Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Nissan GT-R
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Still a mammoth drive 12 years on
- So easy to go so fast
- Nissan is still striving to improve it
- Safety features could do with an upgrade
- Price rise eats into value
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
It’s fair to say that Liam Neeson has an enduring appeal, and he’ll forever be known for his “particular set of skills.”
The R35 Nissan GT-R has reached icon status for its own set of specific action hero talents, and the Hollywood-like number of updates it’s received over the past 12 years - or about a century in human years - suggest Nissan is hell bent on giving it Keanu Reeves-esque eternal youth.
Its trips to the surgeon have started to peter out though, with the annual tweaks of the earlier years slowing to the three year gap between its last update and the 2020 model that launches this week in time for the nameplate’s 50th birthday.
Have they managed the Keanu Reeves or the Liam Neeson, or has it jumped the shark and due for an all-new Chris Hemsworth treatment?
|Engine Type||3.8L 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.
While the 2020 changes aren’t enough to disguise its age, it’s pretty awesome that Nissan continues to develop the GT-R, as its distinct character is yet to be matched by anyone.
So it’s more Liam Neeson than Keanu Reeves, but to keep attracting buyers Nissan should really give us a new Chris Hemsworth version.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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 2020 update is probably best described as a quick trim rather than a full haircut, let alone a nip and tuck.
Believe it or not those wheels are a new design and lighter by 140g per corner. You might also spot the blue tips on the titanium exhaust, but I’ll give you a high five if you notice the new inserts for the front corner ducts. There’s also a new Urban Grey trim colour available for the Premium Luxury trim level.
GT-R die hards will be chuffed with the return of the R34 generation’s signature Bayside Blue as a paint option though, which has required an all-new application process to suit two-decade later environmental requirements.
The car pictured is the 50th Anniversary special edition, created to celebrate the Godzilla nameplate’s golden jubilee. Unlike most special editions though, it’s not limited by build numbers or a production schedule, and is available on a built-to-order basis.
It’s based on the Premium Luxury trim level and can be distinguished by contrasting decals inspired by a 1971 Hakuska racer, 50th Anniversary badging and a special Twighlight Grey trim colour on the inside.
Aside from the minor drivetrain tweaks mentioned below, under the GT-R’s skin has been treated to stiffened brake actuation and recalibration and adaptive suspension.
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.
Nothing new here, with the same 2+2 layout that’s about as accommodating as a Porsche 911, despite the GT-R’s extra size. The boot is a decent 315 litres though, but its actual functionality is hampered by a small boot opening.
There’s also two cupholders in the front, two in the back, and bottle holders in the carpet-lined doors.
Unlike GT-R’s, the 2020 model finally adds ISOFIX child seat anchorage points to the back seat. These were previously excluded from Australian and New Zealand models.
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 GT-R is still split into Premium, Premium Luxury and Track Edition trim levels, with 50th Anniversary special edition being based on the Premium Luxury.
The top-spec Nismo version has been dropped, and pricing has been massaged upwards across the range.
The base GT-R Premium is now $4800 more with a $193,800 list price, the Premium Luxury swells by the same margin to $199,800, and the Track Edition grows by a full $8000 to $235,000. The Track Edition continues to be available with an optional Nismo-themed interior upgrade for an extra $12,000.
Given the update doesn’t seem to bring anything more than the standard changes, the range-wide price rises put a marginal dent in the value equation that’s long been a relative strength of the GT-R, but it still looks pretty impressive next to the $265,000 starting point for a Porsche 911.
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 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6’s key stats are unchanged at a mammoth 419kW at 6800rpm and 632Nm available from 3300-5800rpm.
New turbos derived from the GT3 race car have been fitted, which aren’t quite the same as the Nismo’s GT3-matching units, which promise to be 5 per cent more efficient, without changing the max outputs.
The six-speed dual clutch transaxle has also been recalibrated for more aggressive throttle blips on downchanges, and allow gearchanges to occur during ABS engagement.
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.
This was never going to be a highlight, but all versions of the GT-R still carry an 11.7L/100km official combined fuel consumption figure, which is actually quite reasonable for a car with this much performance.
A diet of full-strength 98RON premium unleaded is mandated though, and the above fuel figure combined with its 74-litre tank suggest a highway range of around 630km between fills.
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.
Even more than a decade later, the GT-R is still a mammoth car to drive. Mammoth in terms of its size and the sale of the thrills it delivers.
Cars in general have grown larger and heavier in the past 12 years, but 1765kg is still a lot for a performance car designed to go around corners as well as it accelerates.
And therein lies the great R35 oxymoron, it’s SUV heavy but supercar fast and agile.
Nissan stopped quoting acceleration figures with the 2017 model, but it still packs the outputs and hardware that nudged 0-100km/h below 3 seconds in the past.
So it is still fast, but what’s surprising is that the drive experience never seems to date, no matter how many years have been stacked on between opportunities to hop behind the wheel.
It needs to be said that the 2020 changes are undetectable in isolation, but what made the GT-R feel so special in 2007 still applies today.
You could criticise it for its harsh ride quality and assortment of whirs, groans and occasional thunks from the drivetrain, but I feel this is part of the GT-R’s charm. Has any depiction of its Godzilla namesake ever been quiet and friendly?
Rather than feeling like it’s falling apart, the GT-R’s mechanical soundtrack is more of an exciting reminder of how many moving parts are employed to deliver its performance.
And it’s still largely the car that delivers this performance, from the responsiveness of the twin-turbos, the excellent calibration of the dual-clutch transmission to the massive grip of four fat tyres controlled by its clever all-wheel drivetrain and array of diffs.
But regardless of the scale of the role the car plays in its performance, the driver’s most important connection, the steering wheel is delightfully round with grippy high-quality leather. The steering itself is sharp and direct too.
There’s no other car around that matches its brutal looks with such aggressive performance and thrills for the driver, yet it still feels idiot-proof in its execution.
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.
It does come with a reversing camera, along with dual front, side and curtain airbags. It’s worth noting that the when the Track Edition is optioned with the Nismo interior, the Recaro seats mean it misses out on the side and curtain airbags like the GT-R Nismo.
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.