Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Audi A5
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Sharp looks
- Sophisticated cabin
- No shortage of equipment
- Drive experience can lack excitement
- Tight backseat in Coupe body style
- Three-year warranties are too short
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
Yes, yes, beauty is in the eye of beholder. But I challenge any eye to behold the refreshed Audi A5 and find it anything but beautiful.
In a world in which car design seems to be getting fussier and busier with every new model, the A5 remains a monument to simple lines and sophisticated shapes, both inside and out.
Looks are only part of the story, of course. So the big question is, does the rest of the package stand up? Or is the beauty only skin deep here?
Let's find out, shall we?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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.
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.
It's gorgeous, the A5. There's simply no disputing it. It's elegant, sophisticated, and above all, restrained. There's no look-at-me chintz here, just clean lines, sharp creases and a shapely figure.
Like its A4 sibling, the A5 has been tickled at the front, with a new-look grille, along with a new headlight cluster with redesigned DRLs, and Matrix LED headlights.
The four sharp bonnet creases that fan out from the grille lend the A5 a sense of speed, even when stationary, and we love the way the 19-inch alloys fill the wheel arches. It looks polished, premium and athletic.
Inside, Audi's interior treatment is on-point, from the figure-hugging leather seats to the material choices that span the dash. The big news in the cabin is the inclusion of Audi's new 10.1-inch touchscreen perched above the dash, which isn't just easier to use (in my opinion, at least), but also removes the traditional controls from the centre console.
It means Audi's already fuss-free cabin is even less cluttered, and it's definitely a change for the better.
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.
It very much depends on the model you've opted for, with the Coupe compromising backseat space for exterior style.
The Sportback is easily the most practical of the trio, what with its four doors, comfortable backseat and dimensions that stretch 4757mm in length, 1843mm in width and 1386mm in height, and its 480 litres of boot space.
The Coupe, then, is a two-door design, stretching 4697mm x 1846mm x 1371mm, with 450 litres of luggage space at the rear. It's long, the Coupe, but most of that space is absorbed by the front half of the cabin, wth the backseat reserved for kids.
Finally, the Cabriolet (which we're yet to test) stretches 4697mm x 1846mm x 1384mm, and will deliver the lowest luggage capacity of the lot, at 375 litres.
Elsewhere, though, the A5 range delivers two cupholders up front, with another two in the centre armrest that can deploy to divide the rear seat. Rear-seat riders also get air vents with their own temp controls, USB charge points (joining the two up front) and bottle holders in the doors.
For parents, you'll find a pair of ISOFIX attachment points in the backseat, too.
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.
The cheapest way into an A5 remains the Sportback or Coupe body styles, which will set you back $71,900 with the 40 TFSI engine choice. You can upgrade to the 45 TFSI quattro engine, but doing so will also up the entry point to $79,900. The Audi A5 Cabriolet sits atop the pile, costing $85,400 for the 40 TFSI, and $93,400 for the 45 TFSI quattro.
Happily, all A5s get the S line style treatment, gifting each a sportier look, with a new-look grille and venting adding to the performance-spec style up front.
You also get 19-inch alloys, Audi drive select with five drive modes, three-zone climate (and neck-level heating in the Cabriolet), leather trim, matrix LED headlights, as well as tech-heavy interior highlighted by a new 10.1-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash that controls the cars key audio, navigation and driving settings.
Speaking of the Cabriolet, the three-layer acoustic roof opens in just 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h, with a wind deflector also deployed to help with cabin ambience.
Audi's very cool Virtual Cockpit (a 12.3-inch digital display that replaces the traditional driver's binnacle) is also standard, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Audi says the new model offers 10x the computing power of the outgoing model, owing mostly to connected car features including live traffic, weather reports and fuel pricing, as well as the ability to remote unlock or lock you car from your phone, or pre-plan destinations and send them to the vehicle's nav.
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.
Two choices here, the slightly tongue-twisting 40 TFSI and and 45 TFSI quattro, both of which make use of a 2.0-litre turbo engine tuned for different outputs.
The 45, on the other hand, will give you 183kW and 370Nm, pairing with the same auto gearbox, but this time sending power to all four wheels thanks to the quattro system. The 100km/h sprint drops to 5.8 seconds at its fastest.
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.
Audi reckons the 40 TFSI engine will return 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle, and emit 148g/km of C02. The bigger engine increases fuel use to 7.1L/100km, but lowers the C02 output to 163g/km. Both those fuel numbers are taken from the Sportback.
Both engines also get a new 12V mild-hybrid system said to drop fuel use by up to 0.3L/100km.
Fun tank capacity is either 54 litres or 58 litres, depending on the model.
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.
You'd describe the A5's drive experience as evolved, rather than revolutionary, but to be honest, in a vehicle this competent, that's no small thing.
The hybrid tech is unnoticeable, and so the A5 delivers an on-the-road feel that isn't far away at all from the car it replaces. None are truly fire-breathing, but it feels comfortable and sophisticated, the outside world largely banished from the interior (though the firm-ish ride can send road imperfections into the cabin).
Audi has done a stellar job of making the A5 feel connected to the road below it, and the world around it, without dialling down the comfort factor. The steering, light in its normal setting but firming up as you cycle through the drive modes, is direct, but not twitchy, the ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, the engine (at least, the 45 TFSI we drove on launch) is capable without being ridiculous.
The end result is a predictably competent drive experience, with the A5 delivering in the areas it should, largely before you even notice.
The only downside to all of that, though, is that the experience is so predictable, that there are few surprises, positive or negative, thrown in. It can leave you feeling slightly disconnected from the experience, rather than truly engaged.
Now, a disclaimer, we spent limited time in the A5 on launch, so we'll wait until we get it in the CarsGuide garage before making a final verdict. But I'd be surprised if we liked it any less over a longer period.
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.
Standard safety kit includes eight airbags, parking sensors front and rear, a 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, rear cross-traffic alert, exit warning, and lane keep assist and lane change assist, along with a bevy of airbags, with the A5 range still wearing a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
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.