Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Nissan 370Z
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Dynamic balance
- Slick manual gearbox
- Classic exterior design
- Lacks latest safety tech
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Fake engine noise
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
Road testing the Nissan 370Z in 2011, I noted it was getting on. Yes, the rear-wheel drive two-seater had been given a design freshen up and a bigger engine a couple of years prior, but the 350Z it was based on had hit the local market way back in 2003. And it wasn't unreasonable to expect replacement or retirement in the not-too-distant future.
Okay, so that was seven years ago, which means if you (like many) consider the 370Z to be an update of the 350Z (the transition happening in 2009), this car has been on sale for 15 years straight. Can you imagine Apple trying to sell any one product without entirely reinventing it for that long?
You might say that makes it a modern classic; so good it's only required an occasional touch up to keep it on the Sports Car Most Wanted list. And in recent years, a consistent average of 30 Aussies a month have slotted a shiny new 370Z in their driveway.
Is it enough to keep Nissan's eternal Z-car flame burning?
|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.
It's hard not to be ageist when it comes to the current Nissan Zed, because 15 years in market (nine if we're generous) is a lengthy stretch in anyone's book. But somehow the 370Z is more than the sum of its parts. It has fantastic front-engine/rear-drive balance, an increasingly rare atmo engine, and a beautiful manual 'box. The value equation is decent, and it's nicely put together. Just don't expect to be dazzled with the latest safety, driver-assist and multimedia technology.
Does the Nissan 370Z have what it takes to elevate your heart rate? Tell us 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.
If you want to go all the way back, the 370Z clearly takes its design direction from Datsun's star of the '70s, the original 240Z.
Inspired by Ferrari, and (along with the Toyota 2000GT) a sports-car breakthrough for the Japanese industry, the first Zed's front-engine, long-nose proportions have remained largely intact in successive iterations over the decades.
With a broad, flat nose, distinctively jagged headlights, and steeply raked rear profile, there's no mistaking the 370's signature stance, with pumped-up guards sitting over fat, 19-inch alloy rims.
Sharp-eyed car-spotters will notice the update's new design RAYS forged wheels, smoked front and rear lights, and a similar smoked finish on the exterior door handles.
A new colour, 'Cherry Red' also replaces 'Bordeaux Black' in an eight-shade colour palette. Our test example was finished in 'Gun Metallic'.
Inside, echoes of Zeds past abound, with a trio of hooded gauges (clock, voltmeter, oil temp) sitting in the centre of the dash top, and the tachometer in the middle of a cowled, three-instrument main cluster shaded by an exaggerated tube.
And aside from consciously retro design touches, some elements have been present inside the car for so long they're just... ancient.
For example, old-school orange graphics for the odometer, gear position and trip computer are dated, and the small (7.0-inch touchscreen) multimedia display has the feel of an early noughties edition of Tekken 6.
Forget a digital speedo or head-up display. A CD slot still sits proudly in the centre stack, and matt silver highlights scattered around the cabin are as on-trend as double denim.
And the steering wheel (joined with the instrument binnacle) adjusts for height, but annoyingly, not reach.
That said, friends and family who rode in the car during the week I had the keys all commented on the swoopy exterior and cozy cockpit feel of the interior. So, what do I know?
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.
Two seats means practicality is a relative term when applied to the 370Z. For example, getting in and out is an athletic exercise requiring gymnastic levels of flexibility and poise. As with most low-lying coupes, I found the outer hand on the A-pillar technique helps with swinging down into the car, or lurching up out of it.
Once ensconced behind the wheel, you're confronted with a relatively modest amount of storage space, running to a medium-size glove box, a lidded bin at the rear of the dividing console, a single cupholder, and door pockets incorporating recesses for small bottles only.
There are two lined recesses for soft bags or coats behind each seat, including a fold-out map pocket, but they're not exactly convenient for retrieving things when you're on the move. What's missing is a tray where you can easily stow things likes keys, coins or a phone.
There are also two 12-volt power outlets, a USB port and an aux-in audio connection.
Rear load space is limited to 195 litres, mainly due to the boot's shallow floor (an alloy space-saver spare sits underneath). It does incorporate a cargo blind and four tie-down hooks, but we only managed to squeeze in the largest (105-litre) suitcase from our three-piece hard set, or a combination of the two smaller ones (35 and 68 litres).
We also had a crack at stuffing in the CarsGuide pram (there is a top-tether hook provided for child seat fitment) and managed it with only a couple of beads of perspiration expended.
Forget the nappy-bag paraphernalia, though. The soft bags with all the baby stuff would have to go in the storage bays in the cabin behind the seats.
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 arrival of the tricked-up 370Z NISMO in August last year, offered Nissan Australia an opportunity to reposition the regular model, dropping the MSRP for the manual version from $56,930 to $49,990.
