Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS BMW M3
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Dynamic performance
- Standard features
- Polarising grille design
- Patchy wireless CarPlay
- Three-year 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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
You could argue the BMW M1, a stunning wedge of late ‘70s Giorgetto Giugiaro design, first inserted the Bavarian maker’s 'M' performance brand into the public consciousness.
But there’s a second, more enduring alpha-numeric BMW nameplate, that’s more likely to pass the person-in-the-street word-association test.
‘M3’ is synonymous with BMW performance, from touring car competition around the globe, to more than three decades’ worth of superbly engineered and entertainingly dynamic road cars.
Read more about the BMW 3 Series
The subject of this review is the current (G80) M3, launched globally last year. But more than that, it’s the even spicier M3 Competition, which adds six per cent more power, and 18 percent more torque, as well as $10K to the price tag.
Does the Competition’s extra bang justify those additional bucks? Time to find out.
|Engine Type||3.0L 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.
Is the M3 Competition worth $10K more than the ‘base’ M3? In percentage terms it’s a relatively small jump, and if you’re already in the $150K ballpark, why not take it? Extra performance in a technically sophisticated package more than capable of handling it. Add top-shelf safety, a laundry list of standard features, with the practicality of a four-door sedan and it’s hard to resist. The way it looks? Well, that’s up to you?
Keen car-spotters will pick the E 53 courtesy of its ‘twin-blade’ radiator grille (in silver chrome) with black mesh insert in place of the standard E-Class ‘diamond’ version, and a distinctive ‘A-wing’ front apron design.
AMG-specific side sill panels link the front fascia to a rear treatment including a high-set diffuser panel and quad exhaust tailpipes finished in high-gloss (black) chrome.
The interior doesn’t vary dramatically from other high-end E-Class variants, the biggest differences being grippier, leather-trimmed sports seats, dark ash wood trim on the dash, console and doors, plus an ‘AMG Performance’ steering wheel trimmed in nappa leather.
A twin (12.3-inch) screen ‘Widescreen Cockpit’ media and instrument array includes the ability to scroll through an AMG-specific digital display, scrollable through ‘Classic’, ‘Sporty’ and ‘Progressive’ configurations.
Via the AMG menu it’s also possible to call up read-outs including engine and transmission oil temp, acceleration (longitudinal and lateral), engine outputs, turbo boost pressure, tyre temps and pressures, as well the current vehicle set-up.
It feels like once in a generation, BMW feels the need to polarise automotive opinion with a controversial design direction.
Twenty years ago, then head of design for the brand, Chris Bangle, took a fearful hammering for his determined push towards more ‘adventurous’ shapes. Passionate BMW fans picketed the company’s famous ‘four-cylinder building’ HQ in Munich demanding his departure.
And who else but Bangle’s second-in-command from those days, Adrian van Hooydonk, has been leading the design department since his boss eventually left the building in 2009.
Van Hooydonk has created another firestorm of opinion in recent years by gradually increasing the size of BMW’s signature ‘kidney grille’ to what some see as comical proportions.
The latest variation on the oversize grille theme has been applied to various concept and production models, including the M3, and its M4 sibling.
As always, a purely subjective call, but the M3’s large, descending grille puts me in mind of a well known carrot-munching, cartoon rabbit’s upper incisors.
Time will tell whether such a bold treatment ages well or lives in infamy, but there’s no denying it dominates first visual impressions of the car.
Almost as much as our test example’s ‘Isle of Man Green metallic’ paint, a deep, lustrous shade that highlights the cars’s curves and angles, and regularly stopped passers by in their tracks.
The bulging bonnet carries angular strakes back from the grille, and features a pair of faux vents, which along with darkened headlight interiors (BMW M Lights Shadow Line), accentuate the car’s tough expression.
A modern M3 wouldn’t be an M3 without pumped up guards, in this case filled by fat 19-inch forged alloy rims at the front, and 20s at the rear.
The framing around the windows is ‘M high-gloss Shadow Line’ black, balancing the dark front splitter and side skirts.
The tail is a multi-layered stack of horizontal lines and sections, including a thin ‘Gurney Flap’ style bootlid spoiler, and a protruding lower third housing a deep diffuser with quad, dark chrome tailpipes either side.
Sidle up closer to the car and the crowning glory is a gloss carbon-fibre roof. It’s flawless, and looks stunning.
Just as stunning is the first viewing of our test car’s full ‘Merino’ leather interior in ‘Kyalami Orange’ and black. In combination with the bold exterior colour it’s a bit rich for my blood, but the technical, athletic feel is strong.
