Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Chevrolet Camaro
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Looks like a real-life Hot Wheels
- Sounds sensational
- Fun to drive
- Boot opening is small
- Expensive compared to Mustang
- No AEB
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
Nobody really needs to drink beer and absolutely nobody needs to go skydiving. You don’t need tattoos nor to eat ice cream, nor put art on their walls, and absolutely nobody needs to play Stairway to Heaven, badly, on guitar. Likewise, nobody needs to buy a Chevrolet Camaro.
And there’s your answer if anybody has a go at you for arriving home in this big American muscle car, because if we only did things we needed to do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be having as much fun.
The Chevrolet Camaro has been the Ford Mustang’s recurring nightmare since 1966, and this latest, sixth generation of the Chevy icon is available to continue the fight here in Australia, thanks to some re-engineering from HSV.
The SS badge is also legendary and was emblazoned on our test car, although it’s really a 2SS, and we’ll get to what that means below.
As you’re about to see, there are many good reasons to buy the Camaro SS and a few that might make you reconsider, but think about this – within the next two decades it’s entirely possible a car like the Camaro, with its 6.2-litre V8, may be banned because of emission regulations. Outlawed. You also never know how much longer HSV will continue to sell it in Australia. Maybe that’s reason enough to get one? Before it's too late.
|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 Camaro 2SS is a real-life Hot Wheels car. This beast looks amazing, sounds incredible and is not overpowered, making it usable as a daily driver.
Now about that score. The Camaro 2SS lost big marks for not having AEB, lost more marks for the short warranty and no capped-price servicing and also some for its price, because compared to the Mustang it’s expensive. It’s also impractical (space and storage could be better) and uncomfortable to drive at times, but this is a muscle car, and a great one at that. It's not for everybody, but truly perfect for some.
Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro? Which would you pick? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Keen car-spotters will pick the E 53 courtesy of its ‘twin-blade’ radiator grille (in silver chrome) with black mesh insert in place of the standard E-Class ‘diamond’ version, and a distinctive ‘A-wing’ front apron design.
AMG-specific side sill panels link the front fascia to a rear treatment including a high-set diffuser panel and quad exhaust tailpipes finished in high-gloss (black) chrome.
The interior doesn’t vary dramatically from other high-end E-Class variants, the biggest differences being grippier, leather-trimmed sports seats, dark ash wood trim on the dash, console and doors, plus an ‘AMG Performance’ steering wheel trimmed in nappa leather.
A twin (12.3-inch) screen ‘Widescreen Cockpit’ media and instrument array includes the ability to scroll through an AMG-specific digital display, scrollable through ‘Classic’, ‘Sporty’ and ‘Progressive’ configurations.
Via the AMG menu it’s also possible to call up read-outs including engine and transmission oil temp, acceleration (longitudinal and lateral), engine outputs, turbo boost pressure, tyre temps and pressures, as well the current vehicle set-up.
As was the case with Ford’s Mustang, something seemed to go bizarrely weird in the styling of the Camaro in the early 2000s, but by 2005 the arrival of the fifth generation saw a design that re-imagined the original (and I reckon the best) 1967 Camaro. Now this sixth-generation car is a sharper resolution of that, yet not without causing a bit of controversy.
Along with styling changes, such as redesigned LED headlights and taillights, the front fascia was also given a tweak, which involved repositioning the Chevy ‘bow-tie’ badge from the upper grille to the black-painted cross bar that separates the top and bottom sections. The reaction from fans was enough for Chevrolet to quickly redesign the front and move the badge back.
Our test car was the version with the ‘unpopular’ face, but I reckon it gets away with the look, thanks to the body colour being black, which means your eye isn’t drawn to that cross bar.
Here’s some pub ammo for you – Chevy calls the ‘bow tie’ on this Camaro a ‘Flow Tie’ because its hollow construction means air can pass through it to the radiator.
Big on the outside but small inside, the Camaro’s dimensions show it to be 4784mm long, 1897mm wide (not including mirrors) and 1349mm tall.
