Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Audi RS5
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Tight rear headroom
- Misses V8 growl
- Rear entry/egress
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
This car has some seriously big shoes to fill - think Ian Thorpe size, but bigger. It’s Audi’s new, second-generation RS 5 Coupe, the Bavarian maker’s mid-size performance flagship, sitting above the S5, and on paper it’s a clear step ahead of the model it replaces.
It’s powered by a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 pumping out enough kilowatts to power a small town, and features a new eight-speed Tiptronic auto, sending drive to all four wheels via Audi’s latest generation quattro system.
Sitting on the VW Group’s MLBevo platform, it’s around 60kg lighter, and more fuel-efficient, yet able to blast from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds.
The thing is, the last RS 5 had something this new rocket ship doesn’t; a superbly sonorous, 4.2-litre, naturally aspirated V8 sitting in its nose.
I straight-up loved the out-going RS 5, bonding with it over thousands of kilometres here and overseas. Up and down Europe’s most challenging alpine passes, and in a previous life, knocking over a story where we drove through eight European countries in a single day.
This new RS 5 produces the same number of kilowatts as the old atmo hero, but adds roughly 30 per cent more torque. The question is, can it match or better its older counterpart on that most intangible parameter – charisma?
|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.
While it may not sound as good as the outgoing model, the new RS 5 is blindingly fast, outstanding dynamically and loaded to the gunwales with standard features and tech.
A step ahead on paper, and in reality. It’s a brilliant, and yes, a brilliantly charismatic package.
Has Audi done enough with the new RS 5 Coupe to out-gun its primo performance coupe competitors? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
In developing the look of this car, Audi says its design team took inspiration from the ultra-wide-body Audi 90 IMSA GTO racer from the late ‘80s, driven to glory in the USA by the legendary likes of Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Rohrl.
The RS 5’s cool, confident stance is the result, with the blistered guards, the detail vents clustered with the head and tail-lights, as well as other aero pieces echoing that track weapon.
At just over 4.7 metres long, the new RS 5 is 74mm longer (there’s an extra 15mm in the wheelbase), and a single millimetre wider than the previous RS 5, but it’s still a full 15mm broader across the beam than the current A5 Coupe. The new car also wears a flatter, honeycomb version of the brand’s signature ‘Singleframe’ grille, and sits on bold 20-inch rims.
The interior is luxurious, suitably racy, and black. The multi-adjustable RS sports front seats are trimmed in nappa leather with contrast stitching and quilting on the centre panels.
A typically broad centre console is highlighted by brushed-metal elements with flashes of carbon dialling up the premium look and feel.
The slick, 12.3-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display dominates the view straight ahead, allowing you to switch between screens depending on the mood you’re in and what you want to get up to. While the 8.3-inch hi-res colour ‘MMI touch’ display sits proud of the centre dashtop.
It's a subjective call, but I’m a big fan (no pun intended) of Audi’s approach to the front ventilation outlets, framed within a narrow, chrome-edged band, sweeping confidently across the dash.
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 RS 5 is a classic 2+2, providing generous space for the driver and front seat passenger, with those consigned to the rear still enjoying comfy accommodation, including adjustable ventilation control (with digital display), but tight headroom courtesy of the tapered coupe roofline.
Getting into the back is a moderate struggle, but once behind the driver’s seat, set for my 185cm frame, there’s surprisingly good legroom and decent space for your feet, but sitting fully upright meant twisting my head to an angle that would have any chiropractor rubbing their hands with glee.
Cabin storage runs to a lidded bin between the front seats (with additional space in front), an average size glove box, front-door pockets able to hold standard water bottles, netted map pockets on the front seatbacks, and oddments trays in the rear.
The cupholder count is strong, with two in the front and four in the back, and connectivity runs to two USB ports, an auxiliary-in socket, dual SD card readers, and two 12V outlets. There’s also a wireless charge bay for Qi-enabled devices if you opt for the ‘Technik package’ (more on that later).
Sensor control means the boot unlocks and opens automatically (if the smart key is detected) with a kicking motion under the rear bumper. Load space with rear seats upright is 465 litres VDA (10L more than the outgoing model), and the rear seat backs split-fold 40/20/40 to enhance flexibility and open up extra space for longer or bulkier loads.