Aside from adjusting the car's value-for-money proposition (and pissing off those who'd bought one in July), that close to seven grand haircut delivered more pricing headroom up to the Roadster (starting at $60,990), and NISMO (from $61,490) versions.
For that money the standard equipment list includes, keyless entry and start, cruise control, climate control air, go-fast alloy finish pedals, 'HDD' (Hard Disc Drive) sat nav with 3D mapping, a 7.0-inch colour multimedia touchscreen, and Bose eight-speaker audio with 9.3GB 'Music Box' hard drive.
You'll also pick up sports seats with lots of features. First, they're 'leather accented', which is code for genuine hide in all the places you regularly contact, and a faux equivalent everywhere else. Not uncommon, and not necessarily unpleasant. Then they're heated and four-way power-adjustable, (with manual lumbar and height adjustment for the driver).
The steering wheel and gear knob also cop the 'leather accented' treatment, plus you can expect LED DRLs and tail-lights as well as auto headlights. It's worth noting that the headlights are garden-variety xenons, and things you might expect in a $50k coupe, like, rain-sensing wipers, dual zone climate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity or tyre-pressure monitoring are 100 per cent absent.
Lining up direct competitors for the 370Z isn't easy, because there aren't any. But the closest is arguably a 2.3-litre EcoBoost version of Ford's Mustang at $45,990 for the manual. A further stretch of the imagination could haul in the Mazda MX-5 RF ($43,890) or the 86 GTS+ ($39,440) and Subaru BRZ tS ($39,894).
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 370Z is powered by an all-alloy, 3.7-litre (VQ37VHR), naturally aspirated, quad-cam V6, producing 245kW at 7000rpm and 363Nm at 5200rpm.
It features the 'Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System' (CVTCS) with 'Variable Valve Event and Lift' (VVEL) on the intake side. And while all that may sound new and ultra-high tech, it was actually introduced in 2007.
Transmission choice is between a seven-speed auto (with manual mode and paddles) or six-speed manual gearbox, as tested here. And this 2018 upgrade brings a high-performance clutch from Japanese specialist Exedy.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a carbon-fibre composite drive shaft, connecting with a viscous limited slip differential (LSD).
Additional features that won't necessarily be music to purists' ears include 'Active Noise Cancellation', and 'Active Sound Enhancement'.
The former monitors and measures engine sounds, using the audio speakers to produce "acoustically opposing signals to cancel undesirable sounds". So, okay, maybe filtering out the messy noise is a good thing.
But at the same time Active Sound Enhancement employs "digital signal processing to enhance the engine note, using the vehicle's sound system to augment or modify the spectrum of select powertrain sounds in the cabin". Yuck.
I can cop a tube that channels a bit of genuine engine noise into the interior, but in this context, the phrase 'digital signal processing' is a turn-off.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 10.6L/100km, the 370Z emitting 249g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 250km of city, suburban and freeway running, we averaged 15.6L/100km, at the bowser. Far from miserly.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, although Nissan says "for optimum performance" you should stump up for 98 RON. And just to rub it in, you'll need 72 litres of it to fill the tank.
It only takes a few kilometres behind the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG E 53 to recognise that it fulfils its job description pretty well.
With claimed 0-100km/h acceleration sitting in the mid-4.0sec zone (coupe 4.4sec, sedan/cabrio 4.5sec) it’s fast, but not brutal. It growls without rising to the full-blown roar that’s become the aural signature of the current 63-series AMG V8s.
But don’t take that to mean meek and mild. It’s properly rapid and the sports exhaust, particularly with the drivetrain mapped to the ‘Dynamic Select’ system’s ‘Sport+’ mode leaves you (and everyone in a 200-metre radius) in no doubt that you’re driving something special.
Dynamic Select allows individual calibration of the engine, transmission, suspension and steering. Around town with everything dialled in to ‘Comfort’ the E 53 is as refined and compliant as any other high-spec E-Class.
Despite the standard 20-inch rims shod with low-profile run-flat rubber (245/35 front, 275/30 rear) the ‘AMG Ride Control’ adaptive damping combines with the overall air suspension system to provide excellent ride comfort.
Find a twisting B-road and push into ‘Sport’ or Sport+’ mode and the car’s character changes distinctly. All 520Nm of maximum torque is available from just 1800rpm right up to 5800rpm. And while that’s plenty, pin the throttle and an additional 250Nm (and 16kW), courtesy of the EQ Boost hybrid system joins the party.
Press on and as peak power (320kW) takes over at 6100rpm you’ll notice the horizon is approaching rapidly. The additional electric compressor means power delivery is beautifully linear, and the hybrid boost is undetectable.
The nine-speed dual-clutch auto is as smooth at parking speeds as it is at maximum attack. Manual changes (up and down) are rapid and positive, accompanied by entertaining blips and bangs from the exhaust in the more aggressive drive modes.