The dash design is little changed from other 3 Series models, although the digital instrument cluster strengthens the high-performance flavour. Look up and the ‘M headliner’ is in ‘Anthracite.’
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.
At just under 4.8m long, a fraction over 1.9m wide, and a little over 1.4m tall, the current M3 is right in the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class size bracket.
There's plenty of room up front, and lots of storage, including a big box/armrest between the front seats, as well as two large cupholders and a wireless charging pad in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are sizable bins in the doors with separate sections for full-size bottles.
At 183cm (6’0”), sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my position, there’s lots of rear head, leg, and toe room. Which is surprising, because in other current 3 Series models, headroom’s been tighter for me.
One of three climate control zones is reserved for the rear, with adjustable vents and digital temperature control at the back of the front centre console.
Unlike other 3 Series models there’s no fold-down centre armrest (with cupholders) in the back, but there are pockets with big bottle holders in the doors.
Power and connectivity options run to a USB-A slot and 12V socket in the front console, a USB-C port in the centre console box, and two USB-C outlets in the rear.
Boot space is 480 litres (VDA), which is slightly above average for the class, with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility.
There are small, netted bays on both sides of the load space, tie down anchors to secure loose loads, and the boot lid has an auto function.
The M3 is a no-tow zone and don’t bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option.
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.
With an entry-price of $154,900, before on-road costs, the M3 Competition lines up directly with Audi’s RS 5 Sportback ($150,900), while an outlier at the edge of the M3’s orbit is the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport ($175K).
But its most obvious, long-time sparring partner, the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S has temporarily stepped out of the ring.
Expect huge performance, with a price tag exceeding the outgoing model’s circa $170K ask.
And that AMG hot rod better be loaded because as well as a bunch of performance and safety tech (covered later in the review), this M3 boasts an impressively long standard equipment list.
Included are, ‘BMW Live Cockpit Professional’ with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch high-res multimedia display (managed via touch, voice, or the ‘iDrive’ controller), sat nav, three-zone climate control, customisable ambient lighting, ‘Laserlight’ headlights (including ‘Selective Beam’), ‘Comfort Access’ keyless entry and start, and 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound audio (with 464-watt, seven-channel digital amp and digital radio).
Then you can add, a full leather interior (including the steering wheel and gearshift), electrically-adjustable heated ‘M Sport’ front seats (with memory for the driver), ‘Parking Assistant Plus’ (including ‘3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant’), an auto tailgate, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, wireless smartphone integration (and charging) including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, anti-dazzle (interior and exterior) mirrors, and dual-spoke forged alloy wheels (19-inch fr / 20-inch rr).
As visual icing on the cake, carbon-fibre is sprinkled over and inside the car like shiny, lightweight confetti. The entire roof is made of the stuff, with more on the front centre console, dash, steering wheel and manual shift paddles.
That’s a solid features list (and we haven’t bored you with all the details), substantiating a strong value equation in this small, but mega-competitive market niche.
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 M3 Competition is powered by BMW’s (S58B) 3.0-litre in-line, six-cylinder engine, an all-alloy, closed deck unit featuring direct-injection, ‘Valvetronic’ variable valve timing (on the intake side), ‘Double-VANOS’ variable camshaft timing (intake and exhaust side) and twin mono-scroll turbos to produce 375kW (503hp) at 6250rpm and 650Nm from 2750rpm, all the way to 5500rpm. A solid jump from the ‘standard’ M3’s already substantial 353kW/550Nm.
Not known for sitting on their hands, BMW M’s engine techs in Munich have used 3D printing to manufacture the core of the cylinder head, incorporating internal forms not possible with conventional casting.
This tech has not only reduced the head’s weight, but allowed its coolant ducts to be re-routed for optimal temp management.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ‘M Steptronic’ (torque converter) paddle-shift automatic transmission, with ‘Drivelogic’ (adjustable shift modes) and a standard ‘Active M’ variable locking differential.
An all-wheel drive ‘M xDrive’ version is scheduled for Australian launch before the end of 2021.
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.
BMW’s official fuel economy figure for the M3 Competition, on the ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban cycle, is 9.6L/100km, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo six emitting 221g/km of C02 in the process.