There are four cargo tie down points and a luggage net supplied, plus a first-aid kit in a netted cubby on the passenger side, and another netted storage space (taking advantage of the space behind the rear wheel tub) on the driver’s side. The spare is a space saver.
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.
Cost of entry to the Audi RS 5 Coupe club is $156,600 (before on-road costs); exactly $900 less than the most recent price for the superseded car.
And what’s more, according to Audi, the vast majority of first-gen RS 5 Coupe buyers hit the options list hard, to the tune of around $24k-worth of extras on average (some people would buy another small car with that cash).
So, to surprise and delight prospective buyers of this new version, a whole lot of extra fruit has been piled onto the car’s standard equipment list… and yes, it’s loaded.
Headline inclusions are three-zone climate control air (with ventilated glove box), ‘Dynamic Ride Control’ (with adaptive damper control), LED headlights (including LED DRLs), the nappa leather trim (door and side panel trim inserts in Alcantara), plus a panoramic sunroof (electrically tilting and opening, with electric sun shade).
Then, the RS sport front seats are a story in themselves. Electric adjustment (with memory for the driver) is a given, but they’re also heated, feature pneumatic side bolster adjustment, electric lumbar support, a massage function, and manual extendable thigh support.
But wait, there’s (a lot) more. The base price also includes an extended upholstery package, with the lower part of the centre console, door armrests and door pull handles trimmed in ‘man-made leather’, adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’ (including traffic-jam assistant and distance indicator), keyless entry and start, heated, folding and auto dimming exterior mirrors (with memory), plus LED tail-lights with dynamic (scrolling) indicators.
There’s also privacy glass (dark tinted rear and rear side windows), a headlight washer system, an RS sport exhaust (with gloss black oval tailpipes), an anti-theft alarm (with interior monitoring, tow-away protection and tilt sensor), interior ambient lighting (with 30 selectable colours and five colour profiles), a frameless, auto-dimming interior mirror, plus door-sill trims with aluminium inlays and illuminated RS emblems.
Okay, deep breath. Also included are ‘Park assist’ (helps steer the vehicle into parallel or perpendicular spaces), 360-degree cameras (four wide-angle cameras covering the area immediately around the vehicle for easier manoeuvring), auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, the ‘Virtual Cockpit’ (digital configurable colour instrument cluster), stainless-steel-finished pedals, and a flat-bottom, multifunction RS sport leather steering wheel.
And now we get to the multimedia, including ‘Audi connect’ (Wi-Fi hotspot and Google services), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a Bang & Olufsen ‘3D Sound System’, with no less than 19 speakers, and 755 watts delivered via a 16-channel amplifier.
It also features DAB+ digital radio, ‘MMI navigation plus’, including an 8.3-inch high-res colour display, 10 GB flash memory, and integrated voice control.
That’s a motherload of stuff, and doesn’t even consider the laundry list of standard active and passive safety tech covered in the safety section below.
If all that isn’t enough, there are a series of individual options on offer, like a carbon-fibre roof ($4900), ceramic brakes ($11,900), and milled-finish 20-inch alloys ($1600). Or feature bundles, including the ‘Technik package’ (colour head-up display, ‘Matrix LED’ headlights, and more), and ‘RS Design package’ (‘Audi phone box light’ wireless charging for Qi devices, an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, extra leather, lots of red stitching, and multiple RS logos).
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.
The RS 5 Coupe’s 2.9-litre V6 is based on the S4’s 3.0-litre unit, featuring a shorter stroke, and two turbos rather than a single, twin-scroll unit.
It’s an all-alloy design, featuring direct injection, variable inlet valve adjustment, continuous camshaft adjustment, and drive-by-wire throttle control.
With the turbos sitting inside the engine’s 90-degree V, the distances from the exhaust side to the turbos and then from the turbos to the inlet side are short, so they spool up quickly and boost power rapidly.
Maximum torque of 600Nm (+170Nm) is available from just 1900rpm all the way to 5000rpm, with maximum power of 331kW taking over from 5700 to 6700rpm (the latter number being the rev ceiling).
