusiastic’ session on the launch drive they remained progressive and strong.
The multi-adjustable sports front seats are comfy when they need to be, and with the side bolsters adjusted inwards, secure and grippy as G-force builds. Top-notch ergonomics complement this satisfying and well resolved dynamic package.
Alfa Romeo Giulia8/10
Like all respected sports sedans, the Alfa Romeo Giulia features a front-engine, rear-drive layout to entice the those who would rather drive than be driven.
The exterior styling of the Giulia certainly promises a sharp, entertaining steer, while the interior touch points do nothing to take away from that potential.
Guide yourself into the snug bucket seat, wrap your hands around the wonderfully sized steering wheel and you will notice that Alfa has built the Giulia for the driver.
The steering wheel is an especially nice touch point and features oversized paddle shifters mounted on the steering column – not wheel – making it nearly impossible to miss a shift even when midway through a corner.
For those that like to use the shifter though, the up/down gear selection is arranged in the preferred back/forwards position respectively.
The adaptive dampers in our test car can also be stiffened up independently of the drive mode selected.
Speaking of which, three driving modes are on offer – 'Dynamic', 'Natural' and 'Advanced Efficiency' (DNA in Alfa-speak) – which change the feel of the car from hardcore to more eco-focused.
With suspension able to be changed on the fly, drivers can have the softest setting on for the bumpy, tram track-laden inner-city Melbourne streets, with the engine in full attack mode to get away from the lights for a cheeky overtake.
It's also a plus that the suspension can be changed from the press of a button on the centre console, instead of usually diving into a whole bunch of complicated menus to tweak and fine-tune certain elements.
Underpinning the Giulia is double wishbone front suspension and rear multi-link set-up, which helps keep things communicative and exciting from the driver’s seat.
Don’t get us wrong, you won’t be ripping drifts or breaking traction in the dry in a Giulia Sport, but the 147kW/330Nm engine offers enough pep to make driving fun.
Push hard into a corner and you will get tyre squeal, but luckily the steering feels sharp and direct, meaning its easy and fun to hunt for apexes even when keeping things under the posted speed limit.
The multimedia system in the Giulia is much improved with the touchscreen functionality to make Android Auto feel a bit more natural, but the 8.8-inch screen does look quite small when buried in the dashboard.
The rotary controller is also better, although the software is still a little fiddly and unintuitive to navigate from page to page, a bugbear likely remedied with more time in the car.
You’d expect any current passenger model wearing the three-pointed star to be on the leading edge in terms of active and passive safety, and the E Class range scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in late 2016.
The E 53’s crash avoidance tech includes ABS, EBD, brake assist, AEB, ESC, traction control, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, fatigue detection, a surround camera system, tyre pressure monitoring, and traffic sign recognition.
And if a crash is unavoidable all models feature dual front and dual front side airbags, a knee airbag for the driver, plus full-length curtain airbags… even a first-aid kit.
The sedan features three top tether points and two ISOFIX child restraint anchor positions across the back seat, with a two-and-two count in the coupe and cabrio.
Alfa Romeo Giulia9/10
Alfa Romeo’s Giulia sedan was awarded a maximum five-star safety rating from ANCAP in May 2018, with testing based on a left-hand-drive model from 2016 in Euro NCAP examinations.
In the adult occupant and child occupant protection tests, the Giulia scored 98 and 81 per cent respectively, dropping points for just ‘adequate’ chest protection of children in the frontal offset test.
As for pedestrian protection, the Giulia notched a 69 per cent score, while the safety assist assessment yielded a 60 per cent result.
Also included at no extra cost on the 2020 Giulia is driver attention alert and traffic sign recognition, with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, automatic headlights and wipers, hill-start assist, lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, and a reversing camera with rear parking sensors carrying over.
According to ANCAP assessment, the Giulia’s AEB functions from 10km/h and works up to 80km/h to help drives mitigate an accident.
But the Giulia misses out on rear cross-traffic alert and an automatic emergency call function.
Mercedes-Benz offers a three-year/unlimited km warranty, with 24-hour roadside assist included for the duration. Not exactly leading edge when you think about Kia at seven years/unlimited km and Tesla’s eight-year/160,000km cover.
Scheduled maintenance for the E 53 is set at 12 months/25,000km, and service plans are offered at silver and platinum levels for up to five years/100,000km.
Alfa Romeo Giulia7/10
Like all new Alfa Romeo vehicles, the Giulia comes with a three-year/150,000km warranty, matching the assurance period of BMW and Audi models, though the Germans offer unlimited mileage.
Service intervals on the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sport are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
The first service will set owners back $345, the second $645, the third $465, the fourth $1065 and the fifth $345, totalling $2865 for five years of ownership.