Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS Porsche Panamera
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
- Engineered like a Porsche
- Cool interior design
- Dynamic quality
- Remote steering
- Real-world fuel economy
- Expected safety tech optional
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But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.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|
For Porsche purists, the arrival of the Cayenne SUV in the early noughties was a knife to the heart. Jaws dropped and minds blew at the thought of the brand’s famous crest being applied to the nose of a high-riding family truckster.
Although Porsche had previously toyed with the idea of a four-door sports/GT mash-up, this was for real; the idea being to push the brand’s performance reputation into the ‘executive’ space, and trim some Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Merc S-Class grass.
To rub salt into that Porscheophile chest wound, the Panamera has fulfilled its brief, splintering into an ever-increasing range of niche variants, and last year evolving into a sleek, second-generation version.
And just when old-school 911 diehards thought it couldn’t get any weirder, the Panamera E-Hybrid arrived to turn their upside-down worlds inside-out.
In the model we’re looking at here, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine (in the nose), is supported by an electric motor (just behind it), which, according to Porsche, mimics the hybrid set-up used in its 918 Spyder hypercar.
You can't beat a lofty comparison. But is it a case of legitimate tech sharing for maximum efficiency and performance, or is it, in fact, just too big a stretch for a thumping, 2.2-tonne sports limo? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid offers an interesting alternative to the traditional inhabitants of the upper-luxury sedan market. It’s quick, sleek and beautifully engineered. But it ultimately sits between two worlds rather than embracing both. An ‘individual’ choice that's not quite the fast GT you'd like it to be, nor the full-blown upper-luxury limo.
Is the high-tech Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid your type of luxury GT? 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 first-generation Panamera’s famously awkward profile reflected then Porsche CEO, Wendelin Wiedeking’s demand that its rear seat should be able to accommodate his lanky frame.
Since then, saner (and presumably lower) heads have prevailed, with the sleeker, sportier second-gen version fitting more easily into the sleek and slick Porsche-design mould.
Hints of the iconic 911 abound, from the turret’s smooth curve towards the rear, to the distinctive tail-lights, recognisable headlights and familiar nose treatment.
Screaming green brake calipers reinforce the eco-friendly message, as does a green halo around the ‘Panamera 4’ badge on the tail, and ‘e-hybrid’ labels on the front doors.
Optional 21-inch ‘Panamera SportDesign’ wheels, finished in high-gloss black, ($9380) replace the standard 19-inch rims to give our test car a more menacing and purposeful look.
The interior-design theme is shaped by a similar set of traditional elements. including the iconic five-dial main instrument cluster (with tacho in the centre), chunky sports steering wheel, and chrono clock on the dashtop. The leather-trimmed sports seats (front and rear) feature a high, one-piece backrest, echoing those of Porsches past and present.
Not so familiar is the flight-deck-style dash, including a 12.3-inch high-res touchscreen media display, and maxi-size centre console housing touch-sensitive switchgear in place of Porsche’s usual array of knobs and buttons.
Rear-seat passengers are presented with an ultra-slick touchscreen display, integrated into the extended centre console, to manage their climate control, nav and media settings.
The optional ambient-lighting package ($990) fitted to our test car added a subtle green keyline glow to the door speaker surrounds front and rear.
Overall, the design manages to successfully combine slick luxury and comfort with clear sporting intent.
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.
At just over 5m long, close to 2m wide, and a touch over 1.4m high, the Panamera is surprisingly close to the key dimensions of its traditionally supersized German competition - the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
That said, its 2950mm wheelbase gives away a modest 42mm to the A8, a more substantial 85mm to the S-Class, and a lengthy 120mm to the 7 Series (all standard wheelbase versions). And this Porsche is strictly a four-seater, with elaborately sculpted and bolstered chairs for each occupant.
As you might expect, there’s plenty of room up front and generous storage space including a decent glove box, a lidded compartment between the seats, large door bins with space for bottles, and two cupholders (one jumbo, one regular) in the centre console.
In terms of power and ports there’s a 12-volt socket, USB plug (Apple CarPlay is standard), and an aux-in outlet.
