Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS BMW Z4
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Bold exterior styling
- Surprisingly spacious
- A bit too serious to be fun
- SUV-like interior
- Ownership could be better
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
I remember the first Bond film I ever watched.
I was about eight or nine years old, and it was GoldenEye on VHS. In that film, Pierce Brosnan drove a BMW Z3 convertible, which obviously oozed cool.
I didn’t know at the time that it was just a little bit weird that he wasn’t driving an Aston Martin for the entire duration of the movie, but it didn’t matter, that drop-top Beamer with its radar and missiles imprinted itself on my mind.
As such, I’ve always had a soft spot for BMW’s 'zed' range, so I was quite keen to helm this new one as it came through the CarsGuide office, especially since it shares its underpinnings with the new Toyota Supra.
So, is the new Z4 a case of never meet your heroes? Or did it make me feel a little bit like a secret agent? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L 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 Z4 didn’t make me feel like Peirce Brosnan’s 007. It’s way too serious – a proper gritty reboot. Maybe it’s meant for Daniel Craig. Either way, its brave design makes it one of the best-looking BMWs of recent memory, and it’s a tech- and comfort-fest that the Bavarian automaker should be proud of. I just wish it was a smidge more fun behind the wheel.
What do you make of the Z4’s looks - Is it an icon or too far from BMW’s roots? Share your thoughts 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.
The Z4 is a sight to behold. It’s brave, especially for a BMW, it even betrays the brand’s strongest styling pillars, making its own way with its more horizontal grille design, flat body and curved out rear.
It’s more than that, though. In black, this car looks sinister, brooding. The more you look at it, the more you notice tiny details - the scooped-out sides, or the way the entire rear seems to flick up into the integrated spoiler. I couldn’t get enough of staring at it – it manages to look even better with the roof down.
That’s probably when it hit me. To my eyes, at least, this is the most stunning BMW in years. Sure, the X7 is a sight to behold due to its sheer dimensions and borderline offensive grille, but the Z4 is the opposite. It’s subtle, it hides its details away in its silhouette.
It’s designer, Calvin Luk (an Australian no less), was inspired at least in part by the Z8 – another Brosnan bond car – and you can see the Fisker design reflected in the Z4’s low, flat grille and almost bulbous rear.
Inside, sadly, the Z4’s strong design doesn’t quite play out. There’s no wily Fisker touches here, just a standard set of BMW switchgear. While it all works well, it just dumbs down the Z4’s character.
The big, chunky steering wheel in particular is a let-down. It’s the same wheel that sits in the brand’s X5 SUV, and it feels right there, but not here in a convertible where you’re so close to the ground. A smaller wheel would not only suit this car better, it would make it feel just a smidge more alive. I miss the three-spoke M sport wheel from previous-generation BMW cars.
I do like the dash, which is seemly carved from rhomboid shapes - a theme that rolls into the doors, screens, and vents elegantly. I’m normally not a fan of gloss plastics and chrome touches, but in the Z4 they’re all tastefully applied.
The seats, too, are lovely. I’m not sure about the contrast bright-red leather our car came with, but they’re nice and close to the ground and have excellent trim that you seem to sink into just enough to be comfortable and sporty all at once.
It’s a slick place to be, I just wish it felt less like you were at the helm of an SUV and more like you were driving something that looks this damn good.
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 Z4 is a convertible, so it’s naturally compromised on space. As far as convertibles go though, you’ll be hard pressed to find one you can fit more stuff into.
The Z4 is wide - the same width, in fact, as a 5 Series - and this carries into the cabin. There are only two seats, but those seats are wide, and occupants will find themselves with luxurious amounts of airspace for their arms, as well as excellent leather-trimmed and padded surfaces for landing elbows on.
Legroom is also great, as the seats have a surprising amount of rail-travel on them, so that even taller folk won’t struggle to fit their limbs in.
A genuinely impressive characteristic of the Z4 is much head room there it is. Despite its low-slung looks from the outside, the roof towers over my 182cm tall head when I’m inside, so this isn’t one of those convertibles that feels like braking too hard might simply decapitate those above six-foot tall.
In terms of storage areas you get some long but shallow trenches in the doors, a bay with connection ports and a Qi wireless charging pad under the air-conditioning controls, a glovebox (hey, not all convertibles have them) and a trick centre console that houses two deep cupholders inside.
There’s also a netted shelf behind the seats that could fit small bags, and given the length of the cabin, you could even fit laptops and the like behind the seats provided you haven’t used the full extent of the seat’s rearward movement.
The boot is deep, wide and long for a drop-top, and offers a total of 281-litres which is more than some popular hatchbacks. It even offers tie-down points and netting either side. To top it off, the fabric roof folds away into its own compartment, so the boot space is unaffected if you choose to drop the lid.
For a convertible – the Z4 is a practicality wizard.
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 Z4 isn’t cheap, but it plays in a field of expensive Deutsche drop-tops. Our car was the mid-spec 30i which comes in at an MSRP of $104,900 (before on-road costs).
For that you’ll get a more highly tuned version of the base 20i’s four-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 190kW/400Nm, 19-inch alloy wheels, M Sport brakes, Adaptive M suspension, and adaptive LED headlights.
That’s on top of the already impressively-specified 20i’s kit which includes dual 10.25-inch screens – one for the multimedia functions, the other as a digital dashboard, a head-up display, full Vernasca leather interior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power adjustable and heated front seats with memory function, dual-zone climate control, 10-speaker 205W stereo, a Qi wireless charging pad, and adaptive cruise control as part of a marginally upgraded safety package (more on that in the safety section).
