Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Audi R8
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Superb dynamics
- Naturally aspirated V10
- Everyday usability
- Where's the advanced safety tech?
- No central media screen
- Not much in the way of cabin storage
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
Supercars can sometimes be seen as the divas of the auto world – delicate, over-the-top, not very good with reality. Well that may be the case for some supercars but not Audi's R8. It's affordable by supercar standards, easy to drive and still very, very fast.
Now the updated R8 has arrived, looking fiercer than ever, but remaining one of the smartest supercar buys on the market. But did you know there are two types of R8? Both have very distinct personalities and I lived with them for two days – in the reality of road works and also ideal country roads.
Here's everything you need to know...
|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.
The Audi R8 V10 RWD and V10 Performance Quattro have their own personalities. I'm a big fan of the lower-powered rear-wheel drive car, but the Performance is the ultimate here with better brakes and that 330km/h top speed. Either way the R8 is a true supercar, but one that doesn't have to be driven gingerly as though something may break off.
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.
The R8, though, looks exactly how an Audi supercar should look – understated, tough and serious. Have you seen that Audi advert with the R8 on a dyno not wearing any pants? That sounds ridiculous but Google it because it sums up what the R8 is – a real car with a raw race car underneath, that's meant to be driven comfortably on the road and hard on a race track and the styling indicates that intent with little in the way of fanfare.
Well, there is that big window at the back which shows off the engine and the 'side blades' that surround the large vents carved into the side of the car to cool the engine.
The latest update has taken the design from the second-gen car which arrived in 2016 and added a new grille, front bumper, door sills and vents in the rear bumper. It's a more angular, sharper, and busier design with more vents and winglets than ever.
The R8 V10 RWD and R8 V10 Performance are close to identical in their styling. You can pick the Performance by its gloss carbon front spoiler, side sills, mirror caps and rear diffuser. The RWD has gloss black elements instead.
Which looks best: the Coupe or Spyder? That's a personal thing, but I reckon race cars need to have a hardtop roof, so it's the coupe for me, please.
Built using the 'Audi Space Frame' which weighs only 200kg, the R8 is 4426mm long and just 1240mm tall, but at 1940mm across it has a wide, planted stance.
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.
The R8 is a two-seater supercar and practicality isn't high on its 'to do' list with limited cabin storage in the form door pockets almost as small as my jeans pockets, two cupholders hiding under a trapdoor in the centre armrest, a hidey hole in front of the shifter containing a wireless charger and two USB ports and the glove box.
As for the boot – there are two: one in the nose with a 112-litre cargo capacity and another behind the mid-mounted engine with 226 litres.
Room for people, well you and a friend, is excellent. I'm 191cm (6'3") tall with a 2.0m wingspan and found the footwell deep and spacious, while head and shoulder room is also good.
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 entry level R8 RWD Coupe lists for $295,000, while the Spyder version is $316,500. The R8 V10 Performance Coupe is $395,000 and the Spyder is $416,500.
It's in my view the best value supercar on the market. The Lamborghini Huracán Evo shares the same 5.2-litre V10, the transmission and the chassis (like Audi it's part of the Volkswagen family) and starts at $460K.
Let's talk features. Coming standard on the R8 RWD Coupe and Spyder are laser LED headlights (new to the R8 for this update), 20-inch cast aluminum wheels (also new), a full leather interior (new) with heated and power adjustable RS sports seats, 12.3-inch instrument cluster, Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker stereo (new, too), sat nav, digital radio, proximity key and wireless device charging (new).
The R8 V10 Performance Coupe gets all of the features above but swaps the wheels for lighter, milled alloy rims, ditches the steel brakes for ceramic (pricey to replace, though), and adds other mechanical extras over the entry car such as Audi's magnetic dampers, plus a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer front swaybar.
Explore the virtual Audi R8
What's missing? A central media screen would be good so your passenger can pick the music or follow the sat nav. Audi calls it a 'driver-focused cabin', but the Huracán has a media screen in the centre console.
I think there's a bit of advanced safety equipment missing, too – but that's in the section down further.
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.
Both obviously have V10 engines, it's a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre petrol unit (so no turbos here), but the RWD makes less power and torque at 397kW and 540Nm, while the Performance produces 449kW and 560Nm.
The V10 is mounted behind the driver's seat but ahead of the rear axle making it mid-engined car. The engine even has its own window and you can see it in there with its face pressed up against the glass.