The rear feels great, with ample head and legroom (for this 183cm tester), although getting in and out through a door aperture that tapers sharply towards the bottom is awkward. Not great for a car with limo aspirations.
A pair of longitudinally opening door lids in the centre console reveal a single cupholder and dual high-output USB power outlets. Our car also featured the ‘USB interface in rear’ option, at a measly $790!
A fold-down centre armrest opens to reveal a lined storage box, there are map pockets on the front seatbacks, and you’ll find bins (with bottle capacity) in the doors.
The back-seat section of the four-zone climate control system is run via the central touchscreen, with flashy knurled rollers to adjust temperature, and vents above the screen and in the back of the B-pillars to direct flow.
For an extra touch of luxury our test car featured an electric roller sunblind for the rear, and rear side windows ($2940).
The cargo compartment features four flip-up hooks to secure loads with a net or straps, a netted pocket on the passenger side, a 12-volt outlet and usefully bright lighting.
Boot space is 405 litres, enough to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) or the CarsGuide pram with room for soft bags to spare. The rear seat split-folds 60/40 to open up a whopping 1215 litres, and auto tailgate open/close is standard.
With no spare tyre; a repair kit is the only puncture option.
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.
When you’re asking a whisker less than a quarter of a million dollars for a luxury performance car, it’s fair to expect a a healthy standard equipment list, and the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid satisfies that requirement.
Included in the $242,600 recommended retail price (before on-road costs) is four-zone climate control, 14-way electrically adjustable and heated front seats (with memory), a two-piece panoramic sunroof, multi-function sports steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, sat nav, adaptive air suspension, auto rear hatch, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, daytime running lights, tail-lights and indicators, auto headlights, keyless entry and start, leather trim, leather steering wheel, park assist and parking distance control (front and rear), rear privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, and sat-nav.
As well as the nav, ventilation, phone and vehicle set-up, the 12.3-inch touchscreen multimedia interface controls the standard Bose 710-watt, 14-speaker audio (which adapts audio settings to ambient noise levels) with digital radio and Apple CarPlay.
Our test car was also loaded up with around 20 grand worth of options; specifically the 21-inch ‘Panamera SportDesign’ alloy wheels in high-gloss black ($9380), electric roller sunblind for rear compartment and rear side windows ($2940), ‘LED-Matrix’ headlights including ‘Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus’ ($2690), front-seat ventilation ($2190), ‘Lane Change Assist’ ($1890), ambient lighting ($990), rear USB interface ($790), and ‘Power Steering Plus’ ($650), for a before on-roads total of $264,120.
The tester’s ‘Carrara White Metallic’ finish is one of only two no-cost paint options.
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 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is powered by a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine producing 243kW from 5250-6500rpm and 450 Nm from 1750-5000rpm, working in parallel with a ‘permanently excited’ synchronous electric motor delivering 100kW at 2800rpm and 400Nm from 100-2300rpm. And no, that 100rpm minimum figure for the motor’s maximum torque is not a typo.
They combine for a total output of 340kW at 6000rpm and 700Nm from just 1100-4500rpm, driving all four wheels, firstly, through an eight-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and then Porsche’s active all-wheel drive system (with electronically variable, multi-plate clutch for torque distribution between front and rear axles).
Porsche claims 0-100km/h in 4.6sec in full parallel mode, and 0-60km/h (a useful urban performance measure) in 5.7sec, when running in pure EV mode.
The petrol V6 boasts the latest version of Porsche’s ‘VarioCam Plus’ variable cam timing, with the twin turbos located in the engine’s hot vee to minimise lag by creating the shortest possible path for exiting gases from exhaust, to turbo, to inlet.
Dubbed ‘PDK’ (Porsche DoppelKupplung), the Panamera’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is overdriven in its top three ratios, and wheel-mounted paddles spice up manual shifts.
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 a miserly 2.5L/100km, emitting 56g/km of CO2 in the process. The electric motor consumes 15.9kWh/100km.
In the real world we averaged more than three times that at 8.3L/100km (at the bowser) over around 300km of mainly urban commuting, with some freeway running thrown in. And yes, we did indulge in some ‘Sport+’ enthusiasm to balance ‘E-Power’ austerity.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium, and you’ll need 80 litres of it to fill the tank.
