Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Audi S8
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Technical extravaganza
- Elegant looks
- Punchy V8
- Tricky to find a space big enough
- Short 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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
Big sedans are not in vogue at the moment and huge luxury sedans were on the way down before the humble Commodore and Falcon departed the upper end of the sales charts. The Germans, who have always done a spectacular job of these flagship sedans, cheerfully persist with these cars.
|Engine Type||4.0L 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.
The S8's existence is a source of joy for me because it's not a huge SUV. Yes, it's a huge sedan but it's a reminder that the technological flagship is alive and well, at least in Germany. And the important thing about these cars is the way the toys filter down through the rest of the range. That used to take years but we're seeing this cool stuff a lot more quickly, right down to the A1.
The S8 punches, and punches hard in this rarefied part of an already shrunken section of the market - the twin-turbo V8 matches its German rivals, it's lighter and it's as well-stacked as any of the three. What it doesn't do, however, is shout about itself the way the other two do. It's the incognito choice.
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 sheetmetal is obviously very restrained given it's an Audi first, and secondly, it's just not done to go wild in this part of the market.
It's an A6 that's joined a gym, but didn't join that weird gym with men that can't run after you when you insult them (don't ask how I know this). Rolling on 21-inch wheels as standard, you can go up to massive 22s if you so choose.
The A8 created a subtle redirection of Audi's passenger car look, with the updated A4 and A6 both picking up on the horizontal bar between the rear lights and the huge grille framed by family lights with signature DRL patterns. The S8 builds on that with subtle S cues but nothing even vaguely shouty.
The interior acreage - or 'cabin', if you will - is very comfortable, but you already knew that. The multi-screen layout was first seen in the A8 and has now found its way into A7, Q8 and Q7 and is, as ever, brilliant to look at and use.
The MMI updates that have found their way into other cars are present and correct. Like the exterior, it's very restrained but not to the point of sparse minimalism, despite the lack of switches and buttons.
I really don't like the steering wheel, though, and I can't put my finger on why. It certainly isn't especially sporty-looking but I wonder if the standard flat-bottomed S wheel just looked stupid.
The materials are beautiful and everything fits together perfectly.
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 cabin is clearly built with rear seat passengers in mind, with rear leg and headroom configured for those continent-crossing drives.
The S8 has plenty of comfort for two rear seat passengers and a few amusing options to while away the hours in traffic or on the autobahn.
That doesn't mean the front seat passengers are in purgatory, with huge but supportive seats adjustable in all conceivable directions.
Front and rear rows score a pair of cupholders and bottle holders while the boot is a handy, if not awe-inspiring, 505 litres.
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.
For $260,000 there is a lot to get through, as there is on the less sporty A8. Start with huge 21-inch alloys, 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo, panoramic sunroof, matrix LED headlights with laser lights, soft-close doors, acoustic glazing, leather trim, S front seats, extra leather over the A8, Alcantara headlining, carbon inlays, four-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, 'Virtual Cockpit' with S mode, and a tyre repair kit.
You also get active suspension, a sport version of the 'quattro' all-wheel drive system (with a sport differential), and a walloping great twin-turbo V8 to get you moving.
A massive touchscreen on the centre stack (familiar in Q8, A7 and Q7) hosts Audi's 'MMI plus' system, which is very good and does away with the console-mounted rotary controller. It also has wireless Apple CarPlay to go with the console-bin wireless charging pad. Android Auto is still USB. 'Audi Connect plus', now in full-featured glory, is also along for the ride.
Another technical highlight is the active noise cancelling which is meant to reduce the noise in the cabin the same way noise cancelling headphones do.
There's a clever rear seat remote control, which is a little detachable tablet to allow those who are being chauffered to faff around with various settings.
Our car had the $13,900 'Sensory Package', which adds a 1820-watt B&O 3D sound system with 23 speakers, electrically adjustable outer rear seats along with heating, cooling and massage function, and full leather.