It’s a pretty plush set of equipment, although a challenging value proposition as the almost-as-well-equipped 20i starts from $84,900, a full $20k cheaper.
Rivals for this 30i model? You’ve got the soon-to-be-discontinued Mercedes-Benz SLC300 ($102,500), all-wheel drive Audi TT S quattro ($105,661), and, at a stretch, the entry-level Porsche Boxster ($122,960).
Of course, being a premium European car, there is an extensive options list. Our car was fitted with the excellent and probably-worth-the-money M Sport differential ($2400), as well as the rudely priced M seat belts (literally just the M pattern embroidered in - $560!) and interior ambient lighting package (lovely, perhaps not worth $550).
The Z4 is only offered in five colours, three of which – including our car’s Black Sapphire – come at a cost of $2000. The red interior, surprisingly, is a no-cost option.
If you’re keeping track that brings the car you’re looking at here to $110,410. Not cheap, and it doesn’t have six-cylinders - but given its other attributes explored later in this review, the fact that it still manages to undercut an entry-level Boxster is actually reasonable.
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.
Welcome to the age of ridiculously powered four-cylinder turbo engines. Despite a capacity of just 2.0-litres, the engine in the Z4 30i produces a whopping 190kW/400Nm.
That’s probably enough for a car this size. I’m keen to drive the six-cylinder, but surprisingly it seems to offer diminishing returns for extra cylinders offering a 60kW/100Nm power boost for an extra $20,000. Perhaps a six-cylinder is the way to go in a BMW, and given this car’s other seriously sporty attributes, it might be the only way to make it a bit more… fun. More on that in the driving section.
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’s claimed that the Z4 will drink just 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the official combined cycle test, but I found that sticking my foot in occasionally resulted in a slightly more realistic sounding figure of 8.4L/100km.
That’s still a great fuel consumption number for a car like this, and perhaps one of the strongest benefits of having just four cylinders.
A discerning vehicle, the Z4 will drink nothing less than the best-quality 98RON unleaded to fill its 52-litre 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.
A car that looks this good better live up to the promise behind the wheel, right?
For the most part, the 30i does, but it’s a victim of its own performance credentials and luxuriousness.
See, a drop-top should be fun-packed, you should feel close to the road, connected. Sadly, a combination Z4’s excellent suspension and not-so-excellent SUV-like interior separates you too much from the surface below.
An advantage, of course, is the refinement on offer. The Z4 is easily one of the quietest, most refined convertibles I’ve ever driven, but it’s a little too insulated.
I can’t help but feel like it’s all business and no pleasure. It feels a little more like I should be cruising to work on the autobahn and a little less like I should be flinging it around corners on a tight B-road.
It feels almost wrong to drive it in a T-shirt. It’s serious and doesn’t want you to mess around, it wants you to wear a suit and tie.
This grand-tourer style feel is one that will keep a lot of buyers in the premium space happy, but I’m of the opinion that BMW will have that segment well and truly covered by the new 8 Series. If the budget allows.
Regardless, the 30i’s four-cyl engine feels like any six-cylinder would have a few years ago. It’s got a surge to it in the straights that’s quite satisfying, and it responds via the exhaust with an angry tone that makes it feel a little more alive, especially with the roof down.
This feeling was all helped along by our car’s M active differential which simply won’t let the fat tyres at the rear slide unless you’ve got high-speeds and loads of tarmac to play with – for better or worse.
The Z4 also has ‘variable sport steering’ which reacts to the car’s speed and position of the wheels to adjust the input ratio. It’s good when you’re at speed, but the weight and response of the steering can make the Z4 feel bigger than it actually is at lower speeds.
The suspension is firm, and can be a little bouncy over rough surfaces, but seems well suited to the Z4’s chassis.
Other than those notable characteristics you’ll find that the Z4 is wonderfully tuned in terms of its inputs, everything is slick and smooth, suited perfectly for long meandering drives.
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.
Convertibles and safety don’t often fall in the same sentence, unless its one where a concerned relative is trying to convince you not to buy one.
In any case, the Z4 benefits from four airbags (dual front and dual side), as well as the expected electronic stability controls. That optional M Sport differential will have the added bonus of preventing any unexpected slip and slide at the rear.
On the active side the Z4 gets ‘Driving Assistant’ which includes forward collision warning (FCW), lane departure warning (LDW), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and rear collision warning. The 30i grade also gets 'active cruise control with stop & go' which allows for full auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Not on the spec sheet, but apparently present in the car I drove was some form of traffic sign recognition (TSR) and lane keep assist (LKAS).
A nice high-res reversing camera displayed on the massive touchscreen is a welcome standard addition.
Considering the meagre safety specification of most convertible cars, the Z4 30i shines with a half-way decent active safety suite. But you can forget ISOFIX child-seat anchor points. There aren't any.
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.
If recent quotes are anything to go by BMW is set to stick by its lacklustre three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, as it says its customers simply aren’t interested in five years (or longer) when it comes to warranty coverage.
In terms of servicing, there are two fixed-price plans available – the suspiciously cheap ‘Basic’ plan which comes at a cost of $1373 for five years (or $274.60 per year) and the more realistic-sounding ‘Plus’ which costs $3934 over five years (or $786.80 per year).
Like every other BMW, the Z4’s computer tells you when its service time: how often it needs maintenance will depend on how often – and how hard – you drive it.