The coupe is the lightweight of the trio, weighing in at 1895kg, with the sedan and cabrio sending the needle roughly 100kg further to the right. But despite that not insubstantial kerb weight, and the all-wheel drive set-up, all feel light and nimble for their size.
While the variable steering adjusts seamlessly as lateral forces increase, no matter which mode is selected, road feel is modest at best. But the AWD system shuffles drive to the right wheel without fuss and power down out of quick corners is satisfyingly solid.
With all this performance, on-tap braking is critical, and the standard set-up is perforated and internally ventilated discs all around (370mm front, 360mm rear) clamped by four piston calipers at the front and single piston floating calipers at the rear. After an ‘enthusiastic’ session on the launch drive they remained progressive and strong.
The multi-adjustable sports front seats are comfy when they need to be, and with the side bolsters adjusted inwards, secure and grippy as G-force builds. Top-notch ergonomics complement this satisfying and well resolved dynamic package.
The Nissan 370Z is actually the car many want the Toyobaru 86/BRZ to be. I can sense some of you spluttering out a sweary response to that notion. But hear me out.
If you, like many others, think the 86/BRZ would be perfect with an extra 50kW/80Nm, just bolt on a turbo or supercharger, and voila. You'll get that extra grunt, but remember, the 86/BRZ was conceived to be light, tactile, and, not least of all, affordable.
Up the outputs and you light the wick on an engineering arms race that should also lead to bigger brakes, an engine with more exotic pistons and a tougher bottom end, a stronger gearbox and clutch, a beefier diff, sturdier chassis, fatter rims and rubber... the list goes on, and on. Until you end up with something very much like the spec, weight, and price of the 370Z.
That's not to say this car isn't a fun drive. It is. Just don't expect the quick reflexes of an MX-5 or 86/BRZ.
Despite light-weighting tricks like an aluminium bonnet and all-alloy suspension, the 370Z weighs in at a not inconsiderable 1467kg. And although its 3.7-litre V6 develops a solid 245kW/363Nm, first impressions are dominated by its hollow mid-range.
Much as I love the free-revving nature of a naturally aspirated engine, there's no denying a modern turbo typically delivers lots of torque low down, with peak power also available within a useful rev range.
All the action here is at the top end, with maximum torque arriving way up at 5200rpm, and peak power taking over at a nose-bleed 7000rpm (the rev ceiling is 7500rpm). Not exactly an easily accessible sweet spot.
But there's still so much to like about this evergreen Zed. Its classic front engine/rear-drive layout results in a 53/47 front to rear weight distribution and the car feels balanced and beautifully predictable.
Suspension is double wishbone front, multi-link rear, and ride comfort, even over choppy bitumen surfaces is surprisingly good. On the flip-side, rumble coming up from the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber (245/40 f / 275/35 r) is always noticeable, and often intrusive.
The steering is supported by old-school hydraulic power assist and while connection with the front wheels is impressive, overall feel is light. Hello 'Merica.
The gearbox is a sweet reminder of what a pleasure it is swap ratios in a top-notch close-ratio manual, and hats off to Exedy for producing a wonderfully progressive clutch. Personal preference was to turn off the standard 'SynchroRev Match' function, because I like having a go at the ol' heel 'n' toe tap dance myself.
Brakes are ventilated front and rear with almost equal size rotors (355mm f / 350mm r) clamped by four-piston calipers up front and two piston units at the rear. They are reassuringly powerful and consistent.
Age has not wearied the 370Z's ergonomics. Although the lack of a digital speedo and no reach adjustment for the steering column is annoying, the sports seats are snug and comfortable, the moderately chunky wheel feels great, and all the major controls are simple to use. Who needs slick screens and 'piano black' finishes?
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 370Z must feel like a wall flower at the crash-test disco because it currently isn't rated for safety performance by ANCAP, its Euro NCAP affiliate, JNCAP in Japan, or the USA's NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
That said, in terms of active safety features you'll find ABS, BA, EBD, traction control, 'Vehicle Dynamic Control' (stability control), and a rear-view camera with 'Predictive Path' guidance lines.
But if you're looking for more current active tech, look elsewhere, because things like AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise, lane-keep assist, auto high beam or any kind of pedestrian detection are missing-in-action. They're not even available on the options list.
If all else fails and a crash is unavoidable, primary passive safety runs to active head restraints and eight airbags (driver and passenger front and side airbags, plus roof- and door-mounted curtain airbags).
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.
But it does include 24-hour roadside assistance for three years, and Nissan's 'myNissan Service Certainty' capped-price servicing program applies for up to six years/120,000km.
The scheduled maintenance interval is six months/10,000km, with charges ranging from a low of $283, to a high of $831 (100,000km), averaging out to roughly $428 per service.