Claimed pure electric range is roughly 50km (which we can verify), with a maximum velocity of 140km/h (which we can’t). Even with delicate use of the accelerator pedal my 48km (round trip) suburban commute was just too long for the Panamera’s pure electric range.
Luck out on a traffic-light-free route, or drop that urban crawl distance to 40km, and I reckon you’d be ‘there and back’ on a single overnight charge. The liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack takes 5.8 hours to charge via a conventional 240-volt/10amp outlet.
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 first impression behind the Panamera’s wheel is mild claustrophobia, thanks to a high window line combined with our test car’s predominantly black interior. And if you’re a head-check lane changer you’ll find over-shoulder vision relatively tight and crowded.
Then there are the front seats - a graceful design with heaps of lateral support, but firm in the finest German tradition. Not quite as firm as the armrest though, which is so unforgiving I found it uncomfortable to use.
The E-Hybrid system operates in one of six modes, with the purely electric ‘E-Power’ set as the default from start-up. Not surprisingly, the 2170kg Panamera is quiet and relatively meek in this setting, while still offering enough performance for easy lane changes and reasonably swift overtakes.
‘Hybrid Auto’ switches between engine and motor with the aim of balancing power and efficiency, while ‘E-Hold’ conserves the current state of charge, allowing a switch to electric-only zero-emissions when desired (or possibly in future, when legally required).
In ‘E-Charge’ the V6 produces more power than it needs for driving to charge the battery as a side project, ‘Sport’ ensures battery charge is maintained at a minimum level so there’s sufficient reserve for an electric boost when needed. And as the name implies ‘Sport Plus’ delivers maximum (combined) performance, the engine recharging the battery as quickly as possible at the same time.
That final setting is where this Panamera starts to feel like a proper Porsche. The 2.9-litre V6 sounds gruff and builds to a satisfying bellow as revs rise, and if you get the bit between your teeth and pin the throttle, every one of those 700Nm make their presence felt.
Manual changes from the dual-clutch transmission are quick and positive, although we did experience a moment of alarming slow-speed paralysis where the PDK took its sweet time to cooperate and agree to move the car forward.
The alloy-rich suspension is a double-wishbone front, multi-link rear set-up, with the ‘Adaptive Chassis Control’ combining switchable, three-chamber air springs with adjustable dampers.
Ride comfort (even on the test car’s optional 21s shod with hi-po Pirelli P Zero rubber) is excellent, and the big Panamera remains balanced and buttoned down in quick cornering.
Brakes are substantial with six-piston calipers on 390mm (cast iron) ventilated rotors at the front, and four-piston units on 365mm vented rotors at the rear. Pedal feel is progressive and stopping power always professional grade.
But no matter which drive mode you’re in the ‘Power Steering Plus’ speed-sensitive, electrically assisted steering feels mediocre - overly light, with surprisingly modest feedback from the front wheels. And despite the car’s performance potential this limitation alone makes it hard to bond with the Panamera E-Hybrid as a performance partner.
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.
A fast four-seater needs top-shelf active safety, and the Panamera E-Hybrid boasts front and rear park assist, and ‘Surround View’, as well as AEB (Auto Emergency Braking), ABS, BA (Brake Assist), ESC (Electronic Stability Control), traction control, a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, auto-levelling headlights and LED daytime running lights.
But things that should be standard in a $250k sports luxury limo are optional. For example, lane-keeping assist, lane-change assist, and Porsche’s ‘Night View Assist’ technology.
If a crash is unavoidable there are no less than 10 airbags located around the interior (dual front, driver and front passenger knee, front side, front thorax, and full-length curtain). There’s also an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injury, as well as top tethers and ISOFIX anchors for child restraints in both rear-seat positions.
The Panamera hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP (or EuroNCAP).
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.
Porsche offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, with three-year paint, and 12-year anti-corrosion cover. Twenty-four-hour roadside assist is included in the warranty, renewed every time you service the car at an authorised dealer.
The recommended service interval for the Panamera E-Hybrid is 12 months/15,000km, and Porsche doesn’t offer a capped-price-servicing program.