To help get to that impressive number, BMW has deployed numerous cunning devices including, an ‘Optimum Shift Indicator’ (in manual shift mode), on-demand operation of ancillary units, and ‘Brake Energy Regeneration’ which tops up a relatively small lithium-Ion battery to power an auto stop-start system,
Despite this tricky tech, we averaged 12.0L/100km (at the bowser), over a range of driving conditions, which is still pretty good for such a powerful and focused performance sedan.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium unleaded although, amazingly, 91 RON standard fuel is acceptable at a pinch.
Either way, you’ll need 59 litres of it to fill the tank, which is enough for a range of over 600km using the factory economy figure, and close to 500km based on our real-world number.
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.
Any production-based performance sedan claimed to accelerate from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds is straight-up fast.
BMW says the M3 Competition will hit triple figures in just 3.5sec, which is properly rapid, and a full-bore, launch-control assisted start in this car is... impressive.
Aural accompaniment is suitably raucous, but beware, at its loudest it’s mostly fake news, with synthetic engine/exhaust noise able to be dialled down or turned off altogether.
That said, with maximum torque (650Nm!) available from 2750rpm all the way to 5500rpm, mid-range pulling power is prodigious, and despite the twin turbos this engine loves to rev (thanks in no small part to a forged, lightweight crankshaft).
Power delivery is beautifully linear, and a surge from 80-120km/h takes 2.6sec in fourth, and 3.4sec in fifth. With peak power (375kW/503hp) arriving at 6250rpm, you can thunder on to a maximum velocity of 290km/h.
That’s if the electronically-controlled limit of 250km/h isn’t enough for you, and you’ve ticked the optional ‘M Driver’s Package’ box. Enjoy the big house!
Suspension is basically strut front, five-link rear, all in aluminium, and working in concert with ‘Adaptive M’ dampers. They are brilliant, and the transition from ‘Comfort’ to ‘Sport’ and back is amazing.
The ride quality this car delivers in Comfort mode is nuts given it’s riding on huge rims shod with licorice thin tyres.
The sports front seats also offer an amazing blend of comfort and extra lateral support (with the touch of a button).
In fact, fine-tuning the car’s set-up across suspension, brakes, steering, engine, and transmission calibrations through the ‘M Setup’ menu is easy and adds extra involvement. Blaringly red M1 and M2 pre-set buttons on the steering wheel allow storage of preferred settings.
The electrically-assisted steering points nicely, and road feel is excellent.
The car remains flat and stable in enthusiastic B-road corners, the active ‘M Differential’ and ‘M Traction Control’ putting all that power down from a steady state mid-corner, through to a scorchingly fast and balanced exit.
No surprise, front to rear weight distribution for this 1.7-tonne machine is 50:50.
Rubber is ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S (275/35x19 fr / 285/30x20 rr) which deliver confidence-inspiring grip in the dry, as well as a couple of torrentially wet days during the latter part of our week with the car.
And washing off speed is a fuss-free experience thanks to standard ‘M Compound’ brakes’ consisting of big ventilated and cross-drilled rotors (380mm fr / 370mm rr) clamped by six-piston fixed calipers at the front and single-piston floating units at the rear.
On top of that the integrated braking system offers Comfort and Sport pedal feel settings, altering the amount of pedal pressure required to slow the car. Stopping power is immense, and even in Sport mode brake feel is progressive.
One technical niggle is the wireless CarPlay connectivity, which I found frustratingly patchy. Didn’t test the Android equivalent this time around, though.
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 M3 Competition hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP, but 2.0-litre 3 Series models received a maximum five-star rating in 2019.
Standard active crash-avoidance tech includes ‘Emergency Brake Assist’ (BMW-speak for AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, ‘Dynamic Brake Control’ (helps apply maximum braking power in an emergency), ‘Cornering Brake Control’, a ‘Dry Braking’ function that periodically skims the rotors (with the pads) in wet conditions, ‘integrated wheel slip limitation’, lane change warning, lane departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.
There’s also ‘Park Distance Control’ (with sensors front and rear), Parking Assistant Plus (including ‘3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant’), an ‘Attentiveness Assistant’ function, and tyre pressure monitoring.
But if an impact is unavoidable there are front, side, and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as side curtain bags covering both rows of seats.
On sensing a crash the car will make an ‘Automatic Emergency Call’, and there’s even a warning triangle and first aid kit on board.
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.
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is off the pace given the majority of mainstream brands have stepped up to five-year cover, with some at seven, or even 10.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
The ‘Concierge Service’ is another three year, complimentary deal, providing 24/7/365 access to a personalised service through a dedicated ‘BMW Customer Information Centre.’
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of ‘Service Inclusive’ capped price servicing plans, starting from three years/40,000km.