Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS KTM X-Bow
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Fast and utterly furious
- Unique in Australia
- A track-attack special you can drive to the track
- Even a light sprinkling of rain will leave you in despair
- Safety kit non-existent
- An expensive toy
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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 know what you're thinking: "How is this thing legal?" And to be honest, somewhere between a rock flung from the tyre of a passing car colliding with my forehead like it had been fired from a pistol, and the pouring rain lashing my exposed face like a damp cat-o'-nine-tails, I'd begun wondering the same thing.
The answer is barely. The product of a years-long fight to overcome our import rules, this madhouse KTM X-Bow R is now finally free to roam Australian roads and racetracks - though, with sales capped at 25 per year to comply with the Specialist Enthusiast Vehicle Scheme.
The price? A slightly eye-watering $169,990. That's quite a lot, and places the X-Bow R miles above its closest lightweight, carbon fibre-tubbed competitor, the Alfa Romeo 4C ($89,000).
But then, the KTM X-Bow R is unlike anything else on the road today. Part super bike, part open-wheeler and all mobile madness, the 'Crossbow' is fast, furious and completely insane.
Expect no doors, no windscreen, no roof. On-board entertainment is limited to the turbo whistling behind your head, the car's standard safety list is as barren as the interior and the climate control is dependent on the temperature of the wind that's smashing into your exposed face.
And we couldn't wait to take it for a spin.
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.
Okay, so rain is not your friend. Neither is brutal sunshine, strong winds or any speed bump anywhere. There are probably a handful of times you'll want to drive it, and when you do you will definitely get hit in the face with rocks and bugs, and spend most of your time wondering just how the hell this thing is legal.
And yet, we are hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with it. It's an absolute weapon on a track, a joy on anything even resembling a twisting road and it is one of the few genuinely unique cars on the road today. And the fact it exists at all is a cause for absolute celebration.
Does the KTM X-Bow R's purity of purpose appeal to you, or is its performance focus just too narrow? 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.
The X-Bow R is built for purpose in the most wonderful of ways. From the visible suspension components to the rocket-style exhausts, to the stripped-bare interior, it's fairly obvious that form came a distant second to function in the X-Bow's design process.
And, for us at least, that's a tremendous thing. It looks raw and visceral, and a bit like Harvey Dent post-fire - you can see all the normally hidden components doing their thing. It's mesmerising.
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.
Short answer? It's not. People are unlikely to test drive an X-Bow R and start looking for cupholders and storage space, but if they did, it wouldn't take long.
Aside from the twin seats, a four-point racing harness, a high-mounted gearshift, a pull-lever handbrake, and detachable steering wheel, the cabin is as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard.
Luggage space is limited to what you can carry in your pockets (though wearing cargo pants will help) and even getting in and out of the thing takes some fleet-footed antics. With no doors you need to literally jump in. And the side sills are only rated to 120kg, so heavier types will need to avoid stepping on them at all, and instead attempt a kind of running leap into the cockpit.
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.
Keen readers of this site will recognise this as the area where we outline the many and varied features that come along with a normal new car purchase, but that's just not going to work this time. In fact, it'll be considerably easier to talk about what's missing, so let's start with the obvious: doors, windows, roof, windscreen. All conspicuously absent from this weird and utterly wonderful X-Bow.
Inside, you'll find two thinly (and we mean thin - we've seen thicker contact lenses) padded seats fixed into the tub. You'll also find push-button start, a digital screen reminiscent of those found on motorbikes (KTM is an Austrian-based motorcycle company, after all) and a pedal box that slides backward and forwards to offset the height of the pilot. Oh, and that steering wheel can pop off to make getting in and out easier.
Climate control? Nope. Stereo? Nope. Proximity unlocking? Well, kind of. With no doors, you'll always find it unlocked when you enter its proximity. Does that count?
But what it does have is a turbocharged two-litre engine. And in a car that weighs a sprightly 790kg, that means it's quick, pulling like a rabid sled dog in every gear, rear tyres chirping with every change.
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 X-Bow R's power comes from an Audi-sourced, turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, paired with a VW Group six-speed manual transmission (and one of the stubbiest gearsticks in existence). That mid-mounted marvel produces 220kW at 6300rpm and 400Nm at 3300rpm, and ships it off to the rear tyres with the assistance of a Drexler mechanical limited-slip differential.
Thanks to its lithe and lightweight body, that's enough to propel the X-Bow R from 0-100km/h in a blistering 3.9 seconds, and on to a top speed of 230km/h.
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.
KTM lists the X-Bow R's claimed/combined fuel figure at 8.3 litres per hundred kilometres (though we were managing mid-12s after an, ahem, very spirited test), with emissions pegged at 189 grams per kilometre.
The X-Bow R is also fitted with a 40-litre fuel tank, accessed via a side-mounted inlet. Instead of a fuel gauge, expect a digital reading showing how many litres you have left.
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.
It couldn't be more Fast and Furious if it had Vin Diesel growling under its (non-existent) bonnet. We have technically driven faster cars, but we have never driven anything that feels quite so fast as this utterly insane X-Bow R.
Climb in, strap into the four-point harness and select first via the surprisingly easy-to-manage gearbox and clutch set up, and, at slow speeds, wrestle with the dead weight of the completely unassisted steering, and it's immediately clear that this is a driving experience like nothing else currently road-legal in Australia. Even at walking pace, the X-Bow R feels poised for an assault on the future, and it attracts attention on the road like nothing else we've ever driven.
Its road-scraping ride height and diminutive dimensions make tackling traffic an intimidating prospect, with regular hatchbacks suddenly taking on truck-like proportions and actual trucks now looking like passing planets. There's a constant concern that you're sitting well below the traditional blind spot, and that you could be crushed at any moment.
Combine all that with the bad weather that cursed our final day of testing, and the X-Bow R is all sorts of watery hell. It is truly homicidal in the wet, too, with the back end breaking grip at the slightest provocation. And the turbocharged 2.0-litre offers plenty of that.
But on a sunny day, and on the right road, it's pure driving bliss. The acceleration is brutal, the grip endless and the Audi sourced gearbox an absolute treat. And it pulls in every gear, tackling 35km/h corners in third and absolutely blasting out the other side.
Cornering is scalpel sharp, and the steering - so heavy at slow speeds - is light and efficient at pace, requiring only the most minuscule of movements to bite into a bend.
It is anything but perfect in the city, and even a light sprinkling of rain will have you seeking shelter (and a refund), but on the right road, on the right day, there are few if any cars that offer the kind of razor-sharp thrills and intoxicating excitement of KTM's monstrous X-Bow R.
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.
Next to none. There is no ABS, traction or stability control. No airbags, powered steering or ISOFIX attachment points, either. If you break traction (which, in the wet, is more than a little bit likely) it'll be up to you to ensure you straighten up again. Helpfully, there's a ton of grip from the Michelin Super Sport tyres.
As part of the compliance program, Simply Sports Cars (the company responsible for introducing the X-Bow R) actually crash tested two cars in Europe, and raised the ride height by 10 millimetres. Oh, and there's now a seatbelt warning sign, 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.