Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Audi TT
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- 294kW five-cylinder engine
- Great dynamics
- Decent boot for the segment
- No AEB
- Four star 2015 ANCAP rating
- No central media screen
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
When the Audi TT first arrived in 1998 it looked cute… seriously cute, like a car-version-of-a-koala cute. Then over the next couple of decades it grew out of that cuteness into something more menacing looking and the RS versions were well, Google 'drop bear' and you're pretty much on the money.
Now the new TT RS is here looking more grown up and angrier than ever, but does it have the mechanical mumbo to match the aggro appearance? Does it have back seats? Or even a boot? Could you drive one every day without buying your chiropractor a new Porsche? Actually, why wouldn't you just by a Porsche yourself, I mean a 718 Cayman S costs about the same?
Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.5L 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 Audi TT RS is iconic for its design and should be heaped with praise for its dynamic ability, it's also more practical than many of its rivals offering back seats and a good-sized boot for the class. But despite this latest update the TT RS has fallen behind in advanced safety technology and cabin equipment such as the lack of a media screen.
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.
Let's start with the looks, seeing as I went on about them so much in the introduction.
This update has seen changes in all the places you'd expect a facelift to cover. There's a new front-end design with a new mesh grille, even larger supercar-like air intakes, a redesigned front splitter and sleeker headlights.
There are also new side skirts, while the rear of the car has more contoured styling and a beefier diffuser.
The tough styling is part of what sets an RS model apart from its more domesticated siblings in the range. There are also the wheels - regular TTs come standard with 18- or 19-inch alloys, the TT RS has 20-inch rims with red RS brake calipers. If you're still uncertain if you're looking at a TT RS then you can be sure you are if it has a fixed rear wing.
Then there's RS engineering which we'll get to in the engine and driving sections. But let's dive into the cabin which has also been updated with a new RS steering wheel, there's the leather RS seats, with the door and console trimmed in leather and aluminum with carbon twill inlays.
The lack of a central media screen means all media, phone and nav menus and displays can only be viewed on the digital instrument cluster. Audi calls this a driver-focused cockpit, I call it marketing spin. I mean a Porsche 911 has a central media screen and you don't get much more of a driver-focused car than that.
I do like the air vents which have the climate control modes within them. I also like that there are back seats – but more on the practicality later.
The TT RS looks bigger in photos than it really is. End-to-end it's only 4191mm long and just 1344mm tall but at 1832mm 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 TT RS is a four-seater coupe with a hatch tailgate.
I'm 191cm (6'3") tall and there is no way I can sit behind my driving position, but my size is irrelevant here - there's almost zero legroom back there and not even small children are going to have enough space.
Yes, the TT RS isn't a family car, but at CarsGuide we rate all cars for practicality and spaciousness as well as what they're like to drive. That said the TT RS is more practical and spacious than a Porsche Cayman and the BMW Z4 which don't have rear seats at all.
The cargo capacity of the TT RS's boot is 305 litres, which isn't bad at all.
Cabin storage isn't good. The door pockets are small, the centre console bin is only big enough for a wallet but the hidey hole under the dash is useful.
That hidey hole also has a 12V outlet, a USB port and a wireless charger.
This is an obvious point, but the TT RS is low to the ground. The good news is the doors are large and the bubble-like roofline means I never hit my head on the A-pillar as I have with many sports cars.
That roofline also means headroom is good for the driver and co-pilot, although, again, your friends in the rear seat are going to have another reason not to invite you over any more.
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 TT RS lists for $134,900. While that makes it the most expensive TT, when it comes to horsepower, bang for your buck is excellent compared to Porsche's 718 Cayman S which lists for $140,590 and has 257kW.
The 718 Cayman GTS matches the TT RS's 294kW but costs $172K. That said, the BMW Z4 has 285kW and lists for $127,900 and while Mercedes-AMG doesn't really have a TT RS rival it does have the A45 S with 310kW and a list price of $93,600. Also, in that price range is the Z4's Toyota twin – the Supra with 250kW for $94,536. Don't scoff – it's a superb driver's car.