The transmission is an eight-speed auto, taking over from the first-gen RS 5’s seven-speed dual-clutch because of the new car’s additional torque.
It feeds power to all four wheels via the latest iteration of Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, with drive normally distributed 40/60 front to rear, but able to go as much as 85 per cent rear and 70 per cent front, with torque vectoring via the ESC system, and drive managed by a self-locking centre diff, and an electro-mechanical sport diff at the rear.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.8L/100km, the RS 5 emitting 199g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over 500km of twisting, central Tasmanian roads on the launch drive program, we averaged a dash-indicated 12.4L/100km, which represents some intense periods of ‘spirited’ driving, with a best of 11.9L/100km recorded on one slightly more sedate 120km city and outer-urban section.
You’ll need 58 litres of 98RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
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.
First impressions are dominated by the V6 twin-turbo engine’s mountainous torque. In fact, it’s less a peak and more of an imposing plateau, with 600Nm available across a broad spread from 1900rpm to 5000rpm.
Maximum power takes over from 5700 to 6700rpm, so from go to whoa there’s monumental thrust lurking under your right foot. Audi claims 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, which is six tenths faster than the previous V8, with the RS 5 able to surge on to an electronically controlled top speed of 250km/h (280km/h with the limiter optionally removed). This car is a rocket.
The eight-speed auto is smooth yet quick and positive. And in terms of the speed and definition of shifts, you’re not really losing anything relative to the seven-speed dual-clutch in the old RS 5.
Suspension is a five-link design front and rear, the first-gen RS 5 using a trapezoidal link set-up at the back. This car’s lighter engine (a hefty 31kg down) improves balance with less weight on the front axle improving steering response and agility. Even at 1.7 tonnes, the car feels agile, planted, and puts its power down with reassuring authority. Damping is outstanding.
Rubber is high-end Hankook Ventus S1 evo2s, and despite their 20-inch size, they are surprisingly compliant and quiet. And speaking of noise, the previous car’s atmo V8 was raucous music to any performance enthusiast’s ears, and somehow Audi’s managed to tune in its characteristic, guttural growl for this V6, mainly using flaps in the exhaust. Not quite as free and angry as the V8 it replaces, but satisfyingly gruff all the same.
The engine and exhaust noise won’t be an issue if you’ve never heard the old one. This car sounds great, and the mid-range is so beautifully meaty, that on a twisting B-road a smile naturally appears on your face.
‘Drive Select’ allows tuning of the engine and gearbox, suspension, sport diff and exhaust. But beware the ‘Dynamic’ suspension mode, if you have fillings they’re likely to rattle free. Best left for track days.
The (electro-mechanical) steering feels great, with linear response, and road feel is also good. Overall, the RS5 Coupe delivers a truly involving drive experience.
The brakes are pretty much professional grade, with big six-piston calipers up front and two-piston floating calipers at the rear. Rotors are ventilated and perforated all around (375mm front / 330mm rear).
If you’ve got a lazy 12 grand burning a hole in your pocket you can add the carbon-ceramic package, but the standard brakes are fantastic, and you’d have to be a dedicated track-day fanger to need them.
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.
The RS 5 Coupe doesn’t leave much on the table when it comes to active and passive safety.
Attention assist, ‘Audi pre-sense city’ (with AEB and pedestrian detection), ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and Brake Assist are all standard.
There’s also a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, adaptive cruise control (including a distance indicator and speed limiter), active lane assist, ‘Audi parking system plus’ (front and rear with visual display), ‘Audi pre-sense front’ (provides collision mitigation up to 250km/h), blind-spot warning, collision-avoidance assist, rear cross traffic assist, turn assist (monitors oncoming traffic when turning right at low speeds), an exit warning system (detects cars and cyclists when opening doors), and auto high beam.
And if all that’s not enough to help you avoid a crash, there are six airbags on board (front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front passengers, and head-level curtain airbags for front and rear).
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.
Audi provides a three year/unlimited warranty, with three years paint cover, and a 12-year rust perforation guarantee. ‘AudiCare’ 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
The recommended service interval is 15,000km/12 months, and the ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plan’ is available to cover scheduled servicing for three years/45,000km (whichever comes first).