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.
That's a lot, even for this big bruiser. Obviously, being an Audi S-car, it has quattro all-wheel drive, which is fed by an eight-speed ZF automatic. Which is in everything now. Well, just about.
That huge torque figure is available between 2000rpm and 4500rpm while peak power arrives at 6000rpm. The 0-100km/h sprint is despatched in - gulp - 3.8 seconds.
As it's riding on the MLB platform, the mild hybrid system is a 48-volt set-up. A lithium-ion battery in the boot takes charge from the belt alternator/starter, which means the S8 can coast at higher speeds with the engine off and also cut out at 22km/h and under in traffic.
The system can also add up to 60Nm of torque in the right conditions for up to six seconds, and if it happened for me, I didn't notice it.
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.
The 10.5L/100km official figure is, shall we say, optimistic. The launch drive was mostly highway so there's no real information to be gleaned from that, so we'll have to wait for real world fuel figures.
I'd say 12-13L/100km is achievable if you don't like having fun, in which case, the lesser A8 is probably for you.
Audi says the MHEV system saves 0.8L/100km with an early cut-out for the stop-start and the ability to coast on the highway for over half a minute at a time.
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.
Driving any of the cars in this segment is a rare treat, whether it's the 'entry level' diesel or this top of the heap sports sedan. My day with the S8 was filled with the usual surprise and delight that only these tech-packed cars can deliver.
Heading out of the Sydney CBD in 'Comfort' mode, the car scans the road ahead and adjusts the active suspension accordingly. You already know it has active suspension because when you pull the door handle, the car lifts by 50mm to make it a bit easier to get in.
The suspension's party trick is flat-topped speed bumps - drive at one, brake a little and sense the way the body feels like it stays exactly where it is in the air but the suspension almost completely flattens the speed hump.
It's uncanny and almost unnatural, with just the tiniest change in altitude and no noise from the suspension.
It also manages the terrible narrow lanes of CBD thoroughfares with ease, the lane keep system letting you know if you're straying.
On to the motorway and you get a feel for its crushing performance. You won't hear much, though - the stereo's noise-cancelling system shuts out almost all tyre noise and consistent wind noise is largely banished, too.
I'm going to admit I gasped when I found some corners. Active suspension bodes well for the tricky stuff, as does the all-wheel steering. Both are exceptionally clever systems for making the car feel a lot smaller in town and in car parks but they're also really good if you want some fun.
But the way the rear-wheel steer adds agility to such a big car is hilarious and clever. While you can't quite chuck it around - and really, you're not buying an A8-sized car for that kind of nonsense - brisk progress is far from intimidating.
Now, obviously, a Ford Fiesta would drive away from the S8 in the really tight stuff but it would take some time to properly shake it. The colossal torque from the V8 hurls even this two-tonne-plus limo out of the corners in a most satisfactory manner.
It's surprisingly agile for a machine more than five metres long and two metres wide. If your passengers are corner enthusiasts, you'll all be having fun in near silence. It's oddly engaging to be moving at pace in such a hushed cabin.
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 S8's considerable safety equipment list includes nine airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (up to 250km/h), reverse cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, various collision mitigation and protection systems, exit warning, lane keep assist, active cruise control and on, and on, and on.
The rear seat's centre airbag is terribly clever, popping up between passengers to stop you knocking heads. Another clever trick is the way the car detects a side impact is about to happen, boosting the height of the side about to cop it to try and get the sills to take more of the impact, rather than the door.
Given the relatively niche status of the A8, let alone the S8, there is no ANCAP crash test or safety rating. One imagines given the ton of safety gear a five star rating is all but assured. Even the US IIHS gave the A8 a miss.
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 continues to fail to match Mercedes move to a five year warranty, sticking with three year/unlimited kilometre cover. BMW is still doing it too, so maybe Ingolstadt and Munich are playing chicken.
You can get a five-year service plan for the S8, coming out at $3990 for the duration.