Let's get back to the TT RS. What comes standard? Features include 20-inch seven-spoke 'matt titanium-look' alloy wheels with red RS brake calipers, RS sport suspension with magnetically adjustable dampers, there's the RS sports exhaust system, privacy glass, leather upholstery, a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker sound system, wireless charging and 12.3-inch instrument cluster.
The standard RS seats are Nappa leather, the front ones are heated and power adjustable, there's the leather RS steering wheel, proximity key, front and rear parking sensors, Matrix LED headlights and dual-zone climate control.
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 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the TT RS is one of my favoruite Audi powerplants and calls the RS 3 and RS Q3 home, too. It's loud, energetic and churns out a whopping 294kW of power and 480Nm of torque. That's enough to get the TT RS from 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds.
Is the engine in the front or the back? Not such a silly question when you look at the design of the car and you're new to TTs, but the engine is in the front.
It's not the most powerful engine in the RS model line-up, but I can tell you having driven the TT RS back-to-back with Audi's R8 super car it's one of the most fun powerplants.
You can mash the accelerator pedal on a straight bit of road and not fear that the TT RS will snap and bite you – it's not too much power in that it's controllable with superb all-wheel drive traction.
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.
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.
Well you already know I love that five-cylinder engine – seriously you could put it in a loaf of bread, and it'd probably be awesome to drive.
Yes, sure the front end in the TT RS felt a bit heavier than I remembered and the nose didn't have that light pick-up-and-point feeling many sports cars have, but on the hill climb section of the test route especially, this coupe was seriously adept through the switchbacks.
Our convoy of test cars included everything from the Audi R8 and new RS Q3 to the RS 7 and RS 6 Avant motherships. And while nothing nails a great road like the R8, the TT RS was eating up the twists while the RS 7 and RS 6 freight trains were struggling with the physics of mass, size, and velocity in those tight corners.
The TT RS felt tight, stable, but agile as it scampered and weaved its way up hills. I'd like the steering to have more feel. Still there's enough feedback through the cabin and the seat to give the driver a good connection with the road.
Is it comfortable to drive? No. I found the standard RS seats too snug for me (to be fair I'm not race-car driver petite), and the ride over the typical Aussie course bitumen and pot-holed country roads made the cabin shake and rattle, along with my bones.
The ride comfort though is what you can expect out of a sports car like this and it's another reason why the TT RS is more than just a sporty coupe with red brake calipers. There's the RS sports suspension with magnetic adjustable dampers, the RS sports exhaust system and big brakes – 370mm discs on the front with eight piston calipers and 310mm discs at the rear which slow things down super quickly.
If you are after something less 'hardcore' there's the TT S or consider the RS Q3 small SUV which has the same five-cylinder engine and can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.5 seconds, but has softer suspension for a comfier ride, while being dynamically impressive in the corners. Oh, and you'll have way more room inside, too. Let's talk about that.
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 gave the Audi TT a rating of four stars out of a maximum of five when it was tested in 2015. The level of child occupant protection was insufficient for a five-star rating and according to the ANCAP report this was mainly due to the limited space in the rear seat.
There are two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor mounts for child seats in the second row.
Explore the virtual Audi TT RS
Compared with most new cars the TT RS has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB or adaptive cruise control, nor is there rear cross traffic alert, but there is blind spot warning and lane keeping assistance.
The TT RS has electronic stability control and ABS, and emergency brake assist (this isn't AEB). The safety features in that sentence haven't been mentioned in one of my reviews in years, and that's because there's not much else for me to list, apart from airbags which only cover the front passengers.
This lack of safety equipment especially for a car which lists for $135K is the reason why the TT RS has scored poorly in this section.
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 TT RS 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 with a three-year plan ($2320) or five-year plan ($3420) available.