There are two body styles as well – the Coupe and Spyder (convertible, roadster, just another word for a retractable soft roof). We'll get to the prices in the next section, but let's talk about the more interesting numbers such as top speeds.
The V10 RWD in coupe form can reach 324km/h and the Spyder can hit 322km/h while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder are both a smidge quicker at 330km/h.
Those are all go-straight-to-jail speeds in Australia, so if you're tempted to fact check my numbers then do it on a racetrack. Audi holds excellent track days – I've done them and you'll not only get to drive the R8 as fast as you can, the instructors will help you improve your advanced driving skills, too. Do it, it could save your life.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h is rapid – 3.7 seconds and 3.8 seconds for the V10 RWD Coupe and Spyder respectively, while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder can nail it in 3.2 seconds and 3.3 seconds.
The V10 engine has a cylinder-on-demand feature which can shut down five of the cylinders while cruising on a motorway, say at 110km/h. It's a fuel-saving system, but keep in mind this V10 loves petrol and lots of it – I've hidden that all the way down the bottom of this review.
Shifting gears in all R8s is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
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.
That's like asking how many calories are in this pavlova that I'm about to push into my mouth? Seriously if you're asking then you shouldn't be eating it – or driving the R8.
But just for the record, according to Audi the RWD R8 uses 12.0L/100km in Coupe form and 12.2L/100km in Spyder guise after a combination of urban and open roads, while the AWD R8 of course will use more at 13.4L/100km for both Coupe and Spyder.
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.
A race circuit is the best place to test the performance of an Audi R8. I've been lucky enough to have done this in the past, but for this update of the R8 the Australian launch was held on public roads and included a convoy of RS models such as the RS 6 Avant, RS 7, RS Q3 and TT RS.
Even then I think I was 'stitched up' because I began the day in the R8 V10 Performance Coupe but spent almost the entirety of my allocated time in roadworks at 40km/h before swapping to an RS Q3.
So, while I can't honesty comment about the dynamics on this updated R8 V10 Performance Coupe I can tell you that having driven every iteration of the R8 since 2012 that it's a weapon, with helicopter-like visibility out of that large front window.
If, like me, you think turbos are 'cheating' (superchargers are fine), then you'll love the linear power delivery of the R8's naturally aspirated V10, and while I love front-engined sportscars, nothing beats a mid-engined car for the feeling of balance and lightness in the nose while having the sound of thousands of explosions going off just behind your back.
Having AWD is not just great for acceleration and perfect traction from Audi's quattro system, I think it's a good safety feature in a supercar, and while only your judgements can stop things going pear shaped, the system will be there to help on slippery roads.
The following day was different. I was in the R8 V10 RWD, the country roads were superb and while it wasn't a racetrack it was enough to get a hint of the capabilities of the RWD R8.
While the R8 V10 RWD feels the same to sit in with the same great view, it feels different to drive than its faster sibling, in a good way. First there's the noticeable power difference – more than 50kW and 20Nm less – but also the lack of AWD makes the front end feel more pointable, and the car feel more like a traditional sportscar that pushes from behind rather than pulling from the front. Less power, but more fun.
The RS cars in our test convoy were all awesome machines, but stepping out of even the RS6 Avant and slipping down into the R8 cockpit was like getting into a UFO – it's so far ahead dynamically of any other Audi that all I could do was laugh like an idiot. Corners which were making an RS 7 really struggle, were handled effortlessly by the R8. And in a straight line it's a bullet in a barrel.
The Performance has the better brakes: 380mm ceramic discs with six piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers at the rear. The RWD has steel discs – 365mm with eight piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers in the rear.
Keep in mind if you are planning on track days, you'll find the ceramic discs costly to replace, and beside the stopping power of the steel ones is excellent.
And yet, on pot holed course bitumen the ride is a lot more comfortable than you might think and having driven the Performance in traffic it's a much nicer place to sit than the claustrophobic cabin of a McLaren 570S. You could honestly use the R8 daily.
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.
ANCAP has not tested the Audi R8 so there's no star rating available. What we can tell you is that the R8 has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB, no adaptive cruise control, no rear cross traffic alert, nor blind spot warning, nor lane keeping assistance. That's the reason why the score is so low here.
The R8 does have electronic stability control and ABS, and active roll over protection, plus six airbags, although the Spyder doesn't have curtain airbags.
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.
The R8 is covered by Audi's three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km but unlike other Audi models there isn't a three-year or five-year plan available.