Ford’s Mustang is elegant, but Chevy’s Camaro is more macho. Big haunches, long bonnet, flared guards, nostrils. This is one mean-looking monster. Those high sides and ‘chopped’ roof design may also make you assume the cabin is more cockpit than lounge room.
That assumption would be right and in the practicality section further down I’ll tell you just how cozy the interior is, but for now we're just talking about looks.
I’m not sure what David Hasselhoff’s apartment looks like, but at a guess I reckon it would have a hell of a lot in common with the interior design of the Camaro 2SS’s cabin.
Soft, black leather seats with SS badging, giant metal air vents, door handles that look like chrome exhaust tips and a display screen that is oddly tilted towards the floor.
There’s also an ambient LED lighting system that lets you choose from 1980s-neon colour palettes, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ken Done’s outstanding depiction of a Koala family sitting down to a barbecue lunch.
I’m not knocking it, I love it, and even though the guys in the office thought it would be hilarious to set the lighting to hot pink, I kept it that way because it looks awesome.
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 Camaro 2SS’s cabin is cozy for me at 191cm tall, but even with a similarly proportioned photographer riding shotgun it wasn’t too cramped. Believe it or not, we were able to carry all his equipment and lights, plus batteries for our night shoot (have you seen the video above – it’s very good). I’ll get to the boot size in a moment.
The Camaro 2SS is a four-seater, but those rear seats are only going to suit small children. I was able to fit my four year old’s car seat into place with a bit of gentle persuasion, and while he could sit behind my wife, there was zero space behind me when I was driving. As for visibility, we’ll get to that in the driving section below, but I can tell you he couldn’t see much from his tiny porthole.
Cargo capacity of the boot is small, as you’d expect, at 257 litres, but the space is deep and long. The problem is not the volume, however, it’s the size of the opening, which means you’ll have to cleverly angle larger items to get them in, like pushing a couch through your front door. You know, houses are big, but their openings aren’t. I know, profound.
Cabin storage is also limited, the door pockets were so thin my wallet couldn’t even slide into it (no, it’s not the wads of cash), but there was just enough room in the centre console storage bin for it. There are two cupholders, which are more like elbow holders, (because this part wasn’t swapped over in the conversion and that’s where your arm lands while driving) and a glove box. Rear-seat passengers have a large tray to fight over in the back.
The 2SS doesn’t have a wireless-charging pad like the ZL1, but it does have one USB port and a 12V outlet.
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.
You know how people talk about cars not always being a rational purchase? This is the type of vehicle they’re talking about. The Camaro 2SS lists at $86,990 and the total tested price of our car was $89,190, because it was fitted with the optional 10-speed auto for $2200.
In comparison, the V8 Ford Mustang GT with the 10-speed auto is about $66K. Why the big price difference? Well, unlike the Mustang, which is built as a right-hand-drive car in the factory for places such as Australia and the UK, the Camaro is only built as a left-hand drive. HSV puts about 100 hours into converting the Camaro from left to right-hand drive. That’s a big job and involves gutting the interior, taking out the engine, swapping the steering rack and putting it all back together again.
If you still think $89K is a lot to spend on a Camaro, then think again because the top-of-the-range hardcore race-car-for-the-road ZL1 Camaro lists for about $160K.
Those are only the two grades of Camaro in Australia – the ZL1 and 2SS. The 2SS is a higher-specified version of the 1SS sold in the US.
Standard features in the 2SS include an eight-inch screen, which uses Chevrolet’s Infotainment 3 system, a nine-speaker Bose stereo, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, head-up display, rear-view camera and rear camera mirror, dual-zone climate control, leather seats (heated and ventilated, plus power adjustable in the front), remote start, proximity key and 20-inch alloys.
That’s a decent amount of kit and I’m particularly impressed by the head-up display, which you don’t get in the Mustang, and also with the rear-vision-mirror camera, which turns the entire mirror into an image of what’s behind the car.
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.
Sure, the 2SS doesn’t produce the mammoth 477kW of the ZL1, but I’m not complaining about the 339kW and 617Nm it does make from its 6.2-litre V8. Besides, 455 horsepower from the 2SS’s naturally aspirated LT1 small block is plenty of fun and the sound on start-up through the bi-modal exhaust is apocalyptic - and that’s good.
Our car was fitted with the optional 10-speed auto ($2200), with paddle shifters. The automatic transmission was developed as a joint venture between General Motors and Ford and a version of this 10-speed is also found in the Mustang.
This traditional torque-converter automatic isn’t the quickest shifting thing, but it suits the big, powerful and slightly lethargic personality of the Camaro 2SS.
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.
Okay, brace yourself. During my fuel test I traveled 358.5km and used 60.44L of premium unleaded, which comes out to be 16.9L/100km. That sounds awfully high, but actually it's not as bad as it looks, considering the Camaro 2SS has a 6.2-litre V8 and I wasn't driving it in a way that would conserve fuel, if you get my drift. Half of those kilometres were on motorways at 110km/h, the other half would have been in bumper-to-bumper city traffic, which would have driven up the fuel usage, too.
The official fuel consumption after a combination of open and urban roads is 13L/100km.
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.
Exactly how an American muscle car should be – loud, a bit uncomfortable, not all that easy, but a hell of a lot of fun. Those first three attributes may sound like negatives, but take it from somebody who owns and loves hot rods - it’s part of the appeal. If an SUV is not easy to drive or comfortable there's a problem, but in a muscle car it can enhance the engagement and connection factors.
That said, there will be many who think the ride is too firm, the steering heavy and that it feels like you’re staring out a letterbox slot through the windscreen. It’s all true, and there are other performance cars out there which make as much horsepower, handle better and are so easy to drive they can almost (and some do) pilot themselves, but they all lack the feeling of connection the Camaro offers.
Wide and low-profile Goodyear Eagles (245/40 ZR20 at the front and 275/35 ZR20 at the rear) provide good grip, but also feel every blemish in the road, while four-piston Brembo brakes all round pull the Camaro 2SS up well.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h isn’t disclosed by HSV or Chevrolet, but the official line is that it’ll nail it in under five seconds. Ford reckons its Mustang GT can do the same in 4.3 seconds.
If you were wondering if you could live with the Camaro daily, the answer is yes but, much like wearing leather pants, you’ll have to suffer a bit to look this rock and roll. I put 650km on the clock of our 2SS during my week with it, using it daily in peak-hour traffic into the city, in supermarket car parks, and for daycare drop offs, with country road and motorway drives on the weekend.
The seats can get uncomfortable over long distances and those low-profile ‘run-flat’ tyres and firm dampers don’t make life any comfier. You’ll also find that wherever you go people will want to race you. But don’t get sucked in; you’re slower than you look - another muscle-car trait.
Sure, it’s not the quickest performance car I’ve steered and on winding roads its handling capability is not up there with many sports cars, but that V8 is responsive and angry in Sport mode and smooth in its delivery of grunt. The exhaust note is sensational and the steering, while heavy, offers great feel and feedback. The sound isn’t electronically enhanced but it uses bi-modal valves, which open and close at different engine and exhaust loads to produce its addictive bark.
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 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS doesn’t have an ANCAP rating, but it’s certain that it wouldn’t achieve the maximum five stars because it doesn’t have AEB. There is forward-collision alert which warns you of an impending impact, there’s also blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and eight airbags.
For child seats (and I did put my own four-year-old in the back) there are two top-tether points and two ISOFIX mounts in the second row.
There's no spare wheel here, so you’ll have to hope you’re within 80km of home or a repair shop, because that’s how far the Goodyear ‘run-flat’ tyres will get you.
The low (ish) score is for the lack of AEB. If the Mustang can be fitted with autonomous emergency braking, then the Camaro should